Social psychologists have documented that persons readily, and correctly, discern that individuals who hold factual beliefs different from their own have formed those views to fit their group commitments.
The same research that shows that people often discern the effect of group commitments on the factual views of others finds that people usually don’t discern the distorting effect of such commitments on their own beliefs. Social psychologists call this dynamic ‘naïve realism.’
This experience—of simultaneously perceiving and not perceiving cognitive illiberalism*—is a ubiquitous feature of our political experience. Because our society is genuinely pluralistic, nearly every citizen belongs simultaneously to (potentially shifting) majorities and minorities in moral debates. As a result, we can all identify some species of regulation we object to on the ground that its secular rationale is either a pretext for, or a rationalization of, aversion to disfavored values. And by the same token, we all support regulations the secular justifications for which are perceived by others as pretexts or rationalizations. (links/citations in the original 2007 study by Dan M. Kahan: The Cognitively Illiberal State)
* What’s it all mean? In my simple-minded layman’s understanding, we seem to be exacerbating the partisan divide unnecessarily by not only failing to understand the motivations, feelings, values, and beliefs which our political opponents rely upon to develop their preferred associations as well as to formulate their own judgments about policies and culture. We’re also not realizing that we’re doing the same on our side of that fence. Despite our fervent assurances that no bias enters the decision-making process (“just the facts, ma’am”), bias enters the decision-making process. Values and morals play their part.
That’s not to say (as I explained in my most recent post post) that our own decisions are always or even often arrived at after a period of introspection and personal consideration. The short-cuts nonetheless serve to help us identify with our preferred group(s). Those same short-cuts also enable us to navigate through our days without the constant burden of having to evaluate the myriad data and opinions and considerations and perspectives of the many important society-wide issues of the day. We defer to our selected officials, spokespeople, and experts to do that work for us.
If we are inclined to side with them on other issues and policies of meaning or significance to us, it’s that much easier to accept their decisions and opinions as being our own as well. And as I also noted in that last post of mine, perfectly reasonable, logical, and understandable.
But what the passage above suggests is that we may be committing an oversight and/or making an impromptu judgment which is preventing us from considering at least a bit more intentionally what those apparently conflicting assessments are intending to present. We’re ascribing certain motivations to the other side—quite often on the theory that they “oppose” us because of animosity towards our side rather than for legitimate reasons—while failing to realize that what we do is also what they do in arriving at their decisions and opinions.
The other side likewise defers to their selected officials, spokespeople, and experts to do the work for of assessing and analyzing and concluding for them based on their different values and beliefs, etc. Ignoring the fact that those others do exactly what we’re doing and instead making a determination that their motivations are driven not by reflection or consistency with their values and ideologies but because they simply want to disagree with us because they don’t like us.
It would be a fascinating experience to consider not only what kinds of more in-depth and honorable conversations we might have with our political enemies if we all understood that, but what kinds of solutions and cooperative efforts might come into play as a result.
Given what’s at stake now and for our children, worth a look?
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Looking Left and Right:
Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows
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Life Will Answer – Thought-provoking inquiries & observations about how (and why) Life does … and does not, work for everyone. [Inspired by my book of the same name]
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The Middle Age Follies – A column offering a slightly skewed look at life for those of us on the north side of 50
Be the change you want in the world – Gandhi
This blog is offered to encourage more enlightened public discourse—by sharing observations about the ideologies which motivate our political, economic, and cultural debates. The simple hope: shedding light on current “strategies” will prompt more of us to realize a different approach is at least worth considering … assuming a better future is worth pursuing. (It is!)
The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because
of those who look at it without doing anything – Albert Einstein