Posts Tagged ‘Ideologues’

Thinking About Politics

July 11, 2017

This is the ninth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Thinking About Politics is a chapter in this book.

HM remembers when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, a woman was asked what she thought about it. She remarked that she was strongly in favor of it. However, when she was asked about Obamacare, she said that she was strongly against it. Such is the state of politics in the United States. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April 2013, found that more than 40% of Americans were not even aware that the Affordable Care Act was Law (12% thought it had been repealed by Congress—it hadn’t.)

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach write that public opinion is more extreme than people’s understanding justifies. Americans who most strongly justified military intervention in the Ukraine in 2014 were the ones least able to identify Ukraine’s location on a map. A survey out of Oklahoma State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics asked consumers whether the labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering should be mandatory. 80% of the respondents thought that it should. But 80% also approved of a law stating that there should be mandatory labels on foods containing DNA. They believe that people have the right to know if their food has DNA. So these respondents thought that all meats, vegetables, and grains should be labeled “BEWARE HAS DNA.” But we would all die if we avoided foods that contain DNA.

We all need to appreciate how little we understand. The authors write, “Taken to its extreme, the failure to appreciate how little we understand combined with community support, can ignite really dangerous mechanisms. You don’t have to know much history to know how societies can become caldrons in an attempt to create a uniform ideology, boiling away independent thinking and political opposition through propaganda and terror. Socrates died because of a desire for ancient Athenians to rid themselves of contaminated thinking. So did Jesus at the hands of the Romans. This is why the first crusades were launched to free Jerusalem of the infidel, and why the Spanish Inquisition drove Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or leave Spain between 1492 and 1501. The twentieth century was shaped by the demons of ideological purity, from Stalin’s purges, executions, and mass killings to Mao’s Great Leap Forward: the herding of millions of people into agricultural communes and industrial working groups, with the result than many starved. And we haven’t even mentioned the incarcerations and death camps of Nazi Germany.”

The authors write, “Proponents of political positions often cast policies that most people see as consequentialist in values-based terms in order to hide their ignorance, prevent moderation of opinion, and block compromise. They note the health care debate as a perfect example of this. Most people just want the best health care for the most people at the most affordable price. This is what the national conversation should be about how to achieve this. But this might be technical and boring. So politicians and interest groups make it about sacred values. One side asks whether the government should be making decisions about our health care, focusing the audience on the importance of limited government. The other side asks whether everybody in the country deserves decent health care, focusing on the value of generosity and preventing harm to others. The authors say that both sides are missing the point. All of us should have similar values: we want to be healthy, we want others to be healthy, and we want doctors and other medical professionals to be compensated, but we don’t want to pay too much. The health care debate should not be about basic values, because in most people’s minds basic values are not the issue. The issue is the best way to achieve the best outcomes.

Ideologies and ideologues are the bane of effective government. They constrain alternatives and blind us to obvious solutions. As mentioned in the second post in this series, other advanced countries have effectively addressed the problem of healthy care with a single payer system in which that single payer is the government. There are already proven examples from which to choose. But in the United States, ideology has deemphasized the role of government, and the single payer system is regarded as a radical solution.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


What Are the Three Hardest Words in the English Language?

July 26, 2016

According to the authors of “Think Like a Freak” they are “I don’t know.”  People have opinions about virtually everything.  There is a saying, cleaned up here, opinions are like anal sphinchters, everyone has one.   Experts have opinions, but they are frequently not correct (enter “Tetlock” into the search block to learn more).  What’s even worse, is that we are rarely reluctant to make predictions about the future, and the physicist Niels Bohr liked to say, “Prediction is very difficult, especially it its about he future.”

A good post to read or reread here is  “Understanding Beliefs.”  We do not know the world directly.  On the basis of our experience with the world, we develop models of the world.  As the result of experience and learning, we need to revise and refine these models.  All our beliefs should be probabilistic and should be revised as the result of new learning and experience.

This is the primary problem with ideologues and ideologies.  They bias information processing, hindering the development and refinement of our knowledge of the world.  This is problematic because our knowledge is always imperfect.

Strictly speaking, we should never say, “I know,” or “I believe” if what we know or believe can be changed.  It is better to say, “To the best of my knowledge,” or “my thinking leads me to believe.”

Most importantly, we should never be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”  We live in a complicated and dynamically changing world where we can be familiar with only a small part of it.  Even in HM’s field of cognitive psychology, there is simply too much to understand, and if he says, “I don’t know,”  it is a reasonable response, one
which he is not only entitled to say, but one which he is obligated to say.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Plague of Our Time: Naive Realism

April 24, 2016

Everyone, not just healthy memory blog readers, should have a basic understanding of how our cognitive processes function. Absent this understanding, people are unknowingly likely to be naive realists. Naive realism has a restricted view in social psychology with respect to the perception of other people, but the broader meaning of naive realism is that people have direct knowledge of the world.

