I think that a lot of the rancor in politics these days is attributable to several false presuppositions many of us hold about how we arrive at our beliefs, and about how we relate with one another. If there is to be any hope of improving not only civility across the political aisle but also understanding, then a certain amount of myth busting is in order about what’s really going on in these brains of ours. Fortunately, recent findings in social science research help us to do just that.
Two significant myths in need of busting are:
1) We humans are rational beings who arrive at our beliefs through logical analysis of objective facts (i.e., through reason), and since we’re rational, reason is all that should be necessary to convince another person to see or do things our way.
2) The purpose of reason is to help us make better decisions and to help us find the truth.
The fact is that we’re not as rational as we like to think we are. In fact, the great majority of what we think and say and do is driven by our gut feelings, instincts, and intuitions which come to us almost instantly, and it is only after this virtually instant reaction has occurred that we use careful, time-consuming reason to explain our preferences. See The Rider and the Elephant.
The purpose of reason, then, is not to help us arrive at our decisions and beliefs, but rather to find ways to defend the decisions and beliefs our instincts have already formed for us, and to try to persuade others that we’re right. In other words, reason is for winning arguments, not for finding the truth.
This new idea about the purpose of reason explains many of the biases that seem to confound our ability to reason, and why, at one time or another, we’re all hypocrites. These so-called faults of human reason are really not faults at all. They’re actaully examples of reason attempting to do exactly what it is supposed to do, win.
It is the intent of this blog to question, and where necessary to attempt to correct, the conventional wisdom that is behind so much of our political debate, and to share opinion pieces – like What Is Rick Perry Talking About? – that reexamine current and longstanding political ideas in light of our new understanding of what really makes us who we are.