confirmation-bias

My mom and I typically avoid talking about politics with each other. There was a fiery email exchange back in 2016 during the Trump vs. Clinton presidential race, and since then, we know and respect where the line is. It is hard to remember a time anymore where public discourse in politics was civil compared to what we have today, which has become either complete avoidance, a harsh rush to judgement, or downright vicious attacks. The mistrust of the media, the strategic manipulation of agenda and ideology, the lies and hypocrisy spewing from liberal “snowflakes” and “deplorable” conservatives alike, the rampant unrecognized confirmation bias in virtually everyone, and the blatant disregard for common decency on every front – ranging from the President’s tweets to the white nationalists and antifa protesters fighting in the streets has caused a state in which we find ourselves unable to affect change, unable to communicate, and unable to move in any bipartisan direction. Everyone is asking the same question. How did we get here, and what can we do about it?

In a risky exercise of critical examination to get to an answer, I called my mom to talk politics. I knew her views would be equally impassioned and completely the opposite of my own. Instead of getting in a heated ping-pong tournament of point-counterpoint, I began the conversation simply asking her unloaded questions about her views, aiming to intentionally listen to her answers. I didn’t formulate responses, rebuttals or counter-attacks. I wasn’t sure what I was after. I just wanted to listen.

FT_18.08.23_BasicFacts_large-majorities-both-parties

It became clear that we agreed on at least one thing, it feels like America is in crisis. According to the Pew Research Center study, “eight-in-ten Americans say that when it comes to important issues facing the country, most Republican and Democratic voters not only disagree over plans and policies, but also cannot agree on basic facts.” How can we agree on facts when we are living in an era where statistics and evidence no longer bear any weight if they don’t confirm what we already believe? In an article written by political polarization researcher, Thad Kousser, he reports that “Many Americans even tell pollsters that they would be upset if their child married a member of the other party, a form of tribalism that was nonexistent in 1960.”

Our reasoning for this apparent crisis may differ, but I would argue from a historical perspective that it is not because of liberals or conservatives, not because of the Trump presidency, the Obama presidency, or the Reagan, Bush and Clinton eras. It is also not because of alleged government conspiracies, political agendas, or even our broken civil discourse. These issues have existed for nearly 240 years, since the time of our Founding Fathers, where they disagreed on most of the major Constitutional issues they confronted. In his article for The Atlantic, “What’s the Answer to Political Polarization,” author Russell Berman reminds us that the “fundamental dispute over the institution of slavery plunged the nation into a civil war,” and that during arguments in the chamber of the U.S. Senate, “an anti-slavery lawmaker from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, was caned on the Senate floor by a member of the House from South Carolina, Preston Brooks.” Berman would also have us not forget our dark history of political assassinations, including John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and the nation’s first Treasury secretary, Aaron Burr, who was killed in a duel by the sitting Vice President in 1804. A duel? Can you imagine Mike Pence in a duel with Secretary Steven Mnuchin? Instead of being worse off now, perhaps we should remind ourselves that it could always be worse.

As I patiently listened to what I instinctually heard as regurgitated partisan talking points of my mother’s perspectives on today’s issues, I had an a-ha moment. For every accusation she threw at the side she opposed, there was an equal example on her favored side of precisely what she was accusing the other of. If I wasn’t just listening, I would have told her so, citing examples that support my views. The reality is, we are all pots calling kettles black. One side is the pot that says in hasty generalizations, “Democrats disregard morals, disrespect our country, and want to form a harmful socialist government.” The other side is the kettle that similarly says, “Republicans want to legislate religious morals, have hijacked patriotism, and want to form a harmful nationalist government.” According to Urban Dictionary, “Pot Calling the Kettle Black” is a “symbolic phrase that became associated with hypocrisy. An accuser blames someone else for having a fault when the accuser has the same fault.” When my mom said anything that struck me as wildly outlandish, I would press her for evidence that it was true. Oftentimes, she would say she didn’t have direct evidence, she just believed it because it has been confirmed “in a lot of places” she has seen “on the internet”. This is confirmation bias in its rawest form. It made me wonder, what are my confirmation biases? What do I believe that I don’t have direct evidence of?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Psychology section written by Bettina J. Casad, confirmation bias is “the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.” Casad explains that this biased approach is “largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information” because “information that conflicts with the decision may cause discomfort and is therefore ignored or given little consideration.” She adds that “people are especially likely to process information to support their own beliefs when the issue is highly important or self-relevant.”

