By David Myles Robinson
I sat down to write about one of my obsessive musings of late—which is how and/or why sane and intelligent people can process information and facts in such disparate ways. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that I was all over the place. Was the issue how people can process the same facts so differently from others, or was it that some people aren’t processing at all? Is my confusion not a result of how critical thinking can result in a polar opposite opinion, but rather the failure to apply critical thinking at all?
My conclusion is that there are two separate and distinct issues at play. Can facts themselves be subject to varying interpretations? Perhaps. As a former personal injury attorney I would often be in agreement with the insurance defense attorney as to the facts how an accident happened (Party A’s car T-boned Party B’s car in an intersection, for example), but we would have diametrically opposed positions on the precipitating events which led to the accident (causation).
There are, however, some facts which I have an extremely difficult time conceding to be open to interpretation. Climate change is a prime example. It is a fact that close to 100% of climate scientists believe in climate change caused in part by humans. Most people refer to the percentage as 97%, but the fact of the matter is that there have been no scientific peer-reviewed papers published in years which take the contrary view. As astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, said, if anyone thinks the scientific view of climate change is some kind of hoax, they don’t know a thing about science. Scientists love to tear each other apart. They tend not to agree on anything until the science is deemed proven.
So how can so many lay people simply reject the scientific consensus on climate change? How does someone with no scientific background and no actual knowledge or understanding of the scientific data, decide that he or she is more intelligent and more knowledgeable than scientists (including NASA scientists) who have spent their lives studying the issue? Is that some special level of intellectual arrogance? Or is it merely a refusal to actually process the information on a critical thinking level and instead accept the non-scientific tribal/political stance taken by so many anti-government politicians and pundits?
Do people who deny the science of climate change claim to have applied critical thinking to the established science and came to the conclusion that all the scientists were wrong? This is where the dichotomy of processing information is at play. I suspect that there are a number of people who believe they have done their due diligence by reading certain articles which support their initial inclination that humans are not affecting the climate and that whatever changes we are experiencing are simply part of the natural occurring process. But I also suspect that a larger group of people make no effort to analyze the facts themselves, but instead rely on their favored pundits to tell them how to think.
Let’s take the non-critical thinkers out of the discussion for now. Those who make no attempt to put some effort into actually thinking about what certain facts mean and instead rely on their favored source of propaganda to form an opinion are nothing more than lemmings. This, by the way, is true on all sides of the political spectrum. Reposting Facebook or Twitter posts without making any attempt to establish the veracity of the post is nothing short of lemmingesque. I recently ‘unsubscribed’ to a progressive, Democratic site after determining that too many of its postings were not properly vetted or were over-the-top hyperbole.
We’re then left with the basic question over which I often obsess: when two people are presented with the exact, undisputable, set of facts, what is it that allows them to adamantly formulate completely disparate opinions? Are facts obsolete as facts? Are facts now little more than sociological tools to be manipulated or ignored in favor of a desired outcome?
Of course, when considering this issue, Donald Trump comes to mind. It is well established that the man is a prodigious liar and that he has made so many outrageous and offensive statements that it is becoming a daunting task to document. But one thing he said during the campaign stands out to me as a prime example of how divergent people can be in the processing of a fact. In the infamous Billy Bush incident the Trump quote that generated the most attention was the pussy grabbing quote. It was crude and ugly and newsworthy and in campaigns past would have immediately disqualified the candidate from continuing on in the race. Yet Trump supporters and even his wife shrugged the statement off as “locker room talk.” Okay, I’ve heard (and said) a lot of crude things in locker rooms over the years, although never quite on that level, but I’ll play along with the fantasy that such a statement about assaulting women was just boys being boys.
But what shocked me most about that whole scenario wasn’t the pussy grabbing bravado, it was the statement that Trump had tried to fuck another celebrity after “going after her like a bitch” (whatever that means). In other words, Trump admitted to attempting to have sex with another woman while his wife, Melania, was pregnant! Think about that. That isn’t locker room talk—that’s a recital of events (and quite believable given that he was a known adulterer).
So how did Trump supporters, many of whom are evangelical Christians, and most of whom over the years have tried to claim the mantle of being in the party of family values, process that statement? That the statement was made and recorded is an absolute fact. Yet its content and meaning was processed and interpreted in varying ways. To me, it showed the character of a despicable human being, willing to flaunt his crude attempts at infidelity to a wife carrying his child. Yet to others it was covered by the claim of “locker room talk” or otherwise simply dismissed as not important. What was it that allowed a person who should have been disgusted by Trump’s admission to rationalize it away and instead wanted the man to be the President of the United States?
I guess we come back to the tribal politics which all too often expose our willingness to be hypocrites if it advances our particular ways of thinking. I say “I guess” because frankly I don’t know, and that’s what makes the issue so obsessive with me. It’s a never-ending source of fascination to me how people can vote against their own interests; be Christian yet accept non-Christian-like insults and actions; shrug off an impressively huge compendium of lies; and think themselves smarter than NASA scientists.
It would, of course, be the height of hubris for me to say or imply that everyone should think like me. That would be boring, unproductive, and uncreative. I love the fact that one person’s interpretation of the fact of a flower is a smattering of paint thrown toward a canvas. It’s just that I begin to get a wee bit concerned when interpretations of facts such as climate change threaten the very existence of life on our planet.
David Myles Robinson
As will become readily apparent, my blogs will not just be about my books or even writing in general. They will be about whatever suits my fancy--and yes, I'm sorry, but that may include politics from time to time. We live in an interestingly tempestuous time and as a writer I find it impossible to ignore the worldwide psycho-drama (and, at times, psycho-comedy) being played out before us on a virtual daily basis.