Confirmation bias is a sinister matter. It worries me that there are so many apparently fully formed people still as gullible as Charles Manson’s acolytes in the 1960s. Tell them something, however untrue and however likely to cause distress or genuine harm, then if it chimes with what they want to believe then they believe it.
It amazes me that in 2020, there are still hordes of people scouring the net until they find an apparently authoritative voice that confirms their wacko belief or view.
Trump got elected on it – hell he nearly even got re-elected on it. Surely you don’t need to be a Democrat to know the man’s a bloody liar, do you?
Sometimes I try to imagine my life after I stop growing, stop developing, stop changing. I worry I’ll find myself starting sentences “I always say …”
I seem to have remained a leftie, more or less. Much of my perceived wisdom still seems to come from a broadly socialist origin … and yet … I’m long in the tooth and I’m not a card carrier or a zealot. I’ve taken on board too much common sense from a broad perspective.
Part of the process of growing involves reading a lot, listening a lot and learning a lot… including from people and sources who hold different views from you. A stupid person spends the time while another person is speaking in opposition, waiting until they finish so they can continue trotting out their unbending view. The wise person is attentive, in case there is anything being said or written which might make them change their currently held view.
I do read The Guardian. I also read The Telegraph. I learn a lot more from the latter than from the former. The Guardian gives me clever, thoughtful opinion, broadly confirming what I feel… but a wise little bird on my shoulder tells me “aren’t you a bit old to believe everything here, like a student trucking along The Kings’ Road, clutching his copy of The Communist Manifesto? Wouldn’t you be wiser if you read and understood intelligent people who hold opposing views? Isn’t that how you end war?” “Funny you should say that. I’ve been wondering myself.” I even make sure I get enough info from The Daily Mail to give me knowledge.
However, there has to come a point where you need to stop doing any of that so much and look inside, to find out what YOU feel, what YOU have learned. When you do this in a full way, you find that the ingredients of the cake, now in the oven, are still cooking, changing in texture and hue, and developing into something more complete. Of course, it will never finally be ready to eat. Your death will interrupt that process. Nevertheless, the change continues, if you let it.
I have worked for over ten years with British politicians across all parties. I’ve stayed friends with quite a few. They eat at my house. I stay at their house. They are right across the spectrum of British politics. I can’t honestly say that the ones who I call friends from one side are any nicer, any more caring or compassionate, any more genuine than the others.
This is the point at which my loyal readers are thinking “where is he going with this?”
Well. The pandemic and vaccination. We’ve never been here before. None of us. In every country in the world, large numbers of people feel strongly that their politicians have got it wrong. Many also think the scientists have got it wrong. They won’t wear masks. They won’t get vaccinated. Some of these folks send me strongly worded texts, almost grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, demanding I see the folly of lockdown, militate against the wearing of masks, chain myself to the barricades with sleeves buttoned at the cuffs, refusing to vaccinate.
They are confident in the sources of their opinions. They have no interest in listening to counter arguments. It’s interesting that it’s always accompanied by a link to a wise treatise or paper from an apparently authoritative source. Never just an opinion piece.
Do I mind? Tough question. After a lot of thought, I find I really rather do mind a great deal. I don’t mind that they hold their view. I do mind that they feel compelled to try to persuade me of the great importance of not masking and not vaccinating.
The reason I feel this is that we are where we are. Right now, in Clapham, where I live, there are for certain hundreds of thousands of people worried sick. They are worried about their grandparents and parents. They are worried about their asthmatic child. They are one of the 2.5 million Brits who cannot tolerate vaccines. They are among the 14 million disabled people who have read the Office for National Statistics figures that two out of every three people who have died from covid-19 were disabled.
So do I feel it should be vital for me, were I to feel strongly that masking and vaccinating is unnecessary, to fly my flag and strut down the street unmasked, making no effort to distance from them, leaving them even more scared than before? Do I think the principle is more important? Should I go home smug, before firing off another secondhand internet page to everyone, safe in the belief that I have the superior knowledge?
Actually, you know, I’m pretty sure, whatever I felt about the reaction to the virus, I wouldn’t dream of being that nasty or that self-inflated or conceited. I put on a mask and keep my distance. I have absolutely no wish to frighten old ladies, scare wheelchair users or intimidate someone with asthma by striding up to them bare-faced, with a pamphlet written by someone with a degree from Oxford telling them it’s all a hoax.
I couldn’t even give a toss if the guy from Oxford is right or wrong. We are where we are. I can’t change the minds of the five billion people who think covid-19 is a nasty illness they don’t want themselves or anyone they love to get. I’m going to be nice, because on balance, being kind trumps being right, Charlie and leaving the gun at home is a much much better idea than wandering around pulling the trigger at passers by laughing “it’s fine, it’s not loaded!”.
Over the course of history, “I’m right and you’re wrong” has done so much more harm than good.
Sign up to Robin's mailing list
After completing the form you’ll be sent an email to confirm you are a real person – please click the link in that email to complete your signup.