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Senate "How politics makes us stupid"

Discussion in 'Community' started by Ender Sai, Apr 14, 2014.

  1. Ender Sai

    Ender Sai Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Feb 18, 2001
    Have you ever wondered why people can be so horrendously ill-informed about a matter in the political sphere? You know, that despite all kinds of evidence to support gun control, global warming, evolution etc they still hold insanely stupid opinions?

    There might be a reason for that:

    http://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/5556462/brain-dead-how-politics-makes-us-stupid

    I won't copy-paste the article nor will I try to do it justice by summing it up, but this paragraph stood out at me:

    "In another experiment Kahan and his coauthors gave out sample biographies of highly accomplished scientists alongside a summary of the results of their research. Then they asked whether the scientist was indeed an expert on the issue. It turned out that people’s actual definition of "expert" is "a credentialed person who agrees with me." For instance, when the researcher’s results underscored the dangers of climate change, people who tended to worry about climate change were 72 percentage points more likely to agree that the researcher was a bona fide expert. When the same researcher with the same credentials was attached to results that cast doubt on the dangers of global warming, people who tended to dismiss climate change were 54 percentage points more likely to see the researcher as an expert."

    This should represent nothing new for anyone here; we've seen expert testimony called into question time and time again on any number of factual issues. Hell, we're busy having a "debate" about heliocentricity with ASR right now.

    There's an explanation for that, too:

    "Kahan is quick to note that, most of the time, people are perfectly capable of being convinced by the best evidence. There’s a lot of disagreement about climate change and gun control, for instance, but almost none over whether antibiotics work, or whether the H1N1 flu is a problem, or whether heavy drinking impairs people’s ability to drive. Rather, our reasoning becomes rationalizing when we’re dealing with questions where the answers could threaten our tribe — or at least our social standing in our tribe. And in those cases, Kahan says, we’re being perfectly sensible when we fool ourselves."

    Assuming this is true - and, for the record, I completely do assume it's true - what does that mean for us? Study author Dan Kahan assumes that once the phenomenon of identity protection cognition better, they can tailor communications to counter that. But really?

    Thoughts, teh JC?
     
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  2. Ramza

    Ramza Administrator Emeritus star 8 VIP - Former Mod/RSA VIP

    Registered:
    Jul 13, 2008
    I think I remember seeing this study. And I agree that it's a seemingly very real phenomenon; to ward off any potshots in either direction, I think this blurb is worth noting:
    I'd say the "fastest" method by which to alleviate some of the issues here would be a renewed focus on critical thinking - and I don't mean in the math sense, I mean in the philosophical sense of continuously re-evaluating one's assumptions. We need to teach people to ask themselves why they believe anything they believe more often - whether it's about God, science, politics, mathematics, philosophy, the senses... anything. That's a basic method of reevaluation that's been around since at least Socrates, but we need to keep emphasizing it. Plus, then, when someone questions your teaching methods, you can reply "Yes, exactly!" like a smug jerk. :p
     
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  3. Ender Sai

    Ender Sai Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Feb 18, 2001
    But how do you manage that in a world of 24 news coverage that has consistently lowered the bar in terms of thought or critical content? I don't mean to throw my hands up in the air like some sort of geocentrist trying to explain their view without saying "Just, because, Jesus did it, ok?" but it seems to me that the inherent idiocy in our species in this regard is too deeply entrenched to change?
     
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  4. Ramza

    Ramza Administrator Emeritus star 8 VIP - Former Mod/RSA VIP

    Registered:
    Jul 13, 2008
    I'm not entirely sure, but you're probably right that it would require a massive paradigm shift, either at a societal level or an educational level. I'm not confident such a shift would be possible, now that I'm really mulling it over.
     
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  5. duende

    duende Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 28, 2006
    to begin with, no doiiiiiiiii
     
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  6. DarthTunick

    DarthTunick Game Host - SfC Part VI BOFF star 10 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Nov 26, 2000
    I'm waiting for the Cliff Notes version of this thread.
     
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  7. Ender Sai

    Ender Sai Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Feb 18, 2001

    The only way in which you could do it would to be further disenfranchise people from the process, so that the level of information they're given is irrelevant when compared with their capacity to interact with the political process. Whilst that may be happening slowly now, I'd hardly label it as desirable.

    I want to hear Rogue_Ten 's thoughts.
     
  8. beezel26

    beezel26 Jedi Master star 7

    Registered:
    May 11, 2003
    This study basically assumes that everyone is either liberal or conservative. There are some of us that are not either but independent thinkers who don't believe everything they see. They read from both tables and then make a decision.
     
  9. Rogue_Ten

    Rogue_Ten Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 18, 2002

    this is the worst. those are my thoughts Ender Sai. that ^this^ post is the worst post
     
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  10. Ender Sai

    Ender Sai Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Feb 18, 2001
    Sorry beezel, when I said I wanted the JC's thoughts, I didn't mean yours.

    Rogue_Ten - agreed.
     
