The red pill would have been better for your health, Lance
The human brain is an amazing thing. We cram it full of stuff and nonsense and song lyrics and daydreams and it rummages through the facts and factoids and sorts them into some sort of worldview.
We commit to that worldview; we get too attached. It’s called confirmation bias. We hunt down and prioritise information that reinforces what we already hold to be true; we ignore or dismiss that which threatens the edifice we’ve built from half-formed thoughts and snippets of Alan Jones.
My brain has eagerly absorbed dozens of headlines proclaiming that red wine and chocolate are good for you. But my Pollyanna grey matter blithely skips the ‘only in moderation’ footnote. It even hurt to write that, to be honest. That’s the pang of cognitive dissonance.
We prefer to pick the blue pill of blissful ignorance over the red pill of painful truth.
One of the most impressive things – perhaps the only impressive thing left - about Lance Armstrong is the strength of his self belief. He has been, for so long, the naked Emperor strutting down the street … and threatening to sue the bejesus out of the young child who cried ‘but he’s in the nuddy!’.
Wayyyy too many blue pills, Lance.
Sometimes -rarely, but sometimes – we can be shocked out of our little worldview cocoons. Take US President Barack Obama’s proposed gun laws, for example.
The United States are sniffing around the red pill. The Sandy Hook massacre, all those senseless deaths, has begun to dispel the mass delusion that wielding a deadly assault weapon is a human right.
But it’s amazing how hard some will fight to keep their set of beliefs intact.
There’s the National Rifle Association’s fierce lobbying, the cherrypicking of statistics on gun-related crimes, the mindless mantra of ‘guns don’t kill people’. The incapacity to see the link between guns and death, to accept a gun as a single-purpose instrument of death.
And then, in a deliciously entertaining but ultimately dangerous dedication to the cause, there’s the new ‘Truther’ movement, the conspiracy theorists who believe the massacre was either staged or faked just so the Government had an excuse to disarm the people.
You know how it goes; we’ve seen it all before. The idea of a random attack is too terrifying for our pattern-loving brains to accept. There must be another explanation, our synapses squawk.
Conspiracy theory expert Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, from the University of Western Australia, said reality is so messy and scary that some people are comforted by the belief that a shooting or a terrorist attack is all part of some grander plot.
Author Alan Moore says, ominously, that the uncomfortable truth is that the world really is chaotic.
“The truth is that it is not The Iluminati, or The Jewish Banking Conspiracy, or the Gray Alien Theory,” he said.
“The truth is far more frightening - Nobody is in control.
“The world is rudderless.”
Accepting the messy truth of reality is more important than ever in this age of moral relativism and false equivalencies, where someone’s moonbat blog on astral travel has more readers than the average science journal.
Our policymakers are prone to confirmation bias, too. And even more prone to trying to keep electorates happy. Sometimes they can use a circuit breaker like Sandy Hook to make a breakthrough on creating a better world. Sometimes they’re just opportunistic and use any excuse to more closely mould our society to their own vision.
Prof Lewandowsky warns that merely jamming in more information doesn’t stop the misinformation; and can even strengthen a person’s entrenched views. Scientists are working on ways to better break the confirmation bias stranglehold, but it’s not easy.
In the meantime, be careful what you put in that brain of yours; the better the quality of the stuff you pack in, the better the thoughts you’ll get out.
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