Like many, I’ve spent in the last few days in a state of disbelief. How could Donald Trump win? I was certain it wouldn’t happen. Not based on polls or probabilistic models, but my perception of the way the world works.
Trump just doesn’t get elected in a country with well-developed institutions, I thought. This is something that happens in Sri Lanka.
It’s this sense of certainty that I now find most interesting. It was obvious to me that Trump would not win. And this was shared by everyone I spoke to, both before and after the event.
But this certainty, especially this shared sense of the obvious, is a problem. As explained by Dave Gray in his book Liminal Thinking:
The obvious is not obvious. It is constructed. We work together, as individuals and in groups, to construct the obvious every day. We band together in “obvious clubs” that defend competing versions of reality. When you walk into your obvious club, you will find people reading the same books, watching the same news channels, and talking to the same people, all of which tends to reinforce the same version of reality.
The idea of reality as a construct is not new. We filter our world through a lense, one made up of our experiences and beliefs. But the idea of a mutually constructed obvious – what one might call common sense – rather than an inherited or inherent one, is a new framing for me.
And this rings especially true as I think back on my many conversations about this election. So many of which were kicked off by the realisation we had read the same article or listened to the same podcast. It wasn’t just that my friends and I arrived at the election from the same place – as outsiders looking in. We were searching for bricks and gluing them together in our conversations.
If you think something is obvious, that’s an idea that bears closer examination. Why do you think it’s obvious? What personal experiences have you had that led to that belief? Can you imagine a different set of experiences that might lead to a different belief?
There’s a whole bunch of people taking a hard look at their priors right now, talking about breaking outside their bubbles. This is where you should start. There is no inherent obvious.