  11. Lord Vivec

    Lord Vivec Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Apr 17, 2006
    ~~Im a strong independent thinker who don't need no politics~~
     
  12. Arawn_Fenn

    Arawn_Fenn Force Ghost star 7

    Registered:
    Jul 2, 2004
    Those are called conservatives.
     
  13. Penguinator

    Penguinator Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    May 23, 2005
    I'd call that political hipsterdom.
     
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  14. Saintheart

    Saintheart Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    Dec 16, 2000
    Given the subject I suspect any change would have to happen at the universities first, if ever. As a compulsory component of every university course - a form of "compulsory critical thinking course" in the way Catholic schools have a religious indoctrination education component throughout the period of time you're generally at the school. It would have to be a generational thing: you could not assume everyone would be subjecting their fellow citizens to Socratic debate within five years of rollout, it would take the better part of fifty years or so for those graduates to percolate into positions of power such that their modes of thinking came to influence the overall society. I think only then could you then see such a critical thinking component ending up in lower schools.

    There is also my personal and cynical point of view that our fine representatives in this thing apparently called a representative democracy have a vested interest in the population staying unconvinced even by clear facts. Those who are so are easily appealed to and can be counted on for voting blocs; thus the wonderful thing we have in modern democracy called the "safe seat".

    I also think a major part of this would have to be to get people reading again, and reading the classics in particular. This is going to be a very tough ask given it's a very small fraction of the population that still reads books, and less still that would delve into Thucydides at less than gunpoint, but I think it's just as important. Borrowing a little from Dan Simmons here, when you approach a book like Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, it's not commonly realised that what you're actually approaching is the literary equivalent of K-2 (hell, any Henry James, and for full disclosure, The Portrait of a Lady made a satisfying thud when it hit my far wall the last time I tried to read it). It requires effort and sustained contemplation to get the most out of older works of that period or earlier, mainly because the author is speaking from a different era and a different way of viewing the world. In particular, the author's writing generally assumes a much stronger grammatical and classical education than the modern-day reader generally has. Reading books by even someone like Charles Dickens, reading them slowly and contemplatively, in my view is cross-training to critical thought. It fills out principles of logic, educates us that across the centuries there really isn't that much new under the sun as far as the human heart is concerned, and is a very, very large component of that thing once so prized and referred to as the "liberal education".

    I'd even suggest Latin should make a comeback in schools. Why? Because it's one of the strongest tools for teaching how to organise your own thoughts and elucidate them. English is a wonderfully generalist language, adaptable to technicality, image, and emotion, but Latin again forces you to think. Who says something, to whom they say it, on what occasion they say it - all of these things are relevant to stringing a sentence together in Latin. The other reason I suggest it is mainly because it was taught to and heavily influenced the greatest writer in the English language, or indeed any language: William Shakespeare. Shakespeare had only what we'd call an elementary school education in Latin, but its effect lies throughout his work. For a lengthy but fascinating look into Shakespeare's education and how it influenced his writing, see Dan Simmons' article here.
     
  15. Saintheart

    Saintheart Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    Dec 16, 2000
    Double post, further to all of this, I stumbled across this TED talk (the first TED talk, really) which seems to address the same issue from another angle. Basically, human beings have the capacity to imagine what an experience will be like before we actually are in that experience. We seem to be the only ones on the planet who can do this; it's primarily thanks to the quarter-pounder of white stuff closest to your screen called the frontal lobe and which no other animal seems to have developed as well as we have.

    That imaginative quality, in essence, gives us a great capacity for what could be seen as self-deception or a powerful psychological "immune system" depending on context. For example, the study the author mentions in the talk where the comparative happiness levels of a paraplegic and a lottery winner come out not significantly different after the event is over (not equal - 10 years later, the guy did issue some corrections to the talk, which aren't that relevant for present purposes.) He mentions several examples, be they a high-placed Democrat who loses all of it or a prisoner who's released after decades in custody: in all cases, people tend to characterise the experiences as highly beneficial ones, and that decision to "synthesise happiness" in a way is actually no different in objective terms from the "natural" happiness that results when something beneficial happens to us as we imagine it to be. The upshot of this is that I suspect -- without much foundation -- that when you're seeing hardwired resistance to objective data by way of identity protection cognition, you are seeing another aspect of the human mind's capacity to reorient reality to a picture its user can be more comfortable with.

    As the TED author points out obliquely, this can be used for good or bad purposes: self-deception at one end of the spectrum, leading to the insanity of teenagers strapping explosives to themselves on what they must see as a very real reality of 99 virgins waiting on the far side of the single second of white light and blinding pain; at the other end of the spectrum, tremendous resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity that allows them to go on.

    On the other hand, a truly contrasting take on how emotion and the mind's own malleable nature affects how we see reality, here's another Dan Simmons article, this time about the strange coincidence of melancholia if not depression in those we popularly acknowledge as some of the world's best leaders, thinkers, and writers.