The clanking of keys echoed through the room and a smell of shitty office room coffee filled the air; I tapped my fingers on the cold table to try to drown out the blaring sounds of radios in the background. “It’s not illegal, don’t worry it’s not illegal…. At least … I don’t think so”, I whispered to myself. Confused about the legality of my actions, I started to hyperventilate; my vision became tunneled. My head slumped and just as my eyes closed a loud firm slamming sound jolted me back to semi-conscientious. A man with slick black hair and a beige folder walked in, touting a 9mm piece. “Morning sunshine, my name is Lt. Bowen. Can you tell me what you think happened,” said the investigator. Still somewhat dazed I said, “Everything that happened is on the video. Why am I even here, nothing I did was criminal!”, I shouted. Heated that these cops were grilling me over a video that I caught.
The video was of a local officer kicking a young African-American man in a community college parking lot. After he was on the ground, his face fell onto the boiling asphalt and his hands were cinched in tight cuffs. “The cop kicked the kid for no reason.. It’s all on Youtube” I said. “He was resisting,” replied the investigator. “Bullshit! He wasn’t resisting; the cop was twisting his arm wrong,” I replied. The investigator paused to peruse his notes, “I believe my officer. He was resisting,” he said. “How!? It clearly shows in the video that he wasn’t, have you ever seen the video?” I asked contemptuously. “No, but you must have shot the video from a bad angle,” he replied. “How can you say that?! You haven’t seen the video?” I asked in outrage. “Because I believe my officer no matter what; he is a credible source.” He replied simply.
My eyes widened in shock of what he just said. How could someone just have such ignorant bias; how could someone of authority just blatantly accept facts of information with little to no due diligences no matter how credible? Well, sadly this thought process is actually more common than I thought; people everyday blindly accept information from what they believe to be credible sources. It brings up the question why do people blindly believe information from even credible sources?
Julie Beck’s article in The Atlantic “This Article Won’t Change Your Mind” describes in detail this condition, and what she concluded from the scholars and research studies is people’s un-adhering belief in a source of information comes from more than one influence. The influences are a combination of historical, evolutionary and tribalistic tendencies that us as humans have developed over time, some consciously and some unconsciously. In the article she cited a 1960s study about how people respond to positive or negative information towards their own beliefs. In that study, the researchers used a special audio player that had a button which would drown out the audio of a specific audio clip. The audio clips that were chosen were positive as well as negative sound bytes of about religion and smoking; the researchers used volunteers who were either religious or atheist to listen to the sound bytes about religion, they also used people who were either for smoking or against it to listen to the sound bytes about smoking. The researchers observed that when it came to drowning out the audio bytes, the participants almost always drown out the audio clip that was positive to the opposing side. For example, if the participant was religious, they would almost always drown out the anti-religious audio clip and vice versa. Likewise this was the exact same for the smoking and anti-smoking group. In her article this is described as selective exposure, and she considered this a distant form of tribalism.
As I mentioned above about her article, the evolutionary aspect of blindly adhering to beliefs, might have came from the fight or flight instinct of our ancestors, she cites that due to our ancestors blindly adhering to something, it can be more important than truth, because as she writes, “you hear a growl in the bushes that sounds remarkably tiger-like. The safest thing to do is probably high-tail it out of there, even if it turns out it was just your buddy messing with you. Survival is more important than truth”. This evolunary artifact shows a natural instinct of fear, and to error of caution. When we examine information, we tend to believe supposed credible sources out of fear of being wrong or uninformed; no matter if the information is truthful or not.
Another piece of evidence she give to illustrate her point about ‘adhering belief’ is that of a study, where researchers showed people (trump supporters and not trump supporters) two pictures, one from Obama’s inauguration (having more people) and other more Trump’s inauguration. (having less people) The researchers asked if they could tell which photos is to which President’s inauguration had more people. During the study, the researchers found that almost all of the Trump supporters pointed to the photo of Obama’s inauguration with more people to be Trump’s, and Trump’s inauguration photos to be Obama’s. This image study shed some light on why the investigator felt the way he did about his officer and the incident, to him it may look different because of the his personal belief of how he thinks things are.
“Now is he lying about the situation or his officer and or should we even use the word lie? Because in the interview Gladstone talking about how in the media the word lie should be a very sparse term and why we shouldn’t use it. “The reason why NPR doesn’t is because it say reasonably a lie is deliberate, we don’t know whether are not he just doesn’t know,” said author and media analyst Brooke Gladstone in an interview about her book ‘The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time’. Now if he is not lying for his officer or about the situation then one of two things are happen here it’s comes back to the natural instinct or what both Henry and Brooke Gladstone call bullshit. “This was a great book written years ago… and it was called on bullshit,” said Gladstone. The book was written by the American philosopher Henry Frankfurt in 2006. “He made a big distinction a lie and bullshit, you know a lie you could argue that is what the Bush administration in the run up to the Iraqi invasion. In so that they believed something to be true but they didn’t have the evidence so they cooked it, you know weapons of mass destructions in Iraq”, “it wasn’t true it was lies… but your trying to tell a story; bullshit is when you don’t care whether you don’t care if it’s true or not, it’s just for the moment. You don’t care that it’s true, maybe you don’t know that it is true you will just assert whatever is useful in the moment the truth or untruth of it is utterly irrelevant.” said Gladstone.
Maybe the investigator is saying something in the moment, to defend the department or profession of law enforcement. At the time of this incident many cops were under the bus for shooting and police brutality cases. He was only doing damage control for the agency, or maybe he is just out right biased or in denial or maybe it’s confirmation bias. As Gladstone puts it, “Confirmation bias, outright denial and this is not new.” William James, the great pragmatist, observed that when faced with something that is undeniable, we have to accept it because if we don’t, it won’t serve our interests. “What we do is we change as little as possible of our beliefs system as possible to accommodate this new idea, leaving most of it whole, creating a little stitch,” said Gladstone.
So which is it? Well unfortunately it could also be a mixture of all these methods of bias, and most likely he was using a mixture of all the methods described. However this brings up the next question: if we know the reason why the investigator blindly believes his source, then the next question is: is it justice for him to blindly believe his source without due-diligence? According to the Atlantic Article, “in 1877, the philosopher William Kingdon Clifford wrote an essay titled ‘The Ethics of Belief’ in which he argued: ‘It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence,’ ” wrote Julia Beck. The ethics of Mr. Clifford are altruist but a little extreme, so what do average people think about these ethics of belief?
Well, I took a survey of students and recent graduates from 5 different schools and what I found interesting is 7 out of the 34 people I surveyed said: “yes most people blindly believe in a credible source and that source doesn’t really matter”. One student even went to as far so to say, “I think for the most part if a source has proved themselves to be creditable people feel more at ease and don’t feel the need to fact check,” said Noelle Hennings an English major and deputy editor at CSU East Bay Occam’s Razor. So maybe the investigator went off of past experiences with the officer, and the officer proved himself to be right in the past. And the investigator defaulted even though the officer’s accounts of the situation is not correct.
So what is the conclusion? Well I think for the most part blindly believe a credible source is inevitable, and fact checking on average is not always necessary or not always possible; but being aware of the causes of why we do this type of reasoning is key. To understand the causes and the evolutionary predispositions of nature to this behavior is the only action one can consistently perform to create a more truth based society.