What if they've heard nothing else? Why do so many people believe so many things which aren't true? We're thinking of people within our own liberal tribe, not just of the nuts Over There.
What explains so much false belief? Today, in The Atlantic's Book Briefing, Rosa Inocencio Smith offers this, early on:
SMITH (12/13/19): [W]hile modern technology may have fostered the spread of misinformation, the social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson write that our tendency as humans to convince ourselves that we’re right no matter what the evidence shows has deep psychological roots; indeed, as the anthropologist Pascal Boyer writes, prioritizing beliefs over facts was part of human evolution."Prioritizing beliefs over facts was part of human evolution?" Why would an anthropologist be saying something like that?
Later tonight, we hope to check with the future anthropologists with whom we consult to see if they're familiar with Boyer's work. But in this "story" [sic] to which Smith links, Julie Beck offers a brief account of Boyer's thinking, as explained in his forthcoming book, Minds Make Societies: How Cognition Explains the World Humans Create.
You can check Beck's account of BoyerThink for yourself. For ourselves, the instinctive attraction to false belief doesn't seem especially hard to explain, at least on a theoretical "pop anthropology" basis.
(If our species evolved during the war of the all against all, agreement with the beliefs of the tribe, and the group membership thus conveyed, might have been a survival skill. But we'll check with our future experts.)
At any rate, we were struck by the highlighted claim in the passage below. We think the highlighted claim misunderstands the sweep of our current dilemma:
BECK (12/11/19): The sheer scale of the internet allows you to find evidence (if sometimes dubious evidence) for any claim you want to believe, and counterevidence against any claim you don’t want to have to believe. And because humans didn’t evolve to operate in such a large sea of people and information, Boyer says people can be fooled into thinking some ideas are more widespread than they really are."The sheer scale of the internet allows you to find evidence...for any claim you want to believe?" Even if we assume that's true, what if some false assertion is so ubiquitous that it never even occurs to a person that some alternative possibility could be true?
We're thinking of the ubiquity of the silly, propagandistic claim we discussed all this week:
"Nothing is working in our American public schools."This has been a favorite claim of the right, the left and the mainstream for decades now. We'll take w wild guess—many people have heard this claim so many times, from such an array of sources, that it has never entered their heads that the claim might not be true, or might be highly misleading.
"The sheer scale of the internet" may allow you to find evidence for some claim you want to believe. But what if you've been propagandized in such a ubiquitous way that it never even enters your head that some possibility could be true?
We think today of the ubiquitous claim, "Nothing is working in our schools," and of the astounding way the Washington Post and the New York Times disappeared so many elementary facts in their "news reports" about last year's Pisa results.
We humans are widely propagandized, and that's even true of us brilliant liberals. Indeed, as our society continues to split into tribes, it seems to us that we see it happening pretty much every night of the week!