Denial Isn’t Just A River In Egypt

Sorry about that bad pun, but these day, even pathetic humor is a respite from the daily news…                                                                          
                                                                    
And speaking of the daily news–according to one recent report on the pandemic, new cases have increased by 84% in states that don’t require the wearing of masks, and fallen by 25% in states that do.
 
You might consider that a clue-just a small hint that we should trust science.

After all, those numbers would seem to confirm what all those doctors and epidemiologists have been saying: mask-wearing protects us (or more accurately, protects other people from being infected by those of us who are asymptomatic). Evidently, however, America’s tribal polarization has overwhelmed sanity.
 
The polls tell us that a sizable majority of Americans strongly favor measures to control the spread of the pandemic over efforts to “reopen” the economy. When those numbers are broken down, however, Republican voters disagree—prioritizing the economy.
 
Self-identified Democrats are significantly more likely to wear a mask and engage in social distancing than self-identified Republicans.
 
The polling reminds me of a survey I saw a couple of years ago—well before the pandemic—in which significant numbers of Americans who would not object to their children marrying across racial or religious lines strongly disapproved of the prospect of that child marrying someone of the opposite political party.
 
Talk about “identity politics”!
 
In today’s highly polarized America, an individual’s self-identification as Republican or Democrat has come to signify a wide range of attitudes and beliefs not necessarily limited to support for a political party. Political scientist Lilliana Mason has argued that “A single vote can now indicate a person’s partisan preferences as well as his or her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood and favorite grocery store.”

Democrat and Republican have become our new mega-identities.
 
The fact of extreme partisan polarization doesn’t, however, explain why identifying as Republican means being substantially less likely to believe the science that tells us Covid-19 poses a genuine threat. Of course, there’s President Trump’s determination to ignore the threat—to insist it is an artifact of testing (!), or a Democratic “hoax,” but in a recent New York Times column, Paul Krugman offered a different theory, arguing that the G.O.P.’s coronavirus denial is rooted in a worldview that goes well beyond Trump and his electoral prospects. Krugman argued that Covid-19 is like climate change: It isn’t the kind of menace the party wants to acknowledge.
 
“It’s not that the right is averse to fearmongering. But it doesn’t want you to fear impersonal threats that require an effective policy response, not to mention inconveniences like wearing face masks; it wants you to be afraid of people you can hate — people of a different race or supercilious liberals.”
 
As Adrian Bardon of Wake Forest University recently wrote in The Conversation, Americans increasingly exist in highly polarized, informationally insulated ideological communities occupying their own information universes, and engage in what political scientists call “motivated reasoning” to dismiss inconvenient or unwelcome facts.

In all fairness, this phenomenon isn’t limited to today’s GOP; the “anti-vaxxers” and “anti-GMO” activists tend to come from the left side of the political spectrum and are equally dismissive of science that doesn’t fit with their ideological preferences.
 
In his book, The Truth About Denial, Bardon reminds us that our human “sense of self” is intimately tied to our tribal membership and our identity group’s beliefs. We are all prone to engage in confirmation bias (what we used to call “cherry picking”), accepting expert testimony that confirms our prejudices and rejecting facts and data that contradict them.
 
Unfortunately, in some situations, ignoring facts can kill you. Or grandma.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

How a cognitive failing explains why so many people reject the facts about the pandemic

16 thoughts on “Denial Isn’t Just A River In Egypt

  1. Look out for Grandma and anyone else with limited immunity or pre-existing conditions because Trump is President and unconcerned about you. Since Trump was unconcerned about older voters and their susceptibility to COVID and that has caused older voters to abandon him, he will be even less concerned a’s bout them.

    Now he’s re-tweeted a Sr. Citizen yelling “white power” from a huge and famous retirement community in Florida.

    If he’s TRYING to lose this election, he’s going about it exactly the right way.

