Saturday, March 8, 2014

It Fits My Preconceptions, Therefore It Must Be Right!

I've written here before about critical thinking skills.  I was taught early on to examine carefully the things that I hear and see for accuracy rather than to just accept they are what they seem.  It is usually easier to detect something fraudulent by sight than by reading, although with digital image enhancement, that may not be so.  I'm thinking about things we actually observe in person.  Of course that assumes you aren't observing a magician at work whose entire performance is based on misdirection and deception.  But, for purposes of this brief post, I want to focus on the written.

We all have a tendency to accept things that agree with our preconceived notions of how they should be.  The Internet and other forms of electronic media such as television have made it very easy to mislead large numbers of people in a very short period of time.  Some businesses are base totally on the simplicity of manipulating the masses.  One that comes to mind is The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  Their commercials are built around apparently abused and mistreated animals, yet it has been shown many times that the money they collect through such advertising is spent primarily on salaries and lobbying efforts.  Less than 1% of the funds they collect actually go to help these mistreated animals according to most credible sources.

This happens with political ads as well.  Politicians have made an art of appealing to the preconceptions of their target audiences -- especially when painting an image of their opponents.  Most people readily accept the message without carefully examining it for the truth.  For whatever reason, most people are pretty gullible.  Perhaps it is rooted in our "herding" instinct -- that desire to follow a leader and to live within the safety of numbers.  It is easier to follow along than it is to lead.

I guess my point is simply this:  If we see or read something that fits our expectations, we rarely question its validity.  We need to be much more critical in our thinking.  Test it.  Check it.  Look at it from different perspectives.  It is a little easier for those who base their lives on an Absolute Truth.  For Christians, the Bible offers us pretty clear guidelines against which we should measure all things.  As our society drifts toward Atheism, the ability of the nefarious to perpetrate fraud will only grow.  One need look no further than Washington to see plenty of examples.

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