This Ferguson thing must be very confusing to the itty-bitty minds of many of the good citizens of the USA. Oh, sure, there are questions being formulated in said minds – like, “How come those damned black people are getting away with this shit?”, predictably, asked by white people. And, if you’re black, the question might be “How come these effing white people keep getting away with this shit?” Each may be a valid question, but it entirely depends on who you are. The better question to ask is probably “How the HELL did we get here?”
Well, thanks to ongoing cognitive research, we have the answer! We got here, to exactly this place, BECAUSE WE ARE PEOPLE! We aren’t descended from dogs, who would have sorted this all out right quick and gone back to business as usual, peeing on trees and sniffing butts. No, we are descended from primates, who bluff, overpower, kill, remember, form opinions, always think they’re right, and absolutely cannot fathom why someone else would not totally buy into their personal point of view. Almost incidentally, each one of us makes ourselves the star of our own reality show, with our brains performing as gatekeepers, subtly rearranging our perceptions to match what we are already prepared to believe, while simultaneously making us look special and wonderful to ourselves. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word! Where the skies are not cloudy all day!
As you might surmise, this is not helpful. We do the stupidest, most vile things under the auspices of “principle”, which is just belief on steroids. The term “true believer”, coined in 1951 by Eric Hoffer, addresses this fundamental human character flaw, which reflects today’s Tea Party as well as today’s extremist Islam offshoot, ISIS. Does some American Christian nutbag yelling about how you’re going to roast in Hell have any significant difference from some jihadist yelling about how how everyone in America is going to roast in hell? I would say – not really. They each think they are RIGHT, which is the most dangerous, most progress-retarding, most wasteful notion that ever Nature placed into the human head. That’s how American politicians can claim torture is okay. It’s how a whole segment of our American society can be systemically, brutally repressed, murdered with depressing regularity, and incarcerated in massive numbers.Their victimizers “stand on principle”, which is to say they found something that already agrees with their basic orientation towards doing whatever must be done to impose their beliefs upon the world and thus validate their own fictional stories about themselves.
Let’s talk about “confirmation bias“. Basically, this is the all-too human tendency to accept and remember ONLY evidence that agrees with one’s preconceptions, and devalue or ignore everything else. That’s why tons of Americans still to this day believe that in the first Gulf War, when Iraq first threatened to invade Kuwait, the U.S. said it would take no action. Yet a huge majority falsely “knew” that the U.S. said it would support Kuwait militarily. Apparently, the need to feel wonderful about America being noble n’ stuff took precedence over reality.
I actually had an acquaintance once ask me “why we can’t just accept that America is a great place instead of hearing negative stuff about it all the time.” Hm. I was not aware that reality generated a negative spin. Unless, of course, said “negativity” did not agree with her carefully groomed preconceptions of America as the place that is noble and free and untroubled by confirmation bias of its citizens because it doesn’t exist in her version of reality. The abysmal treatment of the black minority in America doesn’t exist. The Native American genocide doesn’t exist. The stupidity of invading Iraq doesn’t exist. There’s a separate story in every head that accommodates those factual occurrances, twists them, and throws right out the window that which doesn’t agree with a person’s preconceived notions of the “shining city on the hill”.
Here’s another massive failure of the American ability to interpret reality: Ronald Reagan. From many conservative accounts, he was a saint, perfection, godlike in his prescience and political acumen. From many liberal points of view, he was an overrated hack, already falling prey to his Alzheimer’s disease early in his Presidential tenure, and about as bright as Clever Hans, the numbers-tapping horse. I suppose I should point out that, being human myself, I am prey to the very confirmation bias that I explore here, and thus tend to drift towards the liberal perspective. But how, exactly, do conservatives defend the view of Reagan being a fiscal conservative when he ran up the deficit to unheard-of heights? By the time he left office in 1989, Ronald Reagan more than equaled the entire debt burden produced by the previous 200 years of American history. And how about the 2nd Amendmenters? How do they maintain their concept of Reagan as a stout guntotin’ cowboy-for-justice when, before the National Rifle Association became what it was today, Reagan worked with them to ban guns? Aieee! Major cognitive dissonance! Solution: write that stuff out of your personal database, or at the least, morph it into something that DOES match your preconceived notions of who and what Reagan was. It’s easy! People do it every day!
And now, to the elephant currently standing in everyone’s living room: climate change. The climate is changing, boy-o. Projections indicate that after 2047, the mean air temperature worldwide will exceed even the highest annual temperature from 1860 to 2005. The industrialized world has pumped 365 BILLION metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere between 1751 and 2012. How, exactly, is it possible to ignore that? But, there you go! If you already have a conservatively-inclined temperament – that is, one that fixes incoming information to match how you view yourself rather that reality – weeeell,the result is, you can ignore stuff like that, or at the very least, rationalize it.
The worst part of all this? None of these people are ever going to consider themselves accountable for their erroneous role in guiding public policy, in which countless citizens of this planet will likely die horrible deaths as a result of. Research shows that the only people who are actually able to have an unbiased viewpoint of the world are the severely depressed. Depression somehow frees the mind of all the constraints, such as unsubstantiated optimism and the concept that it is somehow possible to completely disdain and disregard science while simultaneously assuming science will save your ass. Well, in my opinion, we need more depressed people in public office. Thomas Eagleton would’ve been so much better a choice for us than, say, that doofus Ronald Reagan.
But Reagan made us feel so GOOD about ourselves. Through evidence collected by cognitive scientists, it would appear that we all think we are special and wonderful people and always have been, but it took Ronald Reagan to recognize just how special and wonderful we are, despite the fact that he was completely cooked-ass crazy on practically everything. That’s some serious acting, convincing so many people that only Jesus Reagan truly understood them, when in fact, he was just telling them what they wanted to hear.
We don’t need a pill to fix depression. We need a pill to induce it.