Spinning away on my turbo trainer on Sunday morning I caught most of a short radio programme in which political philosopher John Gray was reflecting on the power of human beings to eschew all rational thought, burying inconvenient truths that are discordant with our preferred view of the world. We cling to beliefs in direct contravention of the evidence, “choosing” not to know any better. The lack of evidence between Saddam Hussein and terrorism, which Donald Rumsfeld refused to comment upon as it didn’t support the need to invade Iraq, or humanity’s ability never to learn from the financial crashes of the past, preferring instead to believe that we will be the ones who make a killing until the next financial crisis comes along amply demonstrate his point.
I’ve seen evidence of this in my own life, sublimating my own distrust of financial mis-selling when persuaded to attend a property sales event by my former spouse. We’re both still paying for that one!
To some extent this failing contributes to the volatility of markets. Market theory on share pricing expects that the price of an investment will reflect all of the information available about that particular stock (excuse me if I’m a little woolly on Efficient-market hypothesis, it’s a few years since I studied it!). That may be all well and good, but it’s people who trade in those
investments, and their beliefs come into play. Consequently stocks are traded by those who may “choose” not to know the full picture because it doesn’t fit with their original beliefs about the investment.
We see this in debates about religion. Richard Dawkins may write perfectly argued books as to why there is no god and pointing to the lack of evidence but in return he is faced with the argument “Of course there is none, religion is a matter of faith” We’re back to belief again.
The tendency extends to so many walks of life. The debate between those on either side of the climate change agenda, has been damaged by those who might dismiss scientific data that doesn’t fully support them as a blip or statistical aberration, whilst those with vested interests choose find logical ways to dismiss the findings of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change.
We decide not to think about the unnerving, the uncomfortable, the embarrassing etc.
I argued with a friend recently over her belief that men don’t look for the same degree of love in a relationship as women, partly outraged that a woman could make such a generalisation from a male perspective. She was completely wrong. Or so I believe.