“The PPP has only looted and plundered the country and never done anything good ever”. This stamen has been made to me many times and while I acknowledge that much corruption has taken place by some PPP members, that statement ignores many good things done by the party such as being more inclusive of women and minorities. Just recently a Dalit Hindu women was elected to the Senate in Pakistan. When people talk about politics, not just in Pakistan but all over the world, they more often than not display strong signs of strategic ignorance. This results in sweeping statements, willful distortion of facts and confirmation bias.

Sociologist Linsey Mcgoey created the term ‘strategic ignorance’ to explain the phenomenon where people deliberately ignore a fact or a truth because it doesn’t fit in well with their larger views or associations. Whether this is because they have a stake in an opposing view or because their socially constructed reality doesn’t allow for this fact or truth depends on the situation and the person. Social constructivism states that knowledge is socially learned. People, simply by interacting with similar minded individuals and forming groups will end up with norms that govern their behavior and access to knowledge. These groups confirm the knowledge that like-minded people have in common. Groupings also create an “us versus them” formula for identity. Identity itself governs knowledge and social interaction since it is so intrinsically linked with group norms. Therefore, the socially constructed reality of a group of people is based on a willful acceptance of some facts and willful ignorance of other facts. This in turn creates confirmation bias. As with most groups, confirmation bias and strategic ignorance are common in groups of people interested in politics. When interacting with members of their fellow supporters in these groups, sweeping statements often become a structural norm.

Sweeping statements in conjunction with strategic ignorance distort factual data and lead to incorrect hypotheses. The statement, “the PTI has done nothing good in KP” is being willfully ignorant of the fact that this government undertook one of the largest tree planting projects in recent history which is needed to combat climate change. Likewise, the statement, “The PPP did nothing good” is ignorant of the fact that much pro-democratic legislation was passed during its previous government, giving power back to the people in a constitutional democracy that was held hostage by martial law. In the same vein, the statement that “PMLN has done nothing during this government term” is also a willfully ignorant fallacy given the pro-female legislation this current government has passed. These are just a few examples of the positive changes the aforementioned parties have brought about.

Regarding willful ignorance of the short-comings I have two examples to illustrate the point. A PMLN supporter refused to believe that a PMLN politician had paid off a young man to throw a shoe at the PTI party chief. I kept being told this is fake news despite the young man confessing and then subject was changed. There are many other examples to prove this point. While arguing about the horse that they back, lots of people have said to me that their candidate or party can do no wrong. If I point out the things the person has done that might be viewed as morally corrupt, they will look for excuses to justify the person having done so or argue it’s fake news. There is a video clip from last year of an anchorman asking the then PTI party president about sexual harassment claims in his political party. First the president outright denied it. The anchorman then stated he had seen emails by women who felt harassed and knew these emails had been sent to party officials. Eventually the president admitted that there were claims and he hadn’t addressed them because they weren’t officially conveyed. Can emailing party officials about sexual harassment not be considered an official complaint? Even if they have another formal way of receiving sexual harassment complaints, should he not have been morally obligated to look into them?

When I point this out to PTI supporters they either change the subject, ignore my contention or insist it’s fake news. If the then party president admitted the problem, how is it fake news? This is strategic ignorance at work full time. We need to address this issue, for the sake of people being able to make well thought out and informed decisions. Perhaps the only way out of this willful ignorance and confirmation bias trap is to make sociology and critical thinking classes mandatory for students at all levels of education. That may be our only way to move forward as a mature well-informed society.

 

The writer is pursuing a PhD at the University of Dundee, UK.

@Faisal_Yaqoob_