Monday, July 18, 2016

A Political Tilt-A-Whirl

I have come to the conclusion that logic and facts, while interesting and even helpful, most of the time don’t do much to win arguments. In fact, for most of us our policy could very well be, “I know what I believe. Don’t confuse me with the facts.” We will sort through loads of facts until we find the one that agrees with us out of hundreds. Global climate change is one of the current examples. Out of every 100 scientific studies it appears that at least 90 or more support the idea of climate change occurring around us right now. But if you, for some ideological or political reason disagree, well, forget those 90 some. Just look at that one.

I have done the same thing with people’s comments after a sermon, performance, or Facebook post. I could get 25 “Good job! I loved it.” Comments. But there’s that one who didn’t like it, disagreed with me, said something unkind. That’s the one that will keep me awake at night and spoil my day. That is not about being thick- or thin-skinned. It’s about how we respond and how we make decisions.

At one point in time most believed that if you could separate emotions from decision-making, we would all be able to make better decisions. The paradigm for that was good old Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet! His quote, which entered the American lexicon, was “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” No opinions, asides, or emotions. The facts will lead us to where we want to go.

Sadly, the real world has a different reality based on other facts discovered in research. There are examples of people who have through surgery or accident had their emotional response separated from their logical response. They make decisions based only on the facts. There is no emotional content to their process. It is entirely disconnected. It would seem, according to “logical” thinking that such a person would be able to make sane, rational decisions.

That assumption is wrong. If they make decisions they are not logical or sane. In many instances they have great difficulty making these decisions at all, feeling overwhelmed by choices. Through brain scans and other tools of modern neuroscience, we have discovered that an interaction between emotion and logic is what makes the better decisions. The emotional content, also including intuition and stored memories beneath consciousness, is as important as the logical content- the facts.

What we see is that those decisions based solely (or mainly) on either pure logic or pure emotion are both flawed. Whether it’s the person above with only logic or the active addict controlled by the pleasure (emotional) content, they do not make the better or best decisions.

What is more to the point is that unless we have some physical or emotional reason for a disconnect between reason and emotion, we all make our decisions on a combination of both. Most of the time our brains are downright lazy and make most decisions based on intuitive reactions. We don’t even think about it. (Just because it comes through and from our brain does NOT mean we have “thought” about it. Many pre-, sub-, and unconscious ideas and reactions occur without the action of thinking.) That of course is fortunate. It is part of our survival mechanism, allowing us to react to danger in less time than it takes to think about it.

The very serious game of politics is one of those places where we can see the impact of facts, logic, opinion, or emotion. For some reason there are many people who look at a picture of Barack Obama and have a strong negative reaction. Many of them will have all kinds of logical reasons for that reaction. They can cite “information” (whether true or false, logical or illogical) for why they believe that Obama is a threat, a Muslim, an idiot, the worst president, or whatever. He has ruined the country, the economy is in a shambles, crime is up, he hates police, and on and on. Don’t show me statistics that say it ain’t so. I know it’s true because I believe it.

On the other side there are many who have the same response to Donald Trump. I saw on the web a supposed quote from the ghostwriter of his The Art of the Deal who expresses a fear for Trump’s finger on the nuclear arms button. Others say variations on this fear- all the way from his taking away American freedoms of religion and the press to an economic policy from the late 1800s that will bankrupt the world economy. Are these facts? No. Can they be supported with some sense of information? Sure. It’s all in the emotional responses.

Both sides will say that their opinion is based on “facts.” Maybe. But facts and statistics are only as good as the way we explain them. Correlation does not mean causation and in many cases truly means coincidence.

Could any of the fears about Trump come true? Yes, of course. But the likelihood is about the same as Obama having taken all your guns away in the past 7 years. And he didn’t even try.

Let’s be honest, that little fact is what helps me get through the insanity of politics today. It reminds me that all of us are caught in the same emotional Tilt-A-Whirl. Which is why I keep begging, pleading, exhorting, and praying for more dialogue. We need to talk about our feelings and examine our fears in the light of reality. We need to be open to the wonders that life is still presenting to us. We need to work together in that exceptional way we have often done in the past.

I am not optimistic but I am not as fatalistic as I could be, either. I will continue to do what I can do to make that work better.

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