Blindly Trusting the Untrustworthy

We have a weird desire to justify and validate information we hear. This is especially true if the information comes from someone we trust or feel like we should trust. We try to find ways to believe even absurd information if it comes from any kind of authority.

One of the wildest examples I’ve encountered involved a newspaper overseas. The paper reported that a young woman was attacked by a male intruder and died. The paper, however, didn’t attribute her death to the attacker. Instead, the paper claimed that the fright of the attack caused this previously-healthy, young lady to develop a spontaneous cancer of the blood, which immediately overwhelmed her system and proved fatal in a matter of seconds. So, you see, it wasn’t the upstanding young attacker—who insisted he did nothing wrong and was playing some sort of joke—or the victim’s physical injuries that killed her. It was the victim’s fault for having a bad reaction to being attacked.

This is patently insane, not to mention incredibly misogynistic. But in the many times I’ve told this story, about 40% of people who hear it try to find some way to argue that the newspaper account must have been basically accurate. They invent new cancers off the tops of their heads, argue that the attacker is presumed innocent until proven guilty (which isn’t even true of the legal system where this happened, by the way), or, in the very worst cases, argue that the newspaper must be right somehow: it must be the victim’s fault that she died. This is both stupid and evil, yet people keep arguing it to me.

We want so desperately to believe that those with power or a platform are good, honest, and acting with the public’s best interests at heart. Sometimes, they are! But sometimes, they aren’t. Each of us has to learn to see the difference.

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