In a recent The Atlantic article on resilient beliefs, Julie Beck writes, “There are facts, and there are beliefs, and there are things you want so badly to believe that they become as facts to you… People often don’t engage with information as information but as a marker of identity.”
Humans have many superpowers. One of them is the power to transmute ideals into perceptions and perceptions into matter. What we wish were so becomes what we acknowledge in the world around us. What we acknowledge in the world then becomes part of the world itself as we stack routines, resources, and policies around our beliefs.
In Europe, for example, the belief that a nation or corporation is stronger when its residents or members hold similar ideologies and cultural practices leads to the perception that overtly distinct residents are Other to Us.
The perception of Otherness inspires laws that pressures those people to un-differentiate themselves to fit in, perhaps by removing religious clothing at work or in public spaces.
Restrictions on visible difference in the name of “neutrality” in turn squeeze minoritized people out of public space, and their marginalization ultimately reinforces their Othered status.
Very little in the way of facts is likely to change a French person convinced that Muslims don’t belong in France whether they were born in the country or joined it as immigrants.
Prejudices are resistant to direct rebuttal, Beck explains, and so too are beliefs. We have to be intentional about seeking out information that contradicts our beliefs or appears to put our survival or community ties at risk: absorbing contrary, belief-challenging information won’t happen by itself.
People see evidence that disagrees with them as weaker, because ultimately, they’re asking themselves fundamentally different questions when evaluating that evidence, depending on whether they want to believe what it suggests or not, according to psychologist Tom Gilovich. ‘For desired conclusions,’ he writes, ‘it is as if we ask ourselves “Can I believe this?”, but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, “Must I believe this?”‘ People come to some information seeking permission to believe, and to other information looking for escape routes.”
Read the rest on The Atlantic. The data on trust is particularly sobering.