Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How the political mind works

This leads Lakoff and Haidt to strongly reject what you might call the “Enlightenment model” for thinking about reasoning and persuasion, and leads Kahan to talk about motivated reasoning, rather than rational or objective reasoning. Once again, these thinkers are essentially agreeing that because morality biases us long before consciousness and reasoning set in, factual and logical argument are not at all a good way to get us to change our behavior and how we respond. 
This is also a point I made recently, noting how Republicans become more factually wrong with higher levels of education. Facts clearly don’t change their minds—if anything, they make matters worse! Lakoff, too, emphasizes how refuting a false conservative claim can actually reinforce it. And he doesn’t merely show why the Enlightenment mode of thinking is outdated; he also stresses that liberals are more wedded to it than conservatives, and this irrational rationalism lies at the root of many political failures on the left.
Read it at AlterNet
How the Right-Wing Brain Works and What That Means for Progressives
by Chris Mooney

While this article is chiefly about conservative values, it also talks about liberal values and the science underlying understanding them. 

Although Mooney doesn't discuss the relation of value systems and economics, the implications of the scientific findings are rather obvious. This article explains the cognitive-affective rationale explaining why liberal and conservative approaches to policy including economic policy are as they are.


Trixie said...

"To reach the political middle, then, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to demonstrate much more loyalty than liberals are used to emphasizing, and to show respect for authority as well"

Just shut up. And don't even get me started on preserving "purity" or "sanctity" because I guarantee you I can out-throw up Santorum. Hell, I invented it.

How'm I doing?

David said...

Well, Mooney kind of gets to the nub of it in the last third of the article. Conservatives consider themselves to be at war. If you ask "what are you at war against," they'll say "whatever you got." Once you have the mentality of being at war, inconsistency, hypocrisy, and cruelty are not in the least troublesome, as any tactic is fair game when you are determined to win by any means necessary. They have a huge advantage where their "opponent" is the Democratic Party which has chosen to either pretend they are not in a war or to play the part of Quisling, and simply accommodate the aggressor.

I have not been convinced for some time that Democratic office holders have a great deal of moral passion. I did think that they would have enough sense when they gained control of the gov. from 06-08 that they would recognize where good policy and good politics intersected at least often enough to keep their bloody jobs. It seems that the D's would rather lose elections rather than lose their corporate perqs or their place at the revolving door.

Many on the left say they want to fight. Trouble is we remember history. Wars have big costs. The first casualties are truth and morality. The right has already given those up. It gives them an apparent advantage. I remember reading somewhere that Marx thought in military terms. That is, he wasn't really trying to persuade the capitalists, but wished to build something like an army that could push his ideas across. "Old Europeans" thought that way. It was a matter of long experience.

Unforgiven said...

Great piece Tom. A number of gaps could be bridged in this manner.

You can really get an experience of this if you talk to someone who's having an anxiety attack. Logic won't help you at all. Until it passes, the emotional auto-pilot easily overcomes such puny attempts. Seems like there's a tie-in to the survival instinct that comes to fore.

Certainly, conservatives are going to dig in and hunker down in "liberal times", same survival instinct involved.

Matt Franko said...


"Conservatives consider themselves to be at war."

18 This charge I am committing to you, child Timothy, according to the preceding prophecies over you, that in them you may be warring the ideal warfare, (1 Tim 1)

3 Suffer evil with me, as an ideal soldier of Christ Jesus.
4 No one who is warring is involved in the business of a livelihood, that he should be pleasing the one who enlists him. (2 Tim 2)

7 Who is warring at any time supplying his own rations? (1 Cor 9)

21 Be not conquered by evil; but conquer evil with good. (Rom 12)

Now if you should be doing evil, fear, for not feignedly is it wearing the sword. For it is God's servant, an avenger for indignation to him who is committing evil. (Rom 13)

11 Put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6)

etc, etc...

This "warfare" theme goes way back in the west. Paul knew what type of people he was talking to.

Looks like many moron zealots never get the metaphor, and/or never realize who their true adversary is.


Matt Franko said...


"Haidt finds that liberals tend to strongly emphasize the first two moral intuitions (harm and fairness)"

I think Haidt is off here a bit. Instead of "fairness" he should consider it is "equality".

These are two different things to me.

I see the right having a view towards "fairness" (hence "free" markets, etc..) and the left a view towards "equality" (from each.. to each..., ie redistribution, etc..).

I think Haidt is a bit "off" here....


Tom Hickey said...