  2. what is the white,house protecting? who are they protecting in regards to thier denials? when trump was handed the covid issue back in january,then handed kushner his marching orders to see what affects this would have, he merrily walk over to wall street first,ignoring his place in the white,house,to inform the people..after 6 weeks and wall streets shittintheir pants..and trump is doing laps in daytona with his limo,as the people are dying.. the denials of wearing a mask and testing,led to a open cull of the lower classes of workers being sideswiped my something even the corp news media dragged its feet on..front line workers risking their lives to help us,while trump and his death squad pushes his legions to reelection mode..never in my life in our country have i seen such blaintant disregard for human life from those we (overall) elect. we havent had a decent governent in decades,and the present one says your on your own now, those profits and cutting off of social services are now our decission to make,and at your expense…few if any of our elected officials even bring up this subject,when we see it everyday. seems we maybe witnesssing a voter suppression above hitlers own ideas.. instead of internments for those who speak out,(china style)we have a present admin pushing to eliminate people with a virus they deny exists. though they have the blame game in where its from etc, its still blaintant denial. with the news screaming a new wave of infections,,denial has become a reality check in some areas, now testing may have been kickstarted by local governments to get a grip on the spread. im sure the new wave,is those admitted into hospitals, after the fact. and how many of them,folllowed orange covid 20s recommendations?

  3. You are normally very good about giving specific sources. However, you did not give a source to 84% increase – 25% decreased statistic you quoted at the beginning of your entry today. Please give me the source. PS: I read you daily.

  4. It’s incumbent on academics to try to analyze certain phenomena. In 1941, over 70% of Americans denied that neither Germany or Japan were threats to our national security. After the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor, that number became nearly 0%. Back then, the GOP was all frothy about FDR’s “socialism” and trotted out their usual memes about Democrats, the economy and everything else their donors told them to say and do. When corporations and banks discovered that they could get stinking rich off of war, they did their best Daddy Warbucks imitation… but without the should and heart.

    Today, science is SO profoundly involved in almost everything we do, that the GOP memes are now channeled – as they have always been to some extent – toward denying those things that don’t make the donor classes more money. Trump’s denial of science is understandable since he understands so little about almost everything – except cheating and suing. His acolytes simply threw away their education and denied the virus in lockstep.

    Uh oh! Now what? Oh. Right. Let’s blame it on the Democrats…. or Hillary’s e-mails….. or those damned anarchists seeking justice under the law. The denial of inconvenient truths and facts simply are part of the GOP playbook. They are compelled to deny those things (See Al Gore’s book reviews on “An Inconvenient Truth”) because they are told to.

    The GOP minions have NEVER had a case for accepting science. Yet, they’ll thrill at the latest PIXAR movie, pop their popcorn in their microwave and even go to Safeway for their annual flu shot. I guess the sad point is that Republicans are fundamentally hypocrites. Always were. So, their denials of science and other fact-driven issues is necessary to maintain their illusion of righteousness. They are God’s chosen people, are they not?

  5. jack smith; WHO exactly is the White House or the WH who responds to what is happening in this country and WHO is it who supports Trump’s dangerous mental instability? WHO is the voice of the White House spouting excuses for thousands dying of the Pandemic he ignored and covered up? Ivanka? Jared? Or Trump’s “changing of the guard” that is the revolving door of his administration?

    I will argue with your statement “…we haven’t had a decent government in decades…” The Obama years made amazing progress when you consider McConnell and the entire Republican party worked against him due to the color of this skin, never considering they worked against their own party members who they convinced the blame lay with “the colored guy”. Last Thursday the one “Trump” yard sign in this entire neighborhood disappeared from the yard across the street; I have no idea what brought that positive step forward during which daily Trump chaos or which of his lies woke them up. Or if they have awakened. I also have no idea what this will mean for them on November 3rd; they basically stopped talking to me in 2016. Has their denial of the reality of Trump’s administration ended and will they vote to keep the current Republicans in control because they are denying the fact that it is the PARTY that is the problem? Trump is just the head of the boil on the ass of America but he appears to be near eruption.

