Montana Viewpoint: Dems slow to understand that perceptions aren’t governed by facts

Jim Elliott

How can two different people have totally opposite opinions on the same thing? Well, it’s pretty easy as we can see, for instance, in the impeachment hearings going on in Congress.

You are not going to be able to talk either side into taking what you have to say into consideration after they have formed their own opinion on what they accept as the facts of the matter. The fact is that the more solid the argument is against their belief, it will only make them more certain that they are right.

In short, counter arguments solidify their opinions.

People want to be right. It makes us feel secure and in charge. Because of this we have what is being called “confirmation bias.” We accept ideas that conform to and reinforce our beliefs and reject those that contradict them.

In short, we choose our own set of facts.

For years I believed, as did many others, that people responded to logical arguments. Democrats still seem to believe that, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. There have been plenty of studies by psychologists and political consultants showing that logic alone doesn’t work, but they have largely been ignored by the strategists in the Democratic Party.

At this point I am tempted to say, “You can always tell a Democrat, but you can’t tell them much,” but I won’t.

Republicans have known this for decades, and they don’t bother with logic or facts because they have listened to their experts who have been correct. It is emotions that create and change opinions. Certain facts may play a role in forming their opinions and certain facts may reinforce their opinions, but they are selective facts — facts that conform to the “confirmation bias.”

They also know that fear is a greater motivator than hope, and this has been confirmed scientifically with brain scans of incredible sophistication. Fear is dealt with in a portion of the brain known as “the old brain” — old in terms of the evolution of the brain.

Sometimes it is called the “reptilian brain.” This is the part of the brain that deals with the basics of physical and emotional behavior; fear, anger, whether to fight or to flee, hunger and thirst. It is located at the top of the spinal column and its components have such scientific names as the Medulla and the Limbic System.

Within the limbic system is an organ called the Hippocampus (which is Greek for seahorse), and therein lies a story and a digression that is too good to pass up.

I studied this stuff in college. Got a degree in it, as a matter of fact, and also went for a Masters Degree. My degree was in physiological psychology, which is the study of the role that body chemistry plays in how animals behave.

To be specific, I had a degree in rat brains. In order to achieve an advanced degree you had to write a thesis which had to be approved by “those who know more than you.” I was interested in the effect that the levels of certain naturally occurring chemicals, that is legal drugs like hormones and serotonins, had on the old brain, and so my thesis was entitled “The Effect of Drugs on the Hippocampus.”

It is important to state that this was in the late 1960s in San Francisco, because when my thesis topic came back from the state printing office, they had corrected what they thought was an obvious typo on my part and my thesis was now called, “The Effect of Drugs on the Hippie Campus.”

I quit higher (so to speak) education shortly after that.

OK, enough levity — or maybe not enough, but in any case, back to the main topic. Summing up, people believe what they want to believe. Even intelligent people whom Democrats and others addicted to logic believe should know better.

The lesson for Democrats is this; you may want to deal with facts, but what you have to deal with are perceptions, and perceptions are not governed by facts alone. It’s a simple lesson that any intelligent person could grasp if they wanted to. Even Democrats.

Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek. Montana Viewpoint appears in weekly papers across Montana and online at missoulacurrent.com.