Archive for August, 2009
If you’ve ever wondered why people tenaciously hold on to patently absurd beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a new study to be released in the September issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry documents a phenomenon called “motivated reasoning.” Sharon Begley of Newsweek explains in the following article.
Lies of Mass Destruction
by Sharon Begley, reprinted here from Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/id/213625)
The same skewed thinking that supports a Saddam-9/11 link explains the power of health-care myths.
By Sharon Begley | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Aug 25, 2009
Not being a complete idiot (contrary to the assertion of many readers I’ve been hearing from), I was not exactly surprised at the e-mails I got in response to my story analyzing why the myths about health-care reform—even the totally loony ones, like death panels—have gained such traction. One retired military officer called me “nothing more than an ‘Obama Zombie’ that has lost touch with reality,” while a housewife sweetly suggested that I sign up for “socialistic medicine” and die, the sooner the better. (My kids get upset when people wish me dead, but hey, they’ll survive.) But now I think I understand people who believe the health-care lies—and the Obama-was-born-in-Kenya lie—even better than when I wrote that piece.
Some people form and cling to false beliefs about health-care reform (or Obama’s citizenship) despite overwhelming evidence thanks to a mental phenomenon called motivated reasoning, says sociologist Steven Hoffman, visiting assistant professor at the University at Buffalo. “Rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief,” he says, “people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.” And God knows, in the Internet age there is no dearth of sources to confirm even the most ludicrous claims (my favorite being that the moon landings were faked). “For the most part,” says Hoffman, “people completely ignore contrary information” and are able to “develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information.”
His conclusions arise from a study he and six colleagues conducted. They were looking at the well-known phenomenon of Americans believing that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Some people, mostly liberals, have blamed that on false information and innuendo spread by the Bush administration and its GOP allies (by former members of the Bush White House, too, as recently as this past March). (As Dick Cheney said in June, suspicion of a link “turned out not to be true.”) But the researchers think another force is at work. In a paper to be published in the September issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry(you have to subscribe to the journal to read the full paper, but the authors kindly posted it (on their Web site here), they argue that some Americans believe the Saddam-9/11 link because it “made sense of the administration’s decision to go to war against Iraq . . . [T]he fact of the war led to a search for a justification for it, which led them to infer the existence of ties between Iraq and 9/11,” they write.
For their study, the scientists whittled down surveys filled out by 246 voters, of whom 73 percent believed in a Saddam-9/11 link, to 49 believers who were willing to be interviewed at length in October 2004. Even after the 49 were shown newspaper articles reporting that the 9/11 Commission had not found any evidence linking Saddam and 9/11, and quoting President Bush himself denying it, 48 stuck to their guns: yup, Saddam Hussein, directly or indirectly, brought down the Twin Towers.
When the scientists asked the participants why they believed in the link, they offered many justifications. Five argued that Saddam supported terrorism generally, or that evidence of a link to 9/11 might yet emerge. These counterarguments are not entirely illogical. But almost everyone else offered some version of “I don’t know; I don’t know anything”—that is, outright confusion over the conflict between what they believed and what the facts showed—or switched subjects to the invasion of Iraq. As one put it, when asked about his Saddam-9/11 belief, “There is no doubt in my mind that if we did not deal with Saddam Hussein when we did, it was just a matter of time when we would have to deal with him.” In other words, holding fast to the Saddam-9/11 belief helped people make sense of the decision to go to war against Iraq.
“We refer to this as ‘inferred justification,’” says Hoffman. Inferred justification is a sort of backward chain of reasoning. You start with something you believe strongly (the invasion of Iraq was the right move) and work backward to find support for it (Saddam was behind 9/11). “For these voters,” says Hoffman, “the sheer fact that we were engaged in war led to a post-hoc search for a justification for that war.”
For an explanation of this behavior, look no further than the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory holds that when people are presented with information that contradicts preexisting beliefs, they try to relieve the cognitive tension one way or another. They process and respond to information defensively, for instance: their belief challenged by fact, they ignore the latter. They also accept and seek out confirming information but ignore, discredit the source of, or argue against contrary information, studies have shown.