There has been no better example to explain this hypocrisy, immobility and confirmation bias in public discourse and all three branches of the United States government – Executive, Legislative and Judicial –  than the contentious, emotionally charged Supreme Court Senate hearings for former Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who has since been confirmed to a lifetime appointment as the newest Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, appointed by President Trump. In the hearings, Kavanaugh was questioned about everything from his judicial record to stolen memos to sexual assault accusations. His judicial record in question was his previous controversial testimonies under oath in 2004 and 2006 where he denied having knowledge of sensitive insider information that was stolen from Democrats on the Judiciary Committee in the early 2000’s, denied playing a role in the Bush administration’s detainee-torture policy and warrantless surveillance programs, and denied being unethically involved in the nominations and subsequent appointments of conservative appeals court judges in those years. In an article titled, “I Wrote Some of the Stolen Memos that Brett Kavanaugh Lied to the Senate About,” author Lisa Graves claimed, “Kavanaugh should be removed because he was repeatedly asked under oath as part of his 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings for his position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit about whether he had received such information from [GOP Senate Aide, Manuel] Miranda, and each time he falsely denied it.” A Fox News article titled, “Kavanaugh ‘knew nothing’ about alleged stolen Democratic memos,” reported that, “Miranda claimed Democratic memos were ‘negligently’ put on a shared server roughly 16 years ago,” and, regarding one specific previously unpublished Democratic letter that Kavanaugh did receive, Kavanaugh said he “didn’t realize it was an unofficial letter.” This rally back and forth could go on forever. Depending on where you get your news from, as a conservative, you’ll believe he indeed knew nothing and your sources will take it even further by claiming it’s a witch hunt with no credible evidence to corroborate that. As a liberal, you’ll believe Kavanaugh is lying and your sources will take it even further by claiming it’s a political conservative cover up with no credible evidence either. Neither side will recognize their own confirmation bias at work. Neither side will seek evidence or critically analyze what deceptive methods of persuasion are being employed – exaggeration, half-truths, excessively emotional appeals, inaccuracies.

While these controversies raised eyebrows for Democrats and were dismissed by Republicans, they are tame compared to what came to dominate the public conversation next. When psychology professor and mother of two, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, came forward claiming in detail that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her nearly 37 years ago at a high school party – a charge he unequivocally denies – a frenzy of contentious confirmation bias ensued.

In her testimony, Ford began by explaining, “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened.” Ford’s supporters called her brave. Ford’s skeptics called her a political pawn. Could both be true? Could both be false?

Ford recounted in detailed testimony that, “he groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was very inebriated… I believed he was going to rape me” (“Brett”). She described that when she tried to call for help, “Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most and has had the most lasting impact on me throughout my life. It was hard for me to breathe and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.”

Once again, equal and opposite partisanship flourished. Shortly after the testimony, CNBC reported that Trump tweeted, “to the tune of his supporters,” that he had “no doubt” that “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed… by either her or her loving parents [sic].” He then asked, “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?” Simultaneously, women across the country, appalled by the President’s comments, answered why. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “The majority of sexual assaults, an estimated 63 percent, are never reported to the police,” and “victims who do report will delay doing so for a variety of reasons that are connected to neurobiological and psychological responses to their assault.” Ford addressed the question directly in her testimony of why she didn’t come forward sooner by explaining she was “too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these details… I convinced myself that since Brett did not rape me, I should just move on and just pretend that it didn’t happen.”

Conservatives, incensed that Kavanaugh was seemingly being found guilty before being proven innocent, said Ford was either lying or that she may have been assaulted, but since she also could not remember some other details, like how she got to the party or how she got home, she must simply be forgetting who actually assaulted her. When asked how sure she was that it was Kavanaugh who attacked her, Ford “did not hesitate and answered, ‘One hundred precent’.”

