Tuesday, 12 December 2017

What do you do when people ignore the facts?

I was having a conversation the other day about Brexit.  Who doesn’t?  My friend is an economist with exemplary credentials.  The subject was not “in or out” but why do people hold the views that they do, often in the face of evidence to the contrary.  For the purpose of this blog  my position on the EU is irrelevant, even if it becomes clear as we proceed.  

My friend started by mentioning that he had met David Davis MP, Brexit Minister, recently and concluded that he was genuinely stupid.  He contrasted Mr Davis with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who are not stupid, far from it, but they were calculating egotists solely interested in their own success.  I am inclined to agree with him on Johnson and Gove, both politicians who will walk over anyone to get what they want, but in Davis’ case the evidence is from his own mouth; when he said “I don't have to be very clever.  I don't need to know that much”.  Well he demonstrated that when he undid what Theresa May had achieved over the Irish Border with one careless, throwaway remark.  He should have added “but I do need to know when to keep my mouth shut”.

Then I thought that surely not everyone who does not see or accept a logical position is either an idiot or an egotistic chancer.  Most of us, however normally logical, inevitably fill some of the gaps in our factual,knowledge with assumptions or beliefs.  Some of us look for facts to fill the gaps and vary our views as the facts or better arguments become apparent, some are more resistant.   Racists, xenophobes, religious fanatics (anyone religious?), Brexiteers, Remainers (some anyway), socialists, libertarians, most politicians of all persuasions fall in this category.  Some people hold their views so strongly that they are a threat to society, at least to socially liberal democratic societies like ours.

The question is how to bring people around who don't necessarily base their views on facts?  I don't believe this can be done overnight; it requires concerted efforts over a long period of time. Such people need to make up their own minds.  If you hold a different opinion, don't give up; just keep arguing, provide the evidence and, occasionally, show that what is in their best interest.  

Of course for the complete idiot, there might be no solution.  But Theresa May could fire him.

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