We Don't Need Any Darn Fact Checkers - We Don't Even Need Facts.

Park Goist

Have you ever felt that there’s too much to know and too little time to learn it in? I have. As a mature older adult I have solved this problem. I can have confidence in my knowledge of a topic simply by confirming what I already know. And guess what?  Scholars I’ve read about recently agree with my strategy!  "Thinking is mostly just rationalization, mostly just a search for supporting evidence," says Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at the New York University School of Business.

And guess what else?  Scholars have coined a term for this kind of so called thinking.  It’s been christened "motivated reasoning," which yet another professor, Dan Kahanwho teaches law and psychology at Yale, defines as "when a person is conforming their assessments of information to some interest or goal that is independent of accuracy." A goal independent of accuracy might be, for example, maintaining high ratings as a conservative radio talk show host, trying to win an election or even one-upping friends at the coffee shop.

The problem here - as an older person I am constantly discovering problems I didn't even notice before - is that it’s easy to run afoul of friends (and strangers), whose intelligence and civility I respect, but who are seeking "more rational explanations" for whatever pressing issues are troubling our nation at the moment. 

And such national issues are often dead center on at the old geezer coffee guzzler table somewhere in the heart of old Pierce County.  Indeed, friend and foe alike accuse us old grumps of attempting to solve all the world’s problems, every week day from around 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.  You may have noticed how much better the world becomes at about that time each morning over the past 20 or so years.  Now you know that it’s largely due to these incessant conversations and strongly held, fact-free, opinions, which we caffeine addicts share gladly with anyone within earshot.     

And now that we've learned all about motivated reasoning, we can be less troubled by the fact that our opinions on matters that matter usually have little or no basis in fact. In practice facts have a way of getting in the way of meaningful opinions. No problem. All you have to do is pick facts that appear to provide evidence for what you already knew. Now you see how motivated reasoning can work in your life, too. There’s no need to worry any longer about not having enough time to learn enough stuff.  Because most of what there is to learn, is not only independent of the need for accuracy, but is stuff you already knew in the first place. 

So kick back, relax, have another cup Joe--but try not to look so damn smugly smart about it all, and check out this entertaining video that explains everything.