Motivated reasoning and cognitive bias are terms used by psychosocial researchers to describe a tendency among people to filter information, turn off eyes and ears, and consider only the evidence they want to hear.
Everyday in our local newspaper, I read letters to the editor. Letters from hotheads. Letters from bigots who rationalize hatred even as they deny their bigotry. Most remarkable is the inventiveness of people who go to extraordinary lengths to rationalize the irrational and engage in willful self-deception.
Fake news, bogus conspiracies, straw man arguments, exaggerated and embellished claims, errors of attribution, errors of reasoning, denial, projection … all are examples of cognitive bias.
Each week, I see examples of willful self-delusion in opinion letters and online discussions. One reader says: “You make me sick to think that you walk the streets and could be near me. You are probably one of the animals …”; a cognitively biased abreaction.
“The left absolutely hates Donald Trump. They hate him with every fiber of their being, every cell in their bodies, but they don’t precisely know why.” But we do know why! Do you see what we see? Do you see Trump’s defects of character? Do you see the bullying of a disabled man, a travel ban that handcuffs children, a deportation order that sends a hospitalized girl with a brain tumor to a detention center? Partisan bias is cognitive bias when you fail to see the insanity and inhumanity.
Conservative commentator Kathleen Parker condemns his reckless rhetoric. Hothead Trump loyalists denounce Parker as a traitor.
President #45 bashes the press as “an enemy of the people.” Senator John McCain defends a free press as a constitutionally protected right. Hothead Trump loyalists denounce McCain.
There will always be an angry rabble who cast a blind eye on gross misuses of power. Never dismiss a mob whose hunger for red meat is insatiable. If you fail to feed them, they will assail you as assuredly as flies drawn to carrion.
Galloping hissy fits, boorish misuses of words, ad hominem character assassinations, misquotes, harping, carping, nitpicking, accusations, fabrications, deceptions, insults, and angry outbursts — hardly a week goes by without uncouth examples of cognitive bias leaping off page.