Saturday, February 04, 2006

Who Needs Reason?

In my personal experience, it very quickly becomes painfully obvious when someone’s partisan politics have erased their ability to think clearly about much of anything. The best current example is that it seems that once someone has self-identified as either loving/hating George Bush, they will pretty much accept/detest anything and everything he has to say. And now there is scientific evidence that supports this anecdotal observation, demonstrating that partisan voters show a complete lack of higher-brain functioning when reviewing data critical of their preferred candidate’s position. Specifically, “brain scans revealed no activity in areas of conscious analytical thought, but instead in emotional circuits including conflict and disgust.” Perhaps this isn't such a terrible thing; it just shows that we tend to outsource our decision-making on difficult issues to someone we have decided (on what grounds? – ed.) that we trust. Nikki Sullivan points out that it would be interesting to see how swing voters and independents responded to the study – which may confirm my belief not to trust the political opinions of anyone with strong party affiliations because they’re probably not really thinking about the issues anymore, while an independent might at least be guided by higher principles and rationality.

3 Comments:

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Molly said...

I have long railed against the two-party system as limiting the willingness of many people to think critically about their political positions, causing them to rely instead on the ideas fed to them by their parties. Although not altogether surprising, this study is surely upsetting, for it indicates that the problem also exists at the level of party leadership.

Nikki Sullivan asks whether findings like these should also make us question the merits of direct democracy (and I would point out here that this is incorrect; we live in a largely indirect democracy, with the exception of state referendum issues), I think the question is actually larger / different from that. In theory, indirect democracy works because, despite our (i.e. average Joes’ and Janes’) uninformedness about political issues, we elect intelligent, capable people who can think for us in the political arena. Clearly, this study indicates that even if they were once capable, independent thinkers, these elected leaders have lost their ability for reason within the polarized, 2-party political world.

This does not mean that the problem is endemic in a democratic system, however, for it’s not like the American people are electing true fools; regardless of how much I might dislike many politicians and their hot air, and while I certainly think that there are many well-qualified people who don’t make it politically for unfortunate reasons, our leaders would seem qualified to think about politics far more than they are. No, I’m not sure all of this calls into question the system, which has worked well at many moments, but instead I think that it’s going to be important to try to figure out what’s making it go so haywire. I’d like to think that party politics haven’t always been this blinding, and most would agree that this is an unusually tense time in American politics. The system will see this through, I’m sure. I do think Washington, D.C. needs some serious house-cleaning (or Senate-cleaning, hahaha get it?). And I’d love to see the parties lose a whole bunch of their clout. But I haven’t lost faith in democracy, because if some of our best-educated Americans are showing as little brain activity as W. and Kerry, what are the chances an “Enlightened despot” would do much better?

 
At 4:15 PM, Blogger Thomas said...

Interesting post!

I wonder, can one be a 'Partisan Independent', unwilling to logically consider ideas from either of the major political parties?

Such a person might be quick to assume that destroying both political parties will solve all our problems, but slow to realize that all such actions have costs and consequences that are difficult to predict.

 
At 9:44 PM, Blogger Scott McC said...

Interesting thought, Thomas - there certainly are many reflexive contrarians (who, me?) out there, who very quickly dismiss what comes out of the major parties' mouths. Perhaps without always thinking?...

 

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