I’ve blogged before about confirmation bias, our brains unique ability to absorb information that fits with our own world view, and ignore information that does not. In news and political circles that is sometimes referred to as the narrative of the story. You look for facts that fit the narrative, and unfortunately, unless you’re careful and wary of it, your brain also tends to ignore facts that don’t fit the narrative.
When I saw the revelations today that Corey Feldman told police in 1993 about the people in Hollywood who molested him, and that information was ignored, I couldn’t help but think of this as a perfect example.
I can just imagine the reality of what happened. They wanted to talk to him about Michael Jackson. They were convinced that Michael Jackson was a pedophile, and they were out to prove that to be true. That was the narrative of the story. When Corey said that Michael hadn’t touched him, and he wouldn’t lie about that because he really was molested by these other people, that new fact didn’t fit the narrative, and was apparently ignored. Their job, at that moment, was to find evidence that Michael Jackson was a pedophile, and Feldman did not give them that evidence so on to the next interview, never stopping to think about what was actually said. Now, before I continue, I want to acknowledge that I have no information that is truthfully what happened, and I have no information about whether Michael Jackson was a pedophile or not, I’m just seeing this as an example of behavior we all engage in, we identify the “dangerous” person, and ignore alternative information.
I fear that too many people in society take a similar view. They have a picture of what a pedophile looks like, and information that doesn’t fit that narrative may get acknowledged, but doesn’t ever really sink in. Then we spend so much time “protecting” kids from middle aged, single, white guys, that we miss out on all the other people who are more dangerous. You know the type, socially awkward, shy, probably wears glasses, maybe has a mustache, like in all the TV shows. That’s a pedophile. We miss out on the female abusers, the older children who abuse others, the charismatic adults who kids and their parents just love to hang around, etc. We act as if we can spot a pedophile from 500 feet away, when the truth is that if they were that easy to spot, we wouldn’t have the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse that we do.
But we might have to face some information that doesn’t fit the narrative, and that would just interfere with our comfortable understanding of the world. Wouldn’t want that, would we?