You Love Stories that Make Them Seem Stupid—True or Not


2015-12-15 – There’s been a story floating around making fun of the North Carolina town of Woodland that supposedly disapproved the installation of a solar farm on the ground that it would “suck up all the energy from the sun.” It’s a big LOL at the expense of supposed bumpkins who are tools of the oil industry in opposing renewable energy.

We love stories that make the other side seem stupid—true or not.

When I see a story that makes people seem really stupid, I always wonder: is it really true. In this case, the basic facts of the story are true (See Snopes), but the interpretation that people were being stupid is, well, stupid.

It is true that the town disapproved the solar farm, but the town already has a number of solar farms. The question was not whether to approve any solar-energy installations; the question was how many of them they wanted in the town.

It is true that someone expressed concern that the solar farm would “suck up all the energy from the sun,” but the main concern had to do with overdevelopment. Would too many solar farms in the area disrupt the ecosystem? Would such a large development have a similar negative impact that the area suffered from the construction of the interstate highway? Would property values suffer?

But we ignore the many legitimate objections in order to fixate on the one that supports our narrative, which is that people who live in southern states are stupid. We see a story like this and we believe it because we want to believe it, not because it is true.

Honestly, if I lived in a town like this and you had such a preconceived dim view of me, I’d probably sign on to the nonsense reason just to make a fool of you for being so gullible.

But not really gullible. Really: not caring about the truth if it supports your biases. In cognitive science, it’s called confirmation bias.

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