Thursday, October 28, 2010

Strange assumptions

To conclude my little series on the mayoral election in Toronto... Rob Ford won.  For all those uninformed about my fair city, Ford is the drunk driving, racist homophobe who neatly combines cluelessness about economics with anger about overspending.  I rarely bother myself much about local politics but this guy just made me sad and despite me going out to vote for his nearest competition he ran away with the election taking 47% of the vote.  It is unfortunate for the city and particularly so for those who want to use mass transit but the deal is done and now we just need to make the best of it.  The very interesting part to me though is the scene I witnessed in the dentist's office just two days after the election.  One of the people working there started to talk about how terrible Ford is and how awful it was that he won with a tone that suggested that obviously everyone in the room supported that point of view.  Some people did, but some people did not, which is no great surprise since he got roughly half the votes!

I wonder about how people can delude themselves so greatly to think that everyone around them must agree with their feelings on things when it is absolutely crystal clear that so much of the population completely disagrees.  The conversation I witnessed was very strange and stilted as the initial person continued to talk as if anyone who voted for Ford was crazy while also trying to not directly insult the Ford supporter sitting 1 meter away.  Stranger still the initial speaker continued to talk to the rest of the room as if every one of them obviously hated Ford despite the fact that that particular assumption had been proved dramatically wrong 30 seconds ago. Most people in that situation tend to just be silent and let it drop after someone speaks up who is clearly against their point of view but in this case they did not and kept on with their 'well anyone who voted for him is an idiot' rant for quite awhile.

The fact that people believe things very strongly is not surprising nor is the fact that they find it completely baffling that someone would believe anything else.  The really crazy part is their reaction when they are presented with absolutely firm evidence that mostly people do not believe like they do (like an election result) is to continue to assume that everyone must believe as they do and just ignore the facts.  This is clearly demonstrated in all kinds of other ways though religion is obviously a big one.  It is very common for people to know intellectually that their particular religion is 5% or 20% or whatever of the population and yet be aghast that a person they have met and liked is not part of it.  That assumption that anyone I like must obviously believe the things I believe  is so clearly wrong that is cannot be mistaken and yet we in general are terrible at integrating that understanding into our everyday lives.

I ended up talking about how terrible Ford is with a number of people over the course of the election but I tried very hard not to make the assumption that they felt the same way.  Whenever the topic of politics came up I would try to figure out what the other person's views were prior to taking a noisy stand because I don't think those sorts of confrontations actually accomplish much of anything.  I suppose the ability to put yourself inside someone else's head and understand that your views are not their views varies in strength between people; too bad we can't all be good at it.

1 comment:

  1. I spend probably more time than I should reading the comments sections on the Globe and Mail. One of the most baffling things was that a week or so before the election a Leger marketing poll was showing that Rob Ford and George Smitherman were quite close, with Smitherman having a statistically insignificant lead. This poll, it turns out, was not very accurate, and with the power of hindsight, pollsters are now thinking that this has a lot to do with the fact that it was conducted in part online, and that older, less educated voters do not use the internet much but make up a significant part of the voting base in municipal elections.

    In the comments on the original story about the poll, there were Rob Ford supporters who were saying that they didn't believe this poll and that they thought Rob Ford was going to have a landslide victory. It turns out they were right. They reason, however, they though this, was because this poll was obviously part of a left-wing conspiracy of the "elites" who run the media and the polling firms... all of whom hate Rob Ford. There were several predictions of Rob Ford taking 60% to 70% of the vote.

    It was that same phenomenon, people thinking that what they believe must be what everyone believes, and that direct evidence that a good number of people think the opposite way is completely ignored. In this case, however, the evidence wasn't so much ignored as it was dismissed as a conspiracy.