    Florida’s Gov. DeSantis’ lengthy word salad yesterday, as Florida’s case count and deaths continued to ruse, translated to “it is good the majority of new cases are younger people” and “it is the rising test numbers that are why the number of cases are rising”. Pence sat with the Texas Governor praising him for his valuable work to control that state’s coronavirus case count and death rate as both continued to rise while they praised one another for their valuable work against the Covid-19 Pandemic.

    “Denial Isn’t Just A River In Egypt” It is the presidential campaign foundation for Trump who could not come up with one during his Hannity interview last week. Pence and Trump’s governors are doing his thinking and speaking for him. And WHO is doing the presidential work needing to be done throughout all of this? Or is anyone?

  6. It doesn’t help to have the Divider in Chief spewing bs by the boatload. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that somebody files a class action lawsuit against FAUX News for their objectively obscene reporting about Covid-19 that may have led thousands of people to disregard CDC recommendations.

  7. I might suggest that many Americans’ response to the threat of Coronavirus is consistent with one very deep attribute (or flaw) of American culture: our inability to defer consumption or pleasure in return for a better outcome or pleasure later.

    Wearing masks, isolating and social distancing are all inconveniences (costs) designed to ensure a better outcome (health and grandma’s survival) at a later time when there is a vaccine and/or a sufficient % of the population has been infected and can’t find more ppl to infect (the better outcome). I don’t know that it’s identity as much as it is intolerance for inconvenience and deferral of pleasure.

  8. Wow… You just ignore “impersonal threats that require an effective policy response“ because it is much easier to manipulate voters with fear of the “other”.

    That could explain a lot of Republican policy. It makes sense, because greedy, privileged people don’t want to work (or spend money) any harder than they have too to maintain their wealthy privileged status.

  9. Without out a doubt The Trumpet and Pastor Pence have contributed mightily to the already anti-science atmosphere of the GOP. Oh the GOP is OK with the science of military technology that blows people up or Twitter.

    As a Boomer a grew up with the dark cloud of polio hanging over our heads. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik we decided not necessarily for altruistic reasons we had to catch up. For a brief time as a nation we realized how important science and technology was.

    What science and technology demands is critical thinking. Critical thinking caused a lot of problems as it poses questions that challenges our beliefs, like a 10,000 year old earth or Noah’s Ark.
    ====================

    “There is a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country – an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking,” Fauci said, adding that the government has “a lot of work to do” to educate people about vaccines.

    The Trumpet and Pastor Pence team along with their GOP enablers have managed to turn wearing a mask in public into a political statement – Real Men and Woman – Do not wear Masks.

    The Trumpet could care less about anyone else. What does seem remarkable is all the boot-licker’s he has accumulated beginning with Pastor Pence.

  10. I am guessing that those who will not don the mask are essentially anti-authoritarian people who find it convenient to follow Trump’s politiization of the process, and since science is apolitical and there is a choice, they can just say no to wearing the mask, erroneously citing the Constitution for their right to do so. The problem is that there is no really rational choice to be made by an objective standard and that not all forms of authoritarian control are bad, as in, yes, science should control health policy irrespective of politics, race, gender, ism etc. The apples and oranges contrast is inapt.

  11. What kind of people are authoritarian? Entitled people. Those who believe that they are exceptional enough to lord over others. They believe that not only can they but they should direct the lives of the majority.

    What kind of people are liberal? They are people who believe that nobody is needed to lord over anyone else except to a degree children who need protection and much more knowledge than they are born with. Their goal is in the Constitution as to enable the pursuit of happiness for everyone no matter what they were born with and into.

    We hired Trump and he brought in toadies. Trump had no applicable experience and hired only others with no experience to “advise” him though he never listened. He was the picture of autocratic.

    When we hired Obama we got a vast team of experts whose expertise was focused by the President on the threat/opportunity du jour. He was and is a planner and organizer and leader and most of all a learner. He listened to every applicable opinion before deciding and his thinking was driven by the people he’d served as a community organizer and a Senator.

    Perhaps there were times in human history when strong autocratic leaders were effective and necessary but that got obsoleted several orders of magnitude of complexity decades ago.

    Obama was and is a man of and for his times. Trump is simply not. The entitled autocratic end of the spectrum doesn’t fit these times.

