One of my favorite sayings is “A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.”
The point — other than no two wristwatches in your possession ever tell exactly the same time — is that the more knowledge you have of an issue, the more likely you are to see more than one side of it. But over the years I’ve run into an astonishing (to me, anyway) number of people who interpret the saying to mean that it’s better to have just one watch.
When people have limited perspectives because of limited knowledge, you might assume that giving people more knowledge would give them broader perspectives. But then there’s the phenomenon of elective ignorance. People practicing elective ignorance start with a point of view and then admit into evidence only those facts that support their point of view. Those with a really bad case of elective ignorance become incapable of acknowledging facts that contradict their opinions. You can present data to them all day long, and it won’t make a dent; “bad” facts are shoved off the edge of consciousness before they get a chance to complicate the E.I. sufferer’s worldview.
Please note that elective ignorance is not necessarily connected to an individual’s intelligence potential. A person can possess sufficient cerebral material to store and comprehend considerable knowledge but elect not to use it. High-I.Q. people with E.I. Syndrome will sometimes concoct elaborate and fantastical rationalizations to explain why some facts are “bad” and others are “good.” These rationalizations will make sense only to those who have elected the same worldview, of course, which leads us to the Dittohead Corollary — People whose opinions are shaped by E.I. pathologies cannot grasp why other people don’t understand issues as “clearly” as they do. Therefore, they assume something sinister stands between those other people and the elected reality; e.g., “liberals hate America.”
Ideologies can be understood as a form of codified elective ignorance, or a strategy to make the world easier to understand by limiting one’s cognitive choices. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Since we all have finite cognitive resources, adopting an ideology is one way to obtain a workable understanding of issues without devoting the time and brain work required to become an expert. As long as a person appreciates that his understand and knowledge are incomplete, and he remains capable of changing his view as he learns more, this doesn’t qualify as Elective Ignorance Syndrome. Further, it can be useful for people within a society to adopt similar worldviews. That way they can reach consensus on social issues without perpetually re-inventing the perspective wheel, so to speak.
We’re all conditioned from birth to understand ourselves and the world we live in a certain way. By the time we’re adults, we all live in a conceptual box — a complex of paradigms — made up of who we think we are and how we think our lives and the world are supposed to be. The way we understand most things may seem “self-evident” but is nearly always a matter of conditioning. Social psychologists say that what most of us call “reality” is a social construct, meaning that people who grow up in the same culture tend to live in very similar conceptual boxes. Put another way, living in the same culture predisposes people to develop similar paradigms.
People who grow up in different cultures live in different conceptual boxes, however, which is why “foreign” people and cultures often don’t make sense to us, and why we don’t make sense to them. “Open minded” people are those who have at least a vague notion that diverse social constructs of reality are possible and are not necessarily bad. “Closed minded” people, on the other hand, cannot fathom that any other social construct of reality than the one they possess is possible. These people find foreign cultures sinister and frightening; see the Dittohead Corollary, above.
People with extreme E.I Syndrome feel threatened by anything “different,” however, even when that “different” is the next-door neighbor with opposing political views. It’s vital to understand that E.I. people perceive threats to their worldview as threats to themselves, because their self-identities are integrated into their worldview. In other words, the conceptual box they live in is who they are. Any challenge to the integrity of the box must be fought by any means necessary.
That’s why you can’t win a pissing contest with a wingnut, for example. Oh, you can absolutely crush their every argument with facts and logic, but that won’t matter; they won’t back down. If you continue to try to “win” they’ll fall back on all manner of logical fallacies, rote talking points, circular reasoning, and sheer nastiness, until you finally decide the argument is eating too much of your time and energy and walk away. Then they declare victory — not because they’ve proven themselves to be correct, but because they’ve turned away a challenge to the box. Put another way, while you’re presenting data and explaining concepts, they’re guarding their cave. That’s why I don’t even bother to argue with wingnuts any more. It’s as futile as explaining rocket science to hyenas, and possibly as dangerous.
I should add that E.I. Syndrome can be found on the extreme leftie fringe as well — International A.N.S.W.E.R. comes to mind. And E.I. Syndrome explains why extremist political ideologies, either Left or Right, lead to totalitarianism. But at the moment the leftie fringe in America is so marginalized and powerless it’s easy to ignore. The Right, on the other hand, has to be dealt with, like it or not.
I bring this up because, IMO, most of our political conflicts — both international and intra-national — are being stirred up by people with one watch. From here I could launch into a discussion of just about anything in the news — the Middle East is an obvious choice — but what got me going today was the stem cell research ban. President Bush’s “boys and girls” comment from yesterday was an expression of paradigm. And (I’m sure you realize) Fetus People are flaming One Watch types. I want to elaborate on this, but as I’ve gone on for a while already I’ll bump the elaboration to another post.