I admit it. I’ve finally lost my patience.
Yesterday I engaged (perhaps foolishly) with another political junkie who, like me, probably spends far too much time on social media. She turned out to be a member of what I’ve come to call the “New Republicans,” the ones who seem to be hijacking my party and remaking it in their own image.
I didn’t lose it because we disagreed. Hell, if I let that happen I’d have been committed eons ago, since, as a moderate Republican, it seems like I disagree with just about everybody these days. (I sometimes refer to myself and others like me as the rarest species on the planet.) And it wasn’t because she rolled out one of those political catch phrases that often signal the end of any meaningful dialogue. (You know the ones I mean: “Get a clue!” and “Wake UP, moron!” are my two favorites, though the portmanteau “sheeple” does have a lovely and creative ring to it.)
It was because she absolutely refused to listen to facts.
Let me be clear: I’m not casting my opinions or beliefs as “facts” in this case. I’m talking about real, objective, two-source-journalism-quality facts. Facts right up there with “the sun rises in the east” and “it will hurt if you jump out of that 3rd-story window.”
So what was the topic? In this case, the discussion was about the ruckus in Ohio over who gets to vote when. It started with a sound bite that has—not surprisingly—echoed widely. RedAlert Politics (a right-swinging website) had this headline:
Obama Campaign Says Military Absentee Voting is Unconstitutional.
Nice and objective, right? Yeah. I thought so, too.
Right away things warmed up. The person who first posted the link (someone who has personal ties to the military and is very concerned that they be both protected and respected) headed her entry “WTF?” I wish she’d gone to a more reliable source before posting, but, well, there you go. We’re not all perfect, and this issue pushed her buttons.
The responses were predictable: If you’re already virulently anti-Obama, then why not just believe it? It’s not like you’re vote’s gonna change anyway, is it?
Only there’s that pesky thing about “facts.”
So one woman—the one who sent me running to my blog to rant—responds with this:
Yep, they want to remove the extra days given for early voting in Ohio. He's a disgrace.
Okay. Maybe he is a disgrace. That’s an opinion. Fine. Only not because of this, as I tried to explain:
The suit is NOT about taking away early voting rights for the military, but to reinstate the early voting rights of everyone else in Ohio, something the GOP legislature took away in 2011.
I added an evidential link, but that wasn’t good enough for her. She came back with this:
No it's not, it is an attempt to remove the three extra days given to the military. Spin however you want, but Ohio voted to give three additional days to the military, which is needed, and now Obama is attempting to end it. Good Grief.
Despite the overly cute Charlie Brown quote at the end of her post, I was getting frustrated. I didn’t think I was the one spinning.
(And you can argue all you want about voting rights and disenfranchisement and the games both sides play in order to maximize the turnout on their side, but that's not really the point here....)
Neuropsychologists and behavioral economists have a term for the type of reaction I got from her: it’s called “confirmation bias,” which Wikipedia defines as “a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.” The definition goes on to say that “People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.”
I continued to pound my head against the wall, this time with a fuller explanation:
I deplore the thought that the military might lose those three days, and I don't like the games Obama is playing here (and, for the record, I'm a GOP'er and won't be voting for Obama). However, we have to argue from facts and recognize when we're being spun. In 2004, a law was passed in Ohio establishing the three-day window for all voters. In 2011, the GOP took it away for everyone except the military. Obama's lawyers are arguing that it's unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, but what the suit WANTS to do is reinstate the three days, not take it away from the military.
This is important because as I understand it there is NO outcome from this case that will cost the military their three-day window. If the law is constitutional, they keep it and the law stands. If the law is unconstitutional then everyone--including the military--gets the three days since the 2011 law would be stricken and the 2004 law would be the de facto law once again.
It's crucially important that we recognize when the pundits, the RNC and the DNC are controlling the talking points in an attempt to control our thoughts. THAT is the truly ugly thing going on here.
The response: Silence. Nothing. Nada. Squat. Zilch. Zippo.
That, perhaps, is the most frustrating thing of all. And why? Because this isn’t just confirmation bias anymore. Confirmation bias means you miss some things, that you filter what you see. But this is different. This is willfully choosing to ignore a fact that disproves a particular belief you have. Hell, I wasn’t asking her to change her vote. I don’t even WANT her to change her vote! I just want her—and everyone—to argue from a place of logic, to recognize that we live in a world of grey, a world filled with agenda and spin and naked attempts at persuasion, a world that is actually trying to make us ignore the facts.
And, judging from this brief interchange, it’s working.
And that makes me want to rant. It should make us ALL want to rant.