Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Political pet peeve #3

Political pet peeve #3:  Disregarding cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.

I've written about this before, in case you're interested.  

First prize for cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias goes to the district attorney when a criminal is discovered to have been falsely accused and imprisoned.  Second prize goes to everyone else.  It seems to me that the political process is completely based on our capacity to deceive ourselves in some very specific ways and the worst of the political process depends on it.

Politicians count on us not noticing when they blame the other party for what they themselves are doing. They depend on us looking the other way when they tell us what we want to hear, like throwing red meat to dogs.  They rely on us only trusting the media sources that confirm what we already believe and they demonize the ones that don't.  And of course, they have their own cognitive dissonance and biases to deal with, so that sometimes they even believe what they are saying.

We can't help experiencing the dissonance and the bias.  We can tell the truth about it, though.  We can have enough humility to remember that the more strongly we believe something, the less likely we are to attend to--or even notice--any evidence to the contrary.  We can expose ourselves to dissenting opinions and learn to listen carefully to what they have to say.  We can discipline ourselves to expect complexity and to hold the tension.  We can fully appreciate the value of satire and parody and irony to help expose our biases.  We can avoid being so easily offended.

Or we can just keep indulging it and acting like we alone in all the universe are free of it, except, of course, for all the people who agree with us.  I think that's called a political convention.


Electric Monk said...

Regarding your comment about exposing ourselves to dissenting opinions: I have recently begun a practice of intentionally seeking the ideas of those with whom I disagree. Some examples: on my lunchtime blog roll, I follow a gay Christian's blog and the Al-Jazeera network. I also follow BBC news and Asia News Network (not that I disagree with them, but they provide an outside-the-box view). This is a definite struggle, especially when I read something I can't easily argue against. But I feel like it makes me think all the harder about what I DO believe, and whether I have the evidence to back it up.

Trisha said...

Electric Monk, that's why you're one of my favorite people! It takes humility and courage to do that.