Understanding others

We live in what appears to be an increasingly polarised world, polarised into “us and them”, “right and wrong”. Maybe it has always been so, but the internet makes us more aware of it, or maybe the internet is actually increasing the polarisation. As a social species, we form groups and those groups work by creating insiders and outsiders, by developing a group think. There is plenty of evidence (reference needed) that, over time, the views of a group polarise as they reinforce each other in one direction and criticise thoughts in the other direction. 

I’ve been fascinated by experiments in confirmation bias. They took a group of people and asked them how much they opposed capital punishment on a scale of 0 to 10 (I realise I should put a reference here, but will have to go back to edit this for that). They took the people who chose 3 (moderately in favour) and 7 (moderately against) and showed them all the same set of facts, presented emotionally neutrally and with evidence and references. Equal numbers of facts were interpretable as supporting and opposing. It might be expected that the individuals, having heard both sides, would become more neutral. Instead they became more polarised, moving to 1 or 2, or 8 or 9. Perhaps this is because they paid more attention to facts that supported their opinion, or maybe they argued against facts that opposed their opinion and in so doing, convinced themselves. 

What this suggests is that giving people who disagree with you information and facts doesn’t work. It may even be counterproductive. 

In this blog I want to explore some big sensitive issues – climate change and its denial, homophobia and those who feel “Christian values” are at threat, “black lives matter” and the resistance to being labelled racist, Israel and Palestine, refugees and European “overcrowding”, London and the regions, Brexit and the EU, gun law in the USA. I also want to explore some smaller conflicts and group polarisation: women in science, working mums, flatblock arguments about children playing noisily in the communal gardens, even Christian and non-theist Quakers. 

I think in all these cases we have situations where both sides feel they are the victim. They also view the situation from such different standpoints and through such different filters that they cannot begin to understand each other. I want to attempt to understand both sides and explore that here. 

Of course I have my own biases, my own viewpoint, my own filters. My aim is to be conscious of them and seek to understand other views. Sometimes I will present my own views in this blog.

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