A guest post by Mitnaged
A common leitmotif on CiF Watch’s pages is the question about how, even in the face of verifiable evidence to the contrary, the reality-challenged above and below the line on CiF and elsewhere continue to believe the lies put out by radical Islamist organisations and their useful idiots, (and among these I include the Guardian and CiF) about Israel and its Jews and Israel’s attitude towards its Arab neighbours and its own Arab population.
There can be little doubt that the commenters below the line on CiF are encouraged in their distorted perceptions of reality by what is written above it. For example we have the floridly bizarre Mya Guarnieri writing that Islamophobia is the new antisemitism, apparently oblivious to the ridiculousness of that comparison or to the fact that Islam itself is largely responsible for the increase in antisemitism. She adds more poison to the mix by attributing Ku Klux Klan-type motives to the citizens of one American town who are outraged by the murders of 9/11.
The most chilling aspect of such rubbish and most of the comments about it, (all of which are typical of CiF and the Guardian) is that very few commenters actually question these bizarre interpretations of what might REALLY be going on. (I suspect that where this happens, in true CiF fashion, the comments are deleted). Instead they go along with it like hunt dogs on the scent. CiF abounds with articles of this nature about Israel and Jews, and, like iron filings to magnets, the reality-challenged are attracted to comment and to add their equally bizarre views.
Why, then, are these people so adamant that their opinions are based in reality and are therefore objectively true and provable, even when they patently are not? This is not unique to the peculiar Humpty Dumpty land version of reality at the Guardian either – it also applies to the rest of the media and throughout the internet and particularly in relation to Israel.
A statement by Francis Bacon, sets the scene most appropriately, I think, for the explanation I want to advance:
“It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives.”
This points to the fact that Guardianistas and CiFers are particularly inclined towards a form of selective thinking whereby one notices only aspects of a situation which confirm one’s beliefs and ignores aspects which contradict it, or, in the case of Guardianistas and CiFers, cause their beliefs about it to “wobble.”
This confirmation bias is a natural human tendency, but most adjusted and intelligent people recognise when they are doing it and may even take active steps to expose themselves to other points of view so as to gain a deeper all round understanding of the topic which has hooked them. However, the typical Guardianista – above and below the line – appears totally incapable of doing this. As a result their opinions become pernicious when they purvey their own prejudices as truths, as Guarnieri and most of her fellow CiF authors have against Israel in particular.
The deliberate promulgation of views based on confirmation bias is the cognitive error most often evidenced by CiF. It actively militates against reality-testing, since reality-testing leads to cognitive dissonance, and people in the grip of confirmation bias actively avoid the emotional discomfort which arises from being confronted with proofs which directly contradict their deeply held prejudices. Thus the confirmation bias endures and grows more resistant to challenge.
Along with confirmation bias against Israel on CiF comes a whole raft of cognitive errors, the main components of which may be found above and below the line in articles about Israel, or Jews, or Israel or Jews in relation to Islam, among them:
ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING – Also called Black and White Thinking. This is thinking of things in absolute terms, like “always”, “every” or “never”, whether this is actually written or implied. People and posters on CiF who are in the grip of this cognitive error are incapable of answering truthfully to:
“Has there ever been a time when it was NOT that way?” (All or nothing thinking does not allow exceptions. Even one exception can be found, it is usually denied). A prime example here was CiF’s and the Guardianistas’ reaction to Israel’s first response to the Haiti earthquake, which was praised worldwide, but which CiF persisted in endowing with ulterior and malign motives, so completely had it bought into the “Israel is evil” paradigm (see also here).
OVERGENERALISATION – Most CiF a uthors and many posters take isolated cases and use them to make wide generalisations. Mya Guarnieri overgeneralised from the alleged actions of one pastor by implying a link between her perception of his motives and the activities of the Ku Klux Klan!
APPLYING A MENTAL FILTER – Focusing exclusively on certain aspects of something while ignoring the rest. Confirmation biases are prime examples of this and are, as I have suggested above, a rigid defence against cognitive dissonance.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS – Assuming that something is or is not the case without looking for evidence to support that assumption. Within this two specific subtypes are also identified:
1) Mind reading – assuming the intentions of others. Below the line particularly on CiF, we find examples of what I call the “Stand by for the pro –Israel…..” where the writer arbitrarily concludes what will be said without bothering to check it out.
A good counter to this is to ask for evidence, – “How do you know that…?” although this usually leads to temper tantrums from the person who posted it.
2) Fortune telling – “the pro-Israel lot will only lie about ….”
Again, the antidote to this sort of nonsense is to ask for evidence “How do you know that they are lying? What evidence have you of this?”
MAGNIFICATION & MINIMISATION – As regards CiF , deliberate exaggeration of negatives and the understating or deliberately ignoring of positive aspects of Israel’s behaviour, or “yes butting” them when they are too obvious to ignore. (See my reference above to CiF’s reaction to Israel’s first response reaction to the earthquake in Haiti). Along with this, above and below the line on CiF there is a particular subtype – that of focusing upon the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, which can be perpetrated by Israel or Jews (or against Muslims) and stating that as a fact regardless of the lack of proof.
Once again a good counter to these is to ask for evidence, below the line on CiF, that the negatives are invariably the case and that there are absolutely no positives. (This almost invariably gets the post deleted, since it goes against the Guardian World View, and no actual evidence can be provided).
EMOTIONAL REASONING – Many writers and posters on CiF advance arguments which are blatantly based on how they feel rather than grounded in objective reality. These people are often completely blind to the difference between feelings and facts. All of us can recognise the posters whose ideas are born out of rage and the need to vent and, if we are wise, we give them a wide berth. The poster Caudate, quoted at the end of Medusa’s article about Chris McGreal is an extreme example of this, but there are many more whose posts are plainly driven by their feelings, which have no provable basis in fact.
The result is that all these examples, evidenced and reiterated as they are on CiF and in the Guardian about Israel and her people, have rapidly taken on an altered and specious reality of their own for the Guardianistas, and have supplanted objective truth in the minds of those who purvey them. The more they are repeated, the more pernicious is their influence and potential.
CiF Watch and all those who require honesty in the media about Israel cannot be expected to act as cognitive therapists to the reality-challenged individuals who write for or post to with CiF, nor can the media be expected to police itself sufficiently for us to be sure that it is telling us the objective truth. Rather, blogs like CiF Watch can and must continue to irritate and undermine the liars and twisters of facts, as often and as publicly as possible. People so defended against the cognitive dissonance arising out exposure to opposing points of view are easily dismayed when their lies ( and biased reporting is after all evidence of lying by omission) are made public just as often as their one-sided accounts are put out.
However, CiF Watch must necessarily choose its battles and, if I may say so, it should not waste its energies in trying to convince the deluded of CiF. Rather it should concentrate upon those who are intelligent enough to want to hear all sides of the story, and who happen on or search out its pages in the hope of finding measured and reality-based information upon which they can rely.
These, I suspect, form most of its regular readership.