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motivated reasoning

reportersThat’s the conclusion to which you might jump, when you start reading this. But the reality is more nuanced.

Trust is lowest of all among the state’s Republicans. Only 22 percent said they trusted the media to do what was right all or most of the time, compared to 61 percent of Democrats, and 41 percent of independents.

The question is pretty broad. I certainly believe that most reporters and researchers and so on are trying to “do what’s right.” But they’re hamstrung by the insistence from their bosses that false equivalence be always paramount. (It’s telling that much of this article from “liberal” MPR is devoted to passing along complaints from conservative Republicans.) False equivalence, though, is not the same thing as outright propaganda favoring one side over the other. What’s really going on, is that conservatives in particular don’t like it when corporate media isn’t putting out what they want to see, hear, and/or read, to bolster their own motivated reasoning.

Only about a quarter of adults nationally self-identify as Republicans, so that should be kept in mind when evaluating the poll results, as well.

The last thing I’m trying to do here is mount an impassioned defense of corporate media. Among many, many other things, its behavior last year played a key role in making “Pr*sident Trump” the horrific reality that it is. But too much that’s out there on this topic acts as if perpetually embittered, whining right-wingers speak for everyone.


How this nightmare came to be, Part 1: idiots

by Dan Burns on January 24, 2017 · 4 comments

trump11When it comes to the 2016 election I was wrong on just about everything. That I had a great deal of company with that is no comfort and no excuse. So it wouldn’t make much sense to take my “analysis” any too seriously. I’m going for it anyway, over multiple posts. Maybe it will be cathartic.
It’s important to understand that most Trump voters are not openly across-the-board crazy and obnoxious. On the contrary, a great many are competent, and even far more than competent, as parents and spouses, at work, and in their communities. You can work with a right-wingnut for years and have no idea. (I know that from, among other things, repeated personal experience.)
But when the 62,979,636 Trump voters cast their ballots they were absolutely being a bunch of f*cking wretched, miserable idiots. Racism is stupid. Sexism is stupid. Buying into any kind of absolute bs that comes along just because it’s emotionally appealing is stupid. Unthinkingly swallowing the drivel that corporate “news” media dishes out is stupid. And so on.

And I just did not believe that there are still enough socio-political idiots out there to win a presidential election in the United States of America in 2016. Not in the absence of something like a serious economic recession, anyway, and certainly not behind a sexual predator, pathological liar and narcissist, spectacular professional failure, racist piece of s*it, and crass, vulgar lout like Donald Trump.


Why would anyone vote for Donald Trump?

by Dan Burns on November 6, 2016 · 2 comments

trump6I’ve seen that question posed a lot, especially after it became clear that the race wouldn’t automatically be a 40-point blowout.
A great many Trump supporters are not like the lads in the picture. In fact, for the most part you’d have no idea that they’re right-wingnuts, based on ordinary interaction. They’re competent, and often considerably better than just “competent,” as parents, as spouses, at their jobs, and at being contributing members of the community. So you can’t just label them as a group as hopeless idiots, even though that is certainly what they’re being when they vote.
There is no simple, comprehensive answer. It’s all about the ultimate bane of human existence, motivated reasoning (I’m no longer just talking about right-wingers; I’m still a motivated reasoner, myself, far too often), and like everything about human psychology it’s messy and complicated, and when it’s not right (that is, produces bad real-world results, like wars) it’s not easy to fix. If there was a way to get people in general consistently away from motivated reasoning and consistently into rational, scientific thinking, the world would be a lot better place. (Yes, with the latter there is still plenty of room for emotion and desire and dreams and all that. I’m not talking about trying to turn Earth into Vulcan, here.) But, obviously, no one has yet devised such a way.

Image: Boston Globe
Comments below fold.


Motivated reasoning and politics and stuff

by Dan Burns on September 15, 2016 · 6 comments

brain2Every so often I use the phrase “motivated reasoning” in a blog post. When I try to find a good hyperlink, everything is either too complicated or too simple. So I’m writing up my own.


First of all, the phrase “cognitive dissonance” is often misused. It is not the same thing as motivated reasoning. Cognitive dissonance happens when people are trying to hold different beliefs that don’t fit together well (for example, “the Twins are all set to be a contender next year” with “the Twins will lose 100+ games this year.”) Or when we notice that our attitudes and behavior are notably inconsistent (when we don‘t notice, or affect not to notice, that‘s called “hypocrisy”). It’s not a pleasant feeling, and people try to get rid of it.
Motivated reasoning is basically all the mental gymnastics people do to justify believing what they want, based on dogmatism, emotionalism and/or (often ego-driven) cognitive biases, when said beliefs have little or no apparent grounding in fact and/or reason. People use it to, among other things, quell cognitive dissonance. In some ways, a well-known phrase that could be a synonym for m. reasoning is “wishful thinking,” only you don’t accept that it’s wishful when it’s you that’s doing it.
(It’s possible that learned specialists would take issue with my definition, perhaps as too rough-and-ready. I certainly wouldn’t claim that I’m right and they’re wrong. I’m just trying to provide an indeed rough-and-ready description for practical understanding in socio-political contexts.)
Suppose I feel the need to internally justify a vote for Donald Trump for president. I fall back on unthinking, irrational, completely unsupported dogma that right-wing conservatism is good doctrine that produces good results. Emotionalism in that I will be gleeful to see people of color, assertive women, liberals, etc., get theirs. And I can call on all kinds of cognitive strategies like denial, rationalizing, confirmation bias, authoritarianism, groupthink, and so forth to convince myself that he is in reality knowledgeable, fair, honorable, kind, generous, and all that good stuff. Again, despite apparently infinite evidence to the contrary. All of these processes generally are, in real life, entirely or at least mostly subconscious.
By no means is motivated reasoning confined to the political right wing. On the contrary, it is as pervasive as the very air. We all do it. Including me. Trying to be aware that one is doing it is the first step to replacing it with the discipline of logic – that is, to really reason from fact.


Why hate on endangered species?

by Dan Burns on June 16, 2015 · 0 comments

wolfMy favorite animals are wolverines and polar bears. The adult males of both species are bad-tempered loners, and I relate. Wolverines are not in trouble in the near-term. Polar bears are listed as “vulnerable.” Many species are in far worse straits. For example, red wolves (pictured) are critically endangered.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing (May 6) on several bills that would obstruct the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the guise of “improvements” and “updates” these bills threaten the foundation of this bedrock environmental law.
Sadly, these legislative attacks on one of our most successful environmental laws are nothing new. The House passed several comparable bills last summer. With longtime opponent of the Endangered Species Act Senator Inhofe as chairman of the committee overseeing endangered species issues, this hearing is likely just the beginning of a similar onslaught in the Senate.
Though masked by a popular rallying cry of increasing transparency around endangered species decisions, the aim of proponents of dismantling the Act is to delay and ultimately stop Endangered Species Act safeguards from going into effect.
(Sierra Club)

Ostensibly, this is about reducing “burdensome” regulation, but, seriously, why would anyone think this is OK? A few suggestions:
– Perpetrators use motivated reasoning to convince themselves that the species aren’t really in trouble at all. The scientists are wrong about climate change, you know, so it’s a safe bet that they’re wrong about this, too.
– They are so pathologically narcissistic that they are honestly indifferent to the threat of species extinction.
– They are unable to wrap their puny right-wing pea-brains around a concept like the finality of extinction, and its real meaning and consequences.
There could be some of all of the above, and more. In any case, this is really ugly.