15 Comments
founding

Excellent read. Thank you. 💓

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May 12, 2023Liked by Brian Klaas

Thank you Brian!! Again, another article helping to make sense of modern society, or maybe society in general. We have all felt the frustration of that concrete thinking which permits no real discourse and therefore no real progress (ie congress). I have always loved being proved wrong as that means that I can improve. Why is this so difficult?

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The other day I was thinking about some of my acquaintances on social media and how disparate our political views are. I realized that even with facts I couldn't change their minds about providing social safety nets, allowing abortion rights, and banning assault weapons, etc. I also concluded that they were unlikely to change my position with their facts, though I try to analyze other information, and I was saddened by this situation. How can we move forward and solve problems when we so quickly take our corners of belief/knowingness? Your article clarified this issue. It also illuminated where and how far we need to go.

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That’s a great question, Jeanne and an astute observation. I think part of the problem is driven by media, in which people self-select into their own version of reality. Some of it is due to a lack of intellectual curiosity. And some of it is genuinely down to divergent values (there are real divides). But I also think it’s worth highlighting the shared goals when we speak to people who we disagree with. It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re on the same team with many policy goals - we want people to have better lives and most of us agree broadly on what that entails. Then, for people who have loathsome viewpoints (say, a Neo-Nazi), I don’t think there’s much point trying to engage with them and it could be counterproductive. You just have to beat extremists electorally and make sure they have no real power. So part of the answer lies in diagnostics: is this someone who is open to facts? If so, can I find common ground with shared goals and have a rational, evidence-based debate? If so, it’s worth the effort. If not, don’t waste your time. That’s my view at least, though plenty of others will see it differently.

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I do think one way that might work is not providing facts but asking questions. I do this sometimes by analogy. On the debt ceiling: if you hire a contractor and then refuse to pay him because your line of credit has run out, is it right that you should insist he lower his price to accommodate that? How would you feel if your were the contractor faced with that position? Few answer--but they do tend to stop pushing their particular point at me. The problem with trying to plant seeds of doubt, however, is that any seed requires more than barren ground.

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A really excellent article. I see it as the Dark Side of Truthiness.

I share your love of intellectual curiosity, which is why at 79 I still read books on all the topics you mention, though my background in history, English Lit, and law. The recent assaults on education seem to be bent on crushing curiosity. For the don't-say-gay book banners, those who think America has reached perfection so there CAN'T be systemic racism, education is "reading and riting and 'rithmatic." Squelch anything that might be outside the parent's comfort zone. The concept of simply exploring certain ideas is anathema. To ask a kid to think is grooming. That world is not just ignoring thought, it is trying to suppress it.

The thought of being trapped in such a mind is terrifying, out of Poe. In fact, it could be called Cask of Amontillado-ism, but self-driven into the dark, lured by your pride in your "expertise" in the wine of false certainty.

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That is beautifully thought out, argued, and written. I did not realize there was an actual word for what prevents people from absorbing new information: knowingness.

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author

Thank you, Barbara! I don’t think the word is in widespread public use, but I liked the concept from Jonathan Lear and thought it fit well what it was describing when I came across it in that Aeon essay (which I also highly recommend).

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May 15, 2023Liked by Brian Klaas

Bloody brilliant! (...and hi Zorro, you handsome boy)

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May 13, 2023Liked by Brian Klaas

Well, courage is needed to take on the Twitter gun rights nuts so kudos.

I’ve often wondered why people seem not interested in learning or trying to understand others’ viewpoints, and belligerently harboring beliefs even when presented with facts to the contrary. The self-realization that maybe one doesn’t know everything can be challenging for some which is ridiculous. Learning new things can be wondrous and eye-opening and challenging!

There may also be a power component. To acknowledge another person knows something that you don’t can be difficult, maybe make you feel “less than.” Which I also feel is why so many are hanging on to their guns, you’ll take away their feeling of power if you take away their gun rights. (Although the manufacturers’ end goal is money.)

