President's Perspective

Marty Barrett


You Believe What You Want To Believe


As per our talk last month about confirmation biases, in which we seek validation for things we already believe, early this month a fake tweet emerged, purportedly written by Donald Trump three years ago, concerning what should happen to a president if the stock market dips sharply:

 "If the Dow Joans ever falls more than 1000 ‘points’ in a Single Day the sitting president should be 'loaded' into a very big cannon and Shot into the sun at TREMENDOUS SPEED! No excuses!"

While the author ably mimics Trump's emphatic style and spelling errors, and—more importantly—while there are several examples of a pre-White House Trump excoriating Barack Obama for things Trump is now doing as president, this tweet was cooked up with Photoshop by a British wit named Shaun Usher, who meant it as a joke but was shocked, somehow, that people believed it.

Have you ever said Hello to someone who replied: "Good"?

That's not exactly a confirmation bias but it is an indicator that sometimes people don't listen. And when we don't listen to what someone is actually saying, we may be anticipating what we want them to say, or what we secretly feel about ourselves. For example, you might say, "Marty, your haircut looks nice," and I might respond, "Oh, you think I'm fat?" 


If we want to believe that Trump is a dimwitted buffoon because it makes us feel better about our choices, or that Obama was born in Kenya, or that Philadelphia Eagles fans, to a person, support the punching of horses, we've got to be extra diligent about vetting the sources of information that provide confirmation of our biases.

I tell my kids that there is a new kind of literacy they need to develop, one which I never worried about until I was older: the literacy of fake news. It's a cross-platform plague that targets the suggestible among us. To "Don't believe everything that you read" we must add "Don't read everything you want to believe."

While I knew that tweet was fake (In 2015, Twitter didn't allow posts above 140 characters, and I felt Trump's appreciation of science didn't extend to cannons that could reach the sun), I'm more likely to believe something anti-Trump, anti-Republican, pro-Democrat, pro-progressive, etc. I shouldn't be. Therefore, the three or four seconds I spend deciding to believe something or not before checking extra sources is the key to staying alive these days.

That said, if you tell me you like my haircut next Sunday, I will believe you. More than that, I will be happy that you read this newsletter.


Marty Barrett