The primary focus of my blog is understanding how trends in technology, society and economics will unfold over the next 5-10 years. So on twitter I follow people like Nick Szabo, arguably the world’s most famous cryptocurrency expert. Last week, in regards to Syrian refugee policy, Szabo retweeted this:
The past few decades have seen a lot of excellent research into figuring out why partisan cultural battles never seem to get to agreement. Of course David Hume was on to this centuries ago, famously claiming that “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” What’s great is this newer research is scientifically investigating exactly how and why reason is so often the slave to the passions. Dan Kahan (pictured above) is doing research into cultural cognition. He posits that cultural values drive perceptions of risk. And this makes information conflicting with cultural values appear risky, so it’s easily dismissed.
The above image is from the always wonderful xkcd. It makes fun of the turing test, a test where a human tries to tell if he’s having a written conversation with a computer or another human. More recently the economist Bryan Caplan suggested an Ideological Turing Test:
Bill Keller at the New York Times has an op-ed comparing modern right wing Tea Party radicals to leftist 1960’s radicals. Not only do I think this is accurate, I think he doesn’t take his analogy far enough.
Arnold Kling has an essay out called The Three Languages of Politics. It’s an easy read, a 25 page ebook selling for $1.99. The thesis is Progressives, Conservatives and Libertarians each have distinct axes for good and evil, expressed in different languages. Progressives default to oppressors/oppressed, Conservatives to civilization/barbarism, Libertarians to freedom/coercion. This seems rather lightweight. But sometimes simple is good. Now that I’ve been tipped off, I see Kling’s three axes underlying rants from pundits everywhere.
Last week’s post on Atheism as a sacred belief showed how atheists can be as dogmatic as anyone. The central insight is anything we care passionately about can become sacralized, and immune to reason. Even atheism. Since I’m a ra-ra science fan, science works that way for me. For example I love this “it works bitches” xkcd comic, and related t-shirt pictured above (only $19.99!). Not surprisingly, I can’t help but feel science denialism is a kind of sacrilege. I’ve already done a post on how science denialism does NOT exclusively come from the right. But this time wanted to dig a bit deeper, exploring the pitfalls of having a deep faith in science, as well as listing common anti-science beliefs.
The image above is taken from this nice 15 minute video interview of Jonathan Haidt (on left) by David Sloan Wilson (on right). I’m a big fan of Haidt and Wilson, and did a previous post on Haidt’s views on Republican science denialism. A key Haidt insight is a) all groups have sacred beliefs, and b) when sacred beliefs conflict with truth, sacred wins. This is a universal human tendency. It happens to me. It can happen to you. Ironically it can happen to atheists, if they are devout enough.
One exaggerated explanation for the 2012 presidential election was “Only white people voted for Mitt Romney….Or not quite only.” That’s because 88% of Romney voters were white versus 56% for Obama. And given the ongoing relative demographic decline in whites, there’s a narrative predicting a parallel decline in Republican electability. But this narrative is a partial truth. To get the larger picture you have to slice the election map above by urban density, not just race.
Start with deeply opposed ideological beliefs, toss in some heated red state/blue state tribal conflict, and things can quickly devolve into bad public policy. We see it on the news every day. But sometimes bad public policy stems from another cause, the hidden flaws and biases in human cognition. This is more interesting since less frequently covered. One of these cognitive flaws is what Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman labelled the availability heuristic, defined as “a mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events by how easy it is to think of examples.” Let’s take a look at some public policies that might be improved if we understood the availability heuristic better.
Since most Americans now support same-sex marriage, it’s become a question of when same-sex marriage will be the law of the land, not if. I think that’s great, and a rapidly growing majority agree. The progressive narrative on gay marriage has been around equal rights, as the red equal signs on my facebook feed show. Again, quite true, legalizing gay marriage is obviously a victory for equality. But there’s another aspect of same-sex marriage that’s gotten less press, which is how it’s also a victory for conservative culture as well. Let me explain.