I had something approaching a moment of clarity whilst watching this video of some angry Floridians speaking out against a vote to make masks mandatory.
On the one hand, there’s a temptation to just laugh stuff like this off. It’s tempting to dismiss the people in it as fringe lunatics whose opinion doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of us reasonable folk.
But videos like this expose a very human tendency to put aside reason when we’re captured by an idea. It shows how easy it is to go completely off the rails when a bad idea happens to resonate with us. We’re all susceptible to this. This attachment to an idea, and the willingness to follow it down whatever rabbit hole it leads, is the cognitive error behind every form of extremism afflicting the world today.
To see this problem clearly, and more importantly to begin addressing it, we need to stop thinking about this disease only in terms if its various symptoms. Racism, homophobia, sexism, religion fanaticism. These aren’t separate problems. They’re different symptoms of a disease known as the failure of reasoning. It’s what happens when our feelings are powerful enough that we stop caring about whether they make sense.
I’m not trying to say that feelings don’t matter. It’s feeling that point us towards problems, it’s feelings that make us care enough that we want to do something about this problems. But feelings aren’t enough, we need to think clearly. It may be our feelings which inspire us to address a situation, but it’s the ability to put them to one side that allows us to find solutions.