Lucky Number Seven

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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121 Responses

  1. Kim says:

    Rational thinking is stupid, because it’s slow, painfully so.
    Heuristic thinking is where it’s at — and it’s not like we come up with decisions stupidly, just occasionally inaccurately, and judging by past history.

    If the nature of humanity changed tommorrow, I might inaccurately be a liberal, until i questioned my assumptions. Until then, my cavalcade of life experiences makes me a liberal. And even though that is inductive reasoning, it is still, in a way, rational. Can we be rational without making conscious rational decisions?Report

    • Christopher Carr in reply to Kim says:

      I’m part of a science writers group on LinkedIn, and I faced a shit-storm of snark and accusations of magical thinking after suggesting that intuition is more efficient than rationality.Report

      • Kim in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        … I miss research, a lot. My group was looking at working with a nobelprizewinning economicist on behavioral economics (knew someone who worked with Krugman, but he’s not a psych guy).Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        Intuition is *way* more efficient. Anybody who’s ever looked at a decision tree and studied computational complexity knows this.

        Intuition is frequently based on wrong assumptions, so that’s bad. But for most decisions, they’re not critical decisions anyway, so going with preference is good enough to call it a day.

        Plus, most rational decisions are based on incomplete decision trees or wrong assumptions, anyway. So the only feature of using the rational decision making model over intuition is that it’s easier to figure out what you did wrong.

        Which is a great feature, if you take the time to take advantage of it. Most people don’t.Report

        • The character of the group is basically Sam Harris rational machismo.Report

          • Murali in reply to Christopher Carr says:

            Sam Harris tries to do the muscular rationalist thing but he doesnt succeed. As a graduate philosophy student, I can honestly say that his attempts are amateurish. Also, stop calling him a rationalist when he is an unreconstructed empiricist.

            Regarding intuitions, the argument is amazingly circular. If most of you were arguing that your deep rational reasoning matched many of your intuitions, that would be awesome but I would be sceptical of whether you guys actually did as you claimed (largely because none of you guys agree with me, and I have done the hard legwork. I have to, my rawksekianism posts basically are going to be a major part of my masters thesis.)

            However, if all you were saying is that our intuitions are reliable because enforced consistency between my various intuitions does not lead me to radically revise my views, then you are engaging in circular reasoning. You are bascally assessing the general reliability of your intuitive faculty in terms of your belief about the truth value of your intuitions. But unless you have some independent way of assessing the latter, the former cannot in principle be known. Besides Chris’s intuitions are different from Patick’s which are different from Kim’s which are in turn different from Crhistopher Carr’s which are different from Jason’swhich is different from Tom’s and which is also different from mine. At least some of our intuitions must be wrong. Its definitely not mine.Report

            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Murali says:

              This assumes Boolean outcomes.

              Sorry, my comment might be somewhat misleading. I’ll try to work it out later and flesh out what I was trying to say.Report

            • I’ll have a longer response to this comment, but for now I’d just like to stipulate for the record that I was only talking about efficiency. I’m also using the word “rational” in its broader sense encompassing both rationalism and empiricism.Report

              • Murali in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                I suppose by efficiency you mean getting at correct-ish results with the least effort. All i’m disputing is the correct-ish-ness of the resultsReport

              • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

                You’d be amazed at how often “good enough” is good enough.Report

              • No I’m talking solely about energy efficiency. It has nothing to do with reaching any correct answer. I’m also an unrepentant relativist and constructivist, so I don’t even think there is any truth to perceive unless it is a very specific local truth with no objective or universal applicability.Report

              • Murali in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                No I’m talking solely about energy efficiency

                energy efficiency is always a function of both the energy consumed and the useful work done. In this case, unless you have some standard as to measure the marginal improvement in your belief set (said standard need not be an epistemic standard, but if it isn’t I’m not sure what it could be) you will not be able to determine whether it would be worth the time to expend further energy into getting more correct beliefs.Report

              • “said standard need not be an epistemic standard, but if it isn’t I’m not sure what it could be”

                Usefulness of the implication would be my answer. And I’m with you on your critique of intuition that we couldn’t measure or evaluate it, but it’s usually good enough, and we can reduce potential error rates with even small degrees of rational introspection and metacognition.Report

              • Kim in reply to Murali says:

                I know someone who is quite able to distinguish between his intuitions on subjects, and the rational arguments [naturally this only comes up when they differ…]. (his brain is weird, granted).

                I think that if you’re able to say “my intuition thinks this,” that the rightness of your intuitions can be tested independent of your rational thought process.