  12. It’s worth noting that when mask deniers explain their right not to listen to epidemiologists, they always focus on themselves. They seldom or never mention the right of the rest of us not to get sick or die. Their right to be infantile, they seem to believe, supersedes our right to protect ourselves. Trump’s brand of unbridled narcissism is apparently infectious.

    However, if Trump chose to wear a mask, they would also. That tells us something about the depth of their thinking. How do people even survive at that level of thoughtlessness?

  13. This is the best description of the problems facing this country today. We are facing a disastrous virus along with an attendant economic disaster and we have totally inadequate national leadership. A president whose vocabulary is less than 100 words and an IQ of less than 100 and if there was a numeric measure of common sense, it would definitely be in single digits. Keep up the outstanding work Sheila—this one should get a Pulitzer….

  14. This is the best description of the problems facing this country today. We are facing a disastrous virus along with an attendant economic disaster and we have totally inadequate national leadership. A president whose vocabulary is less than 100 words and an IQ of less than 100 and if there was a numeric measure of common sense, his would definitely be in single digits. Keep up the outstanding work Sheila—this one should get a Pulitzer….

  15. Sheila – I think we are looking at this from the wrong end of the telescope – The more people interact with “others”, the more they learn that the Muslim/Christian/Jew/Hindu/Buddhist and Asian/African/European/Mideastern can be very nice people – There are good and bad in all groups

    I would accept my mythical daughter marrying a Japanese Muslim, if he was a good person, but not someone of any color or religion if he believed in beating the devil out of his wife and children on a daily basis.

    Political parties have changed – Republicans used to have Goldwater and Rockefeller – Democrats used to have Humphrey and Dixiecrats – more recently, Merkley and Donnelly –

    Once, even Goldwater rejected the John Birch Society. The American Independent Party existed for racist Democrats. Now, the Republican Party has become a narrow ideological slice of society. Democrats are still fighting between the old DLC and the new Progressives, but the far left has never been embraced, which is why we still have old school Socialists and the Green Party.

    I don’t really see this as a traditional split, but rather of those who embrace authoritarianism, anti-science, and yearn for the “good old days” versus everyone else. With any luck, after a couple of election cycles, the parties will realign and marrying a Republican would no longer be antithetical to a Democrat and vice versa – until then, it is simply not wanting someone who is diametrically opposed to your worldview

    On masks, which I have advocated since pandemic day 1, based on basic biology, part of the problem is we have an administration that doesn’t want to be distracted by a pandemic, which they are ill-equipped to handle, and “scientists” that are so nuanced that they obscure everything.

    Recent paraphrased non-quotes from cable news –
    “Wear masks — WHERE YOU CANNOT SOCIAL DISTANCE” — oh, so they aren’t that important
    “I worry that people will assume that wearing a mask means they are protected” — oh, so they don’t really work
    “Yes, mask wearing helps in Asian countries, but they also imposed rules that we would consider a violation of civil liberties” – oh, so masks aren’t that effective

    The damned physicians and epidemiologists should all say one thing
    WEAR MASKS!!!!!!

    No more confusion that way. (and full disclosure, I am a retired scientist – totally guilty of nuance too often.)

  16. There are several issues that we must consider at this fearful time about the younger generations. One of those is that they are a “me” generation. No one has ever told them “no.” They never “earned a dollar” while they were in school or college, they just asked for it and, lo and behold, there it was handed to them. Also, they have never, ever had to deal with adversity of any kind, therefore, they are not prepared for this situation. Also, they do not read newspapers, they only get the news they are interested in, such as how the Kardashians are faring, from their phones so they are not what I would call very well informed.
    It is difficult to see them all out and about without masks, since they are “fine.” No thought to their parents or anyone else.
    I am well aware that this is not my world anymore, but I do still live in it and intend to do so for some amount of time to come. I respect the information imparted by the doctors and nurses and I wear a mask and gloves whenever I go out. I do not now, nor will I in the near future, go to public restaurants and other like venues. It’s not the lifestyle I like, but it is the life I like!

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