Which brings us back to health-care reform—in particular, the apoplexy at town-hall meetings and the effectiveness of the lies being spread about health-care reform proposals. First of all, let’s remember that 59,934,814 voters cast their ballot for John McCain, so we can assume that tens of millions of Americans believe the wrong guy is in the White House. To justify that belief, they need to find evidence that he’s leading the country astray. What better evidence of that than to seize on the misinformation about Obama’s health-care reform ideas and believe that he wants to insure illegal aliens, for example, and give the Feds electronic access to doctors’ bank accounts?
Obama’s opponents also need to find evidence that their reading of him back in November was correct. They therefore seize on “confirmation” that he wants to, for instance, redistribute the wealth, as in his “spread the wealth around” remark to Joe the Plumber—finding such confirmation in the claims that health-care reform will do just that, redistributing health care from those who have it now to the 46 million currently uninsured. Similarly, they seize on anything that confirms the “socialist” label that got pinned on Obama during the campaign, or the pro-abortion label—anything to comfort themselves that they made the right choice last November.
There are legitimate, fact-based reasons to oppose health-care reform. But some of the loudest opposition is the result of confirmatory bias, cognitive dissonance, and other examples of mental processes that have gone off the rails.
Real health care reform is in danger right now because some Democratic senators like Montana’s Max Baucus crave “bipartisanship.” But in DC, “bipartisanship” doesn’t mean policies that Republican and Democratic voters back home support. It means “whatever watered-down reform insurance companies will let Republican senators vote for.”
Chuck Grassley, the main Senate Republican negotiator, has taken over $2.9 million from health and insurance interests that oppose reform. He’s also said he won’t support a public option because it would beat private insurance in the marketplace! So why are some Democrats still negotiating with Grassley and letting him water down reform — instead of going on offense? One word: “bipartisanship.”
According to a national Quinnipiac poll in August, 40% of Republicans and 64% of independents support the public option. In Iowa, the latest Des Moines Register poll showed 36% of Republicans and 56% of independents. For context, 36% of Senate Republicans would be 14 votes — huge “bipartisanship.”
Thanks to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee for the information in this post. You can learn more about their mission at http://www.boldprogressives.org/
The noise, and the half-truths, and the lies have taken a toll on healthcare reform. The provision for medicare to reimbuse for the cost of creating a living will, or other end-of-life counseling, has been removed from the draft under consideration by the U.S. Senate soley because of the lies that twisted it into something it was not, a secret plan to kill off old people and the disabled in order to save medicare dollars.
Opponents of healthcare reform, on the right, deliberately and knowingly lied and misrepresented this provision in order to stoke fear and anger and opposition in the elderly and their families. None of them actually believe the bullshit they’ve been spreading, which makes their part in this even more despicable. It might be less offensive if they did believe it. At least then we could assume that they were just stupid, but too many of them have gone on record in the past, in support of advance directives and living wills, for us to genuinely believe that they are now afraid of the “possible consequences” of such documents.
In April of last year, then Governor Sarah Palin declared Healthcare Decisions Day in Alaska specifically for healthcare providers, nursing homes, hospice facilities, and doctors, to raise awareness in their elderly patients of the great benefits of having an advance directive on healthcare. She extolled the virtues of living wills, and urged everyone to avail themselves of this opportunity to learn more about them. You can even download the Alaska Advance Directive forms from the state website. Does Alaska have its own Death Panel?
Earlier this year, Newt Gingrich wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post praising the many benefits of advance directives for the elderly, noting that the most expensive care people generally receive was at the end of their lives, and that only by having a living will could patients be certain they would not receive medical measures that they did not want. He even estimated, in his article, that this could save medicare as much as 33 billion dollars a year. You think he was also including the savings realized by the involuntary “offing” of your grandmother?
