Posts Tagged ‘Sysrtem 1’

Beliefs: Necessary but Dangerous

February 13, 2018

Most of our actions and behaviors are produced by habits and beliefs. Both are necessary and are what Kahneman terms System 1 processes. That is, they occur almost automatically. But we can have bad habits and erroneous beliefs.  Correcting these requires attention to correct via System 2 processes. And this can take significant time and effort.

When we are growing up the default setting for beliefs is to accept them. If we consistently questioned what we were being told, our growth would likely be retarded. Later when we see or hear something that is discordant with our beliefs, the brain notices it. We are aware that this is something new and perhaps wrong. Usually we just ignore the discordant information and go on with what we’re doing. Resolving the discrepancy can take quite a bit of effort to resolve.

The older we get, the more our actions are determined by our beliefs. And our beliefs become more hard set. The term used here is hardening of the categories. We do not question why things happen attributing them to God’s will or nature taking its course.

Beliefs can be dangerous to a democracy. Too be sure, some beliefs are necessary, such as“All men are created equal” and the beliefs as expressed in the constitution. Some people might argue that “all men are not equal,” or what about women? What the phrase means is that all men are equal with respect to rights. At the time it was written, women were not included because they could not vote and did not have rights. Matters have improved as women can vote, but there is still some distance to go. Slaves certainly were not equal. Although slavery has been abolished, civil rights issues remain. The intended meaning of the phrase is that all human beings should have equal rights.

However, with respect to lawmaking beliefs can be pernicious, as they constrain thinking. For example, consider the proposition that the government should provide health care to all residents of the country. The immediate response of some will be to shout “socialism,” cutting off further discussion. One can try to continue the discussion by asking, do you like Social Security, isn’t that socialism? Some would answer they don’t like Social Security. Others might confess to liking social security but claim that it is not truly socialism.

One could also begin a discussion by stating that the United States is the only advanced country that does not provide effectively free medical care to its citizens. This could be followed by the facts that the medical statistics in the United States are much worse than the statistics in the other advanced countries, and their medical costs are much less. All these countries have single payer systems and that payer is the government. So why should the United States not emulate these other countries? Here “exceptionalism” would likely be shouted. The notion here is that the United States is an exception to the other countries of the world. This is a tad similar to Hitler calling the Germans the master race. Exceptionalism is nothing but a belief—an incorrect belief. Stupidity can be readily substituted for exceptionalism.

Some beliefs are good, but they can be compartmentalized. The Christian teaching is to “love they neighbor as thyself.” So one might conclude from this that Christians would strongly be in favor of providing effective medical care for everyone in the country. But many do not because of another belief, that government should be as small as possible. Apparently in cases like these the less inconvenient belief is taken.

Another belief is in the universality of market forces. Now, there is no argument that free enterprise is very good. But one problem is that free markets tend not to last long. Monopolies develop and small players are pushed out. Government needs to intercede here, but bad connotations about government might preclude this. The problem with people seeing the role of market forces to all problems is analogous to the person who only has a hammer and sees all problems as nails.

The common complaint is that the United States has become polarized and that this polarization is precluding us from solving problems. Political parties exacerbate polarization and political parties are based almost solely on beliefs.

Political parties might be necessary for some functions of government, but the best way to lubricate a democracy is to preclude the expression of beliefs in political discourse. Participants would be told that before entering into the discussions they should role up all their beliefs into a ball, and insert it as far as they can up their keister. Courses of action could be argued, but the arguments would need to consist solely of data and logical arguments. When questions arose regarding the validity of the data or the soundness of the arguments, then studies could be done and experiments conducted to resolve the issues. Were we to do these, then we would indeed be worthy of the title homo sapiens. Currently titles such as homo stupididus or homo blow hardidus might be more appropriate.

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