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The Will to Believe and Selective vision


Zen & Understanding the Middle East

Sellers' Market
Will to Believe
Rules of Thumb

"The truth is out there "
Use & misuse of words
False information signals more false information
Technical whiz-bang
Understand the Context
Lies, More Lies, Damn Lies and Newspapers
Beware of Generalizations
Theology and scripture
Misleading Statistics
Smoke in your eyes: a picture can be worth a thousand lies
What is Missing?
Myth versus fact versus narrative
The past was not like the present; the future will be different

Fallacy Recognition in the Middle East

Fallacies and Arguments
Cause and Effect
Slippery Slope
Gambler's Fallacy
Ad Hominem
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Tradition
False Dilemma or Black and White Thinking
Special Pleading
The Spotlight Fallacy
Who is to Say?

Fallacy Handbook

The Will to Believe and Selective vision

Each side in a conflict has its gurus, and is a sellers' market for people of the same opinion. It is comforting to read facts or opinions that agree with your ideas, and unsettling to be confronted with facts that do not fit. This behavior is supported both by emotional and cognitive mechanisms. We each want to belong to a group and to get positive reinforcement for our beliefs. We each have constructed a "theory" of the world, and our perceptions and memories are based on that theory or schema.

In the very well known Ash experiment, subjects are asked to judge which lines are of equal length. When a group of people deliberately choose the incorrect pair of lines, the subject's judgement is influenced dramatically. About a third of the subjects will bow to group pressure and choose the pair of lines that is grossly unequal in length. People tend to believe what others believe.

We see what we are prepared to see. New learning is based on old learning. Experiments in memory and perception show that people tend to ignore or distort bizarre facts in story, because they don't fit with their own ideas. If I tell you that I went to the grocery to buy a bottle of milk and met a nice unicorn on the way who told me about a treasure, when you retell the story the unicorn might become a dog who barked or an old man who told me about the treasure.

Not surprisingly, the facts of Middle East events become distorted both by inadvertance and by intention. What happened five minutes ago is already history by the time you hear about it, and it has already been worked over through the eyes of the reporters. Immediately after the failure of the Washington and Taba peace talks in 2000 and 2001, two "histories" were created. One history that was partial to the Palestinians blamed the Israelis, while the other history, partial to the Israelis, blamed the Palestinians. When there is a Palestinian terror attack and an Israeli reprisal, the partisans of one side will focus on the Palestinian attack, while the partisans of the other side will focus only on the reprisal. What do you remember about the events of the summer of 2006? Do you remember that Hezbollah attacked Israel, or do you remember that Israel attacked Lebanon?


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