Critical Thinking: 2018 Ontario Election

How Confirmation Bias Creeps Into Your Life and How You Can Combat It

We’re on a mission. This election cycle, our newsroom is attempting to arm you with the knowledge and tools you’ll need to make an informed, educated decision this provincial election. As we get closer and closer to the June 7th vote, we will be presenting different points to consider as you go to the polls; methods used to persuade you, blind you, coerce you, without your knowledge. We can’t tell you for whom you should vote; the party or candidate should be the one most in line with your own priorities. Rather, it is our attempt to make sure you know those priorities align. There’s not much time left to make up your mind: the Ontario election is around the corner. We’re days away from going to cast a ballot, and just a short time left to decide among which provincial candidate for which to vote. Making that decision may be a tough one, with a slew of messaging swirling around; promises, claims, and allegations surround any major election. One of the forms these messages take is in the form of something called Rhetoric.

“Rhetoric On The Other Hand, is Very… Stealthy.”

The difference between arguments and rhetoric? Facts. You can research and check the message, in a real and tangible way. Rhetoric, on the other hand “addresses our emotional side. It tries to persuade us by making us feel certain ways.”That’s according to Georgian College Liberal Arts Professor Alanda Theriault-Johns, who, armed with degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Western Philosophy, specializes in critical thinking, ethics, and philosophy.

“Measure The Evidence”

It is through Theriault-Johns that we will help arm you with the knowledge and tools needed to see through not only rhetoric, but all the other chaff surrounding any given election. A rhetorical strategy aims for the heart, not the head, and when it comes to politics, that strategy usually means invoking strong negative emotions against the other party. Theriault-Johns says rhetorical strategies get you into trouble politically, as certain parties may make us feel like we’re armed with those tools, “but you need to take that step and check it out for yourself, measure the evidence.”

That is, if you even want to vote. Our Political Correspondent Dr. Michael Johns of Laurentian University tells us the story of Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba. The pair wrote a study called The Civic Culture that tells us there are basically three different types of people out there, politically speaking: those are completely crazy about politics, those who can’t give two shakes, and a big middle group. “these educated, aware, but not politically active part of your population.”

“There’s a Real Concern That Group Is Checking Out”

Dr. Johns says the third group, the “Subjects” as Almond and Verba called them, needed to be bigger than the other two extremes for a good democracy to function. “There’s a real concern that group is checking out, which would lead to voter turn out, less levels of political engagement, and more… tribalism.” Johns says the only people left with any interest in politics are completely committed to one side over the other, “they are so engaged in their side winning that it becomes this bloodsport.”

Which brings us to something called Confirmation Bias.

“The More We Want Something To Be True, The More We Will Discount Any Evidence to The Contrary”

Confirmation bias “essentially creates an echo chamber where our beliefs and our preferences are reflected back to us.” Says Theriault-Johns. “The more we want something to be true, the more we will discount any evidence to the contrary.”

Confirmation Bias is one of many recognized fallacies, something that uses psychological persuasion instead of facts and figures to support a claim. Theriault-Johns says we are in a unique time, historically, with the kinds of technology we engage in daily; Twitter, Facebook, and the news media at large tend to replace facts with values. “And what that does is allow us to have repeated our preferences and beliefs in the truth or validity of something, without actually having to challenge ourselves to think more deeply about it.”

“Read Broadly”

It’s been described as an internal “Yes Man”, and many experts say the use of social media helps to reinforce that Yes Man. We gear our social media use towards our own preferences; following or liking the party of our choice while ignoring the opposition, or consuming news from sources that lean towards our own preferences. Theriault-Johns says there are a few ways of starving that internal Yes Man, and the first is to read broadly. “Look at different newspapers, and even newspapers you wouldn’t even pick up and read depending on your political orientation.” She adds “the more broadly you can read and the more opinions you gather, the more firmly you can challenge or even solidify your own views.” Theriault-Johns says a well-read person will also do their own fact checking, exposing oneself to opposing points of view. Another method of  combating the Internal Yes Man may be difficult for some, and odd to hear in political discussion, but Theriault-Johns suggests compassion. “When you scratch away and and take a look at why people make the decisions that they do, they’re responding to really tender human tragedies. Things like drug addiction, poverty, job loss… insecurity.” She says the more we can engage our own compassionate faculties and try to understand where the other side is coming from, the better our own point of view becomes. “We understand things on a human scale.”

These are just some of many factors that go into Critical Thinking. As we get closer and closer to the June 7th election, we’ll be taking a look at other ways to think critically about who to cast that ballot for.