If you are a regular reader of the healthy memory blog, or if you only have read the immediately preceding post, you should be disabused of this notion.  Our cognitive processes build models of the external world.  These models are used by our memories to help us deal with the future.  Through learning these models are refined, but they are never complete and always need to be subject to change.  Absent any other information, we have the tendency to believe.  So as the result of our upbringing, schooling, and social acquaintances, we have a vast store of unexamined beliefs.  Our brain responds whenever information discordant with stated beliefs is encountered.  Remember Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 distinction.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking.  Discordant information requires thinking.  The easiest route is to disregard the discordant information and go the cognitive miser route.

Our memories are highly fallible, and these shortcomings need always be taken into consideration.  Scientific reasoning provides methodologies for minimizing the fallibilities and shortcomings.  The scientific method provides the Gold Standard for accepting or rejecting beliefs.  Near the beginning of the eleventh century, al_Haytham, an Islamic scholar who lived in Basra and Cairo, wrote the Book of Optics,which included a theory of vision and a theory of sight.  According to one authority, “Ibn al-Haytham was the pioneer of the modern scientific method.  His book changed the meaning of the term “optics” and established experiments as the norm of proof in the field.  His investigations were not based on abstract theories, but on experimental evidence, and his experiments were systematic and repeatable.  Unlike the Greeks, in his theory of vision rays of light came from the objects seen rather than from the eyes that see them.  Some of the European contributors to the development of the scientific method are Robert Grosseteste (c. 1125-1253), Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294), Galileo (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and, of course, Isaac Newton(1643-1727).

The scientific method advances slowly, the speed of which has been accelerating.  It is primarily responsible for the development of our society today.  Actually, our society would have benefited from a greater application of the scientific method.  Unfortunately, too many do not believe scientific findings.  For example, in the United States, one of its major political parties refuses to accept the evidence for global warming.

Most of our problems stem from ideologies, and the True Believers (see Eric Hoffer) in these ideologies.  Ideologues do not need to think.  Their ideology informs them what the truth is and what to believe.  Any one or any organization demanding following ideological beliefs are to be avoided like the plague, because they are they plague incarnate.

Moreover, ideologues are the bane of democracy.  Democracy requires the consideration and evaluation of beliefs and evidence.  And they require compromise and negotiation, two requirements that are the bane of ideologues.

It needs to be understood that in our lives we never encounter absolute truth.  Rather we try as best we can through learning and science what are the best models to believe.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Election Season: Time for Critical Thinking

June 27, 2012

At this time of year the good citizen is likely to say, “I’ll keep an open mind, watch the ads, listen to the candidate‘s speeches, and decide for whom to vote.” I think that watching ads and listening to the candidate’s speeches are a waste of time and attention. Here is what I would recommend.

First read the Constitution,

Pay particular attention to the duties of the President. You will not see create or provide jobs anywhere in the Constitution. Yet, listening to the speeches of the two candidates for president, one would conclude that creating or providing jobs is their primary responsibility. Go to the web and read up on economics. When the economy is good, jobs are plentiful; when the economy is bad, jobs are in short supply. Usually, the primary factor determining who wins the presidential election is the economy. If the economy is good the incumbent or the party of the incumbent is re-elected. If the economy is poor, the incumbent or the party of the incumbent is defeated. It is important to realize that there are business cycles and lags in the economy. When something bad happens, that effect can prevail for years before new policies or changes in the business cycle can have an effect. So a president may fail to be be re-elected not for policies of his own, but because of the policies of his predecessor. This problem is further compounded when the party bearing primary responsibility for the economic decline is elected and brings back the policies that caused the problem in the first place.

Although it is true that the president does affect the economy and domestic policy, he is limited by the congress with which he has to work. It is foreign policy where the president has the largest and most immediate effect. So when voting for president, it makes sense to weight most heavily his ability to conduct foreign policy.

For me, a red flag is raised whenever I hear a candidate tell me what he believes. I want to hear what the candidate thinks along with the facts supporting what he thinks. In evaluating the facts that are used a useful source is When the facts don’t check out it detracts not only from the thinking of the candidate, but also from the candidate’s integrity. Ideologues believe in a dogma so that their minds are made up. Moreover, their minds are made up to the extent that their minds are impervious to evidence to the contrary. Humankind has advanced due to the embracing of empiricism at the expense of ideology.

It is unfortunate that the word “politician” has been soaked with negative connotations. It has a good and very important sense for a democracy. For business to be conducted in a democracy, compromises must be struck and agreements made among people with different perspectives. So I would definitely not vote for someone claiming not to be a politician or who would never compromise his position.

So ignore the daily fray, the negative ads and the charges the candidates hurl at each other. Review what a democracy is and how it needs to function. Familiarize yourself with the policies and philosophies of the candidates and their respective parties. More importantly, consider how well those policies square with past experience and with the future needs of the country.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.