In preparation for a presentation I have to do in a couple weeks, I'm doing research on cognitive frames and their use in race equity advocacy. It's explaining a lot to me about how people can persist in believing things that are completely unsupported--even contradicted--by the facts. I don't claim to be exempt from this phenomenon. I don't think anybody can be completely. The power of frames is too strong. Something pretty dramatic has to happen for somebody to start seeing outside of their familiar, prevailing frames.
Just a little background: A frame is a core idea or 'story' that helps us create meaning and interpret the world around us. Frames come in clusters--one may be tied to another, and there are frames within frames. Frames not only describe our reality, but they construct it as well. Successful social and political (and religious) movements know how to trigger and play into these frames. For example, anti-affirmative action efforts have played into the individual merit frame and co-opted civil rights language so that white people will see affirmative action as unfair and will fail to see that women and people of color still encounter structural barriers to opportunity. This frame of "merit" is so powerful that even liberal whites often view affirmative action as unfair and unnecessary despite all the research to the contrary. People are likely to reject any amount of research, no matter how thorough and objective, that conflicts with their frame. When facts collide with a cognitive frame, the frame will win. People are not persuaded to change by facts.
While this phenomenon is frightening and unbelievably frustrating when one is in a position of trying to champion the real true facts (or marshal the facts! as Prof. Imwinkelreid would often say), it's some comfort to know that people are somewhat at the mercy of their brains. It's not because they're inherently mean spirited or ignorant. To the contrary, smart, kind, thoughtful people who are operating under a powerful frame may just not be capable of believing anything that doesn't fit in it. The only hope for change is to shift the frames. The good news is that it can be done. If this were not the case, there wouldn't have been a Prop 8 to begin with, because it wouldn't have occurred to anybody that sexual orientation should be a protected status such as race and gender and religious creed and so on. No one would have feared that 'traditional marriage' was under attack because no one would have recognized the diversity of family structures and decided that one type of structure should be promoted at the expense or exclusion of others. And certainly, no one would have had the opportunity to vote for a President who looks like Barack Obama. For that matter, women would not be voting, period.
I am hoping and praying for the frames of fairness and equality and opportunity for all to prevail by the end of the day today, because these are powerful frames in America too. Whatever the result, things have shifted a long way even for us to be able to fight our current fights or make the kinds of choices that are before us.
I'm off to stand 100 feet from a polling place with my Vote No on 8 t-shirt and sign and my guitar. I'm going to sing America the Beautiful, and maybe a few songs promoting the "love your neighbor as yourself" frame. Don't know if it'll have any effect on how anybody votes one way or the other but singing always makes me feel better, so there's that.