People watching TV
© AP Photo/John Raoux
The same facts will sound different to people depending on what they already believe.
Something is rotten in the state of American political life. The U.S. (among other nations) is increasingly characterized by highly polarized, informationally insulated ideological communities occupying their own factual universes.


Comment: We agree to a certain extent. Things are certainly rotten. As has been seen with the Russiagate and Ukrainegate hoaxes, Trump impeachment and the snowflake and PC progressive, authoritarian culture being nurtured on the Left, especially in the university system, and trying to be pushed on all people, those moving toward the far left are certainly 'informationally insulated ideological communities.' You can toss the majority of mainstream media into this group, though it can be suspected that at least some of the media personalities and likely those that own and call the shots at the top of the news organizations know exactly what they are doing and pushing out via their various media mediums. The Right also has this issue, as was shown by the reaction of many Trump supporters and the Right in general to the assassination of the Iranian General Suleimani in Iraq by the US, and the topic of Iran in general.

All of this doesn't happen in isolation though. Things don't just become rotten on their own. People don't just divide and start fighting against each other for no good reason and without some influence of some kind. Machiavelli was writing about divide and conquer as a strategy of powerful groups or interests to gain and maintain power over 400 years ago...


glasses
© Vladyslav Starozhylov/Shutterstock.com
Everyone sees the world through one partisan lens or another, based on their identity and beliefs.
Within the conservative political blogosphere, global warming is either a hoax or so uncertain as to be unworthy of response. Within other geographic or online communities, vaccines, fluoridated water and genetically modified foods are known to be dangerous. Right-wing media outlets paint a detailed picture of how Donald Trump is the victim of a fabricated conspiracy.


Comment: The author shows his own bias here, and possibly what his agenda is. Conservatives and so-called conspiracy theorists (i.e. 'things known to be dangerous') are being primed to be bad. As an exercise, take the key words mentioned, such as vaccines, and do a search on SOTT.net and see what the alternatives to the 'official narrative' and 'official culture' are. If you think there are no issues or disagreements about such topics, then maybe you are under the influence of an "informationally insulated ideology."


None of that is correct, though. The reality of human-caused global warming is settled science. The alleged link between vaccines and autism has been debunked as conclusively as anything in the history of epidemiology. It's easy to find authoritative refutations of Donald Trump's self-exculpatory claims regarding Ukraine and many other issues.


Comment: Search 'settled science' on SOTT.net and see what the 'official narrative' and 'official culture' are not allowing to be discussed and conveyed to the wider public. It is also easy to find on SOTT.net and in the alternative media detailed and authoritative information and sources in support of Donald Trump's claims about Ukraine and many other issues. If you consider only one source or perspective, such as the mainstream media and 'official narrative' and 'official culture' then maybe you are under the influence of an "informationally insulated ideology." That isn't to say you should just buy into and believe anything you find on the internet or in alternative news. You need to make efforts, spend time, and think things through critically and build discernment. We would say for your own good, but you are free to choose what is best.

Also, as Google changes its search results and censors whole search categories, such as alternative medicine, and shadow banning is increasing on social media and other platforms, being able to have access to alternative views may not be the case for long. Zero Hedge was just banned on twitter recently and SOTT.net continues to be targeted.


Yet many well-educated people sincerely deny evidence-based conclusions on these matters.


Comment: The author is supposedly well-educated as a Professor of Philosophy. And we agree, people should strive to reach evidence-base conclusions. That cannot be accomplished if you do not take your biases into account, question your own conclusions continuously (being willing to change your conclusions based on more information) and take ALL information, perspectives and evidence into account.


In theory, resolving factual disputes should be relatively easy: Just present evidence of a strong expert consensus. This approach succeeds most of the time, when the issue is, say, the atomic weight of hydrogen.


Comment: If the 'strong expert consensus' does not take all information, evidence and perspectives into account, then it should be questioned. As history has shown in science, 'strong expert consensus' is often quite wrong for a long time before things shift. There are often many highly qualified and very educated people and groups of people who disagree with the consensus for good reason. These are the people who suffer attack and personal and professional hardship from the 'strong expert consensus' and, as is often the case, years down the line are vindicated when their ideas are eventually validated.

Also, this doesn't even take into account why a 'strong expert consensus' may be reached on any given topic or in any given field. Keeping careers, money, control of people and outside influence for various other reasons and agendas can all play a role in why a supposed consensus is reached. To deny these or act as if they do not exist or play a role in reaching a consensus is to deny information and evidence when reaching a conclusion.

Finally, for a seemingly benign topic such as the atomic weight of hydrogen where there is nothing to be gained or lost by people or groups. the consensus can usually be accepted and succeeds, so we agree with the author on that point.


But things don't work that way when the scientific consensus presents a picture that threatens someone's ideological worldview. In practice, it turns out that one's political, religious or ethnic identity quite effectively predicts one's willingness to accept expertise on any given politicized issue.


Comment: We would agree with the first line, if you substitute "all evidence, information and perspectives being taken into account" for "the scientific consensus."


