Monday, October 19, 2015

Euro-style Socialism

The presidential candidate was on television yesterday morning talking about taking some of the positive aspects of socialism and implementing them within capitalism: 
One of the things that happens, for instance, in Europe, for medical school is that you don't have to pay for it.  And as a result, they don't have the skew that we have here.  A lot of people when they finish medical school, they're hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and instead of, you know, doing what they may have wanted to do, which was maybe be a private, a primary care doctor, they decide that "I better become, you know, one of the specialists that makes a lot more money so I can pay this money back."  That's not an issue in Europe and they don't have this kind of primary care deficit that we have.
Which candidate was that speaking?  Bernie Sanders?  Hillary Clinton?  No, not either one of them - it was Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaking on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.  If you don't believe me, the interview is posted on YouTube and the lines above start at around the 6:45 mark. 

I point this out for two reasons, and endorsing or condemning Carson are not either of them. However, it is constructive to see how we make assumptions about the ideas when we first read the quote without realizing who it is speaking, and then how we revise our reaction when we learn who the speaker actually is.  

Your reactions probably depend upon which side of the political spectrum you're on, If your politics skew toward the left, it might be something like "Good points,  We can use a little more European-style socialism here in the USA," and then, upon learning that the speaker is Ben Carson, regarding the statements much more skeptically.  On the other hand, if you self identify as a conservative, you might first regard the quote as some progressive wishful thinking.  One of my colleagues at work first retorted "Nothing's free.  Somebody has to pay for the tuition," before I told him that it was Carson, and frankly, I don't think he believed me.   

That's how our schema works.  We hear or see or learn a little bit about something and our imaginations then fill in the back story, fleshing out the details based upon the impressions that we've developed over the course of our lives.  Didn't the voice you heard in your mind speaking the lines above change after learning who it actually was speaking?

The other point, the harder one to reconcile, is realizing how our minds shut down or open up based on our prior opinions.  When I heard Carson say the lines above yesterday morning, my mind was scanning everything he said critically, looking for a factual error or a bias in his thinking.  I initially and reflexively disagreed with what he said, but later realized that if I heard Bernie Sanders say the exact same thing, I would have been agreeing wholeheartedly.  I've seen and heard others shut their minds down in the exact same way when they heard something President Obama was saying, only to uncritically accept something from any of the dozen or so Republican candidates for the presidency.  

Our minds are open if we think the speaker is going to reinforce our world view, and they're closed if we anticipate that we're going to disagree, regardless of what's actually being said.

As I said before, my point here isn't to endorse Ben Carson and I'm not by a long shot coming around to feeling comfortable with Ben Carson as a potential Commander In Chief.  But I am interested in seeing how close minded I can be and how the mind, my mind, really works, even if it isn't a very flattering discovery.

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