Another great column from David Brooks in the New York Times about our ideologically self-contained world. He writes:
In this atmosphere, we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. Occasionally you surf around the Web and find someone who takes mental limitations seriously. For example, Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway once gave a speech called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.” He and others list our natural weaknesses: We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group.
But, in general, the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse.
The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.
I see this lack of perspective playing out on both sides of the political spectrum. Many conservatives would like to believe the narrative that Muslims are bent on world domination — hence their sinister plan to build a Muslim community center near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks. They can find some evidence to support this narrative — namely the Muslim terrorists who are killing indiscriminately throughout the world. However, they must ignore other evidence — like the 1.5 billion peaceful Muslims on the planet.
At the same time, liberals imagine that any supporters of the Tea Party or of immigration reform must be angry, racists who don’t possess a nuanced understanding of the world. They support this narrative with anecdotal evidence like a YouTube video in which someone demands that the “government keep their hands off my Medicare” or with accusations of racial slurs. However, the narrative doesn’t fit reality — supporters of both issues have a valid point. The U.S. cannot continue to run trillion-dollar deficits or to ignore its illegal immigration problem. These are real issues, not drivel spouted by an uninformed public.
Perhaps the real problem is this innate desire to find a narrative that explains the world. These narratives are comforting, but I don’t think they ever reflect reality.