Confirmation Bias: Why No One Changes Their Mind
Mike Fishbein
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It is brave and intelligent of you to deliberately expose yourself to opposing viewpoints. This might be “only” a blog on what is “only” a website, but this is actually about one of the most important and massive problems with human consciousness — the ease of adopting a viewpoint and then becoming resistant to acquiring an objective or balanced perspective by going against your own preferences. Two examples, involving monarchy and gun control!:

(1) I’m in the UK, where we still have a monarchy. I oppose the concept of inherited privilege, as it makes about as much sense as being entitled to be a physicist or a doctor because your Dad was one, without going through any appropriate training. If we put a bunch of modern educated humans down on a new planet and ask them to come up with a form of government, one thing you can surely guarantee is that they won’t create a monarchy, as this comes out of history/fairy tales/domineering alpha males etc, and is nothing to do with human rights, democracy, accountability, etc. So it seems to me completely logical to be against it and to get rid of it. However it has enormous sentimental support in the UK, and I can get rid of the monarchy the way I can get rid of Putin or neoliberalism, i.e. no chance. So I need to confront other people’s perspective on the monarchy: history and cultural tradition have meaning and significance and provide structure and emotional attachments, so I have no right to just dismiss this significance as illogical. If, long term, there really shouldn’t be a monarchy — and it just isn’t justifiable, except for cultural inertia and for some slightly feeble rationalising about helping the economy by bringing in tourism — then I need to accept that it should be phased out over generations as it looks sillier and sillier, rather than doing anything “revolutionary” and upsetting to millions. I have to grit my teeth and not “change my mind” but “appreciate changing my perspective to allow for that of other people”.

(2) I was listening to a guy on the radio the other day. He was speaking from Alabama and mentioned how terrorism has been increasing and how “they want to take our guns away from us” and “that will just make us more vulnerable”. So there’s a perspective. Here’s another one. You take this guy over to France, which has had a fair amount of terrorist trouble in recent months, and which does not have a generally armed civilian population. He says to a Frenchman, “what needs to be done about terrorism?” The Frenchman says, “Clearly this is the province of the expertise and resources of the police, the military and the intelligence services, so we need to ensure they are properly funded and have our support.” The American says, “How about giving all of your private citizens their own personal weapons? Won’t that make them feel safer?” The Frenchman says, “Are you mad?! You won’t prevent yourself being mown down by a truck or blown up in a shopping mall because every paranoid idiot around you owns a handgun! We’ll just have thousands more murders and accidents and gun suicides!!” Does the gun supporter have sufficient objective perspective to appreciate this story? Or will he just say “But it’s our right” and “It’s in the Constitution”, as if he doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “Amendment” (i.e. you could amend it again!) or the statistics about gun-related incidents in the US when compared with the rest of the world? Would he or she just react with their emotions and “put me down” as some overseas idiot who doesn’t understand their culture, or would they be able to take on board the point about considering other people’s perspectives giving them a better and more balanced and sensible view to improve either their own lives, or society, or both?

That’s controversial enough, probably. I won’t mention perspectives on religion and evidence!

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