Why are people so stupid?
I am always changing my opinion of the human race. Usually I’m revising it downwards. Well, that’s not entirely correct. The only humans I am generally familiar with are Americans. That probably has a lot to do with why my opinion of humans keeps going down, and why my foreign friends are often so amazed at American’s attitudes. Let me clarify, I don’t think Americans are bad people or stupid people. It’s just that their ability to think and reason critically seems to be eroding every year. As far as I can tell, the average American, no matter how smart, is more inclined to use their brain to reinforce their opinions than critically examine the evidence. This tendency can be found everywhere though. After much thought, I have developed a theory. I’m sure other people have come up with the same theory, so I certainly don’t claim it to be original. To wit: I think that if people are holding a position on an issue because of religious or ideological reasons, they more or less become immune to logical argument, and instead use various logical fails to reinforce their position if challenged.
Let me give some examples. Gun control. The anti-gun control people are convinced that any gun regulation is an infringement on their rights. And thus they use a vast panoply of false arguments to deflect, ignore, and reject any and all discussion of gun control. In fact I could, and probably will write a post on the amazing array of false arguments anti-gun control proponents use. Suffice it to say, most of them aren’t willing to debate the issue. Health care is another one. People that are anti-Obamacare or in general think the US has the best health care in the world, seem more or less obsessed with the idea that they shouldn’t be forced to help other people through their taxes. They see it as a forced redistribution of wealth, and are against that in principle. Again, suffice it to say, these people argue vociferously (and badly) for the status quo. Lastly, abortion. Anti-abortion people seem to fervently believe that they are “saving babies.” They are categorically against abortion for ideological reasons, and it short circuits any discussion on the topic.
As a codicil to this, when people’s thinking is channeled by ideology/religion, it leads them to adapt extreme positions that are often so off-the-rails it’s scary. Republicans have introduced several bills now that give rapists parental rights or worse. One recent bill makes it a crime for a woman to abort a pregnancy from rape, the rationalization being that the baby is “evidence” of the crime. Right, anyone who can’t understand the insanity of a law making it a crime for a women to abort when she has been forcibly impregnated has lost touch with reality. Or the NRA’s call to arm teachers. Let’s see, putting tens of thousands of guns into schools every single day to prevent a crime that takes place maybe once a year is going to prevent gun crimes? This is one of those ideas that people proposing it didn’t think through. Which is sort of the gist of what I am saying here, if one tailors their ideas about social policy to conform to ideological limits, no real thought is required.
The worst aspect of this tendency is that it is exploited by institutions with an agenda. And while this has always been the case, the modern sciences of propaganda and advertising combined with the ubiquity of modern mass media has made this problem far worse. The NRA doesn’t discuss how to prevent gun violence for example, they spend most of their efforts convincing gun owners that the Feds are plotting to take away their guns. Thus short circuiting any discussion before it can begin. The health care industry does the same, by keeping people focused on the idea that there is something ideologically wrong with any attempt to rein in America’s out-of-control health care industry, any discussion of the basic problem … what’s the cheapest and best way to provide Americans with effective health coverage … never takes place. Basically exploiting this tendency in people short circuits any real discussion of the problem and how to resolve it. The pro-life people for example never actually want to discuss how to make every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy, they just want to ban it and insist that
people women should only be having sex if they want to have children.
Why would people be so inclined to swear allegiance to an abstraction than deal with reality? Damned if I know. I suspect there’s some survival benefit to identifying with one’s “tribe” and acting to defend it physically and intellectually. It’s also a lot easier to do than to critically examine an issue or one’s attitude towards an issue. Is this exclusively an aspect of right wing groups? No, but right wing groups are on the ascendency in the US. Republicans, the mainstream media, the energy industry, evangelical Christianity are the big players now. The biggest “leftist” player currently in the USA is the Democratic party, and while their false arguments are different, they use the ideas of pro-labor and pro-choice in a similar fashion to ensure the loyalty of their base. All of which fills me with gloom. On the one hand this is preventing any serious debate on the issues facing the USA. Worse, some of the ideological “solutions” to our nation’s problems are actually counter-productive. And scariest of all, there is the possibility that this will lead to something really really bad.
That’s for a future post though. I hope everyone is having a great weekend.
(The above image is so ubiquitous on Facebook that it might as well be public domain. I’m claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law. I have no clue who holds the copyright, but I commend them for their creativity. So many “debates” on line are farcical these days. This is not what the communication revolution promised. Not that any revolution has ever led to something people expected.)