An interesting study came out of the University of California, Irvine in the summer. Brittany Liu and Peter H. Ditto posit that more often than not, people tend to derive factual beliefs from their moral positions rather than allowing facts to inform their moral decisions.
Given the proliferation of pseudoscience and well-documented abuse of legitimate science used in public policy-making these days, the result of the study may seem intuitive, but now there is some data to back it up.
In a nutshell, when faced with a moral dilemma, we like to think we carefully analyze the facts and come to a conclusion based on reason. Unfortunately, most of us are simply not built that way. Everyone holds certain beliefs that are non-negotiable.
At best, we seek out the data that justify our beliefs. At worst, we just make up the facts, such as in Republican Congressman Todd Akin’s recent “legitimate rape” fiasco. Akin’s assertion that women who are legitimately raped rarely get pregnant because their bodies are somehow able to reject a pregnancy is the most egregious kind of moral fact-making. While Akin has tried to backpedal on this issue, there is no doubt he said what he said, believed what he said and is an ignoramus beyond the pale.
There are plenty of other cases, though, in which a politician’s words have been twisted to justify beliefs about his character.
In honour of the upcoming presidential election down south, let’s take a look at some of the widespread erroneous beliefs that still cling to American politicians past and present.
Dan Quayle said he regretted not having studied Latin harder so he could converse with people in Latin America.
The former vice president under the first President Bush was widely regarded as a bumbling idiot by liberals. This lovely old chestnut of a quote verified that belief perfectly. Only, it simply is not true. Quayle was a bit of a boob in public, often stumbling over his words, but the above quote was a joke told by Representative Claudine Schneider to a gathering of her Republican colleagues. Although Schneider concluded her speech by admitting it was a joke, it got widely reported as true and is still disseminated on the Internet as legitimate.
Al Gore claimed he invented the Internet.
Al Gore was widely regarded as stiff and aloof. For conservatives, he was the worst kind of intellectual elitist. Claiming to invent the Internet proved that he was arrogant and delusional. But it was a claim he never made. What he actually said was: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” That may not have been the best way to phrase what he was trying to say, but there is no doubt what he was actually trying to take credit for was championing the proliferation of the technology in legislation, which is true.
Barack Obama told business owners that they did not build their businesses.
One of the great Obama myths is that he is a socialist. Although most of the people who make this claim don’t appear to understand what socialism is, the President’s quote, “you didn’t build that,” encapsulates and justifies many of the erroneous beliefs about him. Obama did say, “you didn’t build that.” In fact, he said it several times. What is shocking, though, is that his rivals were able to turn this into political hay. It was properly reported in the media he was talking about the infrastructure that supports the businesses.
George W. Bush has the lowest IQ of all the presidents for the last 50 years.
Like his father’s bumbling vice president, Bush II was seen as a dunce by his detractors. And they got their proof in 2001 when a very detailed report showed up on the Internet attributed the prestigious Lovenstein Institute. Some newspapers even picked up the story. The problem is, the Lovenstein Institute doesn’t exist. Also, the numbers that were reported should have been suspect to begin with. It said Bush had an IQ of 91, which would put him in the lowest third of the general population.
People may believe what they want, but these are all examples of information that should immediately raise critical thinking red flags.