                [am I making a zebras have stripes argument, when everyone else is talking about horses? hope not.]Report

              • Kim, can’t we all do that?Report

              • Kim in reply to Murali says:

                I’m not sure. I think that most people tend to come up with rationalizing arguments to bolster their intuitions, and even when the rationalizations are proven wrong, they hew to their original intuitions.
                See Reverend Wright:
                1. Intuition: Rev. Wright is a scary black man
                2. Rationalization: Rev. Wright is some sort of black power preacher who believes that blacks are better than whites (okay. I don’t do Mr. Beck. If someone from the right does, some clarification would probably describe his viewpoint better than what I have just mangled)
                3. Proof that Rationalization is Cockamamie Bullshit: Rev. Wright is a Unitarian, which is a predom white denomination, and though he is an evangelical, does not belong to an evangelical denomination. It’s hard to say anything black pantherish when you’re integrating with the whitefolks (not saying anything one way or the other about black panthers)Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Murali says:

                Minor correction: Wright is UCC, not Unitarian.Report

              • Kim in reply to Murali says:

                Isn’t that unitarian universalist church?
                [and yes, I should have been more specific.]Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Murali says:

                Different churches. The UCC (United Church of Christ) is a mainline Christian denomination of the Congregationalist tradition. The Unitarians were once a non-trinitarian Christian denomination, but over the years shifted and joined the Universalists and became essentially a non-Christian big tent sort of thing.

                The two do have a lot in common in terms of being liberal in nature (both theologically and politically), and so confusion is not unusual.

                Despite our history of Unitarian presidents, though, if Barack Obama or Howard Dean attended a Unitarian-Universalist Church, that likely would have been an issue unto itself. They are both UCC Congregationalists, though.Report

              • Kim in reply to Murali says:

                excuse me. my bad, and I really should have done more research before correcting you when you were right.
                … my head hurts now. Christianity confuses me.Report

              • ~trumwill in reply to Murali says:

                Kim, no problem. Like I said, it’s not an uncommon mistake.Report

              • But let me also add that most of the time if we’re reasonably skeptical of our own intuitions without getting into Hamlet territory then intuition is more efficient in the efficiency-as-correct-ish-ness sense as well.Report

              • Murali in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                The thing is, once you’ve done a fair bit of leg work on moral and political issues, you would have started internalising a lot of your conclusions. Your intuitions often just become the rough general output of your more considered judgements.

                For example, my intuitions about abortion are all over the place, but I think I have a fairly indefeasible argument against its legalisation. (hint: it has to do with the original position)
                The conclusion seems to argue against any and all abortions (except maybe where the mother’s life is threatened). The thing is, I’ve got fairly liberal instincts and this is a horrible bullet to bite. But bite it I must.Report

              • “once you’ve done a fair bit of leg work on moral and political issues, you would have started internalising a lot of your conclusions. Your intuitions often just become the rough general output of your more considered judgements.”

                Would you say that this is what we call “wisdom”?Report

              • Kim in reply to Murali says:

                How much do you make illegal, in order to stop abortion? Tansy? Chemotherapy? CoatHangers?

                If we accept that the incentives for carrying a baby to term are quite low in our society, then people will continue to try for abortions.

                You’ll save more lives by leaving abortion legal, and doing more to incentivize bringing babies to term (programs that remove women from abusers, programs that do not unfairly penalize women who get pregnant in high school, programs that pay for women to have babies)Report

        • wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          @Patrick, make sure you don’t conflate “intuition” which can’t be programmed and /heuristics/ which can. Intuition is truly black magic, up there with the other miracles that can’t be empirically derived or tested. Heuristics on the other hand are rules of thumb that can be derived empirically.

          The brain in these circumstances is following a heuristic path that has already been preset. We humans are like that, and this brings us ALL the way back to the Changing Minds OP.

          Thoughts often held are held often. Engrams are formed in the mind based on repeated and reinforced stimuli (mental and physical). The problem is those same engrams are resistant to change for obvious reason. Think of the mind as being a thick jungle of vines and trees. Blazing an original trail in it is tremendous work (energy consumption wise) and entropy rules. Easier to keep following the original pathways even if they were formed when you were quite young (and foolish) before all those trees and vines of experience grew in your mind. Cognitive dissonance literally ensues when you attempt to reorganize those pathways.