The news reports that ensued were so extreme in both directions, Americans could barely keep their heads on their shoulders. In an analysis of the media coverage during the hearings, The Verge, writer Casey Newton outlined how the hearings polarized us, illustrating that the hyper-conservative “Daily Wire’s top story” had the headline “Prosecutor Who Questioned Ford Shreds Her Case in Five-Page Memo,” which generated “more than 205,000 engagements.” The hyper-liberal Occupy Democrats’ top story was, “Matt Damon Just DESTROYED Kavanaugh and Senate Republicans in hilarious SNL cold open,” which Newton reports had 44,000 engagements. With our confirmation bias at an all-time high, Newton explains how the hearings threw a “lifeline to partisan publishers” and, in doing so, “has incentivized more polarized coverage in the future.” America, we are suckers playing right into the hands of partisan media outlets, not because they want to inform us, but because they – all of them – are for-profit businesses and are counting on us to feed our confirmation bias.

For sexual assault survivors, Ford’s testimony was an all too familiar story. In a Time article by Haley Sweetland Edwards titled, “How Christine Blasey Ford’s Testimony Changed America, “Women began calling into C-SPAN to tell their own, decades-old stories of harassment and rape. The hashtag WhyIDidn’tReport exploded on social media, a rallying cry for those who had never gone public about their own sexual assault until then.” As republicans cried foul play and cast Kavanaugh as the victim, sexual-assault survivors, who have been galvanized in protest since the hashtag MeToo movement gained traction in 2016, took their protests directly to Senate committee members. Two women confronted Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator on Capitol Hill crying, “You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, and that you’re going to let people who do these things into power.” Three women confronted Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell at Reagan International Airport, one of them saying, “How many stories of sexual violence do you need to hear in order to believe women?” Depending on which news sources you frequent, you will be told by liberals that the women were “speaking truth to power” and are “concerned” and “pleading” for accountability and justice. Or you will be told by conservatives that these women were either “badgering” and “intrusive” and that they should, as Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch told them when he was confronted, “Grow up.”

When it was Kavanaugh’s turn to give his testimony, those that opposed his nomination saw his temperament as hostile, partisan and unfit for what is expected of an impartial Supreme Court Justice as he blamed Senate Democrats for trying to “blow me up and take me down,” claiming it was a “calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with an apparent pent up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election… revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars of money of outside left wing opposition groups.” He agonized that his family and his name “have been totally and permanently destroyed by viscous and false” accusations. He fumed that the proceedings were a “national disgrace,” a “circus” and warned, “the consequences will be with us for decades.” He expressed his agreement that allegations of sexual assault must always be taken seriously and asserted, “I’m here today to tell the truth. I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone. Not in high school. Not in college. Not ever,” reiterating, “All of the people identified by Dr. Ford as being present at the party have said they do not remember any such party ever happening.” In subsequent FBI expanded probe, The Washington Post reported the bureau had conducted interviews with Mark Judge, Patrick J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, all of whom Ford said were at the alleged party, each of whom said they did “not recall the gathering Ford described.” The FBI also interviewed a fourth person, Deborah Ramirez, “who had told the New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed his penis to her when both students were at Yale.” When being questioned by Democratic Senator Ms. Kobauchar about if Kavanaugh has ever had a case where he drank so much that he didn’t remember what happened the night before, he responded with a hostile, “You’re asking about blackout, I don’t know, have you?”

Democrats were outraged at Kavanaugh’s demeanor and partisanship, calling into question his ability to be an impartial Supreme Court justice and calling him a member of a “Boys’ Club.” In her article in the The New Yorker titled “The Boys Club that Protects Brett Kavanaugh,” author Emily Witt explains that “less good behavior” by boys at Kavanaugh’s high school was “tolerated, as long as it happened under the veil of drunkenness, or as a joke,” and that, “In this world, high school doesn’t end when you’re eighteen; it’s a lifelong circle of mutual support, an in-crowd that protects itself.” Kavanaugh’s supporters, on the other hand, saw any hostility in his behavior as justified outrage for being considered publicly guilty before proven so, and for being ruthlessly attacked by the Democrats on the Senate committee. President Trump, who initially called Ford “a very fine woman” and a “credible witness,” later at a campaign rally in Mississippi mocked her testimony regarding specifics of the incident she couldn’t remember, concluding, “a man’s life is shattered.” In a press statement on the White House lawn, Trump later said, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America, when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of.” In her Time article, Edwards quoted Victoria Belk of Liberty University as saying, “This could happen to any male who has been in a room with a woman alone because the story has not been corroborated… Any woman can ruin a man’s life.”

