Over at Ezra Klein’s new venture, there is a fascinating piece about how politics make us stupid. Klein details experiments that show that both liberals and conservatives have a tendency to interpret facts so that they reinforce their own pre-existing biases. Or, more accurately, that people tend to interpret even objective scientific evidence in ways that support the ideas of their political tribe. It is worth your time.
Of course, the Left Wing never likes to be reminded that they are people just like the rest of us, not some uber-evolved ultra-enlightened homo superior. So Klein’s piece is being attacked by various left wingers, most notably Paul Krugman:
But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives. Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? I don’t mean liberals taking positions you personally disagree with — I mean examples of overwhelming rejection of something that shouldn’t even be in dispute.
Off the top of my head? I can think of the entirety of the Cold War, where massive factions of the Left Wing pretended that communism was not the evil oppressive regime that it was, that murderous communist guerrillas were engaged in a noble struggle and that Ronald Reagan was crazy to call a nation that murdered millions of its own people an evil empire. But if you want to go with current things, here is a short list of bullshit that the Left Wing believes. I will stick to thinks that are not really in factual dispute, rather than points of disagreement (e.g., Keynesian economics works).
Many believe that GMO crops are dangerous and should be banned despite overwhelming evidence that they are safe.
Many believe that vaccines cause autism despite overwhelming evidence that they are safe and the research that linked the two was fraudulent. Yes, some right wingers believes this. But it has for more respect and attention from the Left Wing.
It is almost universally believed on the Left that gun violence is worse than ever and mass shootings are on the rise despite massive drops in overall violence. I’ve done a series of pieces disputing Mother Jones’ completely bogus analysis of gun data. Mother Jones is not a fringe publication; it is one of the main voices of the Left.
Many lefties believe that the United States has been taken over by “rape culture” despite an 85% drop in sexual violence over the last 40 years.
Paul Krugman specifically claims that governments have cut spending, when spending has, in fact, increased. He has since claimed that the German government eschewed austerity despite their enacting more “austerity” than the supposedly skinflint UK. Krugman also used to push the idea that Herbert Hoover cut spending. For the record, Hoover jacked up spending so far that FDR denounced him as a socialist.
Many Left Wingers still believe that overpopulation is a problem. Almost no scientist believes this anymore. Yet Paul Ehrlich is still respected. Many also believe we are running out of landfill space and that recycling/composting are objectively good for the Earth. The evidence on this is mixed, at best.
On the subject of global warming, liberals might accept the science. But they are more than happy to engage in pseudo-scientific feel-good solutions to the problem that often do no good and sometimes make things worse. Examples: food miles, carbon offsets, “organic” farming, hybrid cars. All of those have been objectively shown either do little for the environment or even harm it, in the case of food miles. But a real solution to the problem, like nuclear power? Lefties claim it is a menace despite the astounding safety record of the nuclear industry, even if you include Fukushima and Three Mile Island.
And on the subject of Obamacare? I’ve spent the last week besieged by liberals claiming that Obamacare enrolled seven million uninsured (it enrolled seven million total; maybe two million were uninsured). Or that it has now covered thirty million people (ten million at best, possibly significantly fewer) or that it will decrease the deficit (the CBO now disputes this).
While we’re on the subject of the CBO, it analysis is praised when it supports liberal policy, condemned when it doesn’t. Krugman himself has done this.
Liberals spent years claiming that Bush as “gutting” spending, despite the most massive spending increases in American history. They spent years claiming Bush was “deregulating” despite Bush passing more regulations and more invasive regulations than any prior administration. This is not a matter of opinion. These are facts.
Lefties, like many Right Wingers, believe the United States has a massive sex slave trafficking industry despite a complete absence of any evidence to that effect.
The most popular Left Wing documentarian — Michael Moore — was so famous for his inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies that entire websites sprang up to dispute them. You may have heard of one.
And speaking of “unskewed polls”, many Left Wingers floated conspiracy theories about the 2000 and 2004 elections, which they lost. Many still claim that Al Gore would have won the recount, despite most studies concluding Bush would have won anyway.
That’s just off the top of my head. And not a single one of those is a judgement call. In all cases, liberals are refusing to accept facts — falling gun violence, falling sexual violence, the uselessness of food miles, the fiscal and regulatory record of George Bush, the safety record of nuclear power, the safety of GMO’s, the fiscal policies of European countries.
I might be willing to concede that the Right Wing is a little crazier right now. But that’s mostly a manifestation of Jane’s Law (“The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.”). Eight years ago, it was far different and far uglier. And, frankly, the Left Wing has recently starting to sound a little bit crazy even when they are still in power. The obsession with the Koch Brothers, the increasing calls to silence global warming skeptics, the wild claims about Obama’s economic and healthcare record. I can only imagine how bad it will be if the GOP has the reigns of power again in 2016.
Anyway, Krugman’s piece is pathetic: a desperate attempt to convince himself that his political tribe is better than everyone else’s. We all have our biases and we all tend to find ways to reinforce those biases. Changing someone’s mind is hard; changing your own mind is even harder. It does happen. But it does not happen when someone, like Krugman, thinks they are magically immune to human nature.