“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The effect of "philosophy" on the interpretation of factual information

I like to listen to all viewpoints. I listen to KPFK, Pacifica Radio's Southern California outlet, for the farthest left point of view, and to KRLA, Salem Radio's Los Angeles area station, for the right point of view. The other day someone asked Michael Medved, an afternoon host on KRLA, about peak oil. Medved said "it's nonsense." Now, listening to him, one realizes he's an intelligent man and must be capable of understanding facts. What would cause him to say such a foolish thing?

I've concluded that Medved and many, many others (both on the radio and in "real life") decide what the facts must be to fit their viewpoint. They read books and articles and listen to people who will "confirm" the facts that support their philosophical beliefs. They form a self-reinforcing feedback loop of confirmation. I believe that talk radio, blogs, etc., have exacerbated this phenomenon. Thus, for example, people with a conservative outlook now believe that the peak oil phenomenon is nonsense because Medved said so, and he's a smart guy with a radio talk show.

The potential for disaster is huge. In my opinion the only chance, and it's a slim one, that we have of avoiding really very large trauma in the way we live our lives is the sort of single minded, participatory, nationwide goal-oriented behavior that we last exhibited during World War 2. As I've mentioned several times in my blog I have a libertarian orientation philosophically, but I don't see how we're going to get through this with everyone acting in his or her own enlightened self-interest. Nor do I see how growing population, growing energy use, growing "standard of living" (when measured in standard terms) can continue. And the denial of this will hasten and worsen the crash.

So, back to the question at hand. What can be done to help seemingly intelligent individuals to objectively evaluate facts rather than bend the facts to fit the way they think things "must work?" Unfortunately, I see a stronger tendency for this behavior from the conservative hosts on Salem Radio than from the liberal (actually liberal is far too weak) hosts on Pacifica. This saddens me, as I don't align myself with Pacifica's point of view in general. I'd like to feel that conservatives deal with facts, but this is not the case.

For another example, EVERY conservative host I know of is a "global warming denier." Now, I will definitely concede that there are intelligent climate scientists who argue that global warming caused by mankind's release of greenhouse gases is not yet a proven fact. There are many, many more who disagree. But Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, et al, will hear none of it. This is a sad commentary on their ability to deal with reality.

I wish peak oil were nonsense, I wish anthropogenic climate change were a myth, but as I had to learn as a child, wishing won't make it so.

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