Monday, November 23, 2020

The Book That Could Save America

You believe lies. And so do I.

In fact, we likely each have many beliefs or opinions that couldn’t survive solid research. Yet, we cling to them. The 2020 election demonstrates how profoundly divided our nation is and I’m convinced that the intensity of the division is built largely upon utterly false beliefs. Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me, by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson details the scientific research into how we mentally assemble and defend our sometimes mistaken opinions.


To overcome these prejudices, we have to overcome our powerful natural urge to defend our worldview in the face of contrary evidence. Here’s an example.


Lance Armstrong was a hero to my avid cycling friend. And for good reason. Armstrong beat cancer and became the world’s greatest cyclist, winning the Tour de France 7 times. But from the first victory in 1999 he was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. My friend defensively regarded the accusations as sour grapes from competitors. He was feeling “cognitive dissonance,” the term given to the protective mental struggle we experience when confronted with information contrary to our beliefs. By 2012 Lance Armstrong’s teammates and closest associates revealed that he was the ringleader of the most sophisticated doping scheme in cycling history. 


To my friend’s credit he accepted that the overwhelming evidence wasn’t a conspiracy, but proof his hero was in fact a cheater. Mistakes Were Made demonstrates that’s not the typical outcome. Our brains go through enormous gymnastics to defend our beliefs in the face of opposing truths. Once we embrace something as true, take some decisive action, or get emotionally attached to an idea, the self-justifications and biases take hold.


“Most people, when directly confronted with proof they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously.” -Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Mark Twain said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.” That’s because of cognitive dissonance. 


Back in 2012, the Trayvon Martin shooting came up with a friend. I said, “The actual facts of the case don’t matter. America’s so divided, everybody knew which side they were on before they’d heard all the facts.” Nostrils flared, jaw tight, she stopped the conversation in a bluster of anger. The mere chance I might blame George Zimmerman was too much. “I can’t bear to hear people twist the truth!” she said.


She was experiencing cognitive dissonance; her deeply held beliefs confronted by an opposing view (though I only suggested opposing views existed). It was so upsetting she couldn’t bear to hear the words.


That’s why we increasingly seek news channels that soothe our biases. Like country fans who only listen to country stations or a hip hop fan who only listens to rap, many of us are immersed in carefully constructed filter bubbles. Nothing we dislike gets through. And just as the algorithms of Spotify and Pandora keep our musical taste narrow, FOX News and MSNBC rarely challenge the political blinders we’ve affixed to our minds. If they did, we’d change the channel.

“As fallible human beings, all of us share the impulse to justify ourselves and avoid taking responsibility for actions that turnout to be harmful, immoral, or stupid.”  -Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)


The political manipulators in our culture know this well. They design social media posts meant to inflame our biases, knowing we’re so ready to have our opinions vindicated, we won’t fact check their claims before we hit share. And so we spread false information about our mistaken beliefs, thinking we’ve proving ourselves right.


Apply that to a politician we hate or admire, or to those waving rebel flags or Black Lives Matter signs. With our tendencies to defend and justify beliefs, it’s no wonder America is polarized. While reading Mistakes Were Made, I was embarrassed to see some of my own prejudices and BS reflected in the stories and research.


I once saw the Dali Lama speak. Someone asked him a very simple question: “Will the world ever know peace?” He replied like a prophet: “Only when we learn to disarm ourselves from within.”


Facing our own prejudice, biased bullshit is a great way to disarm ourselves, and learning the lessons detailed in Mistakes Were Made is a great way to start. No Facebook post will change our minds. Only we can change our minds.


During the Obama years, some of my conservative friends believed he was born in Africa, was a secret Muslim, and insisted he “hated America.” Some of my liberal friends are convinced that Trump has been compromised by Russia, deliberately destroying democratic norms at Putin’s bidding. At some point we have to face the idiocy behind these conspiracy theories and recognize that few of our opponents are monsters from hell. They’re just people we disagree with.


It’s been said we’re in a tribal, post-truth society, a time where truth doesn’t even matter. All that matters is the version of reality our tribes ascribes to. But if we’re to survive as a nation, we’ll each need to step back from our warring tribes and face the lies they and we embrace. 

Kurt Meyer's novels can be bought at the Noble Made shop on Noblesville's courthouse square, or from any major online bookseller.

“Kurt Meyer’s The Salvage Man is a gentle Midwestern fantasy made up of one treasure after another. Part historical fiction, part love story, and part rumination on modern day life, this novel asks hard questions about the world we live in and the world we leave behind. I couldn’t put it down.”

