You Should Be Troubled
Millions of people disagree with us about politics. We think their views are wrong and bad, and they think our views are wrong and bad. That troubles us emotionally. It makes us angry and scared.
But here’s the weird thing: it doesn’t trouble us intellectually. It doesn’t fill us with doubt. It doesn’t make us worry whether we’re mistaken, or whether our side’s policies actually work. It doesn’t make us wonder whether “we’re the baddies”.
I think we should be troubled in the latter sense. Political disagreement should cause us to question the nature of our reality.
Why do people disagree with you?
Seriously, think about it. How would you explain the fact that millions of people—perfectly normal people with jobs and families—disagree with you about politics? Where did they all go wrong?
One answer is that they’re biased. They eagerly consume any information that supports their political narrative, while ignoring or dismissing any information that challenges that narrative. The problem is: you do the same thing. We all do this. It’s a part of human nature. And if you think you’re different—that you’re less biased than other people—well, you’re biased to think that about yourself.
Another answer is social pressure. Maybe they care more about fitting in with their peers than they care about what’s true. The problem is: you have the same priorities. You’re a human too, and like all humans, you want to be included, respected, and approved of. I’m guessing this is more important to you than having perfectly accurate beliefs about public policy.
Another answer is that they’re selfish: they’re biased by self-interest. Unfortunately, there’s no reason to think you’re any less selfish, or any less biased by self-interest. And if you think you’re different—that you’re less selfish than other people—well, I’m afraid you’re biased to think that about yourself too.
Maybe they’re gullible: they’ll believe anything their side tells them. But don’t you believe anything your side tells you? How are you any different?
Maybe they’ve been brainwashed! Okay, but do you have some special kind of brain that is impervious to washing?
There is simply no explanation of your political opponents’ beliefs that does not also apply to your beliefs. Assuming your political opponents are humans, this must be the case. You are not exempt from human nature.
Okay, but what if they are something other than humans? What if they’re a different kind of human, an inferior kind of human?
The problem is: every human throughout history has wrongly believed that about their outgroup rivals in times of conflict, for straightforward Darwinian reasons. In fact, your outgroup believes that about you: they think your group is inferior to their group. Is that a coincidence? What are the odds that you are the first group in human history to actually be right about the fact that your outgroup rivals are inferior humans? Take a look at the cartoon below. Can you tell which side you’re on?
Alright, but maybe the outgroup is just different, but not necessarily inferior. The problem is: if they’re different in a way that compels them, but not you, to believe wrong and bad things, then how is that “difference” anything other than inferiority?
In the end, we’re stuck. Either our political opponents are normal humans, and we’re vulnerable to the same biases as they are. That’s troubling. Or they are inferior humans, which we know is the exact type of bullshit every human has wrongly believed about their outgroup rivals since the dawn of humanity. Also troubling.
I don’t see a way out. Do you?
We have no choice but to be troubled.
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