...when we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers. Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end—winning our “case”—and is shot through with biases. They include “confirmation bias,” in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and “disconfirmation bias,” in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.Liberals like to illustrate this by pointing to conservatives who are climate change deniers in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. But this particular quote from Mooney's description can't help but remind us of certain lawyers-turned-ideologues on the left who demonstrate their capacity for what he calls motivated reasoning. If those ideologues close themselves off from challenges (ie, block people who disagree with them or attack them personally rather than engage their arguments), that kind of "reasoning" leads to what Julian Sanchez calls epistemic closure.
But before we get up on our high horse about this, its important to remember that this isn't something that only affects "those people." We all do it to some extent...it is the human condition.
The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it. That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.The truth is, the only way we can ensure that we're fighting off motivated reasoning is to recognize that its our natural instinct and work against it by choosing to expose ourselves to "threatening information" and allowing the questions to surface.
One of the sure "tells" that someone is trying to engage you in motivated reasoning is if they are always attempting to gin up your emotional response - its why the term "poutrage"was invented. And its exactly why so many people on the left react negatively to "no drama Obama." Unfortunately, that seems to be what a lot of our new media excels at doing.
Don't get me wrong, anger and passion are essential tools in motivating people to change...they help us identify the problems. But they are not much use when it comes to reasoning out solutions. As a matter of fact, they often disguise themselves as reasoning and lead us to what Stephen Colbert so prophetically called truthiness.
Whenever I think about this I go back to something Nezua wrote a few years ago about the dangers of being sure.
...life is not like a series of books in a course on anything. It fluctuates. We fluctuate. We are not a being, but a becoming, as Friedrich once said. And sometimes ideas are hammered out and we draw lines and walls and are told we fall on one side or the other and so do our thoughts and so does all that follows from them...and so it goes. We buy into these illusory borders, too...
I am far more comfortable navigating the in-between than I am in any Place. I like no thing as much as the coming and going from one to another. It is on the purpling beaches of dusk and the roseing gauze of dawn that my true eye shines lidless and I see so much more than in broad daylight. In the falling away of my tired husk I remember my shape can only be held temporarily. And to cling too tightly to it is to rot.
Being sure is but the borderwall we place around a heart to ward off the skinstripping wind of the next living moment.