The Illusory Explanation of Wingnuts, Explained!


Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for derp

 The wingnuts have been cuttin’ up explanations of everything from what transgendered folks are really doing in the bathroom to reasons that bakers shouldn’t be baking cakes for just anyone who walks in the door to why the Bundy’s were right and why the US government doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Malheur National Preserve. These wingnut explanations are both public and private both big and small: Senator Ted “Basketball Ring” Cruz and Governor Pat McCrory and even one of our very own Wonketariat’s grandpa’s.

The question is why on earth do people listen to these preposterous explanations, reasons, excuses, and statements and, then, walk away from the wingnut feeling like they’ve got the gospel by the balls?

There’s the right good North Carolina Senator Buck Newton who wants to make NC straight again as he runs for the state attorney general’s office. And, he lays out his “reasoning” for why this is a good thing:

Now it’s been said that there are many, many, many, many more sexual predators on the sex offender list than there are transgender people. And we can all feel sympathy for folks who are having difficult times, because we all know folks that have a difficult time, whether folks are struggling with drugs, are struggling with their marriages, figuring out what it is that they’re supposed to be doing in life. We can all have sympathy for that. But that does not mean that we should expose OUR WIVES AND OUR SISTERS AND OUR CHILDREN to the sexual predators in the bathrooms.

In a strange way, it sounds right. He even seems nice: (a) he has sympathy for all the folks who are having hard times; although it is unclear whether he means transgendered people, sex offenders, or both. And (b) he wants to protect the innocent, weak, and defenseless. Who could argue with that? Many people will hear him say this or something similar and find him convincing and reasonable. Unfortunately, it is the veneer of reason and not a deep reasonableness.

A similar example is the religious freedom thing for those with sincerely held religious beliefs not wanting to have their sensibilities raped and murdered and condemned to the fires of hell sounds. It is a right to have sincerely held religious beliefs. And, guess what, we have rights and freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights! We all know one of them is freedom of worship. Who could argue against freedom of worship? Who could argue with the Bill of Rights? How could these arguments be wrong? Just listen to the sincere reasoning from the Colorado baker’s lawyer, Jeremy Tedesco, who explained it this away:

Jack, who has happily served people of all backgrounds for years, simply exercised the long-cherished American freedom to decline to use his artistic talents to promote a message and event with which he disagrees, and that freedom shouldn’t be placed in jeopardy for anyone.

He served people of all kinds, even the gays, for years. He just didn’t want to be involved with an evil gay wedding. It is an American right to refuse service. Haven’t you ever seen the sign, no shirt, no shoes, no service? It’s the same. There is the veneer a shallow shell of reasonableness here; unless we break through this brittle shell, we will accept it as true.

How can some of us hear derpy arguments like those listed above and be lulled into a false sense of acceptance and some of us be overcome by disbelief? We all inhabit the same world, which is governed by the same rules of nature and stuff. We live in the same country, which is governed by a single Constitution and Bill of Rights. How can we come to such different conclusions about the way things ought to be and be so gosh darn sure that we are right and god is on our side?

What if I Told You…

MatrixMemeDon’t you feel a profound sense of disbelief not only when you read these wingnutty explanations, but also, when people accept them?  Don’t you feel that your side is all so painfully obvious that you cannot understand why they don’t get it? Funnily enough, we feel compelled to explain their lack of understanding, so we resort to the wingnut as unbelievably stupid or cynical or psychopathic or something explanation! But, what if I told you that we all suffer from the same thing? What if I told you that what you’re feeling when you react to them is the same as what they’re feeling when they react to you, which is the same as your feeling when exposed to the whatever the question is is the same as their feeling to reacting to whatever the question is? Hunh?

Illusions of Explanation

These arguments and interpretations are called illusions of explanation and sometimes illusion of explanatory depth. The illusion of explanation is the feeling that people have when they think they understand a complex situation with “greater precision, coherence, and depth” than they actually do. Wingnuts from Ammun Bundy to Senator Ted “Basketball Ring” Cruz, from Governor Pat McCrory, and NC State Senator Buck Newton to the Wonketariat’s grandpa and Jeremy Tedesco feel when they talk about issues like sovereignty, LGBTQ rights, religious rights, abortion, taxes, and other topics. They feel like they’ve got this down cold. They know in their heart of hearts that what they are saying is correct. God agrees with them goddammit! It’s so obvious!

Since this sense of obviousness is so universal, it must be somehow inherent in human existence. If that is so, then it must be studiable. It must be understandable. Indeed, the results of several studies suggest that people are like naïve scientists searching for causal links and predicting theories to explain the patterns that they see and the thoughts that they have. There is a kind of intuition that we use to interpret the world and events around us. It is unconsciously applied and, therefore, unexamined.

People tend to arrive at an explanation, which then seems satisfying, so they stop thinking about it. Why would they continue? They’ve come to their conclusion. People tend to use some well-known biases as confirmation bias and illusory correlation. In confirmation bias, we only look at the evidence that supports our conclusion and discount any evidence that challenges it. Illusory correlation causes us to interpret any two unusual events that occur close together in time as having a correlative relationship. Somehow one event must be connected to the other.

NielDeGrasseTysonMemeBoth of these tendencies are so automatic that they occur without our ever knowing. The conclusions they lead us to feel satisfying and complete, but they rarely ever are.

Joining the illusion of explanatory depth with confirmation bias and illusory correlation, and other trends in our culture like the lack of basic scientific knowledge, suspicion of intellectuals, and distrust of government, and sister, you’ve got the makings for derp stew! And when you are willing to accept the word of an authority figure that shares your naïve views of the world, then it is easy to feel like those people are speaking the truth. You know it in your heart, so you don’t need to know it in your mind. God agrees with you!

These wingnuts stop thinking when there is an emotionally satisfying explanation like the religious freedoms explanation for why sincerely held Christian beliefs should be justification for discrimination or that allowing transgendered people into public restrooms of their identity. Liberal nuts will also fall into this trap, the illusion of explanation. Luckily we have wingnuts to keep us honest. Our fight with them, our disproving and countering them helps us think deeply about these issues and arrive at sound, principled, logical conclusions. The illusion of explanation is the best argument for pushing yourself to critical thinking and not being satisfied with the first explanation.

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