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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Belief Perseverance

 

Swift action

 

Admittedly, I’m not a Taylor Swift fan. This isn’t because I have anything negative to say about the artist. Rather, I don’t consume her music and I’m largely unfamiliar with any of her other endeavors.

 

Nevertheless, I’m aware of Swift and I realize that her fan base – “Swifties,” as I’ve been informed – are said to be fiercely devoted to the artist. As well, it’s difficult to escape news of Swift when perusing Daily Mail – my go-to source for escapism.

 

Therefore, I’m cognizant of the fact that Swift recently released her new album The Tortured Poets Department. Rather than remarking on an anthology to which I don’t plan on listening, I instead want to address one interpretation of the artist’s work I discovered from NPR:

 

[…] Swift is making an ongoing argument about smaller stories still making a difference. Her callouts can be viewed as petty, reflecting entitlement or even narcissism. But they’re also part of her wrestling with the very notion of significance and challenging hierarchies that have proven to be so stubborn they can feel intractable. That Swift has reached such a peak of influence in the wake of the #MeToo movement isn’t an accident; even as that chapter in feminism’s history can seem to be closing, she insists on saying, “believe me.” That isn’t the same as saying “believe all women,” but by laying claim to disputed storylines and fighting against silence, she at the very least reminds listeners that such actions matter.

 

Reading rationalization drivel serving as a puffery piece which ostensibly supports “believe women” sloganeering, one can understand why “NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner resigned” from the outlet. For the record, I don’t automatically believe women or men.

 

Nevertheless, I understand that many people apparently do. Consequently, the current post addresses the irrationality of such a stance. To understand my rejection of the slogan and actions taken under its banner, consider the following syllogisms:

 

Form (Modus Ponens) –

If p, then q; p; therefore, q.

 

Example –

If women make claims against men, then believe women. Women make claims against men. Therefore, believe women.

 

Form (Disjunctive Syllogism) –

Either p or q; not p; therefore, q.

 

Example –

Either women are capable of lying or women are always telling the truth. Women aren’t capable of lying. Therefore, women are always telling the truth.

 

Form (Hypothetical Syllogism) –

If p, then q; if q, then r; therefore, if p, then r.

 

Example –

If a woman accuses a man of a crime, then you need to believe the woman. If you need to believe the woman, then the man is to be automatically disbelieved. Therefore, if a woman accuses a man of a crime, then the man is to be automatically disbelieved.

 

Form (Composition) –

If p, then q; and if p, then r; therefore, if p is true, then q and r are

true.

 

Example –

If we maintain that women are incapable of lying, then we automatically believe women. And if we maintain that women are incapable of lying, then men are automatically disbelieved. Therefore, if we maintain it’s true that women are incapable of lying, then it’s also true that we automatically believe women and men are automatically disbelieved.

 

The aforementioned examples are based on false premises. Therefore, the conclusions established by these declarations are irrational and false.

 

It doesn’t take swift action to dispute erroneously irrational beliefs of this sort. Rather, a healthy bit of skepticism regarding the claims is necessary – which in essence defeats the proposition of a “believe women” or “believe all women” standard.

 

Belief perseverance

 

When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I use disputation of irrational assumptions in order to arrive at effective new beliefs which may be utilized to address self-disturbance. Not always is this an easy process, because people often persevere with their beliefs.

 

Regarding this matter, one source states:

 

The spread and influence of misinformation have become a matter of concern in society as misinformation can negatively impact individuals’ beliefs, opinions and, consequently, decisions. Research has shown that individuals persevere in their biased beliefs and opinions even after the retraction of misinformation. This phenomenon is known as the belief perseverance bias.

 

To illustrate this effect, consider the case of hypothetical woman X. She publically accuses man Y of sexual misconduct (i.e., abuse, harassment, assault, rape, etc.). Following the standard of “believe women,” people automatically disbelieve man Y’s refutation of the claim.

 

However, when factual information that counters woman X’s allegation is discovered, some people will use the phenomenon of belief perseverance bias to rigidly cling to woman X’s false narrative. Regarding this phenomenon, another source states:

 

Belief perseverance, also known as the backfire effect or conceptual conservatism, describes how we continue to hold onto established beliefs even when faced with clear, contradictory evidence. We tend to prioritize our initial conclusions and resist changing our minds, even when it might be in our best interest to do so.

 

When working with clients, I’ve observed people foregoing consideration of their interests and goals in favor of belief perseverance. Motivated reasoning of this sort isn’t necessarily helpful and can sometimes be unhealthy.

 

Still, it’s worth noting that not everyone agrees with the belief perseverance phenomenon. According to one source:

 

Due to the lack of reproducibility, as of 2020 most researchers believe that backfire effects are either unlikely to occur on the broader population level, or they only occur in very specific circumstances, or they do not exist. For most people, corrections and fact-checking are very unlikely to have a negative impact, and there is no specific group of people in which backfire effects have been consistently observed.

 

One remains skeptical of the assertion that people on mass are willing to change their minds with the influx of new information. Where were these researchers at during the entirety of COVID-19 hysteria?

 

Given my subjective experience, people tend to maintain their beliefs, even in the face of disconfirming evidence, as they persevere along lines of irrationality. For example, people may refuse to believe that woman X could be lying in regards to claims of man Y’s alleged sexual misconduct.

 

The unfortunate case example of Trevor Bauer

 

Before I proceed any further, allow me to provide a unique disclaimer. Any individual referenced herein is presumed innocent until found guilty by way of legal proceedings. Therefore, information herein – while not automatically believed – is presumably speculative.