Larry D. Sweazy, author of The Lost Are The Last To Die

“Meyer turns the pages of history with gentle care and a warm heart, creating a story I’ll remember forever. Thank you Kurt Meyer for opening a door to my beloved town’s past and allowing me to travel the streets and meet the people of Noblesville 1893.”
Susan Crandall, Author of The Myth of Perpetual Summer

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Gravel Pit Lake Tests Noblesville's Commitment to Communication

Communication is the buzzword in Noblesville’s City Hall. Our new mayor and new council members mention it often. The goal: Communicate proactively with constituents about projects and policy. Don’t blindside them with backroom done-deals after it’s too late for real public input. But Hamilton County Parks’ and Beaver Materials’ plan for a gravel pit lake on North Allisonville Road will test this admirable commitment to communication.


For decades Hamilton County leaders, some elected, and some anointed by their economic power, have treated the general public like a nuisance to maneuver around, rather than what the public truly is: their only reason to exist. But just as Noblesville’s new leaders are trying to govern beyond these old bad habits, the County and Beaver brought the old habit to City Hall for a stamp of approval. 


Beaver hopes to dig a 20’ deep gravel pit where 191st Street T’s into a rolling farm field that falls west toward Potter’s Bridge Trail and White River. They’d dig for 10 years, then turn an eventual lake over to the County to add to Potter’s Bridge Park. Lovely idea. Only problem, they never asked surrounding homeowners in Allison Trails and Potter’s Woods if they wanted a gravel pit next door for the next decade. Prevailing winds from the northwest would aim dust and noise, and gravel trucks at both neighborhoods. Before even talking to neighbors, County Parks had already put up signs in the empty farm field heralding their done deal.


On September 14th, Beaver and Hamilton County Parks presented their plans, hosting a meeting for the neighborhoods at Potter’s Covered Bridge. It didn’t go well. What was to be a carefully managed rollout collapsed into a shouting match between angry residents on one side and a defensive Beaver and the County on the other. 


Now what? In old Hamilton County tradition, Beaver and the County are moving ahead intent upon forcing their will on these neighborhoods.


But the property needs a rezone and the elected officials who can give the green light to this horrifically communicated plan are the very same Noblesville officials who have been calling for communication. I don’t envy them. They’re all good people. I just hope they govern with their newly stated ethics front and center.


From my perspective, there are 3 ways to govern. You can represent, lead, or dictate. 


Before even announcing their plans, the County put
up a sign at the site of their proposed gravel pit lake
that read, "More Parks, More Fun." I was vandalized
last weekend and then removed.
Want to Represent? That’s admirable. Figure out what the public wants and give it to them. But don’t govern as if you know better than the public, even if you do. That’s dictating, not representing.


Willing to Lead? That’s tricky, but also admirable. You have an idea the public hasn’t considered. Be up front and get out front with your idea and educate and “Lead” the public through the wisdom of your vision, bringing them along with you. 


But if they don’t follow and you do it anyway, you’re dictating, not leading.


Or you can go low and just Dictate, which has been the politically inbred, one-party reflex of 

city and County governments for the 35 years 

I’ve lived here. We’ve all heard the excuse, “I was elected for 4 years to do what I think is best.” No you weren’t! We don’t elect kings. We elect Reprentatives and Leaders. In truth, dictating is fine when settling mundane affair. But if you’re changing the rules and the lay of the land for the entire community or for even just families in a few neighborhoods, you’d better be Leading or Representing.

Dictating is easy. Leading and Representing are hard. No wonder dictating often wins in a one party town. I so wish the County and Beaver Materials had Lead from the very beginning, involving the surrounding community in the planning process so that City leaders could Represent the public’s desires on a rezone. But old habits die hard. I honestly believe we have the people in place for fresh Noblesville government. They’ve been put in a tough position. 


Frankly, I’m neither for nor against the gravel pit lake. And I know my opinion isn’t as important as that of those who’ll live near it. 


Noblesville’s Plan Commission and City Council should vote no, for now. Not no on the gravel pit lake, but no for failed communication during the planning process. Send a firm statement that says, “That’s not how we do things here anymore.” Vote no now to tell Beaver and the County to start from scratch and include in their planning the Noblesville residents who will spend the next 10 years living beside the digging. If the plan survives, bring it back and vote on its actual merits.

Buy a copy of the Contrarian's novel, The Salvage Man



“Kurt Meyer’s The Salvage Man is a gentle Midwestern fantasy made up of one treasure after another. Part historical fiction, part love story, and part rumination on modern day life, this novel asks hard questions about the world we live in and the world we leave behind. I couldn’t put it down.”

Larry D. Sweazy, author of A Thousand Falling Crows

“Meyer turns the pages of history with gentle care and a warm heart, creating a story I’ll remember forever. Thank you Kurt Meyer for opening a door to my beloved town’s past and allowing me to travel the streets and meet the people of Noblesville 1893.”
Susan Crandall, Author of Whistling Past the Graveyard