One of the most obvious truths about the modern world is that a whole lot of people believe a whole lot of nonsense – about climate change not being real, Brexit being a sensible idea, gun ownership helping reduce crime, and so on. By contrast, one of the hardest truths to accept is that you – you, of all people! – are just as susceptible, in principle, to the very same mistake.
That’s the gist of years of research into “motivated reasoning”: across the political spectrum, we use reason not simply to get at the facts, but for all sorts of ulterior motives, such as persuading others of our opinions, feeling a sense of belonging to our tribe, or reducing the sense of mismatch between our beliefs and reality. Ironically, therefore, the idea that only those idiots on the other side are guilty of motivated reasoning is itself a case of motivated reasoning. To imagine oneself immune to fake news is fake news – at least according to studies like the one that found leavers and remainers are equally likely to believe false stories that bolstered their views.