Skip the facts, we want to be cranky

We just finished the Christmas season and soon enough we will enter Valentine’s Day season, when love, romance and overpriced chocolates will be in the air.

But first we must get through the mean season, the ugly, nasty slog from now until Jan. 31, when Florida voters will pick through the remnants of the Republican presidential contenders and name their choices to run against Barack Obama.

The ugliness will come from the candidates and their advertising machines — and it will complicated by the reluctance of voters to accept facts, whether we’re discussing Obama’s birthplace or the details behind Mitt Romney putting the family dog in a cage atop his station wagon on a vacation long ago.
Scarier yet: The more committed a voter is to a position, the less likely he is to accept facts that contradict his position.
Maybe you’ve had this experience. Someone sends you an e-mail alleging this or that political “fact.” You reply with a link from Politifact.com or snopes.com noting how the person’s information is inaccurate, outdated or just plain wrong, wrong, wrong.
“I don’t care,” comes the response. “I’ll believe what I want to believe.”
Here’s an ugly fact.
“Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds,” Joe Keohane wrote in a 2010 Boston Globe article on ideas and people’s trouble grasping facts.
As veteran politicians like to say, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”
Fact-free zones
I don’t want to go all Dr. Phil on you, but much of the problem involves people who have lousy self-esteem. They’re so angry and rattled that they reject accuracy and embrace misinformation because it justifies their cause.
Gosh, do any Tea Party or Occupy people fit this description?
Never have so many known so little, yet made so much noise.
So it goes when we discuss politics or hot-button issues like abortion, immigration and gun control.
People who are comfortable with themselves will be open to new information, pro or con; others will shut down their brains and raise their defenses.
The partisans will rage more and more as election day draws closer, but let’s remember the findings of a University of Illinois study which Keohane cites.
Researchers asked 1,000 Illinois residents questions about the welfare system. Half figured they were correct, but actually only 3 percent gave correct answers.
Worse yet, the ones with the most incorrect information were the ones who were most sure they were correct.
Hey, we’ve got opinions. Give us passion. We don’t need no stinkin’ facts!
Media to blame
Part of the problem, I think, is the way so many people obsessively follow the media and every twist and turn of the daily news cycle. Both sides have their shout fests — Fox News and MSNBC, to name just two.
Most cable news shows are like doughnuts — tasty but empty calories.
The next day, your brain is empty again and you must feed it more piffle from the talking heads, whose ratings and salaries are based on how many outrageous statements they can make.
This might be good theater except the hysterics and the noise make people more agitated and more likely to be fearful, hardly the right climate for making smart decisions.
There’s another factor; people won’t admit they’re wrong.
Researcher Brendan Nyhan, who has done numerous studies on the topic, calls it “backfire.”
“The general idea,” he told Keohane, “is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit  you’re wrong.”
They’re unwilling to admit they’re wrong?
Haven’t any of these people ever been married?
I wrote this column last week for floridavoices.com, a new site that provides opinion and commentary on numerous topics.