Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

The Slow March of Truth

For most people, facts still matter. But for a few of us, they no longer do. Why? One problem is the easy access of information and misinformation on the Internet. When you can open your phone or computer and search for anything, you can find essentially anything.

And for every carefully researched article on a given topic, you can often find a junk article pretending to be scientific. So what happens is that people who believe something strongly can go online, find something that supports their position, and continue to believe it regardless of how fanciful the evidence is.

We see this especially in politics. I saw a report on a nail manufacturer in Missouri that might be forced to close – it has already laid off a large percentage of its workforce – due to the Trump tariffs.

Yet when a reporter asked one of the affected employees about the matter, the employee indicated that despite the negative effect of the steel tariffs, she still supported Trump and would vote for him again in the next election. Obviously this is just one example, and anecdotal at that. However, this mindset is very common.

“This candidate is my guy. I like the way he speaks and how he pledges to take care of these problems that I perceive are hindering my advancement. Thus, he’s the one I’m going to vote for. And if while in office he fails to accomplish what he said he’d do, I don’t care. He’s still my guy.”

The more someone attacks a candidate using facts, the more that candidate’s supporters back him. They insist that people are ganging up on him, unfairly targeting him with false data because they can’t believe the facts are correct.

If the facts are right, then they must be wrong. And they can’t countenance that. So the facts must be wrong. Otherwise their world doesn’t make sense. They cling to their beliefs because those beliefs allow them to define their place in the world.

“I’m one of these people. I belong to this tribe. We stand for this and not that.”

The acceptance of facts can take years, and the one thing you can’t do is threaten people’s worldview. If you do that, then the defensive shell goes up and the mind shuts down.

Look at climate change, for example. There was once a large group of people who insisted the climate wasn’t changing. For years they maintained that stance. Then, when the facts became overwhelming against them, they shifted to saying that of course the climate is changing. It changes all the time. That doesn’t mean humans are behind it.

In 10 or 20 years of the facts continuing to build, they’ll be forced to accept that humans are behind it and then they’ll say, “Of course we have a small influence on climate. That’s old news. We’ve always accepted that.” And they will believe that.

So continue to hunt down facts. Present them as best you can in a nonthreatening way.

Be aware that it will take a long time before hardcore believers in any particular fantasy will accept the truth. Change comes slowly, one person at a time, one idea at a time. But eventually, truth will win out.

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