When Tara Westover left for college, her worldview was no longer dominated by her father’s perspective.
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âThere is a world out there, Tara,â he said. “And it will be very different once Daddy doesn’t whisper his point of view in your ear anymore.”
This is how Tara Westover remembers her brother, Tyler, trying to convince her to leave home and go to college. Tyler, at this point, having spent time away from his family in college, knew firsthand how limited understanding of Tara’s world was and how important it would be for him to experience life. in almost all other contexts.
But at this point, Tara couldn’t quite understand what Tyler was talking about. Tara saw the world through the prism of what social psychologist Lee Ross calls naive realism. That is, Tara (along with most of us) believed that she saw reality objectively. Considering her upbringing and upbringing, she had no reason to believe that she didn’t see the world as it really was.
I think about it a lot in the context of our current social and political polarization. How many of us approach our social and political others with overconfidence in our ability to grasp objective reality and the assurance that those who do not see reality as we do are deceived or malicious? How many of us are willing and able to see that those who disagree with us are generally acting out of sincere adherence to the rules of reality as we see them? And how many of us are willing to extend to others the patience and compassion that we generally think is justified towards those who don’t know better?
This is the third in a series of blog posts by Alex Danvers and Peter Leavitt on âEducatedâ by Tara Westover, and how it relates to the current political moment. See previous posts here and here.
We see the world through particular perspectives, but don’t always see how our perspective shapes us.
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Alexander: We all tend to think of ourselves as the objective measure that everyone is measured against, but this tendency can be present to varying degrees in different people. Personally, I tend to be deeply skeptical, which often leaves me skeptical about information presented in absolutely certain terms. I tend to think that we know a lot less than we think, but that in itself is a special way of seeing the world. When I hear someone say that something is wrong at all, or that something is wrong, or even that they are just exaggerating a point for the effect, my confidence in that person drops dramatically. This trend could be related to my politics.
It turns out that hype tends to be a more common style of humor among conservatives than among liberals; liberals tend to prefer satire, which subverts expectations.
When I read Tara Westover’s Life, my gut reaction was a deep aversion to her father, who constantly makes bold claims about how the world really is organized. I often see him indoctrinating their family into absolutism, making everyone comfortable and familiar with the harsh, black and white view of the world.
simple exposure ideas (just hearing them before) can make people like them more, because they are easier to deal with when you hear them repeat again, and because people tend to like what is familiar to them .
We see it when, years after leaving their family, his brother Tyler is still hesitant to have his children vaccinated. Old familiar associations between physicians and spiritual evil push back an intellectual understanding that vaccines can save lives. Even if we accept factual knowledge that changes our view of the world, our emotional reactions may take longer to catch up.
Rock : As I reread the book, I gave a lot of thought to my own naÃ¯ve sense of realism and my overconfidence that my view of the world is quite accurate and useful. I have noticed a strong tendency for my Mormon origin to be the primary filter through which I read and interpret Tara’s story. I find myself concentrating and sometimes exaggerating aspects of the story that are easy for me to interpret through a Mormon lens, or through the lens of a child with a mother herbalist, or the lens of growing up in a rural place.
And I often find that others in our current reading group do not see the same things and, indeed, often disagree with my assessment of the main themes of the book. It is humbling to think about the limits of my knowledge and gratifying to learn from others about alternate interpretations of the same stories or events – and the perspectives and experiences behind those interpretations.
Letting others see that you are wrong creates space for more honest conversations.
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Alexander: One of the reasons I appreciate Peter as a colleague and writing partner is his ability to reflect on his own experiences and express his doubt. Interacting with people who express doubts – which in itself is a form of intellectual humility – opens up space for other people to dissent or to test new ideas.
When someone says that all liberals are bad socialists, or all conservatives are bad racists, that ends the dialogue. You can argue, negotiate, and compromise with people who are wrong or who see things differently, but you cannot do it with evil people. Evil can only be fought.
There can certainly be people at the extremes who deserve this label (for example, people who try to kill others for their identity), but I don’t believe that most people have beliefs that take them beyond the dialogue.
The current political moment reminds me of Tara before she left the house. Many of us spend a good deal of our time interacting with others online. filter bubbles, where social media shows us people who have extreme and absolutist beliefs that reinforce our own goodness and the evil of the outside world.
Like Tara’s father whispering his worldview in her ear, social media offers us a deeply negative view of millions of Americans. Yet it is much more difficult to escape this influence. On the one hand, all the perks of connecting with distant friends and family make it difficult to give up social media altogether.
On the other hand, the associations that have formed between political beliefs and morality are likely to last for a long time and rely on emotional reactions that are slow to change. Even if we could all quit social media tomorrow, it may still be years before we can unlearn the associations we made during our “naive realist” times.