Tuesday, September 15, 2015

People of the Lie or why people so tenaciously hang on to dis-information…A Buddhist perspective

Michele Happe MA
September 14 2015

I was on the radio recently talking about the work of Brendan Nyhan who is conducting research at Yale Law school.  His experiments indicate that when people have a partisan stance about certain issues like Gun Control, Climate Change, and WMD’s in Iraq that they are very tenacious to their views even when presented with evidence that contradicts these views.  In fact he points out that at times there is a “back fire phenomenon” which causes people to become even more further entrenched in their views.  He says that this is true about both liberals and conservatives when they are partisans.  He says that it is folly to try to convince these individuals using facts and that using this tactic  is generally a waste of time.  

There are many psychological issues that prop up this research.  For one the concept of cognitive dissonance makes it very difficult to change our minds when a paradigm shift is required to accept the contrary evidence.  A book by Thomas Kuhn called the Structure of Scientific Revolution is about how difficult it is for paradigms to be shifted when it necessitates a change in world view.  There is a critical amount of discomfort required for these kinds of fundamental paradigm shifts to occur and before that point, humans will go literally to war and resort to violence to prop up their ill informed views.  

John Dean, former legal adviser to Richard Nixon wrote a book about another psychological tendency around issues.  He talked about the authoritarian type.  This is a type of person who needs to be lead (follower) by another authoritarian (leader).  This psychological condition amounts to being childish and fearful.  Just tell me what to do and I will be ok.  Fox news is full of authoritarian leaders but John Dean used Dick Cheney as a perfect example.  

  I don’t think it is any mistake that a common reaction after 911 was mass fear and many on the right used that fear to prop up their plans to make the conservative agenda popular in order for the Republicans to win into perpetuity.  Of course the supreme court helped out by stopping the vote count  in Florida in the election between George Bush and Al Gore who by the way would have won the popular vote.  Fox news started spreading fear with the imminent possibility of a “mushroom cloud”,  another attack and lack of safety in our “homeland” and they used many other wedge issues such as abortion and immigration to increase peoples fear of xenophobia.  The conservatives also capitalized on nationalism after the attack on the twin towers which also stokes xenophobia and fear of the future.  Jeb Bush, not George bush was a signatory to the Product for a New American Century or PENAC which knew that an attack on our country would sufficiently foment fear so that the conservatives could gain and keep power.  When it happened they were ready.

 I cannot tell you how many women have complained in my private practice that their husbands are obsessed with Fox News and that since listening 24/7, they have become angry and hateful in other words terrified and attached to the lie.  It has even broken up a few relationships due to excessive anger in the partner and attachment to hateful right wing policies.  Fox news has been proven to be very inaccurate in their reporting but the disinformation used by them causes more fear and hatred which in turn causes people to be ultra opinionated and even more attached to their world view(backfire effect)  

We do see this in some on the left as well such as liberal Jews supporting right wing political leaders in Israel, Also extreme attachment to Obama and also to Hilary Clinton even though both support neolibral policies which the supporter might be against.  This is due to partisanship. Here is a definition of partisanship: an  inclination to favor one group or view or opinion over alternatives

  In Buddhism we look at the primary causes of suffering.  Basically they are attachment to opinion, hatred, fear, anger and selfishness.  We are taught over and over that we are instructed to abandon  all views in order to created joy and happiness.  We are instructed to have a neutral mindset regarding all concepts that are the result of the egos beliefs.  This is a very tall order because most of us have fear about so many things from fear of death to fear of another attack like that which happened on September 11, 2001.  When we train our mind suffiiently we are able to better disengage from the emotional attachment that leads to partisanship in the first place.  We are more able to enjoy the ride and be humble about not knowing.  

Most importantly we need to divest ourselves of the need to change other peoples minds.  They have a right to their delusions just as do we.  As the Dali Lama was asked his opinion after meeting president Bush, His response was, “he had very good cookies”.  

Until next time be well

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