The United States has another illustration of the obstinate commitment of many conservatives to “stand by their man,” regardless of what he has said or done. Their mind is made up, don’t confuse them with facts! Bill O’Reilly and Fox News have been hit even hard with sex scandal allegations, accusations substantiated by the report that thirteen million dollars have been paid out to settle with O’Reilly’s accusers. Furthermore, more than 40 advertisers have now pulled their accounts with O’Reilly’s show putting even more pressure on O’Reilly and Fox News. BUT, O’Reilly’s poll numbers have actually increased since these reports have surfaced! O’Reilly is the “Truth teller” to millions of conservative Americans even if evidence is glaringly obvious that he routinely does not tell the truth, nor does his network. O’Reilly is “our man” to these die-hard supports and they are sticking by him regardless. Of course, this demonstrates their same commitment they have made to Trump even though his affronts to human decency are even more conspicuous.
My concern here is human nature’s stubborn determination to cling to their view of the world even in the face of clear evidence that this view is flawed. Fox News and O’Reilly “Tell it like it is” to these people and they cannot be dissuaded for the emotional investment made in this view point does not allow thinking otherwise. Trump provided the best insight to this slavish devotion last year when he brazenly declared, “I could shoot somebody in the streets of Manhattan and my poll numbers would not suffer” and the very next days these numbers did increase. Trump, O’Reilly, and Fox News know their viewers and supporters very well, know what these people want, and keep delivering it daily.
This mass obstinacy of this huge segment of conservatives demonstrates the epistemic closure that I’ve blogged about often in recent years. Epistemic closure is the confined and contained knowledge base of a closed mind, a mind that has determined what it believes and will not allow anything to dissuade it. When the belief that the Earth was flat was being threatened centuries ago, I’m sure there was a “Fox News” back then who daily offered the news that this was not so and that millions of die-hards faithfully imbibed each day. People believe what they want to believe. Human nature is to select from its environment feedback that supports its pre-existent worldview and shut everything else out. This epistemic closure is similar to confirmation bias, a term noting the tendency to be biased by that which confirms our way of viewing the world.
What’s the solution? There is no easy solution since human nature is human nature. But human nature has also gifted us with a neo-cortex and this gift of the gods allows us to toy with the notion occasionally that some of the things we believe might not be as certain as we immediately think. If allowed deployment, this gift will flash the bumper sticker in our mind occasionally, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Unfortunately, this Shakespearean “pauser reason,” though infinitely valuable for the betterment of mankind, introduces the painful phenomena of self-doubt and humility as we realize that our certainties, often deemed “God-given,” are not as certain as we would like to think. Sometimes we have to moderate our views and compromise.
When epistemic closure reaches a certain point, we have the phenomena of Isis. Violence is always in the offing when a mindset becomes so rigid, so certain that it must impose itself on others against their will. Isis has no qualms about what it is doing, for Allah is leading. How do they know? Well, they just know. Deigning to challenge one of them on even a trivial point could cost one his head.
Emily Dickinson offered wisdom about this epistemic closure:
The Soul selects her own Society — Then — shuts the Door — To her divine Majority — Present no more — Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing — At her low Gate — Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling Upon her Mat — I’ve known her — from an ample nation — Choose One — Then — close the Valves of her attention — Like Stone —