Nothing will ever keep me as fascinated as analyzing human behavior and the irrationality of how our minds work. All of us regularly bicker with one another about the terrible decisions we make, and it’s especially clear through the divided party lines. But today, I thought there’d be no better example of human irrationality and our brain flaws than to compare and contrast Donald Trump’s Super Spreader event with the premiere of Saturday Night Life.
It’s been a hectic week, and there’s almost too much to keep track of. The week started with the New York Times piece about Donald Trump’s tax returns, which showed he only paid $750 in income taxes, and days later we had the first presidential debate. Days after the debate, we found out that Donald Trump contracted COVID, and now we’re seeing the news that multiple republicans also contracted COVID while at what’s being called the Rose Garden Massacre.
Meanwhile, Saturday Night Live returned, and during the opening debate sketch, I was curious where the laughter was coming from. Surely, in the middle of the pandemic, they didn’t return to having a live studio audience, right? Well, during this sketch, while making fun of Republicans, their denial of science, and not taking COVID seriously, they were doing all of this in front of a live studio audience.
When looking at these two events as objectively as possible, it’s extremely confusing as to how the liberal-leaning SNL cast and crew can justify what they’re doing while simultaneously making fun of conservatives for the same thing.
Why is the republican party dumb for attending all of these events and Trump rallies, but SNL as well as many other celebrities are regularly getting together in large gatherings?
Throughout the week, there have been plenty of other examples of celebrities endorsing COVID safety while simultaneously breaking the guidelines. One example was Noah Cyrus making an Instagram post telling people to “just wear the damn masks”, and 8 hours later, she was at a Diplo show.
Another example that’s top-of-mind is Trixie and Katya of the hilarious YouTube show UNHhhh. When the show first returned, they had disclaimers at the beginning of each episode to let you know they were recorded pre-pandemic. And once they returned, Trixie and Katya were placed 6-feet apart to social distance while doing the show. But, over on Trixie’s main channel, Trixie and Katya did a collab video while practically sitting on top of each other.
Right now, if you’re a Trump supporter, you’re probably making excuses for Republican leaders. And if you’re a fan of any of the celebrities I discussed, you’re probably doing the exact same thing. Today, I’m not going to go into why your mind is rationalizing to defend the people you side with, but instead, we’re going to see if we can become better decision-makers as a whole.
If you’re interested in being a critical thinker and want to make less dumb decisions, keep reading, but if you’re already angry, you might want to leave. But for those who stay, we’re going to discuss two big major flaws with our minds that make us run with terrible decisions.
The Dangers of Resulting
I’ve been sober for 8 years, and I share my story to hopefully deter others from an alcohol or drug addiction because I’m lucky to be alive. Not only am I lucky to be alive, but I’m even luckier that I didn’t kill anyone else. During my nearly decade-long addiction, I drove drunk more times than I’d like to admit, and regardless of the damage I did to my vehicles, I figured I was pretty awesome at drunk driving.
What was even worse was that I actually thought I wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict because I never got into a major wreck or was pulled over for a DUI. Part of the insanity of addiction is that I actually thought I didn’t have a problem just because of pure luck. The reality was that I was no better than anyone else who was making the same dumb decisions. My problem was the same problem you see with SNL and Trump, which is basing our decisions purely on results.
Was the Rose Garden Massacre a good idea or bad idea? Well, due to our hindsight bias, we can easily say it was a bad idea because so many people contracted COVID. But what about the Saturday Night Live return, was that a good idea or bad idea? Well, at the time of writing this, it’s been less than 24-hours, so it seems like a good idea because nobody has COVID.
If we find out that some of the cast members or audience members had or contracted COVID, how will our perception of the event change?
This is the paradox of resulting and our decision making. When we make decisions, no outcomes are certain. All we can do is decrease risks and hope for higher probabilities. But, if we’re not thinking through situations and only basing them on the results, we’re primed to make a lot of terrible decisions.
I first learned about resulting from professional poker player and fellow psychology nerd Annie Duke in her incredible book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. This is an excellent book because poker is a lot like real life where we have to make decisions based on limited information. Part of what makes Annie such a great decision-maker is that she tries to minimize chance by thinking through her decisions while considering all possible outcomes.
If you’re not following quite yet, think of Russian roulette.
Let’s say, unprompted, you decided to play Russian roulette. One bullet in a pistol that holds multiple rounds. You spit the chamber, point it at your head, and pull the trigger.
If you told people this story, would they say you made a good decision or a bad decision? Most people would think you’re a lunatic for playing Russian roulette unprompted. If you argued with them that it was a good decision because you survived, you probably wouldn’t sway too many people into thinking you made the right choice. The smartest thing you could have done would be to not play at all.
And this is what makes some of the arguments between liberals and conservatives so ridiculous. The cast and crew of SNL think they’re justified in making fun of Trump and his fellow republicans based on results even though they’re making the same dumb decisions.
As a liberal, I actually think about this quite often. Many of my friends are liberal, and I regularly see them making fun of anti-maskers, but I constantly see them at social gatherings without masks as well. When I go to the grocery store, I see dozens of people with no mask or their mask below their nose, and I can’t help but think, “There’s no way all of these people are Trump-supporting anti-maskers.”
So, what could possibly be causing this irrationality, and how are we liberals too blind to see how hypocritical we are? It’s something known as the attribution bias.
Being a critical thinker involves learning about the multitude of biases we all have so we can do our best to spot them when we fall victim to these flaws in our decision making. The attribution bias is one that affects each and every one of us regardless of your politics. Simply put, the attribution bias is why we see others in black and white terms of “dumb”, “mean”, “immoral” and more, but when we do the same thing, we know we’re much more nuanced than that.
That person cut me off because they’re a jerk, but I only did it because I have to get to work on time or I’m in trouble and might lose my job.
That waitress screwed up my order, but when I mess up at work it’s because I was under a lot of stress and the instructions weren’t clear.
Anti-maskers are dumb, but when I don’t wear a mask and go to large gatherings, it’s because I know everyone around me is safe.
At the end of the day, we love judging others, and we hate looking at our own actions. And believe me when I say that I do the same things, but the best any of us can do is try to become more self-aware and realize when we’re doing it. This isn’t just about masks or no masks, it’s about our relationships with the people we care about the most. Each time we get mad at a significant other because we had a stressful day but don’t give them the courtesy of understanding they might have bad days too, we fall victim to the attribution bias. And if we don’t stop basing our decisions on results, we’re leaving way too much up to chance, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds.
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