I rarely write anything about federal issues but a striking similarity in rhetoric became apparent this week.
President Joe Biden’s address to Congress on Wednesday included a line that said, “it’s time to remember that “We the People” are the government - you and I.”
The Chronicle made essentially the same claim in an editorial last month while lending tacit support of raising the county sales tax writing, “residents need to understand that ‘government’ it isn’t ‘they’ - it’s ‘us.’”
I understand the sentiments behind these two quotes but disagree with them. They fail to capture the spirit of who Americans are.
Americans define ourselves by our independence from government rather than having that government become our identity.
We achieve the impossible when we have the freedom to arrive at creative solutions on our own terms. I will relate this spirit to the concept of confirmation bias.
But first I must restate that the Chronicle is an excellent hometown newspaper that we are fortunate as a community to have, however, its editorial section often provides fodder for endless rebuttal which led to the Concurrent. Today won’t be about one-upping an opinion though.
Whereas I opened saying the Chronicle’s sentiment is the wrong approach, I’ll close by admitting that I too was wrong. I failed to see what this American spirit means for our local animal shelter.
As news consumers, we look for what we can believe rather than what we must believe. We are able to accept new information to a point, but rarely does this new information cross a threshold that changes previously held beliefs. This is confirmation bias.
I demonstrate this concept in the classes through a game. I give my students a string of three numbers, 2-4-6, and tell them there is a rule behind choosing the numbers that they have to guess by giving me three additional numbers to test if it is in compliance with the rule.
Without fail, the first sequence is 8-10-12. It is compliant. Is the rule increasing by two? No. 10-16-20; is it even numbers? No. At this point, the students in the room shift uneasily in their seats.
They were willing to believe the two most common outcomes based on their preconceived belief of how the pattern could work but now that both of those have been dismissed, other possibilities come into their mind. Maybe I don’t understand my own rule? Maybe I got something wrong? Maybe the game is stupid.
The rule is that each number must be larger than the one that proceeds it, something easily uncovered as soon as someone guesses numbers out of order, but at this point I have almost always lost half the class’s interest based on body language.
I have exceeded the threshold of what they can believe and force fed them what they must believe, which was subsequently rejected.
None of this is unique to a 20-year-old college student, but rather a reflection of how many of us including myself are predisposed to news consumption. We all have confirmation bias toward what we believe. We all don’t want to be told what we must do. We want to be set free to explore what we can do.
I had written a column that the commission was still directionless on the animal shelter and I had claimed that the talk surrounding the public’s willingness to financially support a new shelter was greater than the reality citing the Shelter Me Citrus effort.
However, new information presented itself and now I must accept something that is counter to my belief. I was wrong.
What I had overlooked was the American ingenuity of an individual to reignite a movement through a selfless act such as the anonymous $100,000 donation last week.
Tax money will have to be used to fund some, if not most, of the project but I believe with new enthusiasm that the community will figure out a cost effective plan to get the project started and answer the call to offset some of the upfront cost with private funding.
The project can be completed without raising taxes to do so.
The flip side to our human nature that drives confirmation bias is that we will reach mediocrity when we are told we must do something, like pay a higher tax rate for these services, but the capacity of we what we can achieve when we are free to find our own way may well be limitless.
Thank you to the donor for your inspiration.