Posts Tagged ‘Political Gridlock’

APS Address on The Psychological Science Behind Hyperpartisanship and What to Do About It

June 16, 2013

This is the Association for Psychological Science (APS) James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award address presented by Diane E. Halpern. Much of Halpern’s research has been on critical thinking. In this address she chose the term hyperpartisanship to describe the condition underlying the current gridlock in the U.S. Congress. She said that it was similar to apartheid in the old South African regime. There blacks were segregated from whites and had their own restrooms and other facilities. This situation also existed in the southern states in the United States before the passage of Civil Rights legislation. In today’s congress, the two parties do not mix. They have their own rooms and there is little grounds for informal interactions among the two parties. This is a relatively new phenomenon that is concurrent with gridlock.

Diane recommended eight specific actions that can be done to remedy the problem of hypertisanship. Understand that these proposals are not just for the politicians. They are also for us citizens, and for the press.

Step 1. Make friends, or at least acquaintances, with people of the opposite political persuasion.

Try to understand why they think as they do, and try, regardless of how fruitless it might be, to acquaint them with your modes of thought.

Step 2. Stay informed. Extend the effort to keep up to date and to understand the positions of others. So don’t restrict yourself just to sources that reinforce your own opinions.

Step 3. Keep a cooperation scorecard. Scorecards are kept for fidelity to conservative positions, and to liberal positions. I know of no scorecard on politicians who make an effort to compromise. Should any reader be aware of such a scorecard, please inform us by leaving a comment. It would be extremely beneficial if the news media kept such scorecards and presented them along with the news. Were this done, I imagine that the gridlock would quickly crumble.

Step 4. Reward evidence-based thinking. Constantly ask what is the evidence supporting an advocated political position. Civilization advanced slowly and regressed until the beginning of science based on evidence derived from research, that the civilization advanced rapidly. Prior to that, progress was restrained by ideology. Unfortunately, ideology still exists and provides the fundamental basis for gridlock.

Step 5. Check accuracy. Check the accuracy of the evidence. The Washington Post features a Fact Check Column. There is also a website, that is very good. But there are many facts to be checked. Readers are encouraged to present additional recommended sources for checking facts as comments to this post.

Step 6. Reject groupthink. Reward naysayers. Also reward flip-flopping. It indicates thought. I believe John Maynard Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

Step 7. Follow the money. It has been said that the United States has the best Congress money can buy. Unfortunately, this is true, and we must ask whether a given politician’s position has bee bought.

Step 8. Think critically. Given that so much of Halpern’s research has been on thinking critically, this step was clearly obligatory. The problem is that thinking is a System 2 exercise and requires effort. Ideologies are fundamentally System 1 processes that provide easy political positions.

If you have not done so, please read the healthymemory blog post, “A Mindful Politician.” Even if you have read it, you might want to reread it.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. 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.

A Mindful Politician

June 12, 2013

This blog post is inspired by an article in the June 1913 issue of Mindful magazine. The title of the article is “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Mindfulness.” The article is about Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio. He is not to be confused with Congressman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. The two are polar opposites. More will be written about Paul Ryan later in this post. Congressman Tim Ryan has recently published a book, A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Increase Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit, published by Hay House.
A Mindful Politician practices meditation. The mindful politician is open to new ideas. New ideas will not be rejected out of hand due to pre-existing ideology. This does not imply that the politician does not have pre-existing ideas, but when new information indicates that certain ideas need to be modified or rejected, he will change his mind. The politician is willing to consider the ideas of others and to try to arrive at a compromise, one that benefits from different modes of thought.

A useful way to view political gridlock is to view it as an absence of mindfulness. The enemy of mindfulness is political ideology. Worse yet, is a political ideology that is unbending. Even when provided strong empirical evidence to the contrary, the ideologue will not change his mind.

It is somewhat ironic that the perhaps the best politician exhibiting this ideological trait is Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan has indicated that what motivated him to get into politics was the author Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was a novelist who formulated the philosophy of Objectivism. It is disturbing that there has been a resurgence of interest in this philosophy as recent events have clearly shown that it is both wrong and outdated. In short, Paul Ryan is an ideologue, and an ideologue is antithetical to an effective democracy.

Ideologies can be seductive. They provide a solution to practically all problems neatly wrapped up by the ideology. I know a colleague who is always happy. He is an ideologue who will offer a solution to practically any problem you might give him, never mind that there is ample empirical evidence to show that his solution is wrong.

Personally, I think the purpose of life is to learn, to adapt, to interact with others, and to solve problems both personally and socially. Apart from a general set of ethical guidelines, we need to continue learning, interacting, and solving problems. It is not unusual for the solution to a problem to be non-intuitive. Nevertheless, we should go where the empirical evidence leads us, not to some ideological solution.

In short, the answer to political gridlock is mindful politicians; politicians who not only say they are mindful, but who actually practice mindfulness.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. 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.