THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2022
Nebraska state solon gone wild: A small but instructive news event appeared this Monday in the Washington Post.
It involved a state senator in the state of Nebraska. Nothing will turn on this news event, and yet it's highly instructive.
Jaclyn Peiser penned the report. It almost seemed like an early April Fool's joke. It involved a statement by state senator Bruce Bostelman. Peculiar headline included, the report began as shown:
GOP legislator backtracks on claims students meow, bark, use litter boxes
During a televised debate over a Nebraska school funding bill on Monday, Republican state Sen. Bruce Bostelman brought up an issue he found particularly troubling: furries.
“Schoolchildren dress up as animals—cats or dogs—during the school day; they meow, and they bark,” he said. “And now schools are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for these children to use. How is this sanitary?”
But within hours of the debate, Bostelman backtracked and admitted the accusations were inaccurate.
“It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly,” Bostelman said, according to the Associated Press.
Say what? Yes, it seems to be true. It even happened on television!
Crikey! According to the Associated Press, Bostelman had cited "a persistent but debunked rumor alleging that schools are placing litter boxes in school bathrooms to accommodate children who self-identify as cats."
The solon had heard the persistent rumor—and he had believed it was true:
SCHULTE (3/28/22): Bostelman initially said he was “shocked” when he heard stories that children were dressing as cats and dogs while at school, with claims that schools were accommodating them with litter boxes.
“They meow and they bark and they interact with their teachers in this fashion,” Bostelman said during legislative debate. “And now schools are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for these children to use. How is this sanitary?”
[T]he baseless rumor has spread across the country, and become fuel for political candidates, amid the culture wars and legislative action involving gender identification in schools.
Hours after his remarks, Bostelman backtracked and acknowledged that the story wasn’t true. He said he checked into the claims with state Sen. Lynne Walz, a Democrat who leads the Legislature’s Education Committee, and confirmed there were no such incidents.
People believe the craziest things—and no, it isn't just Ginni Thomas, who had apparently heard that "the Biden crime family" were being sent to the barges and had apparently believed that it might be true.
According to disconsolate experts, it's important to understand the extent to which we humans are able to believe the craziest things. These despondent, hand-wringing experts also tell us this:
It's important to understand the fact that people from every political stance are inclined to believe false claims.
It's easy to think that crazy beliefs are only held by Others, not by people like Us. As a case in point, consider Dana Milbank's column from that very same day. In part, Milbank wrote this:
MILBANK (3/28/22): Recent advances in cognitive science suggest that highly intelligent people are more susceptible to “identity-protective cognition,” an unconscious process in which they use their intellect to justify rejecting facts inconsistent with their partisan identity.
“The really upsetting finding is that the better you are at particular types of cognitive tests … the better you are at manipulating the facts to reflect your prior beliefs, the more able you are to cognitively shape the world so it fits with your values,” says David Hoffman, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who studies cultural cognition. “You are able to take whatever unambiguous facts that exist in the world and run them through your own sausage-making mill to make it fit what you want.”
We all slip into such “motivated reasoning” to some degree, but it has been a particular problem on the right in recent years, where a combination of the Fox News effect and the weaponization of disinformation by Republican leaders has left a large chunk of the population disbelieving the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines and the reality of climate change but thinking that former president Barack Obama was born in Kenya and the 2020 election was stolen.
On the one hand, we agree! Crazy belief has become a major problem on the right in recent years. That said, Milbank may have slipped into the type of "motivated reasoning" which leads us liberals to believe that it only happens Over There, where The Others can be found living in mental squalor.
In fact, the tribunes of our own failing tribe have convinced us liberals of a wide array or misleading or bogus facts over the past several decades. In the past ten years, most of these bogus or misleading beliefs have involved issues of gender or race.
Those are the only topics we're still prepared to pretend we care about. Borrowing from Professor Hoffman's presentation, our "identities" are deeply connected to these (important) topics.
Milbank's column appeared beneath this pleasing headline:
Why do smart Republicans say stupid things?
"Careful, Milbank," one analyst cried. "We still read your columns!"