David: "It seems that the D's would rather lose elections rather than lose their corporate perqs or their place at the revolving door."

That's the problem. They are co-opted by the money, power, and glory. They become "interested" or "invested" instead of principled. They are "luke-warm" in the biblical sense: "So -- because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth" Rev. 3:16

Tom Hickey said...

Matt, as a philosopher who has focused on this area quite a bit, I think that they are all a bit off, in that the analysis is overly simplistic. But this is an area of scientific inquiry that is still in its infancy, so that is to be expected. It's still represents a huge advance over previous thinking that took reason and emotion as being entirely separate and reason as being moe "human." Antonio Damasio demolished that view in Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, which was only published in 1995. Still a way to go here, but like MMT, at least we are on the right track now.

geerussell said...

As an aside, I'd like to compliment you, Tom and Matt on the way you incorporate bible references into these discussions.

Typically, the bible is only invoked as a rhetorical bludgeon in public discourse. You guys bring it out as an historical artifact that illuminates the political/social/economic climate of an era as well as informing the roots of current culture. A usage that makes it of interest and relevance regardless of the reader's religious inclinations.

So, nice job.

Tom Hickey said...

As George Lakoff might say, progressives have Jesus on their side; they need to realize that and use it to frame the debate. It is ridiculous that Ayn Rand disciples get away with posing as followers of Jesus.

I would extend that to perennial wisdom as a whole,. The timeless teaching of saints and sages, masters and mystics, prophets, philosophers and poets from time immemorial favors the progressive view, and history has demonstrate that it has a liberal bias.

Letsgetitdone said...

". . . . I think that they are all a bit off, in that the analysis is overly simplistic."

So, do I. Only 5 major intuitions? Who knew? Also what is "an intuition" comprised of? What are its components? How do we measure it? How does it relate to a value orientation? Or to attitudes? Or to situational orientations? Or to brains? Why only 5 major intuitions? Why not 15? How does one distinguish between a major and a minor intuition? How do we know what a liberal is? How do we measure that? Same questions for a conservative? What about liberals through time? Are liberals in 2012 like liberals in 1991 or in 1958? Are there only conservatives and liberals? Or are there also fascists and people we don't classify? Are conservatives really loyal to groups? If so, which groups? Are they loyal to the US? If so, why are so many of them interested in impoverishing their fellow countrymen? Why are they OK with outsourcing jobs? Or with letting Americans pay so much more for pharmaceuticals than Canadians, Belgians, and most other development nations?

I can go on and on, but my bottom line is that this is not rigorous research and is neither to be trusted nor acted upon. I respect work in neurology and research on the Brain and its functions. I very much like Gerald Edelman's work. I'm really impressed with Joseph LeDoux's work and Gazzaniga and Michael Tomasello are also first work. I'm OK with Lakoff's work in Neural Science. But when he tries to apply his Neural Science findings to politics, I think he's going way beyond his expertise. In broad outline, all the influences on individuals when they make decisions are sketched out in slide 9 here: http://www.kmci.org/media/Intro_to_KMCIs_Frameworks.pdf emotions fit in under category situational orientations. Emotive predispositions fit in under values and attitudes. Both emotional, cognitive, and evaluative phenomena are all included in this framework, as are ecological and transactional phenomena. Actions are the outcome of the interaction of the various factors in the framework.

Now when Lakoff or others can trace how varying neural tendencies across conservative and liberal categories (adequately leasured) are determinative of important actions and behavior then I'll believe they've got something. but until they can do that, my view is that this stuff is very myth-like and risky to rely on in formulating communication and persuasion strategies.

In saying this, I am not intending to point toward a conclusion that one should use an "enlightenment model" and assume that everyone or even very many people are open to persuasion by simple appeals to reason. I agree that assumptions about simple rational agents are wrong.

However, I think we need models of persuasion that view individual belief formation as decision making involving a complex of factors like those in slide 9 as well as neural factors. I also think we need models that recognize different forms of decision making all of which have emotive and reasoning elements involved. These two posts will perhaps provide a flavor of what I mean by different forms of decision making.



Matt Franko said...

This is an interesting observation Mike makes upthread in his post on the $473B of redemptions:

"Really amazing. The dogma has become so ingrained that even obvious and unequivocal PROOF of its falsification is ignored."

The longer I witness this type of behaviour (which has been for years now), this is really starting to trouble me.

To me, it has gone beyond an innocent "human bias", if you will, of so-called left/right, to a full psychopathy.