Is it possible to be objective?

I ask this because I’ve come to realize that the human mind works in such a fashion that every little bit of evidence that comes our way is instinctively turned to support what we already believe. In the face of this phenomenon, how can we even recognize objectivity, much less attain it?

For example, I and just about everyone I know recoil with a kind of visceral horror at the phenomenon of Sarah Palin. It’s not just her professed beliefs — it seems to cut deeper than that. The feeling, when I try to analyze it, is that we are peering into the depths of the abyss itself, as though glimpsing a vision from hell, or the antithesis of all that is true and decent and hopeful about America.

Our views disagreeing with her political statements can be stated in terms of objective argument. Yet they are not generally manifested as objective argument, but rather as a collective negative visceral reaction. Which means that those who disagree with her can become incapable of seeing her as anything other than a kind of real-life cartoon character, a cackling villain out of some bad B movie.

In some other parts of this country, people experience a parallel aversion to Barack Obama. In those places, the pervasive sense of distaste goes beyond rational argument. Incendiary words and phrases like “Socialist takeover” and “new Hitler” get thrown about. This sort of opinion is not swayed by any one particular thing Obama says or does, but rather informs everything he says or does, as though his detractors are looking at him through a set of fun-house glasses. By definition, everything he says becomes suspect.

I saw recently that Sarah Palin publicly asked Americans to provide increased support for the suffering people in Haiti. Now, there is nothing bad about such a suggestion. Palin is using her public visibility to bring attention to a worthy cause, and her words will probably move a significant number of people to open their hearts and pocketbooks, and perhaps to volunteer to help in other ways. Yet it took work for me to focus on what she was saying, rather than the fact that it was Sarah Palin who was saying it. I was so used to expecting only the worst from her, that I had difficulty accepting that I was actually hearing something that I agreed with.

I find myself wondering: Are we just experiencing a particular phase in our nation’s history, when political disagreement has metastasized into something destructive? Or are we all experiencing a symptom of something more fundamental — an inability to see and hear the things that people say objectively, on their own merits?

One thought on “Objectivity”

  1. Some people just give you (one) the “willies”.

    The subtle and not so subtle disconnection between what they’re selling as ‘truth’ and what one innately perceives as reality elicits a kind of uncanny valley response in the listener.

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