Tuesday, July 07, 2015

When belief is dangerous

Fellow Americans: Please stop undermining the truth

Modern forces have learned to manipulate our biases and errors in reasoning to serve their own ends.

By Mark Buchanan, Bloomberg

Mark Buchanan, a physicist and Bloomberg View columnist, is the author of “Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology and the Natural Sciences Can Teach Us About Economics.”

People believe all kinds of crazy things. Three out of four Americans believe there are signs that aliens from outer space have visited the Earth. More than 40 percent think that early modern humans co-existed with dinosaurs. As of 2010, Americans on average thought the U.S. spent a full quarter of its federal budget on foreign aid (the actual figure was about 1 percent).

Some erroneous beliefs are particularly dangerous, because they are founded on powerful ideologies and therefore impervious to evidence. Most of the Republican presidential candidates refuse to acknowledge that human activity contributes significantly to climate change. The tragic murders of nine African-Americans – the pastor and eight parishioners – at a church in South Carolina were the direct result of an ideology of white supremacy planted into the mind of Dylann Roof by organized purveyors of propaganda.

Unfortunately, as philosopher Lee McIntyre suggests in a new book, disrespecting the facts is a pervasive trend of our era. It represents an erosion of norms about inquiry, established at great expense through humanity’s long struggle for survival and ascendancy. Our future, he argues, may depend on how well we manage to preserve a commitment to truth in face of its many enemies.

The problem isn’t that people often believe things that aren’t true. The real trouble is willful ignorance, typically the result of a strong psychological connection to a comforting ideology that provides ready answers to all questions – a turning away from reality. “This sort of obstinacy,” McIntyre notes, “reflects a dangerous contempt for the methods that customarily lead to recognition of the truth.”

(Continued here.)

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