In a recent scientific study published in Nature, it was found that through repetition, the brain can eventually become adapted to dishonesty. Make enough small dishonest decisions and soon enough, there will be little distinction between the truth and the lie. Or right and wrong. And one cannot help but wonder why a significant majority of white voters would vote for Donald Trump, a man who by all accounts, is a proven xenophobe, racist and psychopath.
What is it that prevents them from differentiating what’s clearly wrong from right? Donald Trump is the anti-thesis of the American constitution which enshrines religious freedom, free speech and equality as a given. However, by electoral choice, the majority of Americans have insisted that there is (and can only be) only one correct religion (Christianity), shown a strong belief in white supremacy and think little about acceptable treatment towards women. Never has human progress been so completely upended by reclusive dark age rhetoric.
But maybe there’s not much to be surprised about. After all, as a means of comparison, Adolf Hitler, also a psychopath who preyed on ultra-religious and nationalistic fears, easily orchestrated a universal belief that only he could solve Germany’s problems. The keys to the office, the vestments of power and his dictatorial rule would not have been possible without the help of the Germans who (at that time) didn’t see anything wrong with a political candidate who used fear-mongering and political bigotry to appeal to base prejudices. It’s quite incredible that the very notion of subjugating the Jews could be at one point, deemed perfectly acceptable – the Sunday equivalent of morning coffee.
And yet, in many surveys done, most people consider themselves ‘more tolerant’ and ‘more open’ than others. These respondents can themselves be highly discriminatory (especially in religion views and racial prejudices) and yet still happily tick the checkbox labeled “You consider yourself more tolerant / compassionate than most”. I am reminded of a discussion panel in which the interviewee who supported the deportation of Muslims, began with “…but I am not a racist because…” Clearly, the meaning of racism is completely lost on her. Sure, it’s a trick of the mind since we can all too easily believe what’s wrong is right, but it’s frightening how someone can sprout some of the most hateful speech against a group of people and preface it by insisting this has nothing to do with discrimination.
And this is worrying. Democracy, a system in which the people vote for the best possible candidate, is beginning to show its short-comings. When a large majority of the population are bad thinkers, prone to logical fallacies, vulnerable to sophistry and largely disinterested in educating themselves further, democracy loses a great deal of its effectiveness. In fact, given that a considerable number of Americans believe in the Bible over evolution, and know little about government and political systems, this electoral outcome was not completely uexpected. All Trump had do was to fire up the rhetoric everyone wanted to hear – as it is Americans already have a deep distrust towards Muslims, immigrants and Science.
Still, I am sometimes reminded that as an outsider, it is easier to tell the difference between right and wrong. Many things are often contextual, and when caught up in the moment, it’s difficult to filter out pertinent information. Maybe Bertrand Russell, who wrote the following line in The Triumph of Simplicity, was correct:
“The fundamental cause of trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
While it is easier to be persuaded (and drawn) by those who speak in continued bursts of confidence (Trump believes he can solve anything but he doesn’t even know the difference between the Sunnis and Shia), it might be best, at the very end, to seek, love and keep close those who help us doubt, think and question the fabric of the very world we live in. Uncertainty in small doses is not always a bad thing.
So have you thought about (HYTA) why it’s so hard to differentiate right from wrong?