Why do we do this? Do we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ford is lying? Do we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kavanaugh is guilty? Logically we know that we don’t have the whole story, but we are satisfied with what our confirmation bias tells us. Casad says one reason we do it is to protect our self-esteem. “People like to feel good about themselves, and discovering that a belief that they highly value is incorrect makes people feel bad about themselves.” It’s like the magic of Santa Claus in a child’s eyes. When they find out he’s not real, they are devastated, not because he isn’t real, but because they believed it for so long.

While these conflicting liberal and conservative perspectives each could have some merit, before I rushed to judgment, I sought out the evidence of false accusations. Just how big of a problem are false sexual assault accusations for men? According to NSVRC, “the prevalence of false reporting is between 2 percent and 10 percent.” However, in a Washington Times article titled “False reports of sexual assault not as rare as claimed, studies show,” writer Rowan Scarborough cites a criminologist that “wrote a book that dispels this notion.” In this book, Rowan says the authors “cited statistical studies and police crime reports. One academic study showed that as many as 40 percent of sexual assault charges are false.” In the NSVRC’s “False Reporting Overview”, they explain that “false rape claims” being positioned as a “common problem” is itself false. They explain that there are “gaps in the definition of understanding of a false allegation,” and that “determining whether rapes are real is intensely entangled in rape myths that blame victims, excuse rapists, and erroneously support that false rape claims are a common problem.”

Despite the bitter political in-fighting, the explosive accusations on both sides, and the emotional outbursts and protests, Judge Kavanaugh is now Justice Kavanaugh, which has made a lot of people happy, namely, organizations like the Family Research Council, a ProMarriage and ProLife organization whose mission is “to advance the faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview.” In an “Issue Analysis” published on their website titled, “Why Judge Kavanaugh Should Be Confirmed to the Supreme Court,” they claim that “the Supreme Court has increasingly stepped outside of its limited role in our constitutional order, issuing a growing number of activist and policy-driven rulings which have no constitutional warrant but which have allowed the Court to amass great power for itself at the expense of the people.” In this analysis, the authors cite the Court’s “self-invented right to abortion” where they assert judges gave in “to the temptation to cease judging and start making policy.” They also claimed that “the federal courts were hijacked to impose same-sex marriage on America,” and that “assaults on religious freedom have followed both decisions.” Throughout the analysis, the authors made repeated references to three terms I was not familiar with. By saying things like, “judicial activism undermines… the rule of law,” and that “a constitutional originalist and textualist like Kavanaugh will follow the plain meaning of the [constitution] and the text of statutes to ensure that religious freedom is protected in these increasingly anti-religious times.” As an American who cares about our Constitutional freedoms, I wondered, are Justices of the Supreme Court now making law – which is supposed to remain solely in the hands of the Legislative branch – instead of just upholding law? If the Family Research Council thinks so, does putting a justice on the bench that they support for their own agenda constitute attempting to do the same thing in their favor?

According to the Legal Dictionary, the definition of judicial activism is “a legal term that refers to court rulings that are partially or fully based on the judges political or personal considerations.” During the hearings, Kavanuagh insisted that “the Supreme Court must never, never be viewed as a partisan institution,” but as reported by Robert Barnes in the Washington Post, Deborah Rhode, director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School was quoted as saying, “That train has left the station.”

According to a report by Daniel Bush on PBS NewsHour, “Past confirmation votes underscore the growing partisan divide over Supreme Court nominees. In March 2017, the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court by a 54-45 vote. In contrast, [a bi-partisan] Senate confirmed the late Antonin Scalia, who Gorsuch replaced, by a 98-0 vote in 1986.” Additional bi-partisan confirmations also show that “John Paul Stevens was confirmed 98-0 in 1975, and Sandra Day O’Connor joined the bench on a 99-0 vote in 1981.” Kavanaugh was confirmed by the closest vote yet receiving the least votes of any justice in nearly 50 years, a 50-48 split, almost completely along party lines.

This partisanship is not just showing itself in the confirmation process. In an article published on Stanford Politics titled, “The Troubling Partisanship of the Supreme Court,” author Lucas Rodriguez explains that “In the period between 1801 and 1940, less than 2 percent of all the Supreme Court’s decisions were decided by a 5-4 vote.” In contrast, he asserts that “In the 2014-2015 term, virtually every 5-4 decision the court gave out was split perfectly along party lines. This, combined with the increase in 5-4 decisions is an indicator of just how partisan the Supreme Court has become.”

