These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.For somebody like me, who has a great deal of faith in the power of knowledge and the ability of education, culture, and learning to actually shape people, change people, this is deeply discouraging news. And this is before we even talk about the amount of misinformation, lies, and evil falsehoods by the zillions out there in the Net. Obviously some of this becomes "fact" for some people. And now we find out that challenging this junk with the truth of the matter . . . well, that's likely to make matters worse.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
For the second time in as many weeks I've run across something about the fact that it doesn't seem to matter what the facts actually are. People aren't swayed by facts. In fact--if you'll pardon the expression--misinformed persons, especially political partisans, when confronted with the real facts often become even more entrenched in their own beliefs, which may be based on information that's erroneous from stem to stern. This, brothers and sisters, is not good news at all, because, as you well know, politics have gotten increasingly strident and bitterly partisan. So what this news means is that we cannot expect our politics to get more civil. Strident and bitterly partisan are normative now. Looks like they will stay that way. Here's a snippet.