Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bias, Justification, and Politics

I promised some mitigating thoughts on yesterday's blog post. I am in the process of reading an "advance reader's edition" of The Mind of the Market by Michael Shermer. In the book he is speaking of "bias" and how it colors our perceptions.

The ideas that follow all flow from this book, which I recommend highly even before finishing, and my interpretation thereof. Since some of the interpretations are mine, don't blame Michael Shermer if you don't like the implications.

With political beliefs, we are likely to think that we reached ours because of thinking it through carefully, while we think others have reached their ideology because they are deluded, or greedy, or stupid. In other words, "My bias is due to my enlightenment; yours is due to your lack of enlightenment".

It turns out that "expert opinions" are usually no better than "non-expert opinions", yet the experts are less likely to admit they were wrong than the others. Irrational judgements are then made in order to justify costly mistakes. This is because we overvalue "sunk costs" and the status quo. When making decisions about a course of action, we tend to choose the status quo because we are accustomed to it. So with regards to our personal politics, the majority will continue to support statism (the status quo) instead of liberty (the radical change). Instead of "staying the course" we should base our decisions only on the recognition of the future costs and benefits, and not dwell on past costs. Yet when our strategy is a losing one, we tend to raise the stakes higher and risk losing even more. He points out that a belief, when confronted with a disproof, can actually become even stronger in order to alleviate the pain of being wrong, especially if sacrifices have been made based upon that belief.

Then there is the problem of "confirmation bias". This is when we seek and find evidence to confirm our beliefs and discount evidence that contradicts our beliefs. Confronted with both types of evidence, we will accept the validity of the evidence that confirms out notions and be very skeptical of the contradictory evidence. Or the contradictory evidence may be reinterpreted in a favorable light. We make up our minds first and then pick through the evidence and to confirm our views. "Self justification" is a basic need that causes us to screen out evidence that contradicts our positions so that we can continue to feel good about our decisions.

What it all comes down to is that our emotional minds have more to do with our views than do our logical minds. Therefore I may be a libertarian/anarchist simply because I am emotionally predisposed to be that way. In that case I should just shut up and let the world spin down the drain of statism. Plus, freedom is a lot more work than socialism, and I am terribly lazy and getting extremely tired of swimming upstream.