          I guarantee I would have been an outlier in that experiment (as I have been in all psychology experiments I’ve ever been involved with). I have seen, but never fallen for the kinds of tests wherein they show how the brain resists reality because of presets. The simplest of these is the question where you are supposed to pick the right color but the word inside is wrong (or vice versa). For instance a green box with the word Blue inside. I spent a few minutes trying to find one of these tests online but gave up, wasted too much time playing on this site yesterday and have given myself a time limit for today. Yesterday was sure fun tho 🙂Report

          • Kim in reply to wardsmith says:

            Xenu will eat your mind! All Hail Xenu’s agents on Earth, the wonderfully magnificent /b/!

            (go look up Encyclopedia Dramatica, Scientology, and understand why I’m laughing at the idea of engrams).

            … scientologists do not amuse meReport

          • Kim in reply to wardsmith says:

            I’ve never fallen for the stroop test? surree… My stroop test is performance titrated. You will screw up. It’s designed to stress you out. If you think that you don’t screw up the Stroop test, it’s only because you’re being given too long of a time limit.

            Or your brain is really messed up. I know someone with gazillions of learning disabilities (including dyslexia and dysgraphia) who screws up the stroop test, with a short enough reaction time.Report

            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kim says:

              > If you think that you don’t screw up the
              > Stroop test, it’s only because you’re being
              > given too long of a time limit.

              I’m a little leery of these sorts of testing methodologies.

              Stress anything hard enough and it will fail.Report

            • wardsmith in reply to Kim says:

              @Kim, I said that test was the easiest of the kind I took. There are tricks to it of course, the first one being a different kind of focus than you are taught in school. I continually try to look at things with fresh eyes to make sure I’m not acting out of a conditional reflex. As I get older I’m often finding out how difficult that is. Partly because as I get older I appreciate the /good/ conditional reflexes I built up.

              You should revisit stoop tests. The object isn’t to warp it into a stress test to show off that you can make anyone fail, the object is to examine the behavioral pathways (see I didn’t use engrams again, although that term is appropriate) and see if they are working properly.

              Unless it is some kind of ego thing. I’d have loved to have come across you younger, I chewed up a lot of psych researchers in my youth. 🙂Report

              • Kim in reply to wardsmith says:

                … my stroop test was for inducing stress (most are not, i’ll grant). we were researching stress (and heart disease).

                Are you trying to suggest that your brain uses different pathways than most (aka your word recognition and color recognition runs on completely separate pathways?), or are you merely trying to suggest that “I’m better than most people at this”? [it’s okay to say “i’m special”…]

                read the wiki link I posted above. The goal of the stroop test is interference — because it proves that both word recognition and color recognition run on some of the same pathways. So, if you aren’t getting interference, the test is improperly calibrated for you.Report

              • Chris in reply to Kim says:

                Ah, now you know what it is. I don’t think he was talking about anything like the Stroop Test though (and I dont’ think you were at first either, though you were referring to it).Report

            • Chris in reply to Kim says:

              I don’t think the Stroop Test is what you think it is. For one, it’s not designed to stress you out. Second, how much time you get is not an issue (the measure, in a Stroop Test, is reaction time!).Report

              • Kim in reply to Chris says:

                … i was designing a performance titrated stroop test to use in a stress experiment, to induce stress.
                elsewise, your point stands, and I bow to your superior wisdom/reading skills.Report

    • Chris in reply to Kim says:

      It’s not just that “intuitive” thinking is more efficient: it’s what our brain was designed to do. That is, our brains are automating machines. Anything they can automate, they will, and the vast majority of our daily lives is comprised of automated mental processes.Report

  2. superluminar says:

    Interesting. I’d say though that this all relies on a very strict distinction between the rational and the emotional, which IIRC isn’t so well regarded by present-day neuroscience. I think we start off thinking about politics more open-mindedly than not, but we think through various ideas and come to a conclusion whereabouts we stand on the political spectrum. This then informs our emotional reaction (“gut feeling”) when we hear about particular candidates/parties, and their proposals. Thoughts?Report

    • superluminar in reply to superluminar says:

      I typed that without having seen Kim’s remarks, but I think we’re suggesting a similar process here…Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to superluminar says:

        I’m far from an expert here, but if I get what Shermer is arguing both here and throughout the book, it’s that the emotion of group allegiance (or even just allegiance to a belief) comes first, and rationality later backs it up the best it can.

        But it doesn’t matter if, objectively speaking, the rational reasons are really weak. They’re not what give us beliefs anyway.

