February 26, 2010

Self Affirming World Views

You are not immune to this.  Neither am I, neither is anyone.  Your cultural world view shades, often overtly and powerfully, what you think is real.  In other words, facts have ideologies.  But it's more than that.  Nudge-like, the manner and context in which information is presented will influence the way you rate a fact's ideology.  Particularly in the U.S., there are two dominant world views, with ill-defined but widely-intuited constellations of positions on issues, which are largely diametrically opposed to one another.  Depending on which camp you are in, this will tell you what is true and what is not.

Take global warming. If the policy proposal is limits on industrial growth or caps on carbon emissions, a conservative person is likely to suggest that anthropic global warming is an unlikely and unproven hypothesis.  But if the policy proposal is more nuclear power plants, that same person is likely to cite the risks of global warming as a serious issue.  The converse would be true for (some? most?) liberals.

How do you make decisions on their merits, then?  Well, that's the rub, isn't it!  You have to shed your ideology, remove yourself from party and tribe and personal prejudice.  And guess what, that's really difficult.  Some of your ideology comes from your education, which itself taught you how to reason and evaluate and make judgments.  You can't shed those skills.  So that means you also need to teach yourself how to separate fact from opinion, how to distinguish the objective from the normative.  At this point, we've reached a high enough level of abstraction, level of meta-analysis sophisticated enough that the vast majority of people are simply never going to bother to complete it.

Which means that if you are trying to get people to agree with you about something, you're going to have to do that meta-thinking for them. For politicians, lawyers, policy advocates, and anyone else who wants to simultaneously inform and persuade others, care and thought should be given to the manner of presentation and the way in which the proffered information will fit in to both likely constellations of opinions.

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