If you are a regular consumer of political news, or if you are on social media and have some politically minded likes and friends, you’ve no doubt heard the outrageous story about the MAGA hat wearing Catholic high school student confronting a Native American at a rally in DC. A picture of the kid staring the old dude down, with a shit-eating grin on his face, has set social media ablaze, and has even prompted a Congressman to call for a “total and complete shutdown of teenagers wearing MAGA hats.” The Congressman, a Democrat from Kentucky, apparently forgot about the oath he took to “support and defend” and “bear true faith and allegiance to” the Constitution. He was promptly roasted on social media, and tried to walk it back as a “joke.” Now, it may very well be true that politicians aren’t always deft in their humor, but, Congressman, please…

All these happenings suck, because the initial story totally falls apart when explored more fully. The linked Reason article goes into detail that I don’t feel I need to repeat here. They suck because it didn’t take long at all for Reason, and countless others, to review the incident and all the footage of it, and find the assertion of obnoxious confrontation highly tendentious. And, they suck, because human nature virtually guarantees that the original (and highly irresponsible) tale will persist.

A couple friends (who routinely share overt negative opinions regarding Trump) posted immediate outrage after the first reports on their social media feeds. They’ve shown resistance to correction, even after the deluge of counter-reporting discredited the original tale, and find ways to justify their original outrage.

Thus goes human nature.

It’s in our nature to prefer consistency over accuracy, especially when we’ve gone public with an opinion. We tend to resent being corrected, even when it’s done gently (it’s rarely done gently on social media), and we tend to engage in motivated reasoning to defend our original snap judgments. Shortly after Trump’s election, comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted outrage over “swastikas” spray-painted on a street. They were actually utility markings that showed the location of underground pipes. Rather than simply acknowledge her error and apologize for over-reacting, she blamed it on Trump and the supposed incitement of anti-Semitism (Silverman is Jewish, and asserts that she got a lot of anti-Jew hate on social media after Trump’s victory). That’s what people tend to do when publicly embarrassed over a gaffe, and that’s why no amount of correction and disproving can fully undo the damage of a false report.

It’s also why bad science and bad medicine tend to persist over vastly greater bodies of countervailing research. The theorized vaccine-autism link was originally put forth by someone who turned out to be selling something, and was so thoroughly discredited that his study was retracted and he was defrocked. Mountains of actual research since then have found no link, but the theory persists, and is stridently defended by far too many people.

Human nature doesn’t change, not across the few decades of an individual’s life, so you and I will always be confronted with this sort of behavior. Social media has grossly amplified it, because it has made it so easy to share a quick first opinion and so easy to rudely or harshly bash someone’s bad first opinion.

Were I a cynic, I’d speculate that the newsmakers routinely rely on this human failing to sway public opinion, regardless of truth.

Were I a cynic, I’d speculate that newsmakers know how outrage drives us to go public with instant, gut-check opinions, opinions that we are then motivated to defend lest we look foolish for being too quick to judge, and that they leap with salivating glee on stories like the old Native American veteran and the MAGA catholic boy.

Were I a cynic, I’d give credence to the concept of “fake news,” even though the phrase was popularized by someone whose penchant for unvarnished truth is about as great as his taste in haute cuisine.

Were I a cynic, I’d conclude that the people who claim to be the government’s watchdogs, the speakers of truth-to-power, and the “good guys” watching out for our interests are actually worse human beings than most of the rest of us, because they hide their selfish and biased behaviors behind a veneer of noble cause.

Were I a cynic, I’d do my best to count to ten before responding to tales of outrage offered by newsmakers, because they’ve demonstrated time and again that advancing an agenda is more important than telling the truth.

Were I a cynic, I’d distrust everybody who tries to stoke my outrage.

Oh, wait, I do…

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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