what if you’re wrong?

The best thing I’ve read this past week was a piece written by Ronald Bailey for the January 2022 issue of Reason. He takes a humble stab at attempting to answer the age-old question of why — especially in politics — is it so hard to admit we are wrong.

Writes Bailey…

“Today, if you are a member of one of the two major American political parties, you are statistically likely to dislike and distrust members of the other party. While your affection for your own party has not grown in recent years, your distaste for the other party has intensified. You distrust news sources preferred by the other side. Its supporters seem increasingly alien to you: different not just in partisan affiliation but in social, cultural, economic, and even racial characteristics. You may even consider them subhuman in some respects.”

I think of the plethora of posts and tweets, likes, dislikes, and exaggerated reactions we feel emboldened to broadcast on social media. Few seem to share abundant admiration for the political ideals with which they most align; increasingly more pounce on the perceived lack of integrity of the other… like only one of the parties is supposedly destroying America… forgetting, of course, the reality of taking two to tango, so-to-speak.

Bailey continues…

“You’re also likely to be wrong about the characteristics of members of the other party, about what they actually believe, and even about their views of you. But you are trapped in a partisan prison by the psychological effects of confirmation bias. Being confronted with factual information that contradicts your previously held views does not change them, and it may even reinforce them. Vilification of the other party perversely leads partisans to behave in precisely the norm-violating and game-rigging ways they fear their opponents will. It’s a classic vicious cycle, and it’s accelerating.”

And there we have it. It’s not that we might be… it’s not that we could be… it’s that we’re likely to be wrong. Wrong about other people. But emboldened about self. Maybe that’s the primary impetus of the current cultural, socio-political deterioration.

Last week I had the sweet opportunity to share a conference call with former Senator Joe Lieberman, the “Independent Democrat” from Connecticut. As national co-chair of No Labels, an organization that steadfastly works to encourage bipartisan, commonsense solutions to problems — and an organization to which The Intramuralist belongs — Lieberman shared some  significantly keen insight, answering questions from a few of us, discussing, for example, the current shakiness and danger in foreign affairs, how to communicate the effectiveness of a more centrist approach with the Next Gen, and how the current administration has been pulled markedly left. It’s fascinating to dialogue with a person of integrity, who actually knows and has enjoyed a positive, respectful relationship with Joe Biden, Lindsay Graham, and John McCain, among others.

But there was one insight that caused me to linger.

When Lieberman was addressing how we got to this point, he made a simple, profound point.

His response was in regard to how biting Congress has become. So addressing sitting senators in particular, as that was his experience, Lieberman said simply, “They don’t know each other.”

He spoke of how historically, if one was honored to be elected to go to Washington, you took your family and stayed all week. The families would then hang out on weekends — regardless of party. They did stuff together. When you do stuff together, you get to know each other. And when you get to know each other, you learn to trust and respect each other. You may not nor ever share the same opinion, but you know why another believes (and votes) the way they do.

But now our elect go home. They leave early. Weekends are never spent with those they don’t know.

Hence, back to Bailey for a minute; his insight is fascinating (access HERE). He shares significant research in multiple areas where Democrats and Republicans think they know what the other believes, but alas, they do not. Highly intelligent people don’t know what they don’t know. And that lack of knowledge — that lack, better yet, of relationship — is far more damaging than any one party.

If we knew that, if we worked to know the one who thinks differently, maybe we could see where we — not others — are wrong.