None of us thinks alone.
We all face social pressure from our social groups.
My friendships are broad.
Some swear by CNN, others by Fox.
There are those who ally themselves with Rush, others with NPR.
One group call themselves “progressive” another, “conservative.”
Certain groups cheered this past election, others cried.
Select folks begin discussions with “social justice,” others start with “justice.”
We like to think our perspectives are our own. We think somehow we are independent thinkers. We pride ourselves in believing that our perception is right because we have carefully considered all sides. We are ever touting the righteousness of our cause. We believe what we believe.
What we do not often acknowledge, however, is that our viewpoint is shaped by social pressure.
A recent Vox conversation with Brown University cognitive scientist Steven Sloman (find the article here) was aptly subtitled: “Why We Pretend to Know More Than We Do.” Sean Illing asked Sloman the following question:
Illing: How do people form opinions?
Sloman: I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don’t like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.
Think about if you were to utter a fact that contradicted the opinions of the majority of those in your social group. You pay a price for that. If I said I voted for Trump, most of my academic colleagues would think I’m crazy. They wouldn’t want to talk to me. That’s how social pressure influences our epistemological commitments, and it often does it in imperceptible ways.
The title of Sloman’s most recent book is telling: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.
Simply said, social pressure influences our thinking.
All of us need to accept:
We may be wrong: we need to spend more time hearing other perspectives.
We may be right, but we need to accept others may hold pieces of truth.
We should question our own groups: they may be wrong.
We should listen to other groups: they may be right.
My role as a Christian cultural apologist (see my essay here) assumes all authority, all knowledge, all assumptions begin here: Yahweh, The Personal Eternal Triune Creator of the universe exists and has spoken in His Word and His world. My research and writing arises from a decidedly biblical vantage point. I am responsible to engage not just data, but people and their social pressures.
But I am also aware that I am swayed in my thinking—as we all are—by social pressures.
Others with other social pressures may describe themselves in other ways.
But let’s not fool ourselves. None of us thinks alone.
Christian “social commitments” are very important to Comenius students. “We encourage each other with sound doctrine” (Titus 1.9) is imperative during the college years for Christian students. Dr. Mark Eckel is president of The Comenius Institute (our one-minute video here).
AFTERWORD: I believe my work in the culture is as a priest, a go-between, between people and God, a prophet, a mouth-piece for God to people, and an evangelistic-apologist, a defender of God’s Words & Works in the public square.