Both sides of the aisle claim that judicial activism is a problem, but each side accuses the other of seeking to appoint “activist” justices. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, it infuriated Senate Democrats. Because of congressional gridlock, Rodriguez explains it has resulted in more people turning to the Courts to try to get change enacted, “For the past 15 years, the Court has been the only branch of government to meaningfully address issues involving same-sex marriage, affirmative action, campaign finance, and labor unions.” He claims it raises questions about “the legitimacy of the Court as the supposed ‘apolitical’ branch of the government. If the justices remain this polarized, how can we possibly separate Constitutional law from normal politics?”

To that, Republicans respond by choosing what they say are originalists, justices that will interpret the law as written in the Constitution the way the Framers intended. In a National Review article titled, “Constitutional Originalism Defines How We Should Interpret Our Founding Document,” author Michael Stokes Paulsen asserts that originalism “is less subject to manipulation, produces greater clarity and consistency, better preserves democratic decision-making, and frequently yields better results than any other method.” In contrast, an article on Quartz written by Ephrat Livni, he explains that “originalists see the constitution as a dead, static document, as opposed to the liberal notion of living constitutionalism.” He asserts that “If the constitution is ‘alive,’ it offers principles to inform an ever-changing society.” He claims originalists “put themselves in the shoes of the framer in 1779, at the time the document was ratified, and try to imagine what a Founding Father like Thomas Jefferson would have to say.” Comedian, Joe Rogan, made light of this concept in his recent comedy special on Netflix when he joked, “If you could go back in time and get Thomas Jefferson and bring him to 2018, his first question would be, ‘You guys didn’t write any new s***? Dude, I wrote that with a feather.”

Now that Kavanaugh is in, what does it mean for the country? In an article titled, “Trump Picked Kavanugh: How Will He Change the Supreme Court,” by Politico Magazine, top legal thinkers weigh in on Kavanaugh’s potential impact. Politico asserts that Trump chose Kavanaugh “for his originalist conception of the law.” Geoffrey Stone, a professor of law at the University of Chicago is quoted as saying, “Political conservatives have been working for this moment for the past 50 years.” He claims it is Republicans who “increasingly sought justices who were committed to conservative judicial activism.” On the other hand, Elizabeth Price Foley, professor of Law at Florida International University College of Law, asserts that “Kavanaugh’s addition [to the] Supreme Court will enter a new era, defined by its commitment to textualism and originalism, which should help de-politicize law by cabining judicial power and moving policy debates back to the political branches where they belong.”

If your head is spinning, you’re not alone. For every point, there is an equal and opposite counterpoint. For every pot, there is a kettle. For every liberal and conservative, there is a confirmation bias supporting their views with no effort to seek additional evidence to support or refute their views. So where do we go from here?

I would argue that, at the very least, we can start with common decency. In a commentary on the hyper-partisan conservative website, The Daily Signal, op-ed writer Dennis Prager describes an incident where Robert De Niro shouted, “F-Trump!” at the 2018 Tony Awards. He claims, “The difference in left-wing meanness is the meanness of known – not anonymous – people on the left. They don’t hide behind anonymity because they do not feel bound by traditional notions of civility, for which they have contempt.” He asks, “Is there an equally prominent conservative public figure on the right who has ever said ‘F-Obama!’ on national television?” A quick google search turns up an answer. On a hyper-partisan left website called The Wrap, is a list of known celebrities that “Imagined Violence Against Barack Obama and Democrats,” reminds us that Joe Walsh infamously tweeted, “Watch out, Obama. Real America is coming after you,” Glenn Beck joked about poisoning then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Ted Nugent at his 2007 concert said Obama could “suck on [his] machine gun,” and Ann Coulter said at an annual Conservative Political Action Conference, “I was going to have a few comments about John Edwards, but you have to go into rehab if you say the word faggot.” Once a person resorts to the level of name calling, yelling, verbal and physical confrontations, they have already lost the argument. They have let their “meanness” and their emotions get in the way of logic and reason. Civil discourse doesn’t engage in this losing conversation. Of all the solutions, common decency is the easiest, and we can start now.