"Motivated reasoning" is what social scientists call the process of deciding what evidence to accept based on the conclusion one prefers. As I explain in my book, The Truth About Denial, this very human tendency applies to all kinds of facts about the physical world, economic history and current events.

Denial doesn't stem from ignorance

The interdisciplinary study of this phenomenon has exploded over just the last six or seven years. One thing has become clear: The failure of various groups to acknowledge the truth about, say, climate change, is not explained by a lack of information about the scientific consensus on the subject.

Instead, what strongly predicts denial of expertise on many controversial topics is simply one's political persuasion.

A 2015 metastudy showed that ideological polarization over the reality of climate change actually increases with respondents' knowledge of politics, science and/or energy policy. The chances that a conservative is a climate change denier is significantly higher if he or she is college-educated. Conservatives scoring highest on tests for cognitive sophistication or quantitative reasoning skills are most susceptible to motivated reasoning about climate science.

This is not just a problem for conservatives. As researcher Dan Kahan has demonstrated, liberals are less likely to accept expert consensus on the possibility of safe storage of nuclear waste, or on the effects of concealed-carry gun laws.


Comment: That sounds like interesting and reasonable research to consider. As a note there is a difference between accepting climate change is happening, denying climate change is happening ('climate change denier'), believing climate change is the fault of mankind via CO2 causing global warming, and believing mankind does not have much or as much impact as 'scientific consensus' indicates because the change has more to do with cosmic/cyclical influences.


Denial is natural

Our ancestors evolved in small groups, where cooperation and persuasion had at least as much to do with reproductive success as holding accurate factual beliefs about the world. Assimilation into one's tribe required assimilation into the group's ideological belief system. An instinctive bias in favor of one's "in-group" and its worldview is deeply ingrained in human psychology.

A human being's very sense of self is intimately tied up with his or her identity group's status and beliefs. Unsurprisingly, then, people respond automatically and defensively to information that threatens their ideological worldview. We respond with rationalization and selective assessment of evidence - that is, we engage in "confirmation bias," giving credit to expert testimony we like and find reasons to reject the rest.


Comment: That sounds about right. This should be applied to any group and political group whether on the Left or Right.


Political scientists Charles Taber and Milton Lodge experimentally confirmed the existence of this automatic response. They found that partisan subjects, when presented with photos of politicians, produce an affective "like/dislike" response that precedes any sort of conscious, factual assessment as to who is pictured.

In ideologically charged situations, one's prejudices end up affecting one's factual beliefs. Insofar as you define yourself in terms of your cultural affiliations, information that threatens your belief system - say, information about the negative effects of industrial production on the environment - can threaten your sense of identity itself. If it's part of your ideological community's worldview that unnatural things are unhealthful, factual information about a scientific consensus on vaccine or GM food safety feels like a personal attack.


Comment: Sounds about right in terms of the general topic of prejudices, etc. The author seems to go back to what was primed earlier in terms what was mentioned above by our comment about focusing on Conservatives and so-called conspiracy theorists' topics (i.e. 'things known to be dangerous'). If he had given examples of how the Left can fall into similar traps and how the scientific consensus can often be wrong and the reasons why in terms of the comment we wrote above, then he might be able to make a scientific basis for his claims.


Unwelcome information can also threaten in other ways. "System justification" theorists like psychologist John Jost have shown how situations that represent a threat to established systems trigger inflexible thinking and a desire for closure.

For example, as Jost and colleagues extensively review, populations experiencing economic distress or external threat have often turned to authoritarian, hierarchicalist leaders promising security and stability.


Comment: Interesting! This would seem to indicate that as things get more chaotic and 'normal' everyday life and functioning is impacted (i.e. 'threat to established systems') that people will be more inclined to turn to 'the official narrative' and 'official culture,' which is the current 'authoritarian, hierarchicalist' leader and system. It would be a mistake to believe the current leaders who run the system don't realize this.


Denial is everywhere

This kind of affect-laden, motivated thinking explains a wide range of examples of an extreme, evidence-resistant rejection of historical fact and scientific consensus.

Have tax cuts been shown to pay for themselves in terms of economic growth? Do communities with high numbers of immigrants have higher rates of violent crime? Did Russia interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election? Predictably, expert opinion regarding such matters is treated by partisan media as though evidence is itself inherently partisan.


Comment: We will leave it to the reader to untangle this for themselves, based on what we wrote above, but only point out that the questions seem to show the Left-leaning biases of the author.


Denialist phenomena are many and varied, but the story behind them is, ultimately, quite simple. Human cognition is inseparable from the unconscious emotional responses that go with it. Under the right conditions, universal human traits like in-group favoritism, existential anxiety and a desire for stability and control combine into a toxic, system-justifying identity politics.

When group interests, creeds, or dogmas are threatened by unwelcome factual information, biased thinking becomes denial. And unfortunately these facts about human nature can be manipulated for political ends.

This picture is a bit grim, because it suggests that facts alone have limited power to resolve politicized issues like climate change or immigration policy. But properly understanding the phenomenon of denial is surely a crucial first step to addressing it.