I was talking to my brother about electric cars because he’s a Tesla fanboy*, and we are both in agreement that moving away from gas cars and towards electric cars is a good thing. However, he said something about moving towards having only electric cars, and I said, “Let’s work on making hybrid cars mainstream first, then we can talk about electric cars.” My brother said hybrids were mainstream, that they had been around for a long time. I said, yes, they had been around for some time, but they certainly weren’t mainstream. We went back and forth about this for a while, and I said mainstream as in at least half of the cars were hybrid (which I was pretty sure wasn’t the case). He said he thought it was near that, and, of course, I pulled out my phone and Googled it. In 2016, hybrids were 2% of new cars sold. 2%. I was startled by that, honestly. I thought it would be 10% – 20%, but no. 2%. My brother was stunned. He said, “Everywhere I go, I see hybrids and electrics. Most of my clients** have hybrid/electric cars. I said, “It’s because you’re steeped in the culture. You have that you’re green on your website, so your clients are self-selecting. In addition, you hang out with people with similar values, so of course you’re going to see more hybrids/electric cars.”
My point in bringing this up isn’t because I was right (although I will not hesitate to point that out), but because it’s a good example of how our unconscious biases are reinforced without us even noticing (because, unconscious, duh). My brother truly believed that hybrids were mainstream 40%-50% of new cars bought. I truly believed it wasn’t so. Obviously, one of us was wrong, and it could have as easily been me (but, it wasn’t, as I noted before). I’ve had instances before when I really believed something to be true and later found out it wasn’t. To my brother’s credit, he accepted what I told him without too much argument, which is more than some people would do. Like me, he incorporates new information into what he currently believes, even if it takes some time to adjust.
I remember during the 2012 elections, I would go around asking people in real life about a hot-button topic on Twitter. Most of the time, the real-life person would stare at me blankly, not knowing what the hell I was saying. These are people who are well-informed when it comes to politics, too. They just didn’t wade in the weeds the way political junkies on social media did. It helped me realize the dangers of social media for those of us who are heavy users. It’s way too easy to envelop yourself in a cozy bubble of yes-people and be an amen-corner for things you already believe. It’s only natural to congregate with people with similar ideas, and it’s frighteningly easy to do online. I see it happen far too often where someone who is even slightly Twitter famous quickly starts blocking people hwo disagree with them. On the one hand, I can understand. Getting hundreds/thousands of people telling you how wrong you are, most of them in very impolite words, will grind down even the most stalwart of people. On the other hand, it shuts down debate and leaves the original tweeter with only acolytes. I’ve realized that many people if not most don’t want a real debate online (including me at times) and merely want to bleat their opinions unchecked.
This bleeds over into the real world when social media users use the same jargon they do online in their real lives. Using rough metrics, there are approximately 68 million Twitter users in America. That’s a lot of users, don’t get me wrong. However, there are 326 million people in America, so roughly 1 in 5.6 people use Twitter. Honestly, that’s more than I thought it would be (displaying my own unconscious biases), but it’s still a sizable minority. So even when something is hot on Twitter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s just as important in real life. To further extrapolate, let’s say you’re passion is electric cars (yes, using that example again), and that’s all you tweet about. All your followers and the people you follow are way into electric cars as well. If that’s all you tweet about, and they’re all, “ELECTRIC CARS ALL THE TIME”, then, yeah, you’re going to think it’s the norm.
I think by now it’s common knowledge that confirmation bias is a thing. Liberals like to point at Republicans and giggle and snort over it, but we do it as well. I’ve seen it happen more and more in the past five years or so, and I firmly believe it’s because of the echo chamber effect. As I said above, one of my saving graces is that when I’m faced with evidence that my idea is wrong, I incorporate it into my way of thinking (after a lot of research, obviously). Many people don’t seem capable of doing that, instead, contorting themselves into a pretzel in order to explain away something that threatens a deeply-held belief.
We are not rational beings, as much as we like to think we are. In addition, the way we experience life makes it difficult for us to think it might actually be different than what we think it is. It’s one thing I find fascinating as a student of psychology–how incredibly hard it is to change a person’s beliefs. In addition, on a psychological level, something we learn at an early age is ingrained as being normal, and evidence to the contrary is brushed off as aberrations. For example, I learned that in my family, negative emotions, especially anger, were not acceptable (except for my father). By the time I was an adult, that had morphed into, “Anger kills” in my brain. Oh, not on a conscious level, but on a subconscious one. I was convinced if I showed the slightest bit of anger, I would burn the whole world to the ground. It took many years of therapy for me to break this belief, and it’s still not completely gone. I’m currently working on finding the balance between never expressing anger and allowing it to pour out of me in waves.
Another thing I think about is that as difficult as it is for me, I’m at least aware of the dynamics at work. There are so many people who simply believe what they believe to be true, and nothing will shake them from their belief. We all know these people. I once witnessed an argument between a white guy and a black woman in college. He was saying that black people were lazy, not as smart as white people, etc. He was a white nationalist before it became trendy. The black woman said to him, “What happens when you meet someone like me? An intelligent, hardworking black woman?” He said, “I would say you were an outlier.” He was that blatant about the fact that anything that didn’t agree with his preconceived notions, he just dismissed it from his mind as irrelevant. That’s why I don’t discuss things I believe in 100% like choice. There’s no give in me, and there’s definitely no give in anti-choicers, so it’s a waste of time to discuss it.
I don’t really have anything pithy to say about this; I’m just observing the phenomenon, and I know it’s something I have to work on in myself.
*He would say that about himself–I’m not being derogatory.
**He’s a realtor.