        I’ll try again to express the idea I was getting at above: How would we treat our beliefs if we knew where they came from, and how poorly justified they usually are, even when they’re true?Report

        • Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          wif skepticism. Last guy I voted for mayor, he was republican, but he had socialists on his team, and was overall a smarter/better fit for the city (also, I knew he’d get voted out in a few years if he won, so… limited risk). Me and all the other Obama-loving liberals voted for the Republican… (The democratic guy who won will be appearing in the latest batman movie, that’s the kicker.).Report

        • Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          addendum: I want a lively discussion, because I know that ideas aren’t easy to fit on scales. Values live on scales, and go from A to B. Ideas live in that happy daffy space of taking values and finding solutions. That, and I think a decent skeptical conservative can make sure the liberals don’t go completely into “the madness place” (see GirlGenius) about “I can fix it!”Report

        • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          I am an expert, and your story is basically right. It’s a mistake to say that rationality is shut off, or that it only comes later (I wrote about the Westen et al. study way back before it was published, making a similar criticism of the way it was discussed in the media then). The “rational” parts of our brain and the “emotional” or “affective” parts work in concert, and the truth of the matter is that our reason is pretty much blind without emotion. But the gist of your story is true: regardless of how we come by a belief, once it is established, our thinking about it is generally in the form of motivated reasoning, which is largely intuitive and affect-driven.Report

          • Kim in reply to Chris says:

            … meant to ask, what is your field of research?Report

            • Chris in reply to Kim says:

              I’m a cognitive psychologist. My main area of expertise is in knowledge representation, specifically analogical reasoning, concepts and categories, certain types of long term memory, and the interaction of language and thought, though I’ve also done research on moral judgment, metaphor and metonymy, goals, and religious cognition.Report

              • Christopher Carr in reply to Chris says:

                How does one get into that field?Report

              • Chris in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                Grad school in cognitive psychology or one of the cognitive science programs out there. Some people come at it through computer science (AI and computational modeling generally), some through linguistics, some through straight neuroscience programs, and some even through social psychology (social cognition is a hot field lately), but the most direct route is a cognitive psychology program. If you want more info, feel free to email me. I can tell you a bit about my background.Report

              • Kim in reply to Chris says:

                that’s true. CMU had some people from the CS route. Some economists have been dabbling in it as well.Report

              • Chris in reply to Kim says:

                CMU has a really good cognition faculty, and it’s a great place to go to grad school, particularly if you’re really interested in mathematical and computational approaches.Report

              • Kim in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                Depends. I got into it by being a good computer scientist, and helping out on research. If you want to run the research, I suggest a graduate degree in psychology or psychiatry (all the psychiatry profs had psychology degrees, that I could see, at least).

                From the people I’ve known, it’s relatively easy to get the graduate degree with a decent undergrad (math/science/CS — you don’t need a psych undergrad, and it may not help your research much anyhow. Bear in mind that I knew people who were methodologists, and created/engineered new ways of measuring brain activity.)Report

          • Christopher Carr in reply to Chris says:

            Would you say Hume was right?Report

            • Chris in reply to Christopher Carr says:

              Would I say Hume was right about what? Moral reasoning? Cognition and perception?Report

              • James K in reply to Chris says:

                That reason is (and should be) a slave to the passions.Report

              • Christopher Carr in reply to Chris says:

                Do you think they’re mostly independent faculties or there’s feedback loops of some sort then?Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Christopher Carr says:


              • Stillwater in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                At the end of Kantian analysis, where practical reason dissipates into pure reason, there exists a residual … something … which moves people. Has to move people. And it isn’t reason.Report

              • Chris in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                It depends on what you mean by independent faculties. They are distributed throughout the brain, and while there is some overlap, you can generally separate them by brain region. And you can get people whose connection between emotion and reason is broken. Damasio has done some really interesting work, mostly using the Iowa Gambling Task, looking at people with lesions to the amygdala and other reasons associated with affect. The basic story is, they make really shitty decisions.

                In essence, we have two reasoning systems: a hot one, and a cold one. In the hot one, emotion drives the reasoning, though the relationship can be varied: sometimes the reasoning is ad hoc built around an intuitive decision or conclusion, sometimes the reasoning and intuition work in concert to come to a decision (e.g., about risks), and sometimes the intuition does all the work itself. In the cold system, reason is more independent, and our conclusions based more on deliberation. Emotion, if anything, would tend to follow the reasoning in this system.

                So yes, there is a feedback loop in some cases, but it’s a complicated and varied one.Report

          • wardsmith in reply to Chris says:

            @Chris, your link doesn’t work, it seems to point back to post 80 here, but there aren’t that many posts?Report

  3. Do you think a similar process goes on when I watch Blade Runner and Avatar? I’m a bit skeptical of neuroimaging studies, so I really appreciate that you took pains to use words like “associated with” and “suggests” throughout this post.

