Link and Comments: Facts v Emotions

Slate, Jess Zimmerman: It’s Time to Give Up On Facts — Or at least to temporarily lay them down in favor of a more useful weapon: emotions.

Yet another article (by a former fact-checker) about how human mental biases deflect attempts to identify reality and truth, in favor of preconceived beliefs, beliefs that appeal to emotion.

In fact, by trying to stem the tide of untruths, we were probably making everything worse. Repeating a falsehood, even as part of a meticulously researched article that debunks it, actually reinforces the falsehood; the human brain seems to experience fact-checking as a statement followed by a bunch of Charlie Brown teacher noises.

There’s another reference here to George Lakoff, whose work I need to check out before trying to characterize it.

Great line from this article:

The thing is that trying to counter a lie with a fact is like trying to get a catchy tune out of your head by reading out loud from the dictionary.

His remedy?

You’ll hate it because we liberals tend to pride ourselves on caring about evidence, science, and accuracy. Being factually right, or at least grounded in reality, is something we value, something meaningful to our self-concept.

His remedy isn’t to ’empathize’ with the other side: “We must let go of the impulse to tell them that they’ve got their facts wrong — even when they do.” It’s to understand the emotions behind why they believe what they believe.

Figuring out how to counter falsehoods is going to mean assessing how lies benefit the people telling them. Do the things they believe without evidence make them feel safe? Do they make them feel moral? Do these beliefs contribute to a sense of being superior and unassailable?

Yes. Cf. Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, the best book I’ve seen that parses the cultural and political divides as being a matter of the range of the spectrum of human psychological dispositions. (My comments on the book begin here.)

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