The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

A reality check for the progressive left

In my nearly 28 years with the FBI, I conducted a substantial number of interviews. Whether interviewing a crime victim, a witness, or the target of an investigation, I found that certain themes consistently emerged. And the overarching theme was that people tend to view the world through their own unique prism, depending on their upbringing, ingrained biases and personal circumstances.

I specialized in financial crimes — bank frauds, lying on a loan application, or money laundering (that is, running cash generated from criminal activity through an established business to give it the imprimatur of legitimacy). The most insidious financial crime is the Ponzi scheme, an investment scam in which early investors are paid off handsomely to entice others to get on board before the scheme’s ultimate collapse.

Questioning those involved in such crimes can yield interesting responses. For example, some swindlers can’t come to terms with their crime; they deny and rationalize the harm they have inflicted on others. Conversely, some victims, whether out of pride or egoism, cannot accept that they’ve been conned. In fact, some victims will blame the FBI for “tainting” their investment opportunity through its “interference.” 

It’s understandable that some people confronting an unavoidable and stressful situation reject the reality that’s right in front of them. So, from these observations, I’ve developed a few maxims. One is, “People will believe what they want to believe, despite obvious facts, common sense, or anything else that points to a contrary conclusion.” 

This is called “confirmation bias,” defined as “the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.” Tony Schwartz, founder and CEO of The Energy Project, sums it up well: “Confirmation bias makes us feel safer, but it also prevents us from seeing a more nuanced picture of the possible.” 

Which leads me to maxim No. 2: “People want simple answers to complicated questions.”

People are generally lazy, often choosing the path of least resistance. It’s much easier to go all in for a comprehensive belief system and call it done, than to expend the mental energy of critically evaluating each situation as it arises. Many people simply fall back on the doctrine they embrace. That lets them relax, dispense with self-reflection, and sleep well.

“Simple answers make us feel safer,” Schwartz writes, especially in turbulent times. But simple answers diminish our willingness to acknowledge our blind spots. Impulsiveness tends to focus on the immediate consequences of a decision, not its potential impact over time. Adopting a more holistic response requires some humility, to question and challenge your convictions — “Am I missing something?” — and consider the merit in others’ perspectives.  

I’ve found that such behavior is common in those who identify strongly with an orthodox ideology or political view. This phenomenon is not unique to criminals and their victims; unfortunately, it’s a pervasive dynamic in today’s political discourse (more accurately, partisan warfare).

The surging progressive left exhibits both of my maxims with tyrannical enforcement of its woke agenda. Pew Research Center defines the progressive left as “very liberal, highly educated and majority white; most say U.S. institutions need to be completely rebuilt because of racial bias.” The convictions of the most radicalized progressives can have the gravitational force of a black hole, where nothing is allowed to escape and alternative notions are sucked out of existence. Typically,  judgments in this realm are either good or evil; say good-bye to nuance and balance.

Employing such shortsighted analysis is limiting but has the benefit of absolving one of responsibility. There’s always someone else to blame — among progressives, that’s often Donald Trump. Yet, in reality, most circumstances in life are not “black and white” but have shades of gray. Life is not fair; challenges and adversity require some amount of pain and suffering to overcome. Obedience to a rigid creed may blind you to opportunities to grow and thrive.

To be fair, extremist views are not unique to the far left. The far right has its own brand of radicals, and the FBI has warned about the potential for far-right violence. Among the far-right conspiracists are those who continue to harp on the “stolen” 2020 election; the QAnon believers who think the world is run by “a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles”; and the  “great replacement” theory, which posits that “nonwhite individuals are being brought into the United States … to ‘replace’ white voters to achieve a political agenda.” 

Many far-left adherents seem to live in a perpetual state of anger, fear and general misery. A 2022 poll by YouGov and the Deseret News found that liberals, ages 18-55, are about 15 percentage points less likely to be “completely satisfied” with their lives, compared to their conservative peers. This angst apparently stems in part from progressives’ exasperation that the entire country has not enthusiastically embraced their vision of utopian authoritarianism. In 2021, Pew found that the progressive left comprises only about 6 percent of the American public. So, as “enlightened” as they are, progressives have their work cut out trying to recruit the remaining 94 percent of the population.

Peter Wehner, former senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, offered this observation: “The political culture is sick, the nation is increasingly polarized and fragmented, and people’s capacity to hear one another and reason together is deeply impaired. Facts are seen by many people as subjective, malleable and instrumental — a means to an ideological end. As a result, more and more Americans are living in a self-created reality.”

When that self-created reality is challenged by others with alternative interpretations of facts, progressives can be “triggered.” They may respond with rage, accusations, character assassination, or the “cancellation” of the other person as a propagator of disinformation. In fact, “disinformation” has become the euphemism for alternative views or opinions.

An emotionally secure person who is committed to a political ideology should not feel the need to defend their views by dehumanizing those who disagree. I don’t accept the extremes of the woke agenda, but I also don’t feel compelled to take the gloves off with those who promote it. If one is confident in their core values and beliefs, why should someone else pose a threat to the stability of their worldview? 

It may be that progressives are struggling to defend the indefensible. Arguments defending their agenda are not always based in objective reality — i.e., “men can get pregnant” — or they become circular and irrational. Outside their confirmation-bias bubble, when their supply of self-reinforcing information is interrupted, people tend to flail about to hold on to their vision of reality. 

But like self-deluded criminals and reluctant victims, true reality ultimately prevails. A cunning fraudster may convince only himself of his innocence; a detached judge or jury will view the evidence as damning of guilt. A seasoned investor may have an epiphany when a persistent agent carefully explains the elements of the scheme that bilked him out of his retirement savings.

Likewise, those who cling to rigid dogmas, despite their own self-agency and common sense, or who rely on shallow, undeveloped “solutions” to life’s complexities, eventually will run up against reality — perhaps akin to a mirror.

Mark D. Ferbrache was an FBI agent from 1983 to 2011 specializing in white-collar criminal investigations. He later worked in the bureau’s National Security Division and CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and held diplomatic assignments in Prague, London and Bucharest, as well as field office assignments in Seattle, New York and the FBI Headquarters in Washington. He is currently employed as a contractor in the U.S. intelligence community.

Tags Cancel culture partisan politics Tony Schwartz

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Regular the hill posts

See all Hill.TV See all Video

main area bottom custom html

MAIN Area bottom

Main area bottom

Top Stories

See All

Most Popular

Load more