Political arguments are a waste of time. This is why.

Okay, I am going to start this very long rant with a bible verse because I am praying that you read it all the way through. Also because, in all modesty, the world needs to read this. Please do pass it on. 😉

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2 ESV

Okay, (deep breath) here we go…

NOTE: At some point, before bed, I read through 50+ news sources and share my findings here. If you like it, share it. If you don’t, share it. Follow my blog now to support my work or to find new reasons to complain about it. My opinions are my own. All tips are welcome. And if you have not already, help spread the message that people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

When someone takes the time to respond to my content, I always appreciate it. Whether or not it is affirming, the worse rebuttal is silence. So, to any and all who respond to my work, future, past and present, thank you.

I do not get offended when someone thinks differently than I do. It takes all kinds to form a world. I do however find it concerning when people become irate when I choose not to agree with them. And should I decide to dialogue with them on a controversial topic, something I rarely do, the dialogue degrades into a monologue where I simply nod my head silently to maintain my inner peace and/or preserve the relationship. In these interesting times, I do that more than ever before. So, why do I say this?

Someone unsubscribed from my updates today. Not strange, it happens. What struck me as interesting is how they departed. On their exit they said…

​I don’t want to read anymore of your misinformation…….

I suppose it was meant as a sarcastic quip to my last post on how the mainstream media can be misleading due to their personal biases. I laid out my reasoning and supported it with various articles, research and anecdotal evidence. They dismissed it because, I presume, they did not want to understand a point of view that was different from their own. (And I must stress that such was presumed because they had interacted with several of my posts in the past by clicking on various links I’ve shared.) Rather than say, “I disagree with your view” or some variation of that, they labeled it as misinformation. It made me wonder, how often does this scenario repeat itself every day and around the world?

Person A: I believe this because of that.

Person B: I feel differently, so, that makes you a liar. Regardless of whatever evidence you present.

Back in 2016, more than a third of social media users were worn out with political messages. I suspect its only became worse with all the record-breaking money spent on political ads recently. So, political disagreements were likely elevated more than ever before. All of this brings a question to mind that I have had to wrestle with at times, if I am being honest. I pose it to you now.

If you are presented with new information that is verifiably true, will you change your mind? Or, will you allow your passion, driven by a desire to be right (or virtuous), push you to continue a narrative that is provably wrong? 

Take a moment to consider that.

Be honest.

No matter how you chose to answer that question, Science says that you would likely double down on your beliefs. Check out this rather long quote from Psychology Today.

Our ability to reason did not develop simply to help us find the truth. Instead, reasoning evolved to fulfill fundamentally social functions, like cooperating in large groups and communicating with others.

This is one of the arguments advanced in “The Enigma of Reason,” a book by cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. According to their theory of reasoning, reason’s primary strengths are justifying beliefs we already believe in and making arguments to convince others. While this kind of reasoning helps us cooperate in a social environment, it does not make us particularly good at truth-seeking. It also makes us fall prey to a number of cognitive biases, like confirmation bias, or the tendency to search for information that confirms what we already believe.

Their ideas also help explain why politics seems to make us so bad at reasoning. If most of reasoning is for social cohesion instead of truth-seeking, then belonging to a particular political party should distort our reasoning and make us pretty bad at finding the truth.  

A number of studies document the many ways in which our political party distorts our reasoning. One study found that people who had strong math skills were only good at solving a math problem if the solution to the problem conformed to their political beliefs. Liberals were only good at solving a math problem, for instance, if the answer to that problem showed that gun control reduced crime. Conservatives were only good at solving this problem if the solution showed that gun control increased crime. Another study found that the higher an individual’s IQ, the better they are at coming up with reasons to support a position—but only a position that they agree with.

Belonging to a particular political party can also shape our perception. In one study, researchers were asked to watch a video of protestors. Half of the participants were told the people in the video were protesting the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The other half were told that the people were protesting an abortion clinic. Liberals reported saying the protestors were more violent and disruptive if they were told they were watching abortion clinic protestors, and the opposite was true for conservatives—even though everyone was watching the same video.  

Now, when you hear that, you may think, as I did, the answer to resolving political turmoil is to have an open frank discussion on political and social matters. Well, no, consider a study calledExposure to Opposing Views Can Increase Political Polarization: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment on Social Media.” It was conducted by several professors of Sociology, Political Science and Statistical Science from Duke University, Princeton University and New York University. The findings were published on March 19, 2018, so fairly recent. This is the summary of what they discovered. 

There is mounting concern that social media sites contribute to political polarization by creating “echo chambers” that insulate people from opposing views about current events. We surveyed a large sample of Democrats and Republicans who visit Twitter at least three times each week about a range of social policy issues. One week later, we randomly assigned respondents to a treatment condition in which they were offered financial incentives to follow a Twitter bot for one month that exposed them to messages produced by elected officials, organizations, and other opinion leaders with opposing political ideologies. Respondents were re-surveyed at the end of the month to measure the effect of this treatment, and at regular intervals throughout the study period to monitor treatment compliance. We find that Republicans who followed a liberal Twitter bot became substantially more conservative post-treatment, and Democrats who followed a conservative Twitter bot became slightly more liberal post-treatment. These findings have important implications for the interdisciplinary literature on political polarization as well as the emerging field of computational social science.

So, in the environment we all live in, where everything is political to some degree, how do we pursue peace with our neighbors? I don’t have all the answers but, I do have a few suggestions. 

  • Choose carefully who you debate with – As I pointed out, people who are shown information that goes against their belief system will likely refute it and double down on their personal viewpoint anyway. That being the case, if you are invited or baited into a discussion over politics, only debate political discussions with people who are willing to listen and likewise, be open to what they have to say. Establish a rule at the beginning that no matter what is said, has no bearing on your relationship because your relationship with them is bigger than politics. That is, if you want to preserve the existing relationship.
  • Consider your losses – In some cases, you know where someone else stands on their politics and that it is opposite of you. When tempted to discuss your political views with them, ask yourself if it is worth the potential loss of friendship. In some cases, it is not. Back in the 90’s, the official US policy on military service was “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service. The spirit of that agreement, applied to political discussions, could preserve a lot of family, social and work relationships. Don’t ask me how I feel about Donald Trump and I won’t tell you; just continue to assume that I believe as you do. Sometimes, there is safety in ignorance.
  • When you feel you must debate or defend your political position – Have a good understanding of why you believe what you believe and have 3 facts to share (or more, but at least one) to substantiate your position and reasons why your position benefits you and them.

In conclusion, some people believe that opposing views should not be heard; that’s called Cancel Culture. In America we have free speech and those who seek to drown out speech they don’t like, reveal themselves as intolerant bullies demanding their opinions be sacrosanct and all others be damned. From those people, walk away, leave them to argue with themselves, but place sunlight on the things they say and the actions they commit. Why? Because bad ideas, over time, perish in the sun

Wow. You actually read this to the end. Much appreciated. See you tomorrow. Hopefully, my rant won’t be as long.

(Header image source: KCCI News 8)

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