Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Monday, February 25, 2013

When facts and narratives collide. (When facts contradict beliefs, challenge the facts.)

The title is meant to catch your eye. I'm not saying that thinking objectively means we should deny facts that challenge our beliefs.

I generally don't start political discussions with people I know disagree with me. I don't enjoy getting into arguments partly because I know there is no true “winner” in these disagreements. As a libertarian in liberal Massachusetts that means I almost never start such discussions because few people share my point of view.

For instance, during the NFL football season my wife and I watch the games at a friend's house where the wife is as avid a fan of the Patriots as my wife. However, I knew that our host, let's call her Jane, is fairly liberal. During the election she had signs along her driveway for Elizabeth Warren. Need I say more? Sometime after the election Jane brought up politics even though she had a good hunch that I didn't agree with her. I said that I was neither a Republican nor a Democrat but a libertarian. Our talk was quite civil for a while until Jane said she didn't understand why the economy wasn't doing better despite the stimulus package. I told her that every one of my customers have said that they are sitting on tons of cash but don't want to hire people. (In my job I often meet with the treasurer or CFO of my accounts.) Why? Because they're afraid of what additional regulations will be coming and the effects of ObamaCare when it starts being implemented. Jane burst out with “Bullshit! I don't accept that!” She stood up, added that she also didn't think the wealthy or businesses were really responsible for job creation, then started to storm out of the room. I said, “It looks like this conversation is over.” (To give her credit Jane did apologize later for her outburst although she didn’t change her mind.)

This incident opened my eyes to an interesting facet, not just of liberalism but probably of all ideologies: the denial of facts that contradict cherished beliefs.

In this case pointing out that businesses were reluctant to hire people challenged the policies and politicians that Jane supports. It also violated the liberal narrative. This narrative says that the wealthy and business owners have infinite resources that can be taxed and regulated without negative consequences. I think there also is the belief that we have the right to tap these resources because the rich and business owners didn't earn their wealth. After all, they didn't build that, as Obama angrily asserted.

I recall seeing a skit on Bill Maher’s show in which a conservative is sitting inside a sound-proof bubble while Maher and another liberal shout “truths” at the conservative. Conservatives feel the same about the filter liberals have installed in their ears. Rather than get into all of this here I highly recommend Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. Haidt explains how each side (including libertarians) focus on certain aspects of morality while filtering out others so that both sides in a debate talk past one another.

By the way the very next day I was at the airport when I heard a story on TV about the $1 trillion US companies are sitting on rather than using it to expand their business. The reasons given were the exactly same reasons I cited to Jane.