Now, of course, what Saint Sarah of Wasilla was promoting last year has somehow morphed into government “death panels” and a part of a healthcare system that is “downright evil.” And former Speaker of the House, the Newt, has decided that we cannot be expected to “trust the government” just to pay for your doctor’s time without also coercing him to kill you for the greater good. These people will say whatever they think will get them the most press coverage, and the most mileage with their base, regardless of the truth, and regardless of whether or not they even believe what they’re saying. It makes Palin’s admonition to the press to “stop makin’ things up” even more ludicrous than we already knew it was.
I still have great hope for this country, and the prospect that we will acheive meaningful healthcare reform in this administration, but it will only happen if the congress and the administration finally give up the idea of bipartisan support. The negotiators for the Republicans, like Chuck Grassley, are not bargaining in good faith. They are only involved to slow down the process, and eventually kill it. They are not going to vote for any bill, regardless of how many of their watered down ideas are included in it. So we may as well move on without them.
Besides, when, over the previous eight years, did the Republicans give a damn about bipartisan support for anything they did. They did what they wanted. They were proud of it. And they did not apologize for the fact that it was one-sided rule. I think it’s time the Democrats took a page from that book.
The inventor of the solid body electric guitar and multi-track recording, Les Paul, died today at the age of 94. Because of his hundreds of inventions and innovations, he is also considered the father of rock and roll which, if it existed at all, would certainly not have been the same without his contributions. He was still performing up until June of this year. He will be missed.
CLICK HERE to read more about Les Paul, his music, and his contributions to the instrument he helped to perfect.
If we want to be charitable, about the best we can say is that we are uninformed. A huge majority of Americans, whether they are for it or against it, cannot describe what is actually in the health care reform bill now being considered by the congress. Most Americans, who are fortunate enough to have a health care plan, cannot describe what it covers and does not cover. But many of them are certain that, whatever it is, Obama and the Democratic socialists in Washington want to take it away from them.
Many Americans, who currently receive some form of government subsidized or administered health care, and seem to be very happy with it, don’t want the government involved in any way with their health care program. A surprising percentage of Americans don’t know that Medicare and Medicaid are government run health care programs.
Add to this the fact that a huge number of Americans also believe that health care reform, under the Democrats, will include provisions for euthanizing our elderly. Again, all anyone has to do to find the truth is read the amendment in question which, by the way, was authored and introduced by a Republican. It simply includes payment to physicians for consultation regarding a living will, and end of life care. Medicare does not currently pay for this consultation. The amendment’s only purpose is to enable more people to have this conversation with their doctors if they choose to.
So, we as a nation have whipped ourselves into a frenzy, assailing and defending a health care reform bill that we don’t know anything about, except what we have chosen to accept from the rumor mill, and from the all-too-partisan cheerleaders on both sides, as truth. Are we really that stupid?
Maybe. But it smells a lot like lazy to me.
You may read Sec. 1233. Advance Care Planning Consultation, as well as the rest of the health care bill by clicking HERE.
But you probably won’t.
If you believe, I mean truly believe, that the President of the United States was born on foreign soil; that any version of any healthcare reform bill that is now, or ever has been, under consideration by the United States Congress includes provisions for euthanasia of the elderly; that the current democratically elected government of this country bears any resemblance to the nazi regime of the Third Reich; that the current democratically elected government of this country is drafting secret plans to come and take your guns away – then you are in the lunatic fringe of political and social thought in this country, and you should get comfortable with that label.
If you are so frightened by legitimate and vigorous debate of the issues facing this country that you feel the answer is to shut down the debate altogether, and simply not allow all voices to be heard, then you are undemocratic, unAmerican, and undeserving of the freedoms and the liberties that this country affords you. If you would rather see the government of this country fail and collapse, than be allowed to implement policies with which you disagree, then you are not fighting the “enemy within,” you are the “enemy within,” and you are a danger to this country.
And, by the way, if you truly believe all of the above, then someone should come and take your guns away, because you’re too fucking crazy to own one.