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In the throes of confirmation bias

The musician Frank Zappa once said, “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe.” He disagreed: “I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen.”

Zappa’s theory about stupidity is a good start in describing our presidential campaign. It applies better, though, if we also use words like “bitterness” or “hostility”—even “hate.”

For instance, let’s consider remarks attributed to a man named Paul Swick. The New York Times reported, “Mr. Swick considers himself a ‘Bible Christian’ and ‘Thomas Jefferson liberal’, and said he hoped to beat Mrs. Clinton ‘at the ballot box.’”

The article said Swick owns 40 guns. That’s his right. I don’t dispute it.

But Swick said something else so self-contradictory that I don’t know how his brain didn’t explode: “If she comes after the guns, it’s going to be a rough, bumpy road. I hope to God I never have to fire a round, but I won’t hesitate to. As a Christian, I want reformation. But sometimes reformation comes through bloodshed.”

Trump supporter Dave Bowman outdoes Swick. The website Salon.com quoted Bowman as saying of Hillary Clinton, “We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed.”

Republicans have their own grievances. Some would say words like bitterness, hostility and hate apply to Democrats.

For example, Politico reported that after a Republican headquarters office in North Carolina was firebombed, Donald Trump tweeted, “Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning.”

Trump also claims the Clinton campaign is paying protesters to disrupt his rallies.

Social media gives Trump’s supporters a chance to counter-attack people who criticize them or their candidate. I have seen them complain of “typical liberal hatred against anyone who doesn't agree with you.” The New York Times article I cited at the start of this column has been criticized: “You consider this journalism, NYT? All I read was about a handful of people speculating what ‘others’ may do if Hillary wins.”

Republicans return fire with charges of stupidity. “The only way Hillary can win is if all the crazies in America turn out to vote,” one wrote. “Because no normal sane person would even think twice about voting for such a wackado.” Another said, “If you vote for Hillary, you cannot call yourself a law abiding American.”

The avalanche of ideas makes it easy to fall victim to confirmation bias. In Psychology Today, Shahram Heshmat explains the term: “Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.” In an age of multiple round-the-clock media, we easily can find information we agree with. Confirmation bias is easy to acquire, and once we acquire it during such a rancorous campaign, it’s easy to insult and dismiss people with other views.

We are obligated, though, to recognize our biases, acknowledge contrary information, and give it thoughtful consideration. Americans spend hours researching pluses and minuses of everything from toasters to Internet providers. In doing so, they accept information from myriad sources before deciding what to buy.

We should spend more time studying candidates than we take to decide which television to buy.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 6th, 2016 03:18 pm (UTC)
One of the most jarring things about any of this is the ease with which the word (or hypothetical promise of) bloodshed is bandied out.
Nov. 7th, 2016 01:00 am (UTC)
Talking tough and getting attention is the only thing that gives their lives any significance, I guess.
Nov. 7th, 2016 10:20 pm (UTC)
But I said look here brother
Who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Now who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Look here brother, don't waste your time on me
Nov. 9th, 2016 10:32 pm (UTC)
With the oil of aphrodite, and the dust of the grand wazoo
He said you might not believe this, little fella
But it'll cure your asthma too
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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