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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Interesting ...

Recently I read a review for a book I think I might be interested in reading. It is by an investigative researcher who was interested in discovering what leads some people, usually quite intelligent people, to deny the evidence of something which everyone else accepts. One of the examples he gave was a well known British holocaust denier.

He writes that he accompanied this man to Auschwitz and was astonished at the way the man was able to ignore evidence which didn't suit his 'narrative.' The classic example was when they were stood in one of the gas chambers. Mr. Irving spotted a handle on the inside of the door and immediately launched into a denial that anyone could have been unable to simply open the door and leave the room. In this he was ignoring two important points. The handle he was fixated on is fixed. It does not operate the locks. Secondly, all the bars and bolts on the outside of the door were dismissed as 'irrelevant.' According to Irving's 'narrative,' anyone who wished to could have opened the door from inside and walked out.

He remained convinced, and is apparently still convinced, that no one was unable to escape the gas chambers and the barbed wire fences, machine guns, dogs, searchlights and armed guards. Sadly he is not alone in denying the evidence which contradicts his entrenched position. There are many other examples across a wide range of historic events. In investigative circles it is often refered to as 'confirmation bias' where all evidence that doesn't fit the preconceived notion of the researcher is rejected or dismissed and only evidence that supports the favoured position is accepted. Often this is accompanied by the person adpting a position that refuses discussion and ends up in them branding those who dare to disagree with their position as being the person with the problem. This is particularly obvious at present in any debate over anything to do with climate change and research. If something agrees with the "Green" agenda, it is immediately adopted as 'irrefutable proof' but if it challenges it, it is rejected and the authors are vilified.

It manifest itself in the political arena as well, agree with my ideoplogy and everything is fine, disagree and a campaign of vilification commences. I was reminded of this yesterday when I read a 'tweet' fulminating about the use of a 'Photoshopped' photograph of the infamous "Arbiet Macht Frei" sign over the gates of Auschwitz. The published version, which appeared in a small circulation and very left-wing newspaper was used to highlight the 'unhappiness' of a geology graduate who feels she was unfairly treated by being made to work for Poundland instead of sitting around at home watching television on 'benefits' while she waited for 'suitable employment' to drop into her lap. The photoshopped version replaced 'Arbiet' with 'Poundland' and, OK, some might find that acceptable, but I agree with the author of the 'Tweet.' It trivialises the horror that the original sign represents, and this young woman's treatment is in no way relatable to it.

Yet this is something the Left now routinely do and get away with. As the 'Tweeter' points out, had this been done by a Right-Wing organisation the BBC, the Guardian and probably Amnesty International would be screaming from the roof tops. There would be demands for a 'public enquiry,' ministerial resignations and prosecutions. But, done by a Left-wing group, it's 'OK.' There has been no reaction whatsoever from the self appointed 'guardians of political correctness.' Nor do I expect there will be, since the worst offenders of this sort of distorted 'labelling' are all on the Left.

There are many other examples, from those who have convinced themselves that 9/11was engineered by their own government, even accepting photoshopped images of F-16 strike aircraft replacing the passenger aircraft as 'true.' Israel is now routinely painted as an "apartheid" state, yet nothing even remotely like "apartheid" is practiced or even on the legislation there. But trying to tell that to someone convinced of the 'proof' that it is is a waste of time.

It is now suggested that this condition may be a 'pre-programmed' condition in some people. If so, it is a dangerous one, since it is currently fed and reinforced by the current lack of accurate and unbiased reporting in all the news media. It becomes particularly dangerous when Hollywood joins the reinforcement process and produces blatantly biased and misrepresentative fiction abusing facts, personalities and events. It gets even worse when those in power are traduced or afflicted with it. Now, regardless of all evidence to the contrary, they remain unshakeably convinced that their latest policies, ideologies and actions are 'right' and the evidence of injustice, unintended consequences and hardship these are causing are all the fault of something or someone else - usually the victim's own. Which brings us back to Irving's conviction that the inoperable handle on the inside of the gas chamber door would have allowed the victims to leave.

I'm not at all sure how it can be addressed, but it is something we have to deal with, it cannot simply be ignored.


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  2. Uriah Heep suffered from this syndrome; he constantly had an internal “yes-man” confirming his actions and behaviours In David Copperfield. Experimentation to identify confirmatory bias has shown that it is often linked to the Jungian characteristic of Extraversion -v- Introversion, one simple experiment had two groups of interviewers assess a single, female, candidate for a job; one group was told it was sales job, the other that it was a librarian: the results portrayed apparently totally different people as each group was looking for confirmatory evidence to support their preconceptions. The experiment does not go on to repeat using a male candidate, which, personally, I find poor practice as many, even today, would consider the average woman to be far more suited to librarianship than sales.

    It is interesting that Monk raises the left wing -v- right wing argument in this context, we must always remember in using such terms that, by definition, right wing is supporting of the status quo, in other words conservative, albeit with a small 'c'. That would suggest that the left wing will always be challenging said status quo and therefore appear to be revolutionary or anarchic when compared directly to their opposite type. This would tend to lead though patterns to be established that are, of necessity, one-sided, evidence will then be sought to bolster these opinions and the potential for confirmatory bias, simply by accepting what agrees and dismissing that which does not agree with the hypothesis of the individual, therefore the right-wing view of Israel denies the settlements that continue in the face of international challenge and the left-wing accuses the entire state of genocide against Palestinians. The left feel that rockets out of Gaza are justified, although recently the rockets have been more in the ICBM league than the RPG, whereas the right thinks it is acceptable to use tanks against ordinary citizens in their dwellings. Either of these actions can only be justified by demonising the opposition, just as did all sides in the first and second world wars. The truth, as I see it, lies somewhere between, but then, I am the arch logician, with little concern for the individual; I tend to the left where injustice is involved and to the right where civil behaviour is involved.

    In that respect, I can understand why the young woman who was forced, on penalty of her benefit being withdrawn, to leave work for which she was well qualified in a museum, to stack shelves in Poundland, was less than pleased. It appears from the legal judgement that yet again, sloppy drafting of legal paperwork gave “tin Hitler” types the ability to force people to do exactly as they said; this story then, smacks to me not so much of the woman feeling that stacking shelves was beneath her, as Ian Duncan Smith insists, but more that having been quite content with unpaid work in the museum, she was perceived as being far too happy by someone in a low paid thankless civil service position who might have thought “we'll soon stop that” and found confirmatory evidence by suggesting that as broad a range of experience as possible should be included. Shades of Pol Pot in there, surgeons planting paddy fields, university Dons driving oxen... It might be unpopular to suggest it, but not every shelf-stacker could be trusted with museum cataloguing, whereas most cataloguers could stack shelves. While the doctors are dying in the killing fields, who is saving the lives of the workers who are sick?

    tl;dr … Seeking evidence to support one's personal world view is a very common trait, taking it to extremes is as dangerous as any other extremist behaviour.