    At some level, these studies are really just dressing up with scientific language what are obviously just purely emotional reactions to various candidates. The most robust conclusion that could come from this study is that some people’s loyalty to political parties comes from emotion. This is not a very significant result in my opinion, but I fear that the credibility of science is more likely to create a a world where the results of neuroimaging studies are taken as fact, kind of how we already live in a world where the results of epidemiology studies are taken as fact, even when these studies contradict each other. (Hey, I think I have an interesting experiment design for the next big neuoimaging study!)Report

    • Kim in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      … there have been many behavioral economics papers out there, some using “neuroimaging” (by which I assume you mean functional MRI), and others using any number of other measurements.Report

    • Chris in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      You know, there is such a study:

      Paul Bloom wrote it up a few years ago for Seed Magazine:

      The gist: even bad explanations of mental phenomenal look good when combined with (even irrelevant) neuroimaging.Report

    • Chris in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      My grad school mentor used to say that neuroimaging studies show that thinking happens in the brain. That’s an understatement, of course, but it gets the point across. While cognitive neuroimaging methods have become more sophisticated over the last few years, the truth is that we still doing have enough systematic knowledge of the brain to draw firm conclusions from most neuroimaging studies outside of the visual system or some other more primitive brain areas. I think if neuroimaging studies as simple hypothesis tests that can be effectively used to provide further evidence for hypotheses that have been thoroughly tested behaviorally. That, and they generally get you more grant money.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        … some of the other “more primitive brain areas” are kinda interesting, though, like the amygdala…

        I feel like we know enough to be getting closer to real conclusions — we know that the amygdala is an emotive processing zone. And we know about where faces get processed inside the brain.

        I tend to feel that behavioral research is way too far outside the brain to actually give you good data — particularly in “not-ideal” people (like how fMRI showed a large recruitment of other brain regions in the elderly, so even if they weren’t as good at “pure” tasks, they had adapted to use their brains more efficiently. Dammit. forgive me if that didn’t make much sense. At any rate, a standard behavioral design wouldn’t have noticed that.)Report

  4. Stillwater says:

    If it were true, what would you change about your beliefs? What would you change about how you think about them? About how you defend them? About how you evaluate the beliefs of others?

    If I were a conservative, I would reject all the scientific evidence. If I were a liberal, I’d cherry pick scientific evidence that let me beat on my opponents. If I were a libertarian, I’d use the evidence to beat on ‘both sides’ in the comfort of thinking I was above it all.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater says:

      No, no, no.

      If you were a liberal, you would ignore the several parts where I included myself in the set of not fully rational thinkers, both by implication and directly.

      But thanks for trying, it was cute.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I certainly defer if you say you were implying that you were including yourself among those you were describing in your various paragraphs, but I’d have to protest your claim that explicit language to that effect had to be ignored by a reader in order not to be recognized, with the exception of one sentence, which was not directly related to the question of implications for how we regard our own political views: “We don’t necessarily know when rationality shuts off.” Other than that I don’t see where you’re saying your relationship to your political views is equally subject to whatever it is the effect you are suggesting this study should have on it as whoever it is you are referring to in your frequent uses of “you” and “your.”Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

          I did talk about “those who strongly identify with a party or a faction.” I thought that was general enough, but I see that I confused more than one person, and I am sorry for it. I certainly meant to include myself, and I would not want anyone to jump from this study to the conclusion that my own beliefs need no other analysis or justification. Indeed, the study logically implies nothing whatsoever about the rightness or wrongness of anyone’s political beliefs.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

      Nah. If you were a Libertarian, you’d come to the conclusion that your beliefs were good *FOR YOU* and my beliefs were good *FOR ME* and so long as I wasn’t forcing you to believe something else and you weren’t forcing anything down my throat… hey.

      You can live your way and I can live my way.

      You’ve found your seven and it isn’t mine. My seven doesn’t have to be yours.Report

  5. MFarmer says:

    I would cognitively wander, and though lust counts partially for action, it neverthless fingers the critical point which cunning linguists factor in while noetic failure doesn’t even register, if you are emotionally aware to start with. Ultimately, the rationality of seven hardly matters when ten is bigger, and saying that eleven is slower masks an underlying X which no amount of relativity will save, at least for now. But that’s just my opinion.Report

  6. Kyle Cupp says:

    In a sense, I try (and fail) to take this approach already. I try to think through my political positions, but admittedly I haven’t thought through them all, and even with those I think I’ve adequately thought through, I may have only reached some underlying premise based solely on lucky number 7. The moral: no certainty. Not about politics, not about anything. Act politically, but look inward and question, doubt, critique, listen, stay on the move. Test everything, including the methods of testing, including what is meant by “test.”Report

  7. Michael Drew says:

    If political beliefs were all formed and assessed based on rationality (pretending they even lend themselves in their entirety to reason, and I personally think that the f(x) of reason has a domain that is just inadequate to cover all that political views need to address for people), it would take all the fun and most of the interest out of debating them. Debate would just be a dry process of identifying flaws in reasoning, whereupon those who made mistakes would simply have to politely concede their error. I don’t think anyone holds that that is what goes on when people argue politics, that it is what they want to have go on, or that it is what even arguably should go on. Who ever argued that political beliefs are frequently emotionally driven and irrational? That’s what makes it fun!

