The Science of Credulity

Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book was Talking to Strangers. Given the content, I disagree with the title. So long as it’s daylight and there is no fear of danger, strangers should be talked to as that makes people more multicultural, worldly, and empathetic to people of diverse backgrounds. Without question, as long as it’s safe, you should talk to strangers. I talk to strangers all the time. The book focused on the inherent gullibility of a species toward fellow members of that species rife with cognitive biases, conscious dishonesty, and brain farts. You’ll have the same problem talking to strangers with regard to that as you would anyone else you did know, if, perhaps, to a different degree. This is not about how trusting we should be of people we don’t know, greeting someone in a coffee shop should maybe involve the exchange of phone numbers but probably not social security numbers. My philosophy is to take everyone with a grain of salt but give them the benefit of the doubt. Having been in politics, psych, and social science, I’m not stupid enough to believe I can gage the veracity of a story by reading inflection. If there is no evidence, I’m not going take your side and I will dearly want to hear all sides.

                You don’t need advanced psych to know that. Yet, people mostly believe any anecdote they hear at face value and make major value judgments about the characters in the anecdotes without a second thought. When I talk to people about my history being bullied, I have often been wary of how quickly people will eviscerate the people I claim to have bullied me. Now, I have evidence and I have posted that evidence in multiple places on this website and it includes multiple confessions by the bullies to what happened. My evidence is solid. I feel comfortable about it. I privately possess the names and numbers of those people associated with the screenshots. The nastiest of the screenshots being one made by Patrick Moffly, a name I’m willing to divulge because he’s dead. Which adds to the credibility of my story since he is the son of a former school board member whose hedonistic and wild lifestyle leading to his death as a drug dealer in 2016 is substantial character evidence. People didn’t ask for the evidence, though, when they made those value judgments. All I had to do was say what they did and it was as true as Gospel.

                One of the first rules in politics is to tell your story on your terms before they can tell your story on their terms. If there is scandal, it’s a race to control the narrative and having the first narrative gives a rhetorical incumbency to the story and with that incumbency, the benefits of incumbency in terms of public opinion. Whose first should not be a determining factor but it is a major factor. There is also ingroup and outgroup bias which is why a subculture will subscribe to the physical scientific beliefs that support their people. The difference between believing in the Armenian genocide and not believing in it has a lot to do with whether you’re Turkish. It’s like religion, people are generally members of the religion they were born into. They believe that Muhammad was the final prophet, Jesus was the messiah, or Krishna was the eighth incarnation of Vishnu largely owing to accident of birth rather than any comparative religious study about philosophy or historical accuracy. I have a religion but I came to my religion after comparative philosophical study between the Eastern religions and thereafter converting back to Christianity.

                I haven’t been immune to these biases, myself. I’m a liberal who was raised liberal and was raised to be against GMOs and nuclear power. I now support those things. It wasn’t that I didn’t see the evidence in favor of those things but that every time I did that I would rationalize it and select only evidence that supported my position. Those are just two examples of many but I got very lucky because in 2017, I came across postmodernists. Moral postmodernists. And that was so antithetical to my beliefs in human rights that I became disillusioned with much of the far-left enough that I reevaluated my core beliefs and became cognizant of the disingenuous mode of thought I had used to that point. From then on, I watched myself for falling into the same mode of thought and every time I felt the vibrations that rhymed with my old rationalizations, I would stop myself and try to objectively analyze the issue. Doing that radically changed my worldview because although I remained hard left, I no longer subscribed to the Chomskian/Marxist/Critical Theory version of history. I became a constructivist in terms of my social analysis.   

                That is all to say that I held beliefs in the face of hard evidence to the contrary because of accidental circumstances. It says a lot about people’s beliefs and gullibility. A lot of people don’t get that lucky and they don’t recognize when they’re subtly letting their inclinations outweigh their reason. Mostly, they can’t recognize it at all. Whether or not something can be proven has little bearing on whether people will accept it. From rumors, to anecdotes, to science, to philosophy. People need to seriously recognize their inclinations and consciously break them. I did it myself and learned how to consciously make my rational mind overpower my irrational inclinations. It’s not impossible to lessen the effect of cognitive biases and become more deliberate and honest in one’s approach to the world but the ways to do it are seldom ever taught. I had to learn it myself and all on my own. So I would implore my readership to try and recognize their own biases and try to consciously conquer them. In the end, it makes people better able to love.   

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