If only they knew what I know and were not such idiots.

So apparently new unemployment numbers are out in the U.S. and things seem to be looking kind of ok.

Well, it depends which side you’re on: Democrats feel like things are kind of OK, but some Republicans seem to think that these numbers are wrong. Somebody’s playing with them. Case in point:


Wow, right? The liberal blogosphere and twittosphere was quick to point out that that’s just stupid. As Ezra Klein wrote “if the White House somehow was manipulating the data, don’t you think they would have made the payroll number look a bit better than 114,000? No one would have batted an eye at 160,000” (for the whole debunking of the conspiracy theory surrounding these new unemployment numbers check out Klein’s blog).

The reaction from the blogosphere in the US to the new jobs numbers sounds crazy but is indicative of something we’re all guilty of. And I’m not talking about the little conspirationist sleeping in all of us. I have some conspiracy theories of my own (although they are all related to Gary Bettman in some ways).

No, what I am referring to is a process that we all go through when confronted with opinions different from ours (ok, sometimes, we are RIGHT).

Here’s how it goes:

1-I see the world in its objective reality, free from self-interest and my beliefs are derived from an unbiased source of information, from evidence.

2-People who know what I know will think the way I think. Those who fail to see things the way I do, do so for three possible reasons:

a) They don’t know the truth; they have not been given the right information.

b) They do have the information but they’re lazy or irrational and unable to take this information and come to a reasonable conclusion like I have.

c) They do have the information, they do come to conclusions but they’re biased due to ideology, self-interest and the like.

I’m not making this up. It has a name. It’s called Naïve Realism. It has a Wikipedia page if you’re interested. It also has a seminal paper.

Just to be clear: I believe the unemployment numbers. I also think that the Republicans who think that somebody’s manipulating the numbers are kidding themselves. Again, read Klein to know why. (Also, more generally, read Klein.) What I’m saying is that we are all guilty of naïve realism and that it represents an important barrier to political dialogue. I’m not saying that being aware of this will transform Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh into best friends. What I’m saying is that thinking about our own little biases from time to time may elevate political discourse just a notch.

And for those who think that they’re never guilty of naïve realism, fine, but as George Carlin once said:

“Ever notice that anyone going slower than you is an idiot, and everyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
photocredit whitnuld via flickr. cc.


One thought on “If only they knew what I know and were not such idiots.

  1. I think a different George Carlin quotation sums up the state of contemporary American political discourse: “shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.”

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