I like I was astounded at the news of the young New York City man who fell 39 stories and survived after a failed suicide attempt. The 22 year-old had the mathematically-improbable luck to have landed on the trunk and rear window of a car parked on the street below…a happenstance which saved his life and angered the owner of the severely damaged auto. As I read the various online news accounts of this story,
I began reading the reader commentary section of one particular daily online newspaper. On USAToday’s site there were public comments posted blaming this episode on, of all things, President Obama’s economic policies…thus turning a not-so-simple human interest story into a battle of political ideologies. Personally, I have always wondered about the upbringings, if not the overall mental health of individuals who cannot see reality outside purely dichotomous perspectives…as if Conservatives and Liberals were the only two known life forms in the known universe.
But I was harkened yesterday when I read a very interesting article from the August 16th edition of Newsweek. In “The Limits of Reason,” author Sharon Begley argues that the often irrational thinking we apply to our political (and social) beliefs and understanding of those beliefs have a basis in science. According to Begley
“…psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning. Its not just that we follow our emotions so often, in contexts from voting to ethics (page 14).”
The upshot is that, according to modern philosophers and cognitive scientists, there is a purpose for the kind of confirmation bias (seeing and recalling only evidence that supports your beliefs) and willful blindness to sound opposing views which leads us to stick to our beliefs. Failures of logic are simply “ploys to win arguments.” Simply put, arguing is more about overcoming opposing views and using our biased beliefs to persuade others more than it is about seeking truth or finding a common ground. It also explains the idea of motivated thinking, another faulty reasoning attribute that people employ. Motivated thinking forces individuals with certain political/social beliefs to look harder for flaws in studies when they don’t agree with their conclusions, which forces them to become more critical of “evidence” that undermines their initially-held beliefs.
This is why the notions of impending One-World Governments, health reform “death panels,” 9/11 government-backed conspiracies, and issues surrounding President Obama’s fake birth certificate remain so entrenched in the political discussions of many Americans, despite their proven invalidity.
This particular approach to our thinking on political and social issues is ridiculously easy to remedy…don’t believe everything you think! As I have alluded to so often in past postings, we Americans emote way too much and reason way too little. It is simply not practical to “feel” our way through life, especially when it comes to concepts and issues that beg that we use reason, which according to Begley “is supposed to be the highest achievement of the human mind and the route to knowledge and wise decisions.” When it comes to thinking which may affect social, economic, and political policies in America, we should think rather than feel.