I haven’t written in a while. I keep wanting to, but I’m not keeping up with feminist and other news much lately. For a while I just had to read it all the time, and then somehow I stopped and now I know that if I start again it’ll make me angry and sad and I’d just rather not. That may be bad, but then again, I know basically what the problems are. I’m already convinced that we need change. What I need is a way to be involved, and I never really found something that I thought would be worthwhile – and that I could pull off – besides trying to influence the people around me, or at least call it out when they propagate misconceptions. I volunteer some, I donate a little, but I need a real plan, and I don’t have one yet. So I don’t have many new ideas to get out.
But I thought I’d mention something I’ve been noticing lately. I know a certain person who has an impressively powerful ability to filter out information that challenges her worldview. She’ll start a conversation about politics in which she’s arguing for her side with respect to some current event. Then I’ll counter with information she’s leaving out, and she’ll change the subject to one in which the information I brought up can be construed to support her political party, albeit in a totally different way. Or I’ll be talking about an issue from my point of view, and at one point I’ll mention something that she agrees with, and she’ll act like that was the only part she heard. Or I’ll be talking about something from my point of view, and she’ll latch onto a part of it and expand on it from an apolitical point of view. It’s mind-boggling. And scary, because we’re talking about a very intelligent person here.
I know we learn about this in psychology, that people pay more attention to what supports their biases than what challenges them, but I didn’t know it could go this far. Of course, maybe she’s thinking “Crap! I don’t know how to argue against that! Find a way out!” but she gives the impression of just not paying attention to anything contrary to her opinions in the first place. Most people who feel strongly about their politics will engage in debates with the opposite side when challenged, but not her. She makes your argument into an agreement with her. Actually, now that I think of it, my boyfriend had a similar experience at work, which is technically school but in practice, it’s work. His boss put him in charge of teaching something to some other students and told the students that he was their boss. My boyfriend, who believes in school, said “No, there’s no boss here, and also, I’m not going to make you work too much, because the more you have to get done, the less you learn.” “Work” here means work for the company that somehow manages to live in this school, not like, homework. It takes time away from studying and research, which is sort of the whole reason they’re at school. His boss said “Yeah, like I always say, the more you work, the more you learn.”
I think it’s moments like that for which the term “headdesk” was invented. The best explanation I can come up with is that lots of time spent groupthinking and a strong desire to believe what you already believe, over time, can produce this effect. Please try to avoid it. Also, you may not want to try to engage in debates with such people, as it will be a waste of time. But I think we’re better off being aware that this is out there, and that people are just not rational all the time. Lots of things go into our moral calculus and our belief systems besides pure logic.