With the staccato delivery of Devo’s Girl U Want and the irresistibly sleazy riffing of The Knack’s My Sharona, The Sleeping Tongues mix pop and pop psychology on Confirmation Bias, a song that tells you that you’re only reading this because you expect to agree with what it says.
“I am offended by the opinions you are having / You must not have them ’cause they are offending me,” sings Craig Kepen, channelling the voice of someone surrounded by a like-minded tribe. “This is not a form of freedom of expression / You must not disagree, you must not disagree with me”.
The Devil’s Advocate
“I like to play the devil’s advocate in discussions,” says Craig, frontman and principle songwriter for the four-piece from Brooklyn, New York, explaining the inspiration for the song. “The last few years though, I’ve had more and more people have explosive reactions to counterpoints that result in instant rebuke and outrage rather than talk. I’m also finding that people often have a difficult time defending their views. It really does seem like many, at least in my peer group, are just choosing their views based off what their friends think. They haven’t done enough research to adequately defend their points of view because they don’t need to defend views in the echo chamber friend group. This concerns me because it further reinforces the need for ‘the tribes’.”
The concept of confirmation bias has been pondered in academia since the 1960s. The term was coined by the cognitive psychologist Peter Wason at University College, London, after observing test subjects making consistent errors in logical reasoning. He concluded that the reason for their mistakes was that people tended to look for evidence to support a given hypothesis, rather than all available evidence.
Outside the psychology lab, on a day-to-day basis, confirmation bias extends to the way we read the newspapers and social media, the way we make purchasing decisions and the way we form and maintain relationships with others. And, of course, the choice we make at the ballot box. In other words, our gut feelings and attitudes guide us through our lives; we are on the lookout for arguments to support the decisions we “feel” to be right and are quick to dismiss the facts that prove them wrong. Taken to extremes, this natural tendency, which we all share – no one is wholly objective – grows into “motivated reasoning”, putting faith in spiritual healing or conspiracy theories, where empirical observations are ignored in favour of a comforting belief.
“I think we are all just preaching to the choir,” continues Craig, who moved to New York City five years ago after growing up in Minnesota. “There’s also a ‘prophet’ for every belief that will constantly deliver whatever version of ‘the truth’ you want to subscribe to. With the reach of social media, there’s also a mighty virtual community to identify with, speaking more boldly than they ever would in the real world, attesting to the efficacy of these ‘prophets’ and regurgitating their sermons to other members to the tribe. It is actually really alarming. It’s obviously leading to more tribalism and division and more extremism on both sides. Rather than reining it in, talking and coming together on what’s more important (our similarities), we’re shouting at each other, calling each other names and dividing further. Extremism breeds extremism and it feels like we’re in an arms race to prove which extreme is the correct extreme. Ignoring that fact that nobody is 100 percent right.”
Psychologist Julia Galef describes motivated reasoning as the “soldier mindset”.
“Some information, some ideas, feel like our allies,” she says. “We want them to win. We want to defend them. And other information or ideas are the enemy.”
In her analogy she compares two ways of thinking to two very different comrades in an army. We can choose to be like a soldier in our thinking, she explains, single-minded and defensive, or like a scout, whose job is to gather information in order to make the best strategic decisions.
“Complicated issues are complicated for a reason,” echoes Craig. “There is no clear cut absolute right or wrong. There are valid points on both sides of most arguments, that’s why discussion is important. To find the best compromise. To find that compromise, you need to be willing to talk. To be willing to have your arguments scrutinized by those that see differently and to civilly scrutinize points you disagree with. You can be friends with someone you fundamentally disagree with on politics. You can be friends with people from other tribes. Find the common ground. You’re more similar than different. It is okay to disagree.”
Are You Prepared to Change Your Mind?
Moreover, you should always be prepared to change your mind when new facts emerge. And collectively we should applaud people who are brave enough to admit that they drew the wrong conclusions from incomplete data, rather than condemning them for being weak or stupid.
“I would encourage people to look for counterpoints to their own beliefs,” says Craig. “As counter-intuitive as it may seem, try to find information that refutes your current point of view. Have debates with yourself and try to poke holes in your own arguments. At the very least, it will make you aware of the arguments on both sides of an issue and more prepared to discuss things civilly.”
Musical Influences – Craig Kepen, Bass, Vocals and Principle Songwriter, The Sleeping Tongues
“I really listened to a lot of different stuff over the years. Mainly rock, but I had phases when I was younger where I was really into Sinatra and big band music. For whatever reason, what I write often has an 80s tinge to it in some way. I’m a kid of the 90s, but 80s music seems to be more in my marrow.
“One thing I like about that era was the abundance of signature vocal styles present in the late 70s and 80s. You had Robert Smith, Joe Strummer, Bruce Springsteen, David Byrne, Ric Ocasek, Morrissey, David Gahan, Tom Waits etc. They all have very characteristic and distinct voices. Not all of them are great singers, but they sound distinct. There’s being a good singer, which is technical execution of notes and range, and then there’s having a good voice, which to me is tone and character. They are both good to have, but I think having a unique voice with character is way more important then being a good singer. There was a lot of that in the 80s, which I dig.”