Thoughts and Perspectives

Third Annual 4th of July Reflection: Inability to Use Evidence—2015’s #1 Problem

What better time to reflect on the actual State of our Union than on the dawn of the United States’s 239th birthday. 

The so-classified Founding Fathers, especially with the establishment of the Constitution, essentially aimed and did recreate (and even perpetuate) pre-Revolutionary Era cultural, economic, and political conditions, only under a different flag and with a different ruling elite. Need we go further than recognizing the enslavement and reenslavement of Blacks, the annihilation of Indians, and the treatment of Women?? The very structure—more oligarchy than democracy—of our government, especially with politicians who make laws and judges who “interpret” laws and decide the fate of people, embodies ideas about who is “better” and has more power, and by extension, more equality. 

Nonetheless, contemporary and very popular rhetoric goes in the face of such realities and suggests that the United States was born as a uniquely blessed, classless, all equal society. 

By deliberately recasting history to suggest that the nation was founded on the principle of every one being treated equal, we set the bar so unrealistically high that we seemingly just give up. Additionally, such rhetoric has the consequence of suggesting to people that since the United States was born with equality emphasized above all else, anyone who is suffering must have done something to deserve such suffering. This Social Darwinistic line of thinking encourages people to be selfish and avoid any kind of critical thinking. This lack of reflection—evidence about what is really happening in the world—has consequences for life across the planet. 

Yet, it really isn’t fair to say “lack of self reflection.” It’s more of an inability. Many of us are so interwoven into current cultural practices that we are biologically and psychologically unable to escape the bombardment of messages. It really is true that if you repeat a “lie” often enough, said “lie” becomes the truth. 

When I say the “inability to use evidence.” That is exactly what I mean. Psychology terms this inability the “confirmation bias.” That we really do only see/hear, remember, and internalize information that “confirms” what we already think and believe, and more often than not, what we think and believe—our core truths and world views—come from sources that do not use evidence to assert the “lies” that become “truths” (see Ken Bain, for starters). 

And by use evidence, I mean finding, reading, processing, internalizing, and taking action based on said evidence. 

Why else would the student continuing missing class and not taking notes when they make a 50 on quiz after quiz? 

Why else would people deny global warming?

Why else would people insist racism is a thing of the past? 

Why would people deny White Privilege? 

Why? 

If we look at evidence—quantitative and qualitative—we see that global warming is just as real as White Privilege. There is no opinion to it. Why are both denied by people, especially those on the political right? 

Confirmation Bias is why. People really, truly cannot see said evidence. For some, seeing said evidence would requiring making change, admitting fault, taking action, and/or surrendering power. 

For a split second, I was going to title this something closer to “the fear of using evidence,” but, that’s not it. If people could truly see what is happening, especially given how much people really do care about things they can see (e.g., consider the passion people have when it comes to what they “think” the Founding Fathers created), think of the revolutionary, systemic change that would automatically occur. 

Another explanation relates to evolutionary biological differences in the brains of those who are more liberal compared to those who are more conservative (see Jonathan Haidt for starters).  

So, how is the inability to use evidence the number one problem, you ask? All of the problems making headlines—racism, sexism, nationalism, and imperialism; global warming; education; and healthcare—could all easily be taken care of with the use of evidence. That this seemingly simple task is so hard suggests much about what we, perhaps, need to overcome before change can occur.

CASE STUDY #1 

Take the song God Bless the USA. We were indoctrinated with this song in first and second grade. I woke up with this song on my mind and after thinking about it and reading the lyrics of the song again began to tear up a bit out of sadness because the song is simply not true, when we consider evidence.

‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can’t take that away.

And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

The flag represents only a very specific freedom to a very small group of people. It embodies militarism and exceptionalism and White cis-male privilege.

These 1st and 2nd grade teachers should have know better. And they should have talked about racism and sexism, how to be anti-racist and anti-sexist, and so much more. I feel so bad for all of those who never had the opportunity to learn about racism, etc., etc.

CASE STUDY #2

Headlines like this:

Christian Bakers Fined $135,000 For Discriminating Against Gay Couple Throw Embarrassing Tantrum

and this: 

Oregon imposes gag order on Christian bakers in gay wedding case

have been going viral this week.

The owners of Sweetcakes are perfect examples of fundamentalists who are freaking out over equality

Such “controversies” would not exist

1) if people could study and use the Bible the same way historians and scientists use evidence;

2) if people could understand the history of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and what the Founding Fathers actually wanted AND if people could follow the law;

3) if people could understand the history, psychology, and biology of sexuality and associated social constructions;

and 4) if people could separate themselves from others and recognize they cannot use their freedom to limit the freedom of others–not if you’re going to proclaim the United States “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Evidence is important. 

Evidence

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