    So who cares about this study? It doesn’t change a damn thing for me.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      aren’t frequently etc. etc….?Report

    • Trumwill in reply to Michael Drew says:

      It doesn’t stop arguments along the lines of “the football team of the college I went to is superior to the football team of the college you went to (which cheats).” Or, as often is the case, “the football team of the college I flunked out of after three semesters is superior to the football team of the college you never went to but root for anyway.”Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Trumwill says:

        I’m not sure I get your point.Report

        • Trumwill in reply to Michael Drew says:

          People have fun picking sides and debating the superiority of their side even when their sides are picked by way of tenuous connection to anything real. Even among people who went to a particular school or live in a particular city, the connection between that entity and its athletics is pretty tenuous. Everyone knows this on some level or another, but everyone hoots and hollers anyway.Report

          • Kim in reply to Trumwill says:

            … not as much as you’d think in Pittsburgh. we’ve got one of the oldest baseball teams, a hockey team run by a player who played here, and the Rooneys.Report

            • Trumwill in reply to Kim says:

              My alma mater was one of the first in the south – and the first in its conference – to fully integrate its athletic teams (earning it… unfortunate nicknames… for a while). It’s something I take pride in, though at the same time I know that I would root for them, regardless, over some other team that did what we did, if we hadn’t done that.Report

              • Kim in reply to Trumwill says:

                … that is an awesome thing to be proud of. It may not be “much” as you didn’t do it yourself, but it’s kinda like being proud that America defeated the Nazis. It’s a good thing to be proud of.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Trumwill says:

            This is of course true. But I don’t think political affiliations are chosen at random and then blindly defended come what may. But neither are they picked by a process of reason. They’re picked largely via emotional appeal, with some reason mixed in, and defended that way as well. I wouldn’t have thought it took an fMRI to tell us that, but now it has.Report

            • Trumwill in reply to Michael Drew says:

              But I don’t think political affiliations are chosen at random and then blindly defended come what may.

              Neither are sports teams, really. They’re typically picked by where you happen to land geographically or where you went to school (hopefully not specifically because of its athletics programs). I see a whole lot of similarities between the two.

              I don’t think politics are quite as circumstantial. Some of the factors, even the ones we can’t control, go to the core of who we are. Though even there, who we are is a product of genes and external factors and other things we didn’t entirely choose.

              (And sometimes sports affiliations are chosen for “ideological” reasons – I root for the Packers – among other teams – in part because they’re owned the way that I think sports franchises should be owned.)Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Trumwill says:

                Where you are born is pretty random, and I think that is the biggest single factor in determining most sports team allegiances. And, as you say, most college decisions are hopefully not driven by plans for sports team rooting interests, so the choice of college might as well be regarded as random for the purpose of assigning team allegiances.

                You’re just wrong that political affiliations are anything like as random – it just fits your desired way to see political party affiliations to see it that way. Yes, the biggest factor in determining someone’s political affiliation early in life is that of their parents, but the effect is much smaller (I’d hazard), and in our culture the importance of making good judgments about political views and affiliations is quite strong, while there is basically no social sanction for just rooting for any given sports team at random, or based on who you grew up rooting for or where you went to school.

                Again, it’s clear that your political viewpoint has a lot riding on the notion that choosing sides in politics is basically like choosing sports teams to root for, but it’s just not the case.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I prefer the word “circumstantial” over “random.” I do believe, though, as with politics and sports and religion, a whole lot of it comes down to uncontrolled factors.

                One difference between politics in sports is that the number of questions for the latter is shorter. You’re mostly dealing with maybe five or so (Who did your parents root for? Who was good during your formative years? What colors/iconography did you like when you were young? Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?).

                With politics, you’re dealing with many more. But most of those questions are circumstantial (Which side(s) of society were you most exposed to? What are your experiences?), environmental (How did your parents vote? What church did they take you to and how often? How do your peers vote?), and hard-wired (What is your tolerance for ambiguity and risk? What kind of ick threshold do you have?). Most of these things we generally do not choose.

