Why People Believe Weird Things about Charlottesville

The violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, August 12 has prompted a variety of responses from people across the United States. As a mother and a woman whose grandfather was interned during WWII, I have my own reaction to the death of an innocent woman and two police officers. It baffles me that white men (and a few women) can pretend the Civil War was solely about state rights. It terrifies me that so many young white men feel their rights are taken away by insuring rights to others. And it horrifies me that anyone can justify the actions of one man driving his car into a crowd of people.


I have found this PBS News hour segment on racism in the United States today to be informative. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/videos/#224639


In addition to all of this, I want to highlight something that has caused me great concern for the state of our country: this conversation about race has revealed to me people’s ignorance. I don’t mean that in the, “people who are racist are ignorant” cliché. I mean this in the way that so many people are making comments that reveal their lack of critical thinking skills. Simply read the comment section of a newspaper article covering Charlottesville or scroll through the twitter responses to Trump’s statements regarding the events. As reporters and political scientists have pointed out, Donald Trump and others who excuse the death of an innocent women do so based on faulty logic.


Terms like: “slippery slope,” “false equivalence” and “whataboutism” can be confusing if you’ve never heard of them before. Indeed, “whataboutism” was a new one for me, probably because I did not study the Soviet Union in great depth in college.


One book that made a profound impact on me is Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer. This was mandatory reading for my degree and I’m thankful for it. One chapter is actually titled “How Thinking Goes Wrong: Twenty-Five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things.” This book, or at the very least chapter, should be mandatory reading for everyone, regardless of education level.


I’m not sure how long we’re going to last as a democracy if we cannot begin to have intelligent conversations with each other. One of the foundations to having a productive conversation is having a set of words based upon meaning that we all agree upon. Another is to have a goal that we agree we’d all like to reach. But perhaps most importantly we need to recognize that there are facts we can use to inform our opinions, our thinking, and our solutions.


Facts do exist, racism is real, and our lives are in each other’s hands.


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