Why Do People Believe Irrational, Simplistic Things?

And why are they so insistent upon holding on to those things in the face of clear evidence to the contrary?

It’s actually not as surprising as it might seem at first. I think conspiracy theorists and fringe types are often motivated by the same thing: humans are naturally tempted to seek simple answers to complex questions. We want to solve our problems in as few steps as possible, and it can be hard to acknowledge that life just doesn’t work that way. It’s comforting to

Birthers hate Barack Obama so much that they succumb to fantasies about a way to remove him from office that’s supposedly easier and can be achieved earlier than defeating him electorally in 2012.

The same goes for those who insist that George W. Bush stole Florida in 2000.

9/11 Truthers can’t bring themselves to imagine that a series of events ultimately rooted in government incompetence and human error could have allowed a handful of people from what they see as a drastically inferior part of the world to carry out such a horror on their own.

Isolationists seek a quick and easy fix to international dangers like Islamic radicalism. If we don’t have a presence over there, they won’t want to bother us here. (Iraq & Afghanistan are separate issues: to these guys, the wrath of the entire Middle East can hinge upon the presence of but a single US military base on foreign soil.)

The more dogmatic libertarians simplistically assert that society will be near-perfect as long as we let the government do virtually nothing, because they see government as the source of all social illness. While they’ve got a strong case that the private sector will generally be more effective than public, they hurt both by overselling the former and underselling the latter.

And progressives seek to legislate social ills like racism and poverty out of existence. They can’t admit that information is too dispersed, and that human behavior isn’t malleable enough, to make centralized government solutions work, or that there are always behavioral and psychological factors at play that public policy can’t always alleviate – and in fact, can often make worse.

These tendencies are annoying, frustrating, and counterproductive, but they’re also natural. Humanity will never be fully rid of them, so their mere existence is hardly worth freaking out over. The real issue is whether or not the mainstream indulges or embraces the fringe – and one side has a much better record in that regard than the other.

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