Every time I tell myself that Americans have gone through nutty and mean-spirited periods before, and we’ll come through this one, I encounter something that dashes my all-too-fragile hopes.
This time, it was a link sent by a colleague who is equally depressed at the seeming inability of our lawmakers to respond appropriately to facts and evidence.
According to new research by Yale Law Professor Dan Kanan, we’re pretty much doomed.
Okay, that isn’t really the title of his paper. The title is: “Motivated Numerancy and Enlightened Self-Government,” but it might as well be “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Live Here.” Kahan measured the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly, and he found that partisanship can undermine even the most basic reasoning skills.
Even people who are normally very good at math, for example, can totally “flunk” a problem they would ordinarily be able to solve, because the correct answer would contradict their political beliefs.
This research is further confirmation of work done by another researcher, Brendan Nyhan, who teaches at Dartmouth. He’s the one who reached the conclusion that facts don’t matter to people who are deeply invested in an ideology; when people believe something that isn’t so, giving them facts that correct their error just makes them cling more strongly to their original belief.
Death panels, anyone?
Denial, as my grandfather used to say, isn’t just a river in Egypt.
It does appear that this unfortunate aspect of the way the human brain works is limited to beliefs in which we are emotionally invested. You think if we put valium in the drinking water, and everybody chilled out a bit, we could improve policymaking?
Just a thought….