Is there a case to be made for President Trump?
A. Barton Hinkle writes:
“The spirit of liberty,” wrote Judge Learned Hand, “is the spirit that is not too sure it is right.” Authoritarianism starts with absolute certainty: Why tolerate any dissent when it is so clearly wrong? Why allow people their own choices if they choose incorrectly?
The antidote to absolute certainty is a spirit of inquiry—but that spirit runs up against various mental habits we’re all wired with, such as confirmation bias and the backfire effect: People confronted with information that contradicts their belief often end up digging in their mental heels.
In one experiment, conservatives were presented with Bush administration claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Some also were given information refuting those claims. Thirty-four percent of the first group accepted the administration’s claim. But 64 percent of those presented with the refutation accepted the administration’s claim. The contradictory evidence made them truculent.
This has serious consequences in more than one way. As Bloomberg columnist and George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen recently wrote, “a few years ago, when I read people I disagreed with, they swayed my opinion in their direction to some degree. These days, it’s more likely that I simply end up thinking less of them.” (His comment is reminiscent of Santayana’s remark about newspapers: “When I read them I form perhaps a new opinion of the newspaper, but seldom a new opinion on the subject discussed.”)