Michael-PristoopWhen the Maryland state Senate was considering a proposal to legalize medical marijuana, Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop had the perfect rebuttal to this “outrageous” idea.

Pristoop testified to a Senate committee that marijuana is so harmful that 37 people died in Colorado on the first day of legalization there.

Many of us were immediately laughing at Pristoop, because we recognized the story of the 37 dead people as satire making fun of the crazy claims and fears of the drug warriors. Only an idiot could be blind enough to fall for that, right?

Although I laughed at Pristoop, too, I quickly started thinking about something else. What happened to Pristoop happens to all of us at times. We might not embarrass ourselves as publicly as Pristoop did. We might not fall for such obvious satire as he did. We might even be a lot smarter than he is.

But I’ve noticed that we all have our own blind spots. We all have assumptions we’ve made that we can’t even consciously identify. We all have beliefs that are so deeply held that we don’t question them. And as a result, we can all be fooled by anecdotes that support what we’re already inclined to believe.

Pristoop has spent his career as a cop in the context of the “war on drugs,” so he’s inclined to believe that recreational drugs are evil and dangerous. So every story of someone abusing drugs and paying a price resonates with him. He believes those stories — whether they’re true or not — because they reinforce something he’s already certain about.

He’s completely sure that Colorado made a horrible mistake legalizing drugs. Since much of the focus of police work ever since he’s been a cop has been arresting people who use and sell those drugs, he has to maintain his belief or else admit that he’s spent much of his career doing something pretty evil. No normal person wants to believe that. It’s easier to simply stick to what he’s been taught.

So when the Daily Currant published a story saying that 37 people were dead on the first day of Colorado legalization, it was easy for him — and maybe millions of others — to believe. Pristoop and people like him have no idea that their gullibility on the issue is proof of the concept that made the story funny in the first place.

I presume Pristoop has never heard of the Daily Currant and had no idea that it’s a satirical site. But I’ve seen plenty of people on Facebook fooled into believing satire from the Daily Currant and even from the Onion, too. People believe what they want to believe and what they’re already inclined to believe.

And this brings me back to you and me.

As easy as it is to laugh at Pristoop, this is a perfect example of why it’s so difficult for us to ever all come to agreement about issues. We might be able to debate some of the basics of issues, but we all have such deep underlying beliefs that inform our positions that it’s impossible to adequately uncover all of those beliefs and assumptions and rationally examine them. (And that’s even if we assume that every one of us is completely rational and completely willing to re-examine what we believe — and that’s clearly not true.)

I like to believe that I’m open to new ideas and open to the fact that I can be wrong. I pride myself on it, in fact. Maybe I’m a bit too prideful about it. I’m not sure. I know I’m more open than most. I know that I’ve changed my views over the course of my life far more than most people have. I know I’m far more willing to look at others’ beliefs and try to understand ways we can both get what we want.

And yet, even with that, I know there are times when I hear stories — some that turn out to be true and some that turn out to be false rumors — and latch onto those stories briefly as evidence to “prove” what I already believe. And I constantly have to stop myself and remember that anecdotes don’t really prove anything.

We tend to believe — without consciously saying this — that anecdotes that prove my beliefs are just obvious consequences of the truth. We also tend to believe that anecdotes that support “their” beliefs are either aberrations or maybe they’re made up by people on “the other side” to prove something that can’t possibly be true.

We all want to believe that we’re the exceptions. We all want to believe that we’re the one fair, honest and rational person. We all want to believe that those on the other side have ulterior motives or they’re not as bright as we are or that they just haven’t yet come around t0 understanding our brilliant conclusions.

But we’re not exceptions. Some of us are much better at self-examination than others, but we’re all human and we’re all prone to our own blind spots.

Pristoop has a major blind spot when it comes to marijuana. He honestly thinks that if more people start using it, they’re going to be dropping like flies. He was ready to latch onto anything to prove his point.

Even now that he’s been forced to apologize, he can’t bring himself to directly say that he was fooled by satire.

“I apologize for the information I provided concerning the deaths,” Pristoop said in a prepared statement. “I believed the information I obtained was accurate but I now know the story is nothing more than an urban legend.”

An “urban legend”? He can’t admit he was fooled by satire because that might imply that the satire was right.

His humiliating experience hasn’t taught Pristoop anything. He’s still a hardcore drug warrior who’s determined to stop evil weed.

“This does not take away from the other facts presented in opposition to legalization,” his statement added.

In other words, Pristoop didn’t learn anything. He’s still just as blind to the irrationality of his position.

But you and I don’t need to laugh at Pristoop too much. We’re very much like him at times. And this is why we’re never all going to agree about much of anything.