by Tracy Moore
Why some people go harder when faced with evidence they’re wrong
President Trump provides some of the most clear-cut recent examples. He recently doubled down on the North Korea issue, claiming that his threat to send “fire and fury” their way was not only not harsh — it actually wasn’t harsh enough. As The New York Times noted:
“Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” he told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”
Trump did it again with Charlottesville, refusing to condemn neo-Nazis by saying there was blame to be issued on both sides. When called out on the false equivalency, he doubled down again, insisting that the alt-right and “alt-left” are simply two sides of the same violent coin. As the Los Angeles Timesnotes:
At his news conference, Trump made a glib and utterly unpersuasive argument that tearing down a statue of Lee would put the U.S. on a slippery slope to … something. “This week it is Robert E. Lee, and this week Stonewall Jackson,” Trump said. “Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
Naturally, he’s done it many other times.
Most of us know the term double-down from blackjack. You’re dealt two cards, and you have the option of potentially doubling your profit by taking on the risk of one more card. Maybe you go bust, but maybe you win big.
“It is considered the ‘money’ move in basic blackjack, a way to make twice as much profit with one flick of the wrist,” Matt Villana writes in a guide for when to use the move in cards. “Dealers and pit bosses refer to it as ‘reaching deep.’ For the rest of us, it’s known as ‘doubling down.’ And, to be honest, most of us do it way too often.”
We do it too much in life, too. And in real life, the application is slightly different. In gambling it’s a term used for calculated risk, one that typically indicates you have enormous confidence in winning. In real life the confidence applies to the conviction that you’re somehow above the fray of facts, and also possess just enough stubbornness required to die on that hill. It requires a steadfast refusal to admit there’s any possibility that you’re wrong, followed by wild scrambling to save face.
In other contexts, people use the term to simply mean make more effort or do more, as in “double down” to help Haiti, or “double down” on women’s issues. There is also, it’s worth noting, a KFC Double Down sandwich—the bread is replaced by two pieces of fried chicken.
But most of us nowadays use double down to indicate stubbornly clinging to a notion in the face of evidence to the contrary. And while the doubling-downer feels smug and confident, to the observer, it often looks like an obvious hot-air pivot by someone too insecure to consider that they might be wrong. While we should expect politicians to do it (after all, their livelihood depends on appearing to have the answers), anyone is capable of doubling down — journalists, partners, friends, scientists and colleagues.
Especially men? There are no statistics to indicate that men are more likely than women to double down on a bad argument. But Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen told The Atlantic that, at least when it comes to arguing differences between the sexes, men are more likely to see arguing as a contest, whereas women are more likely to see it as exchanging information. The result may be that men are motivated to do whatever it takes to “win” an argument, which could include coming up with anything to keep looking right, facts be damned—or at least heavily manipulated…