Persistent Irrational Belief

Read an article by a Wisconsin blogger/lawyer, Steven Bauer, To Speak the Truth.  The title of the post is "Irrational Persistence of Belief", and it focuses on the "given" that some people really don't change their minds.  Perhaps all of us refuse to change our minds, to some varying degree.

Psychologists now are researching things, like what areas of the brain are stimulated by photographic evidence, what areas of the brain are stimulated by logic, and what areas are stimulated by mathematical evidence.

I was researching this a while ago, before Basel Action Network re-published the "80% Exports" quotation (see yesterday's blog).   The question is, do they believe it despite the studies by UNEP, ASU, ISRI, WR3A, the UN, and their own Kenyan researcher?  Do they republish it without citation because they really care?  Or is this repeated, discredited statistic still showing up for $ome Other Rea$on?  What are the roots of persistent irrational belief?

Belief is somewhat subjective.  Like Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof, we may all have a point we can bend our beliefs and traditions, beyond which we will "break".

- Some believe that trade between rich and poor is inherently unfair.
- Some believe that work not outsourced inherently makes the nation wealthier.
- Some believe that immigration makes unemployment worse.
- Some believe that globalization is worse for everyone.

Probably the non-profit is so concerned about the beliefs above, that if the 80% E-Waste stat is finally laid to rest, they will find or manufacture other evidence against it (see the doctor's discussions of typhoid in the Ghana piece by PBS Frontline... typhoid is a contagious disease rampant in slums, having nothing to do with "e-waste", but even PBS leaves the piece in, perhaps to make the "exploitation" seem more poignant).  But the African and Asian techs I speak to are getting vocal about being accused by Interpol of being "criminals", of having their hard-paid-for, pre-inspected loads seized by dictators at customs, and of having pictures of poor kids at the developing country landfills used to portray their internet cafe and cell phone resale trades.

Anyone who reads Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, or others knowledgeable about world history and current events knows that the case for these "premises" is completely unsound.   But they are premises in peoples minds, and those preconceptions influence the perception of morality.
Preconceived notions may be innately received by human minds.  "Opinion" is studied by opinion research dynamic firms for political campaigns, and we wind up with a two party system which obfuscates and plays to our opinions and beliefs.  People selling products and making profit find which notions, irrational or not, are most persistent, and allocates advertising dollars to use those walls of belief to bounce political balls off of.  Professors like UPenn's Jonathan Baron teach courses on manifestation of opinion, and write books about Thinking and Deciding.

2001 photo, Guangdong: separating cu by hand
The best of human nature rewards those who are honest and show moral integrity.   The worst of human nature is really not very different from insects.   Edward o. Wilson's book, "The Social Conquest of Earth". reveals just how much the ant colony's communication of 1s and 0s resembles a computer calculation, and how much their geographical manipulation of the surroundings resembles the internet.

At the plant, I need to orient the crew to sort and decide which pieces of used electronic equipment we are going to take apart by hand in house, which we are going to set aside for reuse, and which we are going to send to another company (USA, Mexico, overseas) to test or take apart on our behalf.  The decisions tend to be first about money, because it's immoral not to meet payroll of the people doing the work and the banks who lend money for the equipment and the building.   It's also about meeting the expectations and decisions of thousands of clients, whose opinions are being marketed to based on their preconceptions.  I'm motivated by money, and competitors motivated by money are motivating people by photos.

The only solution is science, research, logic, and facts.  That's why I'm going into secondary research mode.  But I keep finding myself studying the concept of morality and belief, of philosophy... because that's what my business became "about", rather than about the choice we have to get copper from rain forests in a former British colony or to get the copper from ash piles burned at another former British colony, or from wires cut painstakenly by hand, by women crouching outdoors, in a third British colony, or whether the solution is to cut the wires by hand, or by machine, in Britain itself.  Somehow we need the best environmental outcome from some combination of mining, burning, hand-stripping, or machine milling.

The quotes at the top of Steven Bauer's blog are worth promoting:

"Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view."
- Richard P. Feynman, Physicist
"There is a danger in clarity, the danger of over looking the subtleties of truth."
-Alfred North Whitehead

No comments: