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?

10 comments

  1. Part of the problem with a lot of these arguments, is that we are arguing over things that we have no control over, no original source data about, and doesn’t impact your life directly, as of this moment, type thing.
    Politics with Social media has even further polarized the sides. Preying on emotion, frustration and fear has always been a good political tactic, and now at the speed of the internet they can do that even faster.
    Communities, like this give me hope. When the varying sides can come together talk about the things that divide us with out screaming and name calling. where we can come together meed mid way, and discuss things we share a common bond on, like music…movies… and just stuff…

    and BTW.

    i really hope that the global warming thing is a real thing, because the alternative is cooling, and the last time there was a small cooling,things did not go so well for man.

  2. The pork taboo was around before Judaism and was absorbed into the new religion, sort of like eggs and bunnies were pulled into Easter. The reason to avoid pork is mainly trichinosis, not bacteria. It’s still a thing today, actually, we are just slightly better at cooking. You are right about bacon, of course. There is no tribe I need to belong to badly enough to stop eating bacon.
    As to social media, the whole reason I am here is to keep politics off my Facebook…
    Also, this article has some interesting numbers in defense of social media. Apparently, TV is to blame: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/03/22/obama-katy-perry-and-the-pope-are-all-wrong-about-the-same-thing/

  3. I wanted to do this again because I personally feel that everyone has gone to their camps and just chants with their camps until they confront one another and then there’s 10 years of angst that comes along with it. It’s frustrating that we can’t talk things out, because that’s all it would take to make a big improvement and it shows.

    I myself lean left on social issue typically but I am disgusted by the level of nauseating political safe correctness, safe spaces, knee jerk protection of sacred cow minorities. It sickens me.

    However, I enjoy gun ownership, I want us to be tough as hell on immigration, I don’t want muslims here unless either vetted or terror cells like isis are destroyed. The left sickens me that they cannot call radical Islamic terror what it is right in front of their faces. It’s so intellectually dishonest but as a party liberals defend it like a drunk uncle passed out at thanksgiving.

    However, from there I do not share republicans ideas on medical care. If republicans want to survive they need to once and for all ditch the tea party radicalists and make a universal payer system happen. We can have it like U.K. Where it’s pay go and Cadillac for the wealthy but we need healthcare at a basic level for the proletariat.

    I’m more than happy to discuss my viewpoints to anyone but I will never, ever put on a team jersey and carry water buckets for a party. It’s quid pro quo for me and if Washington doesn’t get it done, well to quote the soon to be impeached potus: “you’re fired!”

  4. That’s absolutely why I (a liberal tree hugging socialist commie environmentalist feminist) love coming here. In fact it was after watching Bowling For Columbine that I first drifted over to Moorewatch to see if it was true that the other side were all evil (spoiler alert, no they’re not)

    My starting point is that most people are genuinely good and we all actually want the same thing. We disagree on how to get there and essentially we all disagree on which compromises we need to make to get there. So let’s debate the compromises.

    The danger, I think, isn’t that the bubbles disagree, it’s that every single bubble seems to think that they’re against the world in their views, the minority fighting for what’s right, that they’re oppressed.

    After the London attacks this week I spoke to loads of my friends who were in London at the time, and got my news from my usual places. But then I listened to Hannity, just out of interest. It was like he was talking about a different incident. Not that there was anything factually wrong about what he was saying (actually there was, but that’s not the point) it was the tone of how it was reported. I then noticed on Facebook a lot of my right wing friends complaining about something Hannity had mentioned – that initially the assailant was described as ‘An Asian Man in his 40’s’ – which was taken as proof that no one is taking terrorism seriously apart from the group of people who were willing to ‘say it like it is’. Why won’t anybody listen to common sense!

  5. That’s my fear for Europe as well. There are factions that want to poke their head in the sand about refugees and immigration, and they do not want to have open and frank discussions on how to resolve the situation. Does the refugee crisis mean Europe need to resolve to foreign intervention in the Middle East? Should Europe close the doors? Should they force muslims to accept western ideals like France is doing?

    I really don’t have an answer at this point but applying a tourniquette is a good stop gap until things are at least discussed. The fear I have for Europe is by not discussing it you push moderates underground with fanatics like our “alt right” and what was once a discussion of integration now sounds indistinguishable while sale concentration and deportation… if Europe decides to be kind.

    You can’t tell me those refugee camps aren’t starting to look like concentration camps. America and Europe are our only alliance left that values individual freedoms. We need a o get it together.

  6. My starting point is that most people are genuinely good and we all actually want the same thing. We disagree on how to get there and essentially we all disagree on which compromises we need to make to get there. So let’s debate the compromises.

    That is exactly, EXACTLY, what is in my own heart. If RVS had a mission statement, that would be it.

    All of your points are correct about the “bubbles”. Participating in discussions on a blog such as this one means that you have to leave your own “comfort zone”. You do get your viewpoints challenged and we ask you to consider the merit of ideas that you might not like. It’s remarkable how few people are willing to do that.

    I think we get a lot of visitors who will read something they agree with but then they go to another post and they’ll read something they disagree with. So they leave. Honestly, I don’t want them. If they want an echo chamber to tell them that they’re right or what to think or how to spin what their side does wrong to make it look right, they’ll find millions of such outlets.

    However, there are many people like you who…stick around. I don’t mean to blow smoke up your ass or anyone else’s, but I always assume that the people who read us are generally smarter and more discerning than what you typically find on other sites. They have to be.

    If you’re trapped in one of those bubbles, you can’t entertain dissenting views. All you can do is repeat what Fox News or Daily Kos or whatever tells you to think on a given day. Morons can’t think for themselves. Our community does.

    I think we’re better than that. All of us.

    It’s not just the regulars, but this applies to me as well. People on the political left who have engaged with me all of these years have made me question things. It forces me to either back up my views or to change them when they’re proven wrong. We all NEED to do that.

  7. People in the media have an agenda. That doesn’t mean they can’t give honest opinions, but it comes with the caveat that they want to persuade you. And I do watch Bill Maher on those occasions where he is right, such as on free speech and radical Islamic fundamentalism.

    BTW I hope you don’t rely too much on my opinion because I don’t know nothin’ 🙂

  8. You provide a lot of links and information. I get a good idea of what people are interested in from what you share. Believe me, you do make a contribution.

  9. There are factions that want to poke their head in the sand about refugees and immigration, and they do not want to have open and frank discussions on how to resolve the situation

    See this is what I mean – where do you get the idea that the question of immigration and international terrorism isn’t being discussed in Europe? The Brexit vote was basically a big discussion on immigration. All those questions you raised ARE being discussed. Who are the ones poking their heads in the sand?

    In fact – Europe is basically doing what you’re arguing for – the refugee camps were/are a result of Europe taking time to discuss the issue and come up with a solution – hence the refugees being kept on the border in things that look a lot like concentration camps.

  10. Oh, I don’t know. The dozens and dozens of friends I have overseas that I discuss the issue with regularly because they’re willing to talk or not at all because they won’t acknowledge it’s an issue. There’s also the tone of the editorials I read in Scandinavian-German periodicals.

    Mostly I’ve come to the opinion it’s a touchy subject because the people willing to talk to me about it have become fatalists (or even worse sounding more and more like fascists) and the people who aren’t willing.. well I guess I’ll never truly know what they think.

    Those concentration camps the muslims are herded into aren’t a good thing you know.

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