Saturday, November 19, 2016

Confirmation Bias Still Alive & Well

I had a few words with my oldest daughter this morning about confirmation bias. She is almost 17 and in just over a year she will be eligible to vote. She should start making efforts to understand the world around her so she can make informed decisions and forge a realistic worldview. I don't know how much she understood what I was talking about, but it never hurts to plant the seeds that may be watered by someone else (friend, teacher, significant other, etc) in the future. 

I've sort of been shocked by what has been happening in the media and with people's reaction to it since the election. I guess old habits are hard to break. The same people that didn't have a clue that Hillary Clinton was not a shoe in for president are now telling everyone that Roe v Wade is done, gays and lesbians have to go back in the closet, and anyone with skin that isn't white are going to be booted out of the country. Nonsense. At no point will I say that people shouldn't be concerned about what a Trump presidency may bring, but in my opinion, not a whole lot more than they should have been worried about Obama or Bush before him. We have a system in place and we don't elect kings.

Remember those guys, Bush and Obama? You know, Bush was going to over turn Roe v Wade too, along with calling for martial law so he could remain president past his eight years. Remember when Obama was going to take all of the guns away and call for martial law so he could remain president past his eight years? I 'member.

This post isn't about Trump or the presidential race though, it's about searching for information and news. With "team politics" so prevalent in our culture, we have created a sense that it's a reality TV show or a ball game. That the winners and losers being heralded or vilified means more than the actual results. It's entertainment and when people look at news as entertainment (and entertainment as news) that opens the door for profiteers and for information manipulation. We saw it all through the presidential campaigns with Bernie v Hillary and then Trump v Hillary. It was almost as if (or they actually are) each website or news organization was a propaganda site for one candidate or another. 

I used to be a FOX News guy. Why? Because they talked about what I wanted to hear in the way I wanted it talked about. I eventually popped that bubble, but most people don't and never will. Most people are going to seek out news and information that fits in with their worldview. Honesty and truth become secondary to their bias. They stay safe from critical analysis in the bubble. That leads people into a fog in which they are walking through life with a false sense of reality and if they are only surrounded by folks that are doing the same thing, there is no possibility of a different point of view sneaking in to challenge them. If we only talk to conservatives, only watch conservative news or visit conservative websites, how can you possibly get a sense of what is happening on the liberal side or in the real world that occupies the middle? Works vice versa too. Just as an example to think you think people in North Korea or Iran know who we are as a people? Do you think they have an honest grasp on what our nation is about and more importantly, what the people of this nation are about? You know they don't. Why? Because they are spoon fed one version of information and events and that's going to shape their worldview. The world they are shown isn't presented in a way that allows them to make a fair determination on how they should feel or think.

I kind of figured that people would be a little  more willing to "let the cake bake" after the election results, but no, we have rioting, anger, and a proliferation of misinformation flying around. How can this happen so fast? Wikileaks showed the folly of the Democrats nomination process and exposed the media's complicity in defeating Bernie Sanders. Bernie was saying the same thing Trump was about Clinton but the reporting and following up on that was nearly non-existent. The media fixated on Trump's personality and not nearly enough on the substance (or lack thereof) of his rhetoric. They dropped the ball on investigating both of these candidates enough at the policy level and focused on the entertainment value instead. Was it any wonder that all the polls from establishment media showed Hillary waltzing to victory and the few that tried to maintain balance in their sampling were proven to be more accurate? Remember the Duke lacrosse team rape case and how the media convicted those young men in the court of public opinion on a rape that didn't happen?  If you want something to be true, you will find a way to make it so. Social media is ripe with disinformation and outright lies and again, if you want something to be true, you will only be confirming your bias by not getting an opposing view. I do confirmation bias with a couple of things.....musicians I enjoy and sports teams I love. In real life, I'm not about to let the left or right wings get their hooks in me ever again. I cull information from a lot of sources. On TV, I look to CNN and FOX and then go to YouTube to hear what Reason TV and Al Jazeera are reporting on. I use the internet extensively. I'm as apt to check out Breitbart as much as I am Daily Kos and I frequent CNN and FOX on the net as well. Real Clear Politics offers a lot of editorial information from a host of news services and I also rely on the Wall St Journal and the New York Times. There are other great places to grab information with sites like IFL Science and Investors Business Daily. 

Then, there is gut check time and that can be difficult. I have to try to sort through the information and make sense of it, all while trying to check my bias on a topic. It'd be easy to just click FOX or CNN and allow my mind to be made up in easy and short fashion, but that's not who I want to be. I want more raw info and less manipulated info. I'm finding the truth in evaluation is difficult so all I can do is weight the information I receive against the past, about what I already know, and with more than a healthy dose of skepticism. If I had been a bit more skeptical of the propaganda we were being fed post 9/11/2001, perhaps I wouldn't have been so gung ho about supporting an invasion of Iraq that was built on media manipulation and outright fallacy. I still lament not seeing through that.

I would love to be more optimistic and trusting, but I have to have good reason to be. As a born pessimist it's hard for me to be optimistic in general, but I really am trying and part of that trying is the want to see results before I condemn or celebrate. I did that with the new Star Wars and Planet of the Apes, so surely I can be patient enough to see what the new government will bring. I also want to be able to trust the news, but we are not living in that reality.  

In the end, I suppose my point is that we just don't seem to be learning fast enough. It does seem that more people than ever are waking up to how the news media must be seen with a skeptical eye, but it's not happening fast enough for me as I see friends, co-workers, etc sliding right back to buying every media narrative floated since the election. According to Gallup an all-time low number of people trust mainstream news to portray information accurately. That number is 32%. Unreal, yet we still see people who say they are skeptical going "all in" with every headline. Another important part of all this is that as of 2012, six corporations own 90% of the media. In 1983, it was 50 companies. An incredible centralizing of information distribution. That's quite a bit of power in the hands of the few and it's ripe for manipulation and exploitation.  

I'd ask anyone interested in trying to strip away their confirmation to do it a little at a time. When I stopped believing in organized religion, I took the advice of Julia Sweeney and just took off my "god glasses" for a little while every day. I tried to see the world through a prism that didn't include a personal god that cared about the things that religion says that god cares about. For every couple of Breitbart articles or Mother Jones articles you read, why not visit the other site and read on the same topic? Why not go to CNN and FOX and listen to their take and then find a commentary on You Tube to get a differing opinion. Do so without your ideological glasses on. Be intellectually honest with yourself and try to determine where the facts are and what that means to you and your worldview. You may come right back to the same conclusions you already hold, but at the least, you will have challenged yourself to be open to different ideas, and maybe more importantly, to understand the view point of others. Understanding each other as people and not as opponents is a big deal for me and the more people that can be brought out of their confirmation bias, the better in my opinion. 

Until next time.....