                I agree that when it comes to politics, the stakes are higher. Politics is governance and governance is relevant. My main point is the degree of chance involved in how we came to the conclusions that we did.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Trumwill says:

                We agree that there is an element of chance, randomness, circumstanciality, contingency, whatever we call it to both political and sports affiliations. We disagree that the extent of it is comparable.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Trumwill says:

                I would second “circumstantial” over “random.” Though I used randomness in the original post to stress the arbitrary nature of the process with respect to truth, it clearly doesn’t suffice to describe every nuance of real political allegiances.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I’m fine with that. I don’t think it much matters what we call it though, because this is a very imprecise discussion to start out with.

                I’d be interested in your view of the substance of Will’s and my dispute, though, Jason. I don’t know if you are a sports fan. But is it your intuition that political affiliations are created in such a way as to be meaningfully likened to sports team allegiances, or do you think that people exercise enough judgment (comprising both emotional and rational components) in choosing political affiliations that we should see their defenses of those choices as presumptively connected to the substantive emotional or rational considerations that led them to make the affiliation in the first place?

                My intuition is that sports fandom is essentially arbitrary in a very high percentage of cases (i.e. I think Will’s preference for the Packers being based on a model of ownership and management of the team is a quite atypical instance). At the very least, I think sports leagues are set up in a way as to operate on a presumption that arbitrary considerations like residence or school attendance will be determinative of affiliation, whereas, we’d certainly hope, the formation of political affiliations has a presumption of conscious judgment attached to it. I think we should credit that presumption until there is evidence that the distinction is quite close to being entirely notional. For that reason, my view is that an insistence that political affiliations are essentially comparable to sports affiliations reveals more about the attitude toward political affiliation itself of the person making the comparison than about the two processes of affiliation themselves. IOW, I think it is a strained, unintuitive comparison absent evidence of similarity. but I wonder what people other than Will and myself think.Report

              • To some extent, I think it depends on who we’re talking about. In politics, you generally have a substantial portion of the population that is undecided. Almost everyone that follows any particular sport has a favorite team. There are also idea-driven people (though I attribute a lot of where they get these ideas from to circumstantial, environmental, and innate factors).

                But, when you look at the average Republican or the average Democrat, I think the comparison is actually quite strong. And it’s these people that I believe drive the discussion. The uncommiteds are taking their cues from these people, and the eggheads are stuck working within their context. Which is what the comparison relevant, in my view.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Okay, but you’re still not saying why the comparison is strong. Again – no one is denying that once sides are picked, people emotionally support the side they have picked. The question is whether the initial picking of sides is comparable in the teo cases of sports affiliations and political affiliations – whether these are rough;y comparably arbitrary team assignments, or whether people are defending their political commitments because they reflect a fundamental value choice they made at the outset that they didn’t in choosing their sports affiliations. You know where I stand and why.Report

              • The connection is strong because sides are disproportionately picked by circumstance. Even when sides are picked due to values, they are values that are products of factors that we have as little control over as we do what city we were raised in. And frequently values are determined by the team we sign up for, rather than vice-versa.

                That latter part is less the case among LoOGlanders than the general population, to be sure. But the older I get and the more “sorting” I see among my peers, the more it seems to have to do with tribal associations rather than any sort of evaluation of the issues. We’re not normal.Report

    • wardsmith in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @Michael, you’re describing the difference between argument and debate. Arguments can and do devolve into shouting matches specifically because they left /reason/ at the door. I for one think it would be FANTASTIC (see fantasy OP) if politicians WERE to apologize and admit it when they were wrong. Unfortunately the world we live in pretends that doing so diminishes a person forevermore if they were such a wimp to do so. There is far too much emotion and far too little reason in politics today, please good sir, do not make it worse just for your own sport.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to wardsmith says:

        please see the above discussion between Chris and Kim and look into the concept of motivated reasoning. Political *debate* is emotion-driven, and should be. Reason is the tool we use to form argument within debate. Reason isn’t dispositive of political correctness, because people have legitiamte differences in values, owing to varying experiences but moreover to varying material positions in the world, and so opposing positions can both be articulated via nearly impeccably-reasoned argumentation, even while they remain opposed, and motivated by strong emotion. That is what we do when we do politics.Report

        • wardsmith in reply to Michael Drew says:

          That is what we do when we do politics. That’s what amateurs do. The professionals are using the Alinsky method. Unfortunately as Kim says elsewhere, the professionals are all Democrats now.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to wardsmith says:

