Asymmetrical tribal blindness

April 8, 2014 | By | Reply More

Paul Krugman writes:

[P]eople understand the world in ways that suit their tribal identities: in controlled experiments both conservatives and liberals systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. And more information doesn’t help: people screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview. Politics, as he says, makes us stupid. But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives. Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? I don’t mean liberals taking positions you personally disagree with — I mean examples of overwhelming rejection of something that shouldn’t even be in dispute.

At this point, I tend to agree with Krugman that more conservatives go way off the charts, but I also know many liberals that go way off the charts. Confirmation bias strikes people of all political stripes. When Obama engages in illegal wars, spies on Americans, prosecutes more people under the Espionage Act than all prior presidents combined, most liberals are silent, and even pissed to hear the criticism. I’ve also heard things like the following from liberals, with my own ears:

  • Extending benefits for the unemployed don’t disincentivize looking for work.
  • The fact that many women make less than many men is SOLELY because of gender discrimination.
  • People have “free will,” and the standard social science model (SSSM) is proven true.
  • That people NEVER choose homosexuality, that it is ALWAYS inborn.
  • That Jesus was born of a virgin.
  • That sentient beings from outer space are living on Earth.
  • That it presents no risk to the U.S. economy to borrow or print massive amounts of money.
  • That Hillary Clinton is without any faults.
  • That taking vacations on public transit (planes and trains) is not contributing to global warming.
  • That ALL men are at risk to commit rape.
  • That homeopathy and other health fads and supposed cures that have not passed double-blinds studies are “proven effective.”

You get the idea. I don’t hear these (and similar liberal silliness) as much as I hear conservative silliness, but I hear a lot of silliness out of the mouths people from all political persuasions. I will agree with Krugman, that conservatives are more prone to certain types of false statements, and his suggestions for why are intriguing:

One possible answer would be that liberals and conservatives are very different kinds of people — that liberalism goes along with a skeptical, doubting — even self-doubting — frame of mind; “a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument.” Another possible answer is that it’s institutional, that liberals don’t have the same kind of monolithic, oligarch-financed network of media organizations and think tanks as the right.

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Category: cognitive biases, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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