That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

I’ve observed that humans (myself included) are more interested in having been “right, all along” than in being “right, right now”. If we get new information that reveals our previous position to have been incorrect, our natural tendency is to deny it or to try and somehow justify that our previous position wasn’t actually incorrect after all. For some reason, this (defending ourselves from having been wrong) is more important than adjusting our position to be right at this point in time.

I first became aware of this from an unexpected source – college football polls. Until very recently, the NCAA didn’t award an official national championship in Division IA (now FBS) – so fans (myself included) paid (and still pay) a lot of attention to polls of sportswriters or coaches to determine “Who’s #1?”

Most voters have a preseason ranking of their “Top 25” teams and then release an updated ranking after every weekend’s games. Inevitably, some team (“Team A”) who was expected to be very good gets off to a slow start. They may have not lost a game yet, but their early season games against teams they were expected to trounce were much closer than expected. At the same time, some other team (“Team B”) that wasn’t expected to be as good is basically killing every team they are playing.

At that point in time, based on the actual performance on the field, Team B is clearly having a better season than Team A – but there seems to be some inertia keeping Team A ranked higher. It occurred to me that all the voters who predicted Team A to be #1 don’t want to admit that they were wrong. As long as it’s possible to apply some convoluted logic that lets their initial prediction be right, they’re going to stick with that.

I think we’re seeing this phenomenon in American politics now. At some point in the past, we picked a “team”. Now there are some things going on that suggest our team isn’t perfect, but we are hesitant to admit that because that might mean that we were wrong before. (I think this true of both sides.)

I think this is interesting because it’s possible to admit your team isn’t perfect without having to change your mind about your team being better than the alternative. But we don’t even like to do that. We want it to be obvious that we were right (and that you were wrong, which means that I’m better than you – right?)

None of us really knows what’s going to happen, but for some reason – we like the idea of being able to “read the tea leaves”. We like this so much that we subconsciously contort logic to keep our “prediction batting average” high. Let’s just admit that we don’t know (there’s no shame in not knowing) and take positions based on facts, without the inertia of needing to have been right all along.

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