Who Wants to Change?

What would you like to change?  Your eating habits and weight?  Your exercise habits and fitness?  Your salary and financial situation?  What about your opinions.  How about your fundamental beliefs? 

It is much easier to avoid eating fried foods than to avoid flawed thinking.  Entertaining evidence that shows your opinions and beliefs to be simply wrong is very difficult to do.  Almost all of us avoid this to some extent.

But what is evidence?  If we measure the width of our laundry door and determine that the new dryer will not make it through the door, we seldom seek another source of measurement.  The dryer simply won’t fit.

However, we are making these measurements ourselves with agreed upon measurement tools.  Most of the evidence we consider is not so pristine.  We do not have the tools and we do not make the measurements.  We have to trust others.

Consider the “simple” question of whether you have diabetes.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “A fasting blood sugar level less than 100 mg/dL is normal. A fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL is considered prediabetes. If it’s 126 mg/dL or higher on two separate tests, you have diabetes.”

So, 125 is sort of ok and 126 is bad.  Why?  It is a rule of thumb that seems to work in terms of predicting what interventions are needed to control diabetes via various medical interventions.  Why did nature set this threshold?  Nature didn’t; we did and it has seemed to help controlling diabetes.

Yet, it seems rather arbitrary.  18 years old for voting, 21 years old for drinking, 30 BMI for obesity are other examples.  A BMI of 29 is fine and 31 is horrible.  These rules of thumb, sometimes embodied in laws and regulations, are reasonable but certainly not “correct.”  They simply reflect administrative, regulatory, legal, and perhaps social agreements.

What about vaccines?  The medical evidence is pretty clear, but many people are more comfortable taking horse worm treatments rather than FDA approved coronavirus vaccines.  There is much evidence to support the latter and no evidence to support the former.  Should we accept Kristi Noem’s, governor of south Dakota, assertion that “everyone has a right to die”?  Do they have the right to kill others in the process?

This raises the question of “Who’s liable?”  Should governor Noem be liable for advocating policies that result in many deaths?   What if every politician was criminally liable for any assertion they made that was provably false?  If found guilty, they could not run for any other federal office and would not be eligible for any federal benefits.  If particularly egregious, they would face federal felony convictions and imprisonment.

That would certainly weed out the politician population, but housing all the felons would be a challenge.  The change we actually want is for people in leadership positions to be thoughtful and truthful.  This brings us back to evidence.  How does anyone know if what they are saying is “true”?  Are people just repeating what they heard?  That might have worked when we all listened to Walter Cronkite, but this era of social media has made everyone – and consequently no one – a trusted authority.

If you cannot really trust anyone, then those whose opinions and beliefs align with yours are the most palatable and digestible.  There is no need to change opinions and beliefs because you are already right.  Everybody feels quite comfortable hunkering down in their comfort zone and lashing out at people with differing opinions and beliefs.  The resulting tribal polarization leads to camps rather than communities.  That seems to be where we are.

So, no one wants to change.  We want our predispositions to be affirmed.  Learning and changing positions requires too much work.  It is much easier to believe that everyone else is wrong. 

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