Saturday, July 26, 2014

The phenomenon called “motivated reasoning”—we tend to use logic and reason, not to discover what we believe, but to confirm what we already think we know

The sexes can't be warring tribes, says Christina Sommers as the author of Freedom Feminism—Its Surprising History and Why it Matters Today is interviewed by Ravishly's Katie Tandy (thanks to Instapundit).
In the new video series that you've created with American Enterprise—"Factual Feminist"—you recently answered the question, "Why Call Yourself a Feminist?" A reader wrote in and asked you to drop the moniker because it's been so "sullied" with man-hating rhetoric. You basically responded that you simply want women to be "free, responsible, self-determining beings." That your concept of feminism has nothing to do with "denigrating men or fixating on victimhood." How do your studies and writings help forge a much-needed, "healthy, evidence-based women's movement." What does evidence-based mean exactly?

Classical equality of opportunity feminism (I call it “freedom feminism”) is a legitimate human rights movement. There were arbitrary laws holding women back. Women organized and set things right. But, as I try to show in my writings, that reality-based movement has been hijacked by male-averse, conspiracy-minded activists. (I call them “gender feminists"). American women happen to be among the freest, most self-determining people in the world, but the gender feminists seek to liberate them from an all-encompassing “patriarchal rape culture.” What is their evidence that such a culture exits? They point to their own research as proof. But most of that research, including their famous statistics on women’s victimization, is spurious. Gender feminism is the opposite of an evidence-based movement—it’s propaganda based. Social movements fueled by paranoia and fantasy tend to be toxic.

What's your take-away from the #YesAllWomen phenomenon? Is it more gasoline on the gender-dividing fire, a societal zeitgeist or something in the middle?

Hashtag feminism (e.g. #YesAllWomen) is a scourge. It brings out the worst in contemporary feminism: injustice-collecting, trauma-valorizing, male-bashing. It also encourages group think and vigilanteeism. Other than that, it’s fine.    
What's the most interesting thing you've learned recently?

I only recently came to appreciate the limited power of logic, reason and evidence to change minds. Most of us, whether we know it or not, are driven by emotion and group loyalty. Cognitive scientists have long known about a phenomenon called “motivated reasoning”—we tend to use logic and reason, not to discover what we believe, but to confirm what we already think we know. Instead of changing our minds in the face of contradictory evidence, we are more likely to seize on rationalizations for what we already believe. I see this tendency in myself once in a while and try mightily to resist it.