In a February 19, 2017 article in The New Yorker, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds,” Elizabeth Kolbert laid out the reason most people are stupid. I assume I don’t have to argue this. Anyone older than seven knows this to be true, which reminds me of the statistical paper I read in high school claiming that most people have above average intelligence. I’ll leave that for another post.
As Kolbert makes clear, however, people are not really stupid. In fact, we can be quite clever. We just want our side to win and will ignore or deny facts that don’t fit our position or worldview. Case in point, the Mueller Report, which is giving the Warren Report a run for its money in terms of scrutiny from all angles, including morally unscrupulous ones. This includes ex intelligence directors, certain House Judiciary Committee members, and anyone working for MSNBC.
Yet, there is another twist to this “confirmation bias.” According to cognitive scientists, human beings did not develop reason to solve algebraic problems or ponder transcendental notions of the good, the true, or the beautiful. Rather, reason developed as a way to resolve disputes and make weighty decisions in social groups. In other words, we developed reason so we wouldn’t kill each other. In this sense, reason is a function not of objective truth but rhetoric. Reason is the way human beings persuade each other and collaborate. They call this the “interactionist” perspective.
To put it in concrete terms, if you like the President and voted for him, when you read the Mueller Report you rejoice over the fact that (1) there was no collusion with the Russians and (2) so-called obstruction of the investigation amounts to nothing more than what my father used to characterize as “that and fifty cents will get you a bus ride.” Fares have gone up considerably since then, but you get the point.
Conversely, if you hate the President, belong to any of the groups mentioned above, or reside in the Bronx Congressional district to my immediate north, then you (1) accuse the Attorney General of being a Trump stooge, (2) continue to accuse the President of being a Russian agent, and (3) resort to ad hominem attacks that depict Trump as the American Yeltsin, which is just another way of saying he’s a Russian agent.
Why do people react like this? The interactionist perspective says that it aligns like minded people and mobilizes them against the threat posed by the other side. This is why the House, led by Nancy Pelosi and the not too brilliant Jerry Nadler, will spend the next two years investigating Trump’s emotional outbursts and foul language. Personally, I’ve never met anyone from Queens who didn’t use foul language, but that’s me.
What I find especially irritating is that the House, instead of running the country, will look for ways to out Trump Trump, which is doomed to failure. It sounds even worse when you say it out loud. So we are left not with stupid people but untrustworthy people. That is, most people can’t be trusted to be objective or open minded even if they swear on their MAGA hat or “I’m With Her” tote bag that they are the most tolerant people on the planet. The Left may rail against conspiracy theorists who protest vaccines and deny the moon landing, but they are blind when it comes to the overwhelming media bias against the Right. That bias is so blatant as to be comical. Yet, to point that out is to be labelled a “hater.” Let haters hate, they say, which is a convenient substitute for thinking and another form of intolerance.
And don’t get me started about intolerance on college campuses. This expresses itself as Marxist praxis even if it isn’t acknowledged as such. A sociology professor admitted it to me once. He never used uppercase letters, because he found it too oppressive. Naturally, whenever I wrote to him I never used lowercase letters. He never complained. Too bad. I was willing to admit my bias.
So, where does this leave us for Easter? Yes, there is an Easter connection. You hear it in the cries of the crowd demanding an innocent man’s execution. You see it in Pilate’s washing his hands of responsibility. You find it in the disciples’ acts of cowardice. Each group sought their own interests and ignored not just the facts but the truth. Truth is the loser in nearly all cases when faced with human stupidity. At Easter, however, it is the ultimate winner. Now, that’s a miracle.