Friday, March 23, 2007

[debate] only undertaken from entrenched positions

When did I last lift someone's entire post [almost] and repost it? I must do so here because it says what I wanted to myself. It's by Chris Dillow:

What puzzles me about so many people is not what they believe, but the sheer vehemence with which they do so. I suspect there are at least four biases that cause such fanaticism.

1. Over-rating intellect and learning. Most politically active people are more intelligent or better educated than average. And a common error amongst intelligent educated people is to exaggerate the importance of intelligence and learning. They forget (or never knew) Hayek's insight, that knowledge is inherently dispersed, and unattainable by any single mind.

2. Ego involvement. Political views define who we are, so a challenge to them is a challenge to our identity.

3. Groupthink. For most of us, there's a huge correlation between our political opinions and those of our friends. Hardly anyone echoes Robert Nozicks' view: "I do not welcome the fact that most people I know and respect disagree with me" (quoted in this great book). This means we become over-confident in our opinions, bolstered by the fact that so many good people agree with us.

4. Incentives. One problem with vulgar democracy is that incentives favour cheap talk. If we overstate our case, government is more likely to listen to us than if we state our case to the extent warranted by the evidence. Hence the importance of "community leaders."

These biases - there may be others - mean that people with centrist views can be irrational too. They also mean we shouldn't expect political debate to be fruitful or even enlightening. Still, we can try, can't we?

I wonder how many of Chris's readers would nod at the sentiment but of course, know deep down that it didn't apply to them? For myself, I plead guilty. Also, in my situation, the debate over climate change has shown the above to have substance and not just from my side.

3 comments:

Matt said...

I can make it easier for you, James. The question is, what do you want me to do? Translate the post, perhaps?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

It's a good article, indeed. I've never been a member of a political party because I can't agree with anyone for long enough!

The Tin Drummer said...

Excellent points, agree with 'em all. I also agree with WL: there's always something in a given manifesto or political philosophy, which despite my right-wingery, generally prevents my joining any party.