Why many intelligent people suffer from willful blindness - Executips


Friday, June 28, 2019

Why many intelligent people suffer from willful blindness

Don't expect to win in a debate.

 If the other person has made up their mind, arguing with them will only make them zealously defend their belief.

Everybody thinks they're right. In 100% of the many driving accidents or traffic quarrels I have seen, the driver I am with always thinks it's the other driver's fault.

In some cases, people form views based on facts they know. In many other instances, people just refuse to look at the inconvenient truth. 

Intellectual Blinders

Willful blindness is what psychologist Margaret Hefferman calls the situation in which people ignore information that will rock the boat. It happens to women who don't want to confront their boyfriends who molest their children. It happened to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra when it refused to accept female musicians until only over a decade ago. It still happens to political supporters who come up with ridiculous ways to justify their leader's pronouncements. It can happen to executives of companies who produce things with harmful ingredients.

Many scientists have confessed about how difficult it has been to present new learnings to the scientific community.  In Church, too. Some of Pope Francis' statements on compassion and reconciliation can be too radical for some conservative Catholics.

I believe that intelligent people are most prone to bias. Smart people have strong opinions and their ego gets in the way of enlightenment. They will only look for more evidence to confirm their convictions. Intelligent people also normally occupy important positions. So, having a change of heart may make them lose all the perks, if not their life.

In The Dictator’s Handbook , Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith wrote about many autocratic rulers who protected their regime by quickly repressing dissenting opinion. They removed from office, jailed, maligned, and even killed their critics. It is a dictator's tactic to send a message to the citizenry that contradicting the government has very little chance of success and is not worth all the trouble. It is safer to believe the emperor has new clothes!

Social psychologist Daniel R. Stalder explained in the book The Power of Context that the accurate truth causes dissonance if you believe otherwise. It may have a terrible impact on your faith and your self-esteem. In fact, Stalder asserts "it can cause depression."

It's so much easier to stick to the status quo than to change your views -which may come packaged with changing your friends, your lifestyle, your residence, your religion, your family and everything you've always been used to.

As novelist and outspoken critic Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote: "We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because it is more comfortable."

We are all biased

It has been scientifically proven that love is biased. "When we love someone, we see them as smarter, wittier, prettier, stronger than anyone else sees them," wrote Dr. Hefferman in Willful Blindness.

Daniel R. Stalder observed that we all judge people every day and we are not even aware of it. We may think that the motorist tailgating our car is a jerk when in truth, we are driving too slow and the one behind us is rushing to a family emergency. Dr. Stalder cited the case of George Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch. Zimmerman, a white, shot and killed the black 17-year old Trayvon Martin. The 911 audio tape of the incident edited and released by the news channel was inconclusive. But people were divided into two opinion camps: those who believed Zimmerman was a racist and those who judged Trayvon Martin as a violent juvenile.

Dr. Stalder calls wrong conclusions fundamental attribution errors or FAEs, a term coined by social psychologist Lee Ross. Stalder asserts most of us make a judgment without enough knowledge about situational factors, culture, and other information that may provide context. The average person resorts to FAEs on a daily basis. Problem is "most of us think we are above average."

The human tendency to rush into a decision is surely a function of our survival instinct. Human evolution taught us to quickly identify who's a friend and who's a foe. And we'd rather be wrong than dead.

Even good values can make us bad at opinions

Values are great but they may also make us make biased judgments. In the book How Emotions Are Made, Psychology Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote about this experiment:

“ Test subjects watched a video of protestors being dispersed by the police. They were told the protestors were pro-life activists picketing an abortion clinic. Those who were liberal Democrats, who tend to be pro-choice, inferred that the activists had violent intentions, whereas socially conservative subjects inferred peaceful intentions. The researches also showed the same video to a second set of subjects, describing the protestors this time as gay rights activists objecting to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. This time, those who were liberal Democrats, who tend to support gay rights, inferred that the activists had peaceful intentions, whereas socially conservative subjects inferred violent intentions.”

A waste of time to speak up?

If it's useless to dissuade a zealot, should we just forever hold our peace?

I think we can let our voice be heard if there's an obvious wrong that must be corrected. We may not win the argument immediately. But if we are right, we will be proven right in the long run. It is still possible for the other party to experience "buyer's remorse." Dr. Stalder reassured, "If the evidence accumulates, some of us might feel even more dumb later for having held on to false views for so long, especially if we had spoken those views out loud or taken public actions based on them."

Just be reminded that expressing your opinion requires a lot of responsibility. You have to have sufficient knowledge of what you are saying, you are not cherrypicking your facts, and your intention is to educate, not to fuel hate. 

Read :

How Emotions Are Made : The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barret

The Dictator’s Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith

The Power of Context: How to Manage Our Bias and Improve our Understanding of Others by Daniel R.  Stalder

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Hefferman

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