A friend of mine adopted a new world view- for want of a better, yet equally ambiguous, term- recently. She has adopted it wholeheartedly, and with remarkable conviction. Generally a rather quiet soul, I’ve never heard her speak with such passion and such enthusiasm about anything before.
There’s just one problem. What she believes is utterly false.
It’s not just a “difference of opinion”. It is factually, veritably, provably false.
But when I have tried to engage with her on those issues, she seems fundamentally unable to critically engage with the questions. She doesn’t critically engage with her beliefs at all. I ask her questions, and she doesn’t answer them. She recites talking points without thinking about what they mean. I provide specific evidence that counters her beliefs, and rather than considering it, she explains it away. The possibility of what she thinks being incorrect never occurs to her.
It’s a small-scale version of a problem that’s been plaguing my lately: how do you deal with people who just don’t think? How do you deal with people who believe things that aren’t true? In the health care debate, in the whole birther movement, people are believing thing that simply aren’t true.
How can democracy function when the voters are believing things that aren’t true? It’s one thing for voters to cast their ballot based on a true difference of opinion. It’s another thing entirely to do so because you believe myths about “death panels”.
And for all the stories of “left wing media bias”, the media has been decidedly quiet on calling out the lies of the likes of Palin and Bachman. The pedalling of stories that are designed to instill fear, rather than inform. I have no problem with people opposing health care because they don’t believe the state is obliged to provide it, and that guaranteed health care is not the right of the citizen. I disagree, but that’s a fair opinion.
The problem is, a lot of people don’t have a fair opinion. They have (false) talking points they’ve learned. Like my friend, they adopt a whole series of beliefs without ever critically engaging with them.
But talking to my friend has made me increasingly despondent about the hope of improving the conversation. In this single, small example, I am completely powerless to affect change.
So is it a case of affecting change in spite of this? Or does the left need to better instill mindless talking points? Can we be intellectually honest and still get the necessary votes?