Why Don’t We Consider the Facts?
When it comes to everything, feelings matter more.
At the Herndon household, we’ve always operated at a high level of optimization. Maximizing our time is important to us and sometimes that means you need to divide and conquer. That’s why when my wife decides we need something from the grocery while she is preparing food for our weekend dinner party, she gives me a list, grabs her keys and says we are going together.
Obviously she doesn’t want to be alone, which presents a great opportunity to spend time together and catch up on the things we didn’t talk about while we both worked from home.
Clearly this tactic does not ensure that we aren’t rushing to get everything just perfect. Just as people show up to the door with subpar bottles of wine, we stand with sweat dripping down our faces acting as if we’ve been waiting for them to arrive. It’s anything but efficient, but these sorts of decisions are not based on logic or mathematical party planning optimization. They are based on emotion.
I’m reminded of the many times I’ve told my now adult daughter(s) to fold their clothes or make their bed. Let’s take bed making as an example. Occasionally I would need to harp on them (And yes, I mean you young lady. Thanks for reading daddy’s articles!). If needed, I would ground them from things until the pressure of no access to gaming machines (or in their case books) would cause them to succumb to my wishes. In one case, as the pressure to tuck and fold the sheets mounted, I was stopped dead in my tracks as one unnamed daughter asked a question.
But why, Dad?
I didn’t know the answer. So I panicked and said “Because I said!” which probably should be phrased more like “Because I said?”. But with kids, you can’t show weakness, or they will exploit it for their gain in future situations. (Girls, obviously you know I’m kidding. Daddy’s doing work. You can go back to bed now).
Anyway, my point is this, I could not produce a meaningful reason why they should have made their bed. If I did, it would have been something made up like “people with consistent bed making practices sleep 30% better” or perhaps the more popularly “cleanliness is close to godliness.”
The honest truth is that I wanted to demand this rule because of my own feelings. I wanted the house to look nice even in the rooms that no one could see. Even rooms that I never entered. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we would have to acknowledge that there really is not a good reason to make your bed, ever.
If there is a reason, it is nothing more than the way aesthetics affects the way we feel. There is a branch of philosophy after that name that deals with the matters of artistic taste and the principals of beauty. It considers what happens in our minds when we engage with aesthetic objects or environments such as viewing visual art, listening to music, reading poetry, experiencing a play, or exploring nature.
The only argument for making one’s bed could be something emotional such as “it makes me feel better knowing that your bed is made”. I promise that I would never say that as a parent. I’d rather say something that defends the reasoning as if it was a superior option to not making one's bed, therefore, my younglings should oblige. If they are lucky enough to gain the wisdom I have, they will soon understand and agree with my superior way of seeing things.
Obviously that was not a statute based on reason. It is just what I wanted, emotionally.
The data would tell me otherwise. I haven’t studied bed making, but on the surface, intuitively we can see that making your bed takes more time, and is seen by few if anyone, and will simply be undone the moment you go back to your bedroom to sleep.
This seems to be the case with just about everything we do. We take the side of an issue based on how we feel and then we look for ways to justify it.
For example, why do we drive on the right side of the road? Why do we do daylight savings time? Why three meals a day instead of 6 or 1? When it comes to cats and dogs, how do we decide which pet species is better than the other and why is it obviously dogs?
More importantly (besides the dog thing), consider some of the topics finding their way into our national discourse. Right now, the nation is arguing about gun laws, healthcare, abortion, vaccines and bodily rights, and an ever evolving list.
The topics tend to be distilled down to black and white criteria. Should we spend more or less public funds (should we take more or less through taxation)? Should we have more rights or less rights for the individual? Do those rights harm the collective, and does it matter if it does?
In short, there is the “conservative” or the “liberal” option. A binary decision.
If you are of a liberal persuasion, you like the liberal candidate and the approach that fits within the liberal brand. The same is true for all four corners of the political map.
Ronald Reagan rose to political prominence because of his pragmatic activism, including the release of a recording warning of the dangers of socialized medicine. His message was inspiring, articulate, and if you were even leaning a single point in his favor, you would probably be inspired to agree with him. By the time he ran for President, he received 489 of the 538 total electoral votes, a landslide victory.
An emotional decision, not one based on the data.
Reagan cut taxes in 1981 by a lot, a conservative approach that came to be known as Reaganomics, but he raised them by even more than the cuts in the following years (a more liberal approach).
His message against socialized healthcare continues to resonate as does his conservative taxation. He may have been correct on both of these points, but only the data can tell you. I’ll focus on healthcare.
This week I posted a twitter thread about Universal Healthcare.
I reference an article I wrote some time ago about healthcare in the United States. Inspired by the warnings in Reagan’s speech. America remains very resistant to healthcare that is transparently funded through a government program. But the data tells us that our current system is not performing well either and has not been for decades. The data can also point to approaches that are getting better results in other developed countries (if health outcomes is the criteria by which we should grade a healthcare system).
Do we care about the data? Or just our emotional aversion to a certain type of change?
It’s the idea of “socialized medicine” that people are opposed to. But in practice, we accept it as necessary. In fact through medicare and medicaid we already have socialized medicine for 36% of the nation. It’s just not available to the majority of the population.
What about gun laws? The right to own and carry guns is one of the most celebrated and defended rights in the USA. Yet, while we have some of the worst stats regarding gun violence, those stats won’t trump the emotional feeling that we ought to have a right. Even if it comes at a cost. Rights often come with a cost to others, not always a bad one, but there is a cost. In the USA, the cost of easy access to guns includes more gun deaths, including increased successful suicides and unjustified deaths.
We have not made significant changes in the nation's gun laws for many reasons. One of those reasons is the fear that gun rights for law abiding citizens are at risk. The facts would tell you they aren’t.
But people don’t like facts, as I wrote in an article a few months back. People like guns. That emotional motivation to believe in the right to guns is enough to accept the risks that come with a society where easy access to guns increases deaths.
Vaccine Mandates and Abortion Rights have come to a crossroads recently. Vaccine mandates have existed for many years, as has a women’s right to choose whether she is to complete a pregnancy. But whatever side you are one, most people pay closer attention to their motivation to believe a certain way than they do the facts. It’s ironic that the same political group who is advocating for bodily autonomy when it comes to abortion rights is the same group who is advocating for quite the opposite when it comes to vaccine mandates. Similarly, pro life groups demonize abortion advocates, but borrow their argument in an effort to block vaccine mandates. The data, and in this case, even the principals are not the basis of the decision, but the emotions of the issue. Either bodily autonomy is a right, or it is not.
It’s because the reality at hand takes a back seat to our emotional entanglement in the issues that matter to us. We want low taxes, but a booming economy in the greatest country in the world. We want personal freedoms, but we’ll vote the politician out of office if they don’t get the results we want to see. We consider some of our animals a member of the family (dogs), and others a future meal (cats?).
How do we address this? I’m convinced that we don’t address these issues with data. As much as I enjoy testable data, people are moved by stories that deliver an emotion. For those that choose to be an advocate, I would implore you to understand the data, but tell a story that illustrates your message and brings others along.
I guess the real question is why are dogs better than cats?
Because I said?!