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Posted by wmmbb in Blogging in general, Humankind/Planet Earth.

You know what those “highly paid propagandists” at the ABC are at it again suggesting that we select the facts to fit our filter of reality.

Of course, if I hold an opinion, a set of assumptions about what is nice, which are different from yours, then obviously I am not a very good thinker, or something much worse. Prima facie there is nothing to suppose that this conclusion is not true. I am going to assert there is a logical error involved. The universal is mistaken for the particular. The global for the local. But things are in fact worst than that. Typically in certain forums, commenters presenting an alternative emotional, experiential and personality orientation run into a blizzard of “argumentum ah hominem” – thank you scholastic philosophers. Along with the predictable personal attack there is the accusation of trolling, which means to end of provoking anger or frustration. On that interpretation a form of interpersonal violence, or alternatively a form of depersonalization.

The tendency of internet tribalism is everybody retreats to their emotional safety zones finding succour in their assumptions. Then the problem becomes how to promote a civic discourse allowing for difference, let alone a democratic conversation. How then to include expert opinion?

‘Misinformation is everywhere,’ says Ullrich Ecker, a cognitive scientist from the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychology. ‘“Obama is a Muslim, vaccinations cause autism, asylum seekers are breaking the law, and GM foods cause cancer.” Unfortunately, retracting this information—just saying it is not true—does very little to alleviate the effects of misinformation.’

Dr Ecker argues that the time-poor nature of modern life inhibits genuine inquiry; as does the complexity of our digital world. He says both of those factors together force people to make shortcuts in the way in which they evaluate ‘factual’ claims.

‘Constantly updating and correcting our understanding of the world is a big task,’ he says. ‘We don’t have the time, the resources or the motivation to assess the evidence for each and every claim we encounter. So sometimes we just have to go with the heuristics: how does this fit with what I already know? How does it fit with what I believe? What do other people think about this? And so on. Usually these heuristics are benign. However, when people’s beliefs are very strong, those beliefs will bias information processing and will lead to what we know as “motivated reasoning”. That’s when people with strong beliefs and motivations tend to interpret information in a way that supports their beliefs.’

‘Obviously motivated reasoning is a major obstacle for rational argument. So if someone wants to believe that Obama is a Muslim or if someone wants to believe that virtually all of the world’s climate scientists have conspired to make up a huge global climate change hoax, it’s very difficult to change their minds, even when the actual evidence is very, very clear.’

Motivated reasoning, Dr Ecker argues, is facilitated by the contemporary media landscape.

‘There is a lack of fact-checking in much of the new media, where the main focus is on getting information out quickly and where information is spread not based on veracity but based mainly on its likelihood of evoking an emotional response in the recipient.’

Despite the reality of the situation, isn’t better in many ways and in many forums, including as an example webinars, we get to have a say and to directly engage. What I suggest is that we really have to rediscover the principles and practices of civic discourse. I would go further and suggest, whether in person or online, should be empathy, which should not imply lack of respect.

Perhaps an emphatic civilization with mirror neurons:

So we can seek truth with kindness. “To emphasize is to sympathize”.


The Nation, for example, seems to have in development pretty good “community guidelines”.



1. misha - September 19, 2014

I love the cheat sheet, Alyson. Now I need one for every hour of the day!!

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