 

Admittedly, I’m as interested in Major League Baseball [MLB] as I am concerning music produced by Taylor Swift. Therefore, I know very little about Trevor Bauer and the sport he plays.

 

Nevertheless, I’ve recently become familiar with sexual misconduct allegations leveled against the baseball pitcher. According to one source:

 

Ms [Lindsey] Hill accused Mr Bauer of sexual battery in 2021. After those accusations went public, the MLB player then filed a defamation suit against her; she filed a counterclaim of sexual battery […] The settlement agreement stipulates that both parties will pay their own attorneys’ fees, as neither are paying to settle the case. Ms Hill received a separate $300,000 from her insurance company, and “based on that payment, Lindsey agreed to settle the lawsuit,” her lawyer told The Independent. “Now that the lawsuit is over, Lindsey looks forward to helping others.”

 

I wasn’t a party in this suit and I don’t know who’s being honest. Irrespective of my personal opinions regarding the matter, I’m not subject to a “believe women” standard, nor do I use belief perseverance which impacts my perspective. Concerning Hill, a separate source states:

 

Bauer released a video message, sharing his side of the story after the legal battle that spanned two years.

 

“‘Next victim. Star pitcher for the Dodgers,’ a text Lindsay Hill sent to a friend before she ever even met me,” Trevor Bauer explained. “‘What should I steal?’ She asked another in reference to visiting my house for the first time. The answer? ‘Take his money.’ So how might that work? ‘I’m going to his house Wednesday,’ she said. ‘I already have my hooks in. You know how I roll.’ Then after the first time we met. ‘Net worth is 51 [million]’, she said. ‘B*tch, you better secure the bag.’ Was a response.”

 

“But how is she going to do that? ‘Need Daddy to choke me out, she said, being an absolute whore to try to get in on his 51 million,’ read another text. Then after the second time we met, former Padres pitcher Jacob [Nix] told her, ‘You got to get this bag.’ ‘I’ll give you 50,000,’ Lindsay replied. Her sponsor asked her at one point, ‘Do you feel a tiny bit guilty?’ ‘Not really,’ she replied,” Bauer continued.

 

Again, I’m uncertain about the veracity of the evidence in this case. My skepticism thus leads me to curiosity. However, I don’t irrationally believe one party or another, merely because belief perseverance associated with social conditioning for a “believe women” standard affects my judgment.

 

Unfortunate for Bauer, his experience with a questionable claim didn’t stop with Hill. According to one source:

 

One of the women who accused exiled MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer of sexual assault was indicted this week for allegedly defrauding the former one-time Cy Young award winner in Arizona, according to legal papers. Darcy Adanna Esemonu — who sued Bauer and allegedly demanded $1.6 million after claiming he impregnated her — was charged with one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices […].

 

Just as I wasn’t a party in the Hill v. Bauer saga, I’m not joined with the Esemonu v. Bauer case. I have no idea who is guilty, though I begin my review of this matter with the presumption of innocence for both parties.

 

Likewise, I consider it improper for other people to spread pernicious claims such as the title of one source, “Women Don’t Lie About Sexual Assault, Why Are They Treated Like They Do?” Such utterances aren’t rational, they’re irrationally ideological.

 

The unfortunate case example of Trevor Bauer reminds me of what one source accurately stated:

 

“Probably one of the biggest takeaways from all of this … is that there are women who will try and ensnare you and extort you for money. And if they come out with these claims and they smear your reputation, they can destroy your professional sports career.”

 

This isn’t to suggest that all or even most women lie about sexual misconduct. To suggest such a thing would be as illogical and unreasonable as proposals to “believe women” and “believe all women.” Rather, I advocate searching for truth, which isn’t compatible with belief perseverance.

 

Conclusion

 

In response to Taylor Swift’s new album, one NPR commentator – presumably using preemptive rationalization to address anticipated criticism of the artist – invoked feminist rhetoric in defense of Swift. Herein, I carefully illustrated how illogical a standard of believing women (absent of evidence) actually is.

 

I then addressed the phenomenon of belief perseverance. Although some people disagree with the existence of this mechanism, I posit that in order to change one’s mind a person needs to be willing to consider new evidence that may refute existing beliefs.

 

Given my personal experience with disputing irrational assumptions for a living, I argue that it can be challenging to overcome the process of belief perseverance. Still, it isn’t impossible to do so.

 

In this blogpost, I provided a case example in reference to Trevor Bauer. Regarding the pitcher, one source claims:

 

In June 2021, Bauer was placed on administrative leave and investigated by the Pasadena Police Department for the alleged assault of a San Diego woman earlier that year. In response to the allegations, the Dodgers removed Bauer’s merchandise from their team store. He remained under investigation by MLB and police through the 2021 season but the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office elected not to file criminal charges, citing a lack of evidence.

 

To my knowledge, Bauer has yet to be fully vindicated by reconsideration of his employment by the Dodgers. Apparently all it took was allegations to deprive him of an ability to continue forward with the baseball organization.

 

To date, there are people who inflexibly cling to the belief that Bauer is guilty of sexual misconduct. Perhaps due to belief perseverance, they may never change their minds.

 

While I don’t maintain a Pollyannaish outlook regarding this post, hoping that it will change the irrational tool of sex as a weapon which is often used against men, I’ll continue speaking into the void regarding this matter. Whether or not the void echoes my sentiment is inconsequential.

 

To the men who’ve been abused by the system in regards to false claims, and standards of “believe women” and “believe all women,” you aren’t alone. Although I can’t change society or the minds of your accusers, I may be able to help you live a fulfilling life despite adversity.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

 

 

References:

 

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