The Laramee Filter: pseudorandom thoughts, subsequently put on the Internet.
 
Author:
Tom Laramee
Date Published:
February 12th, 2022
Word Count:
1,354 (10:00 read time)
Filed Under:

My Litmus Test ...

I've come up with my own "political confirmation bias" litmus test, and I'd like to offer it up for consideration by the greater Internet.

I'd argue that the most fundamental, prevalent, relevant, negatively-affective problem in political discourse is confirmation bias. It's when we "count the hits but not the misses". It's where we look for evidence that supports what we believe to be true but ignore evidence to the contrary.

This is the fundamental mechanism that allows people to look past political corruption when it's "their guy [or woman]" and then shout from the rooftops when it's "the other side's guy [or woman]".

Based on reading a few 10s of thousands of comments on political articles, I'm fairly certain it's also the most common way people navigate the veritable nightmare* of controversial political news.

(* Firehose? Tsunami? Choose your metaphor.)

 
The Breakdown

I'm going to break the test down into two categories:

  1. Trump supporters (republican/conservative)
  2. Obama supporters (democratic/progressive)

You'll want to consider the questions in whatever group you most identify with, meaning, it doesn't have to be an exact match.

For each question, if changing the context of a headline (from "Trump" → "Obama" or "Obama" → "Trump") changes your take on the headline, well: you have confirmation bias. That change can go either way ("What's acceptable for Trump is not acceptable for Obama" or "What's not acceptable for Trump is acceptable for Obama").

The goal here is to test "self-consistency" in your thinking (and to try to get as close to self-consistency as possible).

 
A Generic Example To Illustrate the Idea

There's a wonderful example that doesn't directly involve political affiliation but is much more focused on the 1st amendment right to protest: it's the story of the recent Canadian Trucker protest.

(Yes, they're Canadian, so the 1st amendment doesn't apply to them, but it does apply to the idea of protesting in the US)

If you're unfamiliar with this story, the short version is that protesters have shut down downtown Ottawa, the Canadian capital, for eight days in a row (and counting). They're protesting Covid vaccine mandates by the government. They're doing so by parking trucks to block bridges and roadways, and apparently have been doing an awful lot of honking of their truck horns at all hours of the day/night. This has disrupted trade between the US and Canada and several auto-makers (on both sides) have lowered production as a result.

The confirmation bias breakdown here is very simple:

  1. You support the protesters
  2. You don't

For supporters of this protest, as a litmus test for your political self-consistency: substitute "Black Lives Matter" protesters for "Canadian Trucker" protesters.

Or, if you'd prefer, substitute "LGBT Rights" protesters for "Canadian Trucker" protesters.

If you're in group #1 (supporters): if you'd be similarly okay with BLM protestors (and LGBT protestors) blocking major roads and bridges and shutting down a city in protest, well, then you're probably self-consistent. On the other hand, if you'd be calling for said BLM protesters to be arrested (which I guarantee every one of my conservative friends would be), well, you have confirmation bias.

The reason is simple: if the Canadian Truckers have a valid point to protest, and their mechanism for affecting said protest is acceptable, valid, reasonable, rational, etc ... well, then anyone with a valid point to protest is allowed to employ the same mechanism for their protest.

Even simpler: if you're pro-1st amendment (and it's accompanying mechanisms of expression), then you're pro-1st amendment for everyone (employing the same mechanisms).

(Reference #1, Reference #2, Reference #3)

 
Group #1: Trump Supporters (Republican/Conservative)

The idea here is, for every headline you read about Trump and are okay with, meaning, you don't see a problem with his behavior, decisions, etc .. you need to substitute "Obama" [or "Hillary"] for "Trump" and then re-consider whether you'd have a problem with the behavior, decisions, etc.

If your thinking then changes: you have political confirmation bias.

And is the response is "That's fake news", well, the question still stands: If it's fake news when it pertains to Trump, is it still fake news when it's applied to Obama/Hillary?

  1. Pre: Joe Walsh on what the left doesn't get: TrumpWorld "would happily burn this country down"
     
    Post: Joe Walsh on what the right doesn't get: ObamaWorld "would happily burn this country down"
     
    (Reference)
     
  2. Pre: The White House Reportedly Didn’t Log Some of Trump’s Jan. 6 Calls — for Some Strange Reason
     
    Post: The White House Reportedly Didn’t Log Some of Obama's Jan. 6 Calls — for Some Strange Reason
     
    (Reference)
     
  3. Pre: Trump took 'top secret' documents to Mar-a-Lago, Washington Post reports
     
    Post: Obama [or Hillary] took 'top secret' documents to Her Residence, Washington Post reports
     
    (Reference 1, Reference 2)
     
  4. Pre: Trump Clogged the White House Toilet Trying to Flush Printer Paper, New Book Reveals
     
    Post: Obama Clogged the White House Toilet Trying to Flush Printer Paper, New Book Reveals
     
    (Reference)
     
  5. Pre: Trump aides drafted order to invoke Insurrection Act during Floyd protests: report
     
    Post: Obama aides drafted order to invoke Insurrection Act during Floyd protests: report
     
    (Reference)
     
  6. Pre: Trump defends remarks before Capitol riots, calling them 'totally appropriate'
     
    Post: Hillary defends remarks before Capitol riots, calling them 'totally appropriate'
     
    (Reference)
     
  7. Pre: The Trump Administration’s Questionable Email Practices: From Nikki Haley’s use of a non-classified email system for classified communications to the extensive use of personal email accounts for official business on the part of White House Senior Adviser Ivanka Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former VA Secretary David Shulkin ...
     
    Post: The Obama Administration’s Questionable Email Practices: From Hillary Clinton's use of a non-classified email system for classified communications to the extensive use of personal email accounts for official business on the part of White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and former VA Secretary Denis McDonough ...
     
    (Reference 1, Reference 2)
     
  8. Pre: Six Trump officials used personal email accounts for White House business: report
     
    Post: Six Obama officials used personal email accounts for White House business: report
     
    (Reference)
     

If you flipped on any of these, it's time for some reflection. If some of them are "fake news" for Trump (but not for Obama/Clinton), same deal. They're either consistent: both okay / both not fake news .. or both not okay / both fake news. You can't pick one or the other and view them through a different lens. If you do, you're experiencing confirmation bias.

 
Group #2: Obama Supporters (Democratic/Progressive)

Same idea here: for every headline you read about Clinton/Obama and are okay with, meaning, you don't see a problem with their behavior, decisions, etc .. you need to substitute "Trump" for "Obama/Hillary" and then re-consider whether you'd have a problem with the behavior, decisions, etc.

If your thinking then changes: you have political confirmation bias.

I'd add the same disclaimer for "fake news" but it's quite clear to me that it's never fake news when it's negative press about Obama and Hillary Clinton (whereas it's always fake news when it's negative press about Trump).

  1. Pre: Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules
     
    Post: Trump [or Mike Pompeo] Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules
     
    (Reference)
     
  2. Pre: The Obama Administration IRS Apologizes For Aggressive Scrutiny Of Conservative Groups
     
    Post: The Trump Administration IRS Apologizes For Aggressive Scrutiny Of Progressive Group
     
    (Reference)
     
  3. Pre: The Obama Administration Sent Thousands of Firearms Over An International Border and Directly Into the Hands of Criminals
     
    Post: The Trump Administration Sent Thousands of Firearms Over An International Border and Directly Into the Hands of Criminals
     
    (Reference)