Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.

As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

The New Yorker

This is not the essential question to puzzle. The question is the mental tricks we torture ourselves to convince ourselves we are rational beings and when lengths we go to defend this view.

Systems of government, jurisprudence, and law are predicated on the notion of rationality. In reality, this is the elephant in the room. In law, there are the notions of truth and of right and wrong, each fraught with their own problems, but there are also issues of the ability to reason between right and wrong as well as the problem of intent. We read time and again people rationalising why this person should be found guilty. Of course s/he knew the difference between right and wrong. Like an economic model, the nuance is stripped away, and we are left with a mechanistic 8-bit sense of reality laid bare, but the details lay in the details left on the cutting room floor. This is the modern justice system.

I’ve participated on three sides of this ridiculous justice system:
jury member, defendant, and plaintiff. As a jury member, one is really exposed to how the attempt to appear to be objective is merely being primed to rig the game. Jurisprudence is 90% showmanship and 10% of je ne sais quoi. It’s a smoke and mirrors legerdemain spectacle to illustrate the reason inherent in the system. And there is reason. And there are reasons. And it’s all for show. Trust me: like the medical system in the US, you don’t want to have to be any part of the legal system if you can avoid it. It’s not for the poor or faint of heart.

In one case, I served on a jury in Beverly Hills. A young man of Mexican descent was on trial for armed robber of a liquor store. He was found not guilty—not innocent, so an interesting twist—, but it was obvious from the start that the police officers testifying against him were lying—outright lying. So in one sense, his being found not guilty was a sort of vindication and perhaps a sign that reason prevailed, but maybe things would have gone differently if these police officers were more convincing liars.

All’s well that ends well? Not exactly. How is it that a system allows false accusations without repercussions? Wouldn’t it be a fairer game if the police officers were held accountable? Wouldn’t that be a better incentive not to lie—or at least not misrepresent truth? But that’s not the goal. Like a casino, the goal is to present the appearance of a fair game, but the odds remain in favour of the house.

People defend these rationality-based systems with reckless abandon. I don’t hesitate to point out the deficiencies. I’ve been cited the misattributed Churchill so many times I’ve lost count:

Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…

Winston Churchill (Sort of)

Aside from the source of the quote and the veracity of the claim, the defence of Democracy is up there with the defence of Capitalism. So many reasons. So little Reason.

I’m asked if this is so broken, what better option might I suggest, as if my pointing out that you leg is broken somehow commits me to know how to fix it. But since you’re asking. I suggest an approach other than reason.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s