Trump, Brexit and the confirmation bias: What does it tell us about (liberal) society?
I’m an opinionated guy, I’m not going to pretend I’m not. I also make my opinions known. Any of my friends can vouch for this; tempt me on a topic and you won’t get me to shut up. Until now my chosen medium to do so was Facebook, for one reason alone; I share things on there to raise awareness. I know it’s not what most people want to see on a Sunday morning, but it’s effective and it gets people to think about issues they haven’t considered before.
Recently I’ve realised more and more people talk about political issues. My news feed is dominated by memes and politics (Admittedly, most memes that I consume are political). I am not looking for an explanation, whether it’s a natural part of growing up, paying closer attention to what’s going on around us, or just the mess we live in now, leaving us with no option other than to care or live a depressing life. But I’m also not complaining about the spike in interest because many problems can be attributed to political apathy. Hey, if I’m happy, then everyone else is too, right? At least so it seems to me, and I’m the centre of my own reality, am I right?
Just this morning I came across an interesting article which talked about the relationship between the media and Trump. I’m no Trump advocate, but I also think the media is out to get him. And that leaves a dangerous paradox; whilst the media concentrates on degrading Trump, it ignores many other, more important issues. Why isn’t anyone talking about Russia’s interference in the election anymore, but loves talking about the Mother of all Bombs suddenly?
We are being fed content that we will like, in return for clicks and likes for the news outlet, creating a vicious cycle of ill informed information consumption. Where is all the quality content that actually paints a true picture of reality? Has it disappeared, made harder to find or have we started to demand a new kind of content? Isn’t this how capitalism works? Perfect allocation of resources through the invisible hand?
Trump is no ordinary president, so why do we apply ordinary rules to him? It is the media’s responsibility to give us news free of bias, yet all I see is liberal propaganda. I’m liberal myself, but you’d have to be blind to not see the hypocrisy. Trump’s entered politics with a business mindset, his favourite way to conduct foreign policy is through twitter, and he lies a lot. But doesn’t that sound familiar? Half my twitter is full of people complaining about others, everyone lies and many people look out for themselves with a business mindset. Trump isn’t crazy, he’s just unfit to be president.
In psychology there’s this concept called the confirmation bias. Basically, your brain is more prone to pick up information that you already believe in. For example, if you do research about Brexit and already believe Brexit is bad, then you’re more likely to pick up on information that confirms your belief, and less likely to read information that shows the positives. In fact, you may look at the positives and straight away label it as ‘Fake News’.
For long it was assumed that the confirmation bias disproportionally affect the political right (what an absurd thought… we’re all humans and no one is perfect), but recent research shows that liberals are just as prone. And that leaves the door to pandoras box right open. You’ll always find information that is synonymous with your own opinion, risking to create a one sided society.
Everyone falls into it, and eventually you’ll only surround yourself with information that you like. There’s also research that suggest that if someone attacks your political ideology, we perceive it as a personal attack. Hence why you should never bring up politics at a family dinner, unless you enjoy watching your relationships crumble. So next time someone disagrees with you, don’t take it personal. Just take a look at this Heineken ad before you attack someone over their ideology (Hint: I’m being paid shit loads by Heineken just to drop this in here).
What do Trump and the confirmation bias have in common? Easy; if we believe Trump is bad, as the media tells us, then we search for the stories that further enforce our own opinion. Now couple this with social media algorithms that literally feed of the confirmation bias by choosing to show you the stories that you will most agree with, and we have perfect breeding grounds for extremes. Trump is just one of many examples; the media has distorted him to the extreme, but many of his choices (not policies!) as president aren’t that different from Obama’s.
Take Brexit as another example; Why did people vote the way they did? Is it because of racial motivations, or because the incomes of the poorest in society have been squeezed to the extent that the only way to guarantee economic security is through protectionism? Try and see both sides of the coin.
Another example; too often do I see people ramble on about the older generation screwing us over, when it can be said that our own narcisstic tendencies (thanks social media!) and political apathy has brought us here. I don’t intend to go into detail here, but think about it. Don’t always blame others, but look at your own reflection first. It’s easy to point fingers at others, but it takes real courage to see the flaws in yourself.
So what does all this tell me? We’re creating an ever more divided society, where no one is willing to listen to the other side, going from one extreme political era to another.
The purpose of me writting this now is simple; Don’t believe everything you read online, question everything and don’t just assume one person is right. Try and put yourself into the shoes of the person that is arguing against you. Speak to your mates about issues, even if you know they will disagree. We are the product of our environment, and if you surround yourself with the same circumstances, nothing will change. Get out of your comfort zone, because as soon as you’re comfortable, you’ve lost. Unless, of course, you’re about to retire, but by then you should already know what you believe in.
Everyone lives in their own head, with their own reality. Just because you perceive something as truth, and my truth varies from yours, doesn’t mean one of us is wrong. We just live in different environments under different circumstances. Stop thinking your reality is everyone elses.
We all have regrets and we are all prone to the same mistakes. Be compassionate, show gratitude and place your own ego aside if you’re serious about making a difference. Inform yourself, spread knowledge and listen to others, even if you think they’re idiots. Because if you don’t, you’ll end up as the idiot. And most importantly, don’t just apply this to politics, apply it to everything in life.