And how has no one acknowledged that adorable dog photo at the end?

Thanks for another great article! Cheers!

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Brian, we used to say in one place I worked 25 years ago, “you can’t have an argument with someone who has religion.” What you are describing as knowingness, is really just a religion...”Facts be damned, I believe.” It is based on faith in either one’s own infallibility and omniscience or faith in one’s preconceived notions of the world are right and others are just engaged in a conspiracy to try and debunk what is true. In either case it is based on a narcissism that seems to increasingly pervade our society.

I am glad your brought up the anti-intellectual strain that exists in a big way in the US. I grew up with family that looked at college as “long haired book learning” that had no use in the “real world.” That is unless it had a practical application such as engineering or agriculture. I have had the honorific of “Dr” or “professor” hurled at me in professional meetings with the intention that it is an insult (I have a PhD in Econ from U of Minnesota) to insinuate I knew nothing of the “real world”.

The narcissism of knowingness is leading to an Idiocracy or kakistocracy in the many places in the US. I fear the only thing that will change minds in the US is something so obviously catastrophic that facts can no longer be ignored.

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Expressed from a psychological perspective: someone is either capable, or they are not, willing, or they are not. The not capable can be addressed in a plethora of ways.

There is nothing that can be done about unwilling . Many in the community are so vested in the business structure of needing clients, patients to earn a living, & are scarcely willing to admit the unwillingness brings a lifetime dissatisfaction, if not outright despair.

I have never met a happy unwilling person.

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Great stuff, Brian - thanks for writing/sharing. I couldn't help thinking about this in economics language, too. Sunk costs and our views on them (and how they impact our decision making/information gathering) and switching costs. I've observed, anecdotally, that it's the switching costs that seem to be at work with friends of mine that are Trump fans. I fear they've calculated the cost of switching their view/attitude of him is just too high for them to bear. They have invested to much into him to turn away from him.

My wife and I plan and budget for vacations in what is probably a pretty regular way - we figure out what we want to do/where we want to go, and then we try to find the lowest cost way (dollars, time, convenience, etc) of doing it/getting there. We make all kinds of tradeoffs along the way of course, but we don't start out by starting at the extremes of "money is no object and we'll spend whatever it takes" or "we will only to Paris if we can do it for $200" or whatever. But that's what politics feel likes these days especially in Congress.

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Reading this, I had a parallel or maybe upside-down sense of my brothers’ take on this stuff. They are both hardcore conspiracy theorists (all the usual stuff: 9/11, COVID and the vaccines, chemtrails…), and the maddening thing is that they will use the exact same aphorisms about willful ignorance to describe all the “sheep” like me who don’t believe their red pilled nonsense.

Of course, you also lay out the solution here, which is to become more comfortable with uncertainty and foster curiosity in ourselves. My brothers have weaponized that idea too (given that most people are closed off to questions of chemtrails, 9/11 conspiracies, and whatnot), but it’s easier to point to their own double standard here: they expect openness from others but won’t admit to any uncertainty themselves nor allow their positions to be challenged in the slightest.

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May 14, 2023·edited May 14, 2023

Hi Brian 40+ years ago I started work for a major company, a quite old man long retired had kept an office and used to come in 3-4 days a week and wander around chatting to people more often about life than work.

I think Brian he may have said to you (re your dialogue with Pukita) what he said to me when one day he sat down with me and said Mr. Craig ( he called everyone Mr/Mrs/Ms and then only their first name) "Mr. Craig, dont argue with an idiot" I was in my mid 20s and obviously looked perplexed, he went on, You see an idiot wont allow himself to be informed and no matter how many facts you put in front of him he remains steadfast in his point of view, if you are talking to him he will interrupt, you will have to raise your voice to be heard, he will start yelling, complete strangers will walk past and say, Look at those 2 idiots" with that he said see you again and walked on, I knew "Mr. Neil for just 5 years, best teacher I ever had.

PS love the B/C photo, I have 1 too most neurotic dog I have ever known

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