Every day I see a drama played out in the media, and on social media in particular. Group A present their reality. Group B present a counter reality. Group A argues on science. Group B argues on pseudo-science overlying blind faith. Group A is constantly baffled by the inability of group B to grasp reality. Group B is constantly baffled by the inability of group A to grasp reality. Group A say “that is not reality – it is perception”. Group B say “I know what reality is”.
Group B is right. They do know what their reality is. Group A ignore perceptual reality at their peril.
Let me tell you a story.
When I was a child I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family. Seven kids of which I was 6th. As if the house was not full enough we also, until she married, had my Aunt Phyllis living with us. I was about 5 when she married. I was supposed to be the “train bearer” but her bossy bridesmaid, would not let me bear the train. What I remember about that wedding is the cold. It was a red raw cold Easter wedding. In the main group photo you will see me retreating from the church steps to escape the wind by going back into the church.
Phyllis was, to my young mind, the living embodiment of Mary Tyler Moore living in our house. She was cool, sassy, grown up and not a parent. My two oldest brothers are over 6 ft tall. Phyllis is about 5′ 3”. To my young mind she towered over them. They were teenagers. They are my brothers. She was an adult, they were kids. She towered over them.
My oldest brother, Jerry, is a Solicitor. Second oldest, Fergus, is an Architect. Both well educated professionals. Phyllis was never a professional. Mostly she was a mother and housewife. When she married and moved to Swords in North County Dublin my younger brother and I used to cycle out to visit her quite often. She would feed us and then send us home. We loved it when she baked a cake that flopped. She let us eat as much of it as we could before it went into the bin. In a family of 7 kids cake is a luxury, flopped or not.
So here you have this short woman with no pretensions to a fantastic education. Beside her you have my two oldest brothers, towering over her, wielding university degrees. If I have a need to seek advice on an important philosophical matter who am I going to ask?
Phyllis of course. In the reality of my 5 year old mind she is the adult. They are the teenagers.
I know, in my 50 something year old brain that my 60 something year old brothers are well capable of addressing deep philosophical issues. I know, rationally, that they are well educated, highly experienced adults.
This is the point at which Group A and Group B fall out with each other. You can prove, without a doubt, to the adult mind, that Jerry and Fergus are the more qualified mentors. You can absolutely convince me on the evidence that I should ask them for advice. I will absolutely agree with you, and then I’ll go consult Phyllis.
Vaccination protagonists present all the science to anti-vaccination people, who read it, internalise it and refuse to vaccinate their kids. Astronomers present incontestable evidence to flat-earthers who nod and smile and go back to live on their flat earth. Democrats present cast iron evidence that Republicans are exploiting the working man and the working man reads it, shakes his head and votes Republican. Atheists disprove God again and again. People of faith can’t argue back, but they know what they feel, and they feel they believe, and in belief lies salvation.
Evidence, statistics, facts, research, proof, they are all good. They are all worthy valuable pursuits. But they don’t necessarily change our innate perceptions. Our reality is founded on our perceptions, not on the cold hard realities of the world.
Again and again Group A think they can win by arguing reality. In truth they will only win by changing perceptions, and that is a far harder task.
Martin Luther challenged the reality of the Christian Church in 1517. By the 1960’s the church had, for the most part, altered it’s perception, with the enactment of Vatican II. That was a hard won victory, 450 years and counting. Charles Darwin postulated the theory of human evolution in 1859. That took only about 100 years to gain widespread mainstream acceptance.
Changing perception takes time. It does not take weeks, months or years. It takes generations.