Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sweeney Responds

After I wrote the last post, I included it in a comment I left on Dan Sweeney's post at The Huffington Post, primarily as a shameless grab for more readers. It ended up sparking a rebuttal from Sweeney. It's interesting that the shape of discussion arising from the article so closely mirrors the article's actual content.

Sweeney said:

I'm afraid you've misread the article. The WaPo article states that there is some tendency in liberals to get their backs up in the face of refutation, but that the percentage still falls. For example, this paragraph:

"Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent."

So, there is a drop in the percentage of Democratic disapproval after hearing the refutation. But with conservatives, there is actually an increase in the percentage of people buying into lies after they hear the refutation -- indeed the percentages almost doubled. It is not the same thing.

anyway, thanks for the feedback, and I hope that clears things up.

And I replied:

Well, it certainly would be the ultimate irony for me, a liberal, NOT to recant my outrage after being presented with a rebuttal on THIS, of all issues!

I do stand by my assertion that your post was somewhat biased, although not as badly as I originally thought. The way I read the article, there are really TWO unfortunate phenomena being observed: (1) being presented with a rebuttal does not completely erase the damage done by the misinformation, and (2) being presented with a rebuttal enhances the damage done by the misinformation. To focus on (2) regarding conservatives, without mentioning (1) regarding liberals, makes conservatives seem even weaker-minded than the facts would seem to support.

In general, I try to be about fairness first, political points second, so you can see why my original misreading so aroused my ire.

Having waxed philosophic about fairness, I will say that I'm the first to believe that there are psychological differences between the most common breeds of liberal and conservative. Given that neither side seems to fully respect rebuttals, why does one seem to treat them like further evidence of the rebutted proposition?

I think it comes down to a person's comfort level with self-doubt. For instance, someone with complete intolerance for self-doubt would undoubtedly have rephrased the previous sentence as "I think it comes down to whether a person is strong or weak." When people challenge our positions, it causes doubt, instinctively -- our brains can't help that they're wired that way. Our response to that doubt is programmable, though. People who can overcome their fear of doubt and face its unpleasantness head-on will seek to end it through further research and reflection.

People who can't overcome that fear get angry at whatever caused the doubt.
The first kind of person, when presented with convincing evidence that they are wrong about something, will say "Thank you." The second kind of person will say "Fuck you."

The statistics in the original Washington Post article seem to support this. Obviously the fearful people exist on both sides (indeed, they are the reason we speak in terms of "sides"), but the numbers do indicate a greater proportion of them on the conservative side. I suppose this makes sense -- "conservative" is supposed to mean "cautious," and caution is a practice best informed by fear.

This is an interesting twist on the liberal mantra that the Republican Party is "the party of fear." Usually this is meant to imply that the Republican Party leaders themselves, while not being fearful of anything, are masters of instilling in voters the fears of their choosing. I agree that Republican leaders are masters of instilling in voters the fears of their choosing, but I also legitimately think the leaders are scared of those things, too.

I take them at their word. No one can have such precise mastery over fear without having experienced a lot of it.

1 comment:

Nicky Scafo said...

Actually you can't compare the relative effect of liberals versus conservatives from the article because two completely different methodologies were used.

The liberals were measured, presented with a lie, then were presented with the truth. 3 sequential measures of one group.

The conservatives were split into two groups, each measured once. One group was given a claim. The other was simultaneously given a claim and a refutation.

So the article isn't comparing liberals vs conservatives at all. At best it argues that both are susceptible to a similar type of effect.