As a general rule, we reject facts that don’t fit our world view.  It is a very human thing to do.  Magicians make a living showing us things that we don’t believe because they are outside of our experience or our understanding of facts.  Saw a woman in half (always a pretty woman, BTW) then put her back together again.  This flies in the face of what we know to be fact.  It can’t be.  We are left to wonder what clever trick the magician employed to make us, for a moment, think that the woman had actually be sawn in half.  Cause that woman to levitate – suspended in air while the magician passes a wand under, over, behind and in front of her to prove she is not suspended or supported by anything physical.  For a moment we believe that the magician has created some magnetic force or something that allows her to float, held in the air by forces outside of our experience.  Again, we are left to puzzle what technique the magician has used to deceive us.  But we never believe this is real or ‘fact’.  It’s only magic – smoke and mirrors.  It doesn’t fit our experience or beliefs so we reject it.

We are the same way when we meet facts that don’t fit our cultural bias.

On top of that, when we meet facts that don’t fit with our beliefs, we naturally want to defend our beliefs.  Nobody likes to be proven wrong.  We search for facts to counter the ones that don’t fit our views.  We need to prove that we are right by discrediting the ‘facts’ that don’t fit or by showing that, at best, they are very slanted and only fit the world view of someone who is out of touch with reality.  If we really can’t find fact that will prove wrong the ‘facts’ that we find uncomfortable, we resort to what I call the ‘she-did-it-too’ defense.

Imagine a person attacking your favorite sports figure saying that he cheated on his wife with five different women.  You research as well as you can and find that one of the five women has denied the allegation and has good reason to be believed.  You also learn that two of the five appear to be publicity seekers who want people to believe they are attractive enough to be noticed by your famous sports figure.  Based on this, you confidently continue to support your athlete and feel you have debunked the untruths.  Failing that, you resort to finding another revered sports figure who is known to have also cheated on his wife.  You imply that it is okay to cheat because others do it, too.  “Every high profile sports star does it.”  In your view, that makes your sports star okay again.

In short, we easily and willingly believe facts that fit our world view.  We rarely “fact-check” when what we see, hear, or read supports our beliefs.  However, when ‘facts’ are presented that don’t fit our cultural bias, we immediately go into defensive mode.  We pick at any part of the fact that can be interpreted to be false.  We need to ‘prove’ that we are right.  In doing so, we lose the opportunity to see through the smoke, to see if there is a fire there or not.  But nobody wants to be wrong.  It is important to defend our ‘rightness,’  our world view.

After viewing the two videos below, I shared them with a number of friends.  I thought the topic was interesting, the story compelling, and the misconduct by ACORN and the news media fit my world view, my cultural bias, if you prefer.  Since the data presented fit my cultural bias against ACORN I did not take the time to investigate to see if the messenger or the message might be flawed.  Since I am fairly conservative this supported my views.  However, I count among my good friends a number of folks far more liberal than I.  After sending this to about 20 people, two of those who do not share my conservative views wrote back to defend ACORN or more accurately, to tear down both the message and the messenger.

No matter on which side of the isle you find yourself, I think you will find this interesting.  Each video is under 10 minutes.  If you watch just the first 5 minutes you will get the general idea.  If you only watch 1 or 2 minutes you will have wasted your time.  Please take a look.

.

So here is what my two good friends said when they responded:

“From Wikipedia: ACORN was founded in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado.[6] It filed for Chapter 7 liquidation on November 2, 2010, effectively closing the organization,[7] although many chapters and state-wide organizations continued work under different name(s).[8]

ACORN received significant negative publicity in the wake of the 2009 production and publication of videos, which were later found to be partially falsified and selectively edited,[9] by two conservative activists, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles. The activists used hidden-camera recordings to portray low-level ACORN employees as engaging in criminal activity, apparently advising them on how to hide prostitution activities and avoid taxes.[10] A nationwide controversy ensued, immediately resulting in a loss of funding from government and private donors,[11][12][13] includinglegislative amendments to spending bills in the United States House and Senate prohibiting government funding of the group.

Following the publication of the videos and withdrawal of funding, four different independent investigations by various state and city Attorneys General and the GAO released in 2009 and 2010 cleared ACORN, finding its employees had not engaged in criminal activities and that the organization had managed its federal funding appropriately, and calling the videos deceptively and selectively edited to present the workers in the worst possible light. Despite this, by March 2010, 15 of ACORN’s 30 state chapters had already closed[11] and the group announced it was closing its remaining state chapters and disbanding.[14]

(Amigo, you are far too anxious to buy into these conspiracy rumors. But, keep sending them money…)”

and

“So, we watched the videos, and then of course had to do some research.  Let’s say I ignore the fact that Moncreif’s speech was full of buzzwords (Socialism!  Ayers!  New York Times!) but short on facts, that she was fired for using an ACORN credit card for personal use before she started complaining about any of this (so she’s not really a whistleblower), and that even Fox News has stopped talking to her because her story is too unreliable.  Let’s say I accept that ACORN was complicit in the collection of clearly invalid voter registration cards.  Let’s say that I accept that the Obama campaign shared their lists of small-money donors with ACORN.  I still don’t see what the big deal is.  As far as I can tell, collecting fraudulent voter registration cards is not illegal (though in some states it is illegal to pay people to collect them on a per-registration basis).  And I don’t think there is anything wrong (or uncommon) about sharing the names of political donors with other organizations that might help your cause.  Am I missing something?”

Of course, seeing these ‘facts’ presented, I naturally look to defend my position.  I have the overwhelming need to point out the fallacy in much of their two arguments.  But wouldn’t it be more productive if I tried to suspend my cultural bias and see if there is something I can learn from this?

Biting my tongue, here is what I may learn.  I may discover that Anita Moncrief is not a reliable source.  Or, I might discover that she is honest and straightforward but folks who defend ACORN and Project Vote are trying to discredit her (impeach the witness).  I may find that only one or two low ranking people in the ACORN organization were guilty of forging voter registration cards.  Or I may discover that literally hundreds were involved in voter fraud right up to and including the founder of the organization.  I could find that many other groups are guilty of the same things that brought down ACORN but I would question whether that makes the actions any more acceptable.

It is good that I take the time to consider the meaning of these ideas that don’t fit my view.  Over time, it may modify what I think if I build up enough evidence that challenges my beliefs.  But, none of these discoveries by itself will likely change my world view, or convince me that ACORN was not a front for illegal actions that corrupt our election process.  You see, that is what fits my world view and none of us humans changes his or her mind easily, especially when doing so simultaneously shows that we were wrong or dumb or blind to the ‘facts’.

Reminds me of a favorite saying of an early mentor of mine: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” (attributed to Benjamin Franklin)  What do you think?

Advertisements