Social scientists and experts in political persuasion would suggest “reframing” your argument. In a New York Times article titled “The Key to Political Persuasion,” the authors Robb Willer and Matthew Feinberg explain that if you want to convince someone of your position, you should “frame your position in terms of the moral values of the person you’re trying to convince.” But when it comes to politics today, this seems nearly impossible. Willer and Feinberg describe that they “found that people struggled to set aside their reasons for taking a political position and failed to consider how someone with different values might come to support that same position.” As an example, they explain a theory of business, “If you’re trying to sell your car, you emphasize the features of the sale that appeal to the buyer (the reliability and reasonable price of the vehicle), not the ones that appeal to you (the influx of cash).” They conducted studies of persuasion using persuasion on conservatives to support same-sex marriage and another using persuasion on liberals to support military spending. For military spending, the message liberals received was that “military spending is necessary because, through the military, the poor and disadvantaged ‘can achieve equal standing,’ by ensuring they have a ‘reliable salary and a future apart from the challenges of poverty and inequality’.” Framing it this way encourages liberals to listen and consider because equality is an important value to them. The results showed that liberals “expressed significantly greater support for increasing military spending if they read the fairness message rather than the patriotism one.” For the same-sex marriage issue, conservatives were shown a message framed to “appeal to values of patriotism and group loyalty” that argued “same-sex couples are proud and patriotic Americans who contribute to the American economy and society,” because these are important values to conservatives. The results showed that conservatives “supported same-sex marriage significantly more if they read the patriotism message rather than the fairness one. What this is telling us is that we can communicate with each other when we make a concerted effort to understand and respect the values each of us hold and stop allowing the hyper-partisan for-profit media we consume to confirm our biases. They want us at each other’s throats. It’s good for business.

Media-Bias-Chart_4.0_8_28_2018-min

Perhaps the most important solution to our nation in crisis, to our canceling each other out, is working to eliminate confirmation bias. A better word for “fake” news is “biased” news. Biased news exists across a spectrum, from the most extreme left, to neutral, to the most extreme right. Ad Fontes Media created a Media Bias Chart that was most recently updated in August of 2018. The chart places numerous media outlets according to their fact reporting, analysis, opinion, selective or incomplete story, propaganda, or inaccurate fabricated content. Media outlets like C-Span, Reuters and Bloomberg rate neutral and fact reporting, whereas the New York Times and the Washington Post skew left, and the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor skew right. Those considered hyper-partisan to extreme on the left are The Huffington Post, MSNBC and Daily Kos, and on the right are National Review, The Daily Signal and Fox News.

We are being bombarded with information. Everything from broadcast news to internet news to blogs and social media claim to be telling us the “real” story while everyone else is “lying” to us. We are fools to believe that, and yet we cannot possibly take the time to carefully analyze each bit of information to form an objective conclusion. Who has that kind of time?

In being willing to set my own ideas aside momentarily to try to understand my mom’s views and how she has formed them led to a less heated, less harshly judgmental conversation. When we are able to accomplish that with one another in our civic discourse, Willer and Feinberg remind us that “you will have dignified the morality of your political rivals with your attention, which, if you think about it, is the least that we owe our fellow citizens.”

At the core, America is a nation in crisis not because we disagree, but because we are, more simply, canceling each other out. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of “cancel each other out” is “to be equal to each other in force or importance but opposite each other and thus have no effect.” It is simple math, 1 + -1 = 0. The more I unresponsively listened to my mom, the more I recognized that the equally passionate and justified juxtaposition of each of our views would always equal zero. In science, this can be compared to Newton’s Third Law of motion, which states that to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. It occurs when the force of gravity pulling an object down equals the force of resistance pushing that object up. This creates what is called a zero net force on the object, where the object reaches acceleration zero, which in nature would mean “balance,” but in this case it means stuck. The more we are taking stands with equal and opposite force against each other, the more we are stuck at an impasse.

Why is confirmation bias important? Because, as Casad explains, it can cause people to develop false beliefs, “give more weight to information that supports their beliefs than is warranted by the evidence,” and overlook or ignore evidence contrary to their beliefs. We see this at play day in and day out in all forms of our media consumption. The problem is, we can see other people’s biases, we just can’t see our own. Casad explained that even doctors are just as likely to have confirmation biases, “Doctors often have a preliminary hunch regarding the diagnosis of a medical condition early in the treatment process. This hunch can interfere with considering information that may indicate an alternative diagnosis is more likely.” What if your life depended on your doctor’s confirmation bias? What if your country depended on yours?