Listen to others. For real, though.

Posted by tobymuresianu on May 14, 2015 in Politics, Thoughts |

Last week as I watched the results of the UK election reverberate through my news feed, many of my friends posted how they couldn’t imagine why someone could ever vote conservative, or ridiculed or said they were hiding those who did.

There’s recently been a lot of talk of “news bubbles” – where people on Facebook get news only from people whose viewpoints reaffirm their own.

While it’s tempting to think of polarization as an internet phenomenon, it shares the characteristics of a well documented psychological basis: Groupthink.

Groupthink is a phenomenon where people in a group “reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”

The 8 key symptoms are:

Stereotyped views of out-groups – often as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid.
Pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
Self-censorship, where deviations from the perceived consensus are left unsaid.
Self-appointed members who protect the group from information that could hurt consensus.
An illusion of unanimity, where silence is assumed to mean agreement.
An illusion of invulnerability that encourages high-risk solutions to problems.
Collective rationalization of warnings.
Belief in the inherent morality of their group, and that as a “wise and good group,” “any means we decide to use must be good.”

I know, I never see it online either.

It does remind me a little of computer camp, where kids favorite pastime was talking about how much cooler they were than the “rival” computer camp, and I didn’t know how to say that we were all the same, completely uncool, kids. But I digress.

A topic being controversial makes it more important to reach better conclusions, not less; and alternative perspectives are an important part of that. At the very least, it may help demystify the disconnect between your news feed and an election result.

If you want to understand why people might believe differently than you, it’s just not enough to construct a strawman or point to some internet rando’s ill-advised tweet and present them as being representative of the other side.

Once in awhile I’ll post something that I know most of my friends disagree with. I don’t post more of them because for one, I agree with my friends on a majority of issues, and for two, because I honestly hate doing it. I hate thinking I’ll offend someone or lose a friend and never know it. I hate worrying that I’ll be wrong or I’m crazy for not seeing something the same way my friends seem to. It is easier not to take the risk.

But in truth everyone is wrong about a lot of things – I certainly am. And people who are overconfident in their own abilities may be the most likely to be, if they ignore contrary evidence as a result.

I think discussing politics is important and the best way is not to have a dialogue driven by fear or believing the worst in people. It is to listen to all kinds of opinions, and when you have them, be willing to express them politely. Someone disagreeing with you should be a cue to look into their argument, not to look for ways to dismiss it.

And I’ve generally found that when I do post something controversial
that most of my facebook friends, even those who disagree, are pretty smart and understanding (aside from the occasional person I did an open mic with five years ago who feels the need to post 10 misspelled, all-caps replies in five minutes). The perception of conflict, since we see so much of it online, is sometimes worse than the reality – so it is important not to let that stifle discussion. So I’m going to try to speak up more, and I hope others feel empowered too, so that the dialogue moves in a direction where people talk in good faith instead of bad.

But again, I could be wrong about all this. The best approach could be to loudly and publicly dismiss and belittle all who disagree with you. So if this approach doesn’t work, I fully reserve the right to try that next.

(links: About.com Psychology, Wikipedia: Groupthink, Psychologists for social responsibility)

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