This fake news phenomenon (this is the third and final installment of our current discussion; here are one and two) is related to the majority of folks’ inability to deal with cognitive dissonance. The stress we feel when we are confronted with data that is (diametrically or less so) opposed to the strongly held beliefs and ideas that we harbor internally. As such, we are more willing to accept fake news that doesn’t confront our beliefs- even if we suspect the “facts” have been uttered by Kelly Ann Conway (as in “alternative facts”).
Now, I always loved the quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald (the author whose “Great Gatsby” was 7th grade assigned reading)… “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” That quote, “eschew obfuscation” and Voltaire’s “May you live as long as you want to- and want to as long as you live” were plastered all over my walls growing up.
But, cognitive dissonance aside, we routinely have to decide if we wish to spend time with folks whose beliefs are counter to ours. (I routinely enjoy such experiences at St. Elmos- and my Shabat table, among many other venues.) I enjoy such discussions- because they force me to confront holes in my own thinking. But, that does not mean I can accept folks who simply continue to invent facts.
I’ve described my interactions (or not) of one such fellow who habituated St. Elmo’s who was (and still is) “the chalk screech on the blackboard”; he still routinely invents facts as we discuss events at our “round table”. (Even 7 years ago, before we had a whole group of politicians promoting fake facts, I was bemoaning the practice.) We, my table mates, all learned that the best way to deal with him was either be totally deaf to his (deranged) concepts or disappear shortly after he elected to join our table.
But, sometimes, we all get eMails (or Facebook posts) from folks that we know have no basis in fact. What shall we do?
Well, in my case, I cite the facts that prove the message is bogus. I request s/he notify those who received the incorrect data be notified of the error- and, if on Facebook, have the post removed. (Consider again the parable from yesterday.)
But, the trick is to keep emotions out of our replies. Stick with the facts. I admit that I often fail to keep emotions at bay- I tend to be a voluble guy. (Now would be the perfect time to refer you to the magazine Scientific American; it has a great article on this matter…)
I think I managed to do that just the other night, when my guests and I were discussing the transgender bathroom issue. Where one fellow claimed he feared for the safety of his daughters. (I am curious as to where he comes to the belief that transgender individuals attack folks; the data I see clearly demonstrates that it is the non-transgendered or the anti-gay person who is the initiator of virtually all such attacks.) I also reminded him that the bathroom issue is about as germane to transgender issues as was the use of water fountains by Blacks during the 50’s and 60’s was in the South.
Maybe it’s time to consider the two full page ads posted by the New York Times this past week. Condensed here to a single diagram….
That says it all.