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    We, the Sheeple....


    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.


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    Reader Comments (7)

    Welcome to the world of what's it's like to be a liberal. Been there, and had that conversation so many times with truculent right wingers that I'm close to abandoning all ties or discussions. What results is more cocooning, and even more of a bitter drifting apart between the two factions. All brought to you by, the lie machine that is the GOP.

    One of the most overused comments I've seen them use is an attempt to look nice while ending my one-sided fact-based savaging....the old "we'll have to agree to disagree" chestnut. And so the reality is not determined by facts, but by....a friendly "disagreement".

    Again, a new world order brought on by the right. And the country continues to slide.

    August 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

    I will speculate it's likely that ego prevented a public admission of error, particularly since it appeared so emotionally charged...

    Your statement:
    "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."
    ... is spot on.

    Here's another example that exposes "sheeple"...
    Found on FB Tea Party under a pic of GWB:
    "Unemployment in 2007 when I left office was 4.7% and today almost 4 years later, unemployment is at 8.3%. 17 million were on food stamps when I left office and today 43 million people. Click "LIKE" and "SHARE" if you miss me yet."

    Though the majority of responses corrected the numbers, as you described your response, there were many who still "fought back", including anecdotal statements like "I had 8 years of steady work while he was in office; not so now.", implying Q.E.D.
    I think this type of "emotionally confirmed" dis-information easily becomes future quoted fact by sheeple who've associated it with confirmation of their beliefs, particularly when evidenced by referring links that get included in Internet "debates".

    Overall, combining modern knowledge of human behavior (including fMRI's, etc) with current data gathering technologies and you have 21st century man's knowledge OF man used AGAINST man as a large boot on the head of a very stressed population that is rendered incapable of more than a cursory review of issues due to the time constraints caused by current economics and programmed shiny-object-syndrome distractors.

    August 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterG-man

    Thank you for this piece - it's easy to forget that there are reasonable people who enjoy discussing and debating actual political issues, and not the newest meme being spouted on the Internet or through chain e-mail. I too have a "friend" who constantly repeats the nonsense she hears as if it were true, and when confronted with facts, either gets defensive - "the other side does it too" - or just shuts up altogether. It makes me absolutely crazy! Do I respond to her spreading lies by trying to point out the actual facts, or just let it go because it is too frustrating to try to get the discussion back to reality?

    August 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDee_Lemon

    I SO totally agree. While I might not agree with a certain candidate or policy, etc., at the same time I can't stand it when people try to paint a totally false picture with complete lies and quotes taken out of context, etc. I've learned through Facebook which friends of mine tend have this "confimation bias" as you described, and I just vent to hubby when they post certain things :)

    August 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeb

    Unlike you, I am a hardcore Democrat Progressive. Like you, I have had these absurd conversations with right wing GOP and Tea Baggers over issues like you mention. What blows my mind is the utter lack of logic. Do you think ANY candidate for president, congress, governor (or any office) would espouse denying (or limiting) voting rights to the military? Does that charge send up any yellow or red flags? Or that President Obama is not American born? How hard has the GOP checked that out over the years? You just have to leave it alone with these folks and talk to someone with some sense.

    August 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia Dave

    I've also been through this type of argument, as a liberal, with radical conservatives. Usually I'm the one retiring from the argument, after presenting facts. I can only take so much of the certitude of rightness from this type before I realize that they are NEVER going to hear the facts.

    August 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarilee Hird

    This article was spot-on. As a moderate living in the south I often find myself at odds with various family members and friends, many of whom take Fox News to be 100% accurate and would never accuse it of having a conservative bias. This exact argument has arisen multiple times and each time one side (usually me) is forced to drop it. You can't use logos on someone who is tied up in pathos.

    August 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJmsprstn

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