            Well, fair enough. I’m talking about what regular people – butchers, bakers, candlestickmakers – do when they do politics. So yeah, political amateurs. That’s what I’m talking about, yes. I thought that’s what “we” – this whole post and thread – was talking about.Report

          • Kim in reply to wardsmith says:

            … wardsmith, the tea party says otherwise, does it not? Unless you really believe that those are amateurs, in which case I have some prime land in Florida to sell you…Report

  8. Michael Drew says:

    As I mentioned, I’d love to hear others’ views on this question of the arbitrariness of political affiliations. I think people would have a right to resent this view being expressed by Will to the effect that people’s political affiliations are nearly as arbitrary as their sports affiliations, and that even if they think their views are based on values, those values in turn are not of their own choosing, but rather more likely. This would be an infantilizing and condescending view to hold of anyone he actually chose to apply it to. For whatever reason, we all here are exempt. But it’s not at all clear we stand above or apart from all the rest of the country. C.f. the name of the blog.


    Do you, dear visiting common reader, come by your political values by way of the political team you signed up to defend or promote? or did you make the decision to affiliate (if you did) *because* of those values? And, by the way, were those values that you perhaps based your politics on ones you actively gave thought to and chose largely for yourself, or did you essentially arrive with them pre-installed in you as a result of circumstance about their life over which they have no control, but which largely determine their value set and philosophical approach to the world.

    Again, this is a condescending presumption to have about people. It doesn’t give them credit for something they ought to presumptively receive it for: having given a reasonable amount of thought to the positions and ideas they hold. Even if you are right that it is far more prevalent reality than i do, we shouldn’t assume it. And what is your evidence? People don’t intentionally present themselves this way to you certainly. So in some way you must think they reveal their intellectual shortcomings to you unwittingly in conversation. What makes you so sure you are doing this assessment accurately?

    I don’t think taking this view does anyone any good. All it does is undermine the presumption of good faith on any side of a question where we suspect there is a partisan. But of course, if their arguments are bad, they can be dealt with by that means alone. So it essentially functions as a way to be able to possibly avoid having to deal with good arguments from people we’d prefer not to give the benefit of the doubt for having arrived at them by means of a process we respect. And, as far as I can see, there isn’t any reason for me to believe it really is more descriptive of the population outside of LoOG readers than giving them a presumption that their views are considered ones, even if not always perfectly well-considered ones. I prefer the view that ennobles rather than deprecates our polity’s faculties of judgment. But perhaps that is just me, so again, I’m soliciting more views. I’d like to know if I’m in the minority on this.

    End Bleg/DiatribeReport

    • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Gah, sorry, trailed off (again). Values are “Rather more likely…” …I’ll let Will speak for himself: “products of factors that we have as little control over as we do what city we were raised in.” Do we think this about ourselves? Or about just the muggles?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Do you, dear visiting common reader, come by your political values by way of the political team you signed up to defend or promote? or did you make the decision to affiliate (if you did) *because* of those values?

      The problem with this question is twofold.

      First, it elides a key distinction between political and sports team affiliations, one I thought I’d stressed earlier — many people come to their political views not by happenstance, but by circumstance.

      Suppose you’re a left-liberal. You come by this view based on a deep-seated goal of helping the poor and the struggling. This is a legitimate goal, and while we may argue about your chosen means, that’s not the reason I’m writing.

      In the course of your political formation, you hang out with and are friends with other left liberals. Some of them have goals you hadn’t considered or encountered before, like saving endangered species.

      Now, one may do one of two things here — either just pick up and run with this other goal, including the positions it entails, thereby strengthening your group affiliation — or ask whether it might ever just possibly conflict with helping the indigent. Might it? I don’t know, but there’s a case to be made.

      The fact remains that there are an awful lot of cookie-cutter R’s and D’s (and yes, L’s) out there. More I think than we could expect by coincidence, had everyone formed their political views while ignorant with respect to the political parties’ stances on them.

      The second problem with this question is that if the study is correct, it may be that no one is competent to answer it via introspection alone.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        To me, nothing you’re describing here is process that in my view wouldn’t be fairly described as reaching political views by means of a reasonably rigorous consideration of values, not by way of simply accepting them as a corollary to group membership.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Also, by all means – these people do exist. People of all kinds do exist. There certainly are enough people out there who take their views directly from the politics to make it a non-negligible phenomenon that in part shapes the overall profile of political affiliation in the country. But my question has always been, is it so prevalent that we should think that that is just mostly what political affiliation is like – i.e. it’s mostly like the assignment of sports team rooting interests, not mostly different (i.e. based on values).Report