I was fortunate to find this article from a couple of weeks ago in one of my newsfeeds. Check out these key paragraphs:
The key point here is not that people are irrational; it’s that this irrationality comes from a very rational place. People fail to distinguish what they know from what others know because it is often impossible to draw sharp boundaries between what knowledge resides in our heads and what resides elsewhere.
This is especially true of divisive political issues. Your mind cannot master and retain sufficiently detailed knowledge about many of them. You must rely on your community. But if you are not aware that you are piggybacking on the knowledge of others, it can lead to hubris.
I completely agree with this and urge everyone to give the article a read because it explains so well my own rationale for writing from the perspective that I do. Importantly, I view RVS as a community and I present my arguments knowing full well that this how our minds are most able to accept information. We rely on people we know and trust, both for informing us and choosing what to believe, more than any other factor.
This is one reason why #FakeNews played such a big role in this election. It was social media that drove it. People saw news articles, shared by trusted and respected friends and family members, and they believed it without question. They didn’t trust the sources or stories, exactly, just the loved ones who were repeating them.
The cumulative effect was humongous. Everything the linked article says on this topic is completely true about the superiority of community wisdom over facts in our minds. Human beings have always been like this and always will.
For example, in the way-back olden days, somebody noticed that there were a lot of incidents of people getting sick whenever they’d eat shellfish or pork. They didn’t know why exactly it was happening because it took humans thousands of years to realize that bacteria even exist, much less that they cause illnesses when food isn’t prepared properly.
They wanted to get people to change their behavior and they couldn’t simply share a link to a website on Fleecebook (or whatever the popular social media platform would have been for a tribe of pastoral folks) that discussed the dangers of eating meat from animals with cloven hooves. There was none of this Science stuff to speak of, so they appealed to the most credible influence-makers they had available: the priests.
The priests didn’t want people to die, of course, so they took the time to include prohibitions against eating these types of meat in their religious tracts. People knew that the priests read a lot (and could read), talked to God all the time, and generally had their shit together and so they complied. Why wouldn’t they? The priests were the most trustworthy members of the community.
None of them understood why shellfish and pork were making people sick and I would argue that it wasn’t necessary for them to understand. As long as the guidance they were given came from people they trusted and it had the right outcome, who cares? People stopped catching noroviruses, the priests got even more clout for being right, and God got what He wanted when His people stopped eating pigs and oysters. Everybody won.
It’s a beautiful thing when people are successfully encouraged to do smart things en masse even if it isn’t exactly rational, I suppose.
Of course, that sort of thing does have consequences. The priests did their job so well that people of certain faiths still refuse to eat those meats even though it’s perfectly safe to do so because of what we’ve learned over time. It’s a mistake, because bacon is delicious.
But the point is that these people have an identity with a community (in this case, a religious one) and will not deviate from its requirements even when hard science, research, or anything other testimonial fact is presented to them. They don’t know why they can’t eat shellfish or pork, but they know that their community says it’s bad and that’s good enough. They’re still listening to people they trust within their community, rather than knowledgeable experts from outside of the community who keep assuring them that they really need to eat some bacon because it’s safe.
Nothing has changed. I mean, some people identify themselves as conservative and think that it means that they can’t bring themselves to admit that there may be something to this whole man-made climate change thing. Al Gore says it’s real, Rush Limbaugh says it’s not. We can’t even entertain the possibility that it might be true even thought there’s zero reason that it should collide with our political community’s fundamental belief in individual liberty and limited government. We just reflexively dismiss it, even though our qualifications on the topic probably aren’t any better or worse than Bill Nye the Science Guy’s.
Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that if the other side believes it, whatever it is, it must be wrong. We can certainly disagree with their solutions and the scope of our impact, but it doesn’t mean that we have to believe that we have absolutely no impact on the environment or the Earth’s ability to sustain life, right? Even a little bit?
Unfortunately, some of the thought-leaders in our community think so and it makes us all look like jerks when we’re walking around in shorts in February pretending that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Your average person, and even your very smart one, does not have the time or ability to study all of the data and pore over the facts on any topic. Honest people can even disagree on what the data means, but no matter how much data we have available to investigate for ourselves, we are always going to be dependent on other people to understand things better for us and tell us what we need to know.
Think about it. Why do you read this blog? You should know by now that I’m not any smarter than you are, nor do I have any sort of special knowledge or influence in the world. I have access to all of the same online resources that you do. I’m not rich or famous and neither are my co-bloggers.
What could there possibly be that makes me worthy of being granted any attention whatsoever? What does RVS really provide you?
Answer: A community of honest, intelligent, and thoughtful people who you can trust. That’s all. We legitimately don’t want anything from you except to listen to your opinion and share ideas to discuss and argue. We want a bigger community and we want you to participate.
Stephen Colbert and Sean Hannity will tell you night after night how bad the other side is and how everything their own side does is wonderful. They have no connection to you and wouldn’t deign to speak to you unless you showed up for one of their book signings.
Me? I’ll chat with any of you over email or Twitter Direct Message or even meet you for lunch if you happen to be in my town (and I’m reasonably sure you’re not a psycho). I’ll remember your name and things we’ve said to each other in comments and greet you as a friend if you don’t make an appearance for a while. I even try to remember your favorite songs and bands.
When I state a controversial position, you give it attention because you know my motivations and you know that I will explain myself. You know me. That matters. It further boosts my credibility if you know I will devote stupid amounts of time to researching topics when I need to make an argument. You don’t want to do that yourself, but you’ll trust my findings if you believe I’m putting in the work.
You may not think I’m very smart or maybe you find that my writing isn’t so hot, but you know me and you know I know you. Does that matter? I think so.
If I want a liberal perspective on anything I’m not going to watch Bill Maher or Rachel Maddow. I’m going to ask my friends on this blog and get what I know will be the real truth. I certainly prefer my community’s wise men and women over famous so-called experts, with their documentaries and television shows. So do you, whether or not you admit it.
All of you share that benefit from membership in this community of ours too, you know.
To prove the case this article makes and find out how influential you are in your own circles, I’d like to ask that all of you share every single RVS post on social media for the next year. Oh, and be sure to say something like, “These guys totally get it!” every time. We’ll see what happens.
Let’s see how well it works…for Science! You don’t hate Science, do you?