More on Phony and Foolish Political Psychology, For Thinking Parents

10 09 2008

A commenter named Stephanie takes issue with Snook for being politically “one-sided” lately. And she disagrees with all the Edge dot org cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, linguists and political scientists I linked to yesterday as a banquet for serious thought, as opposed to empty partisan calories served up as “news” lately.

[On my tv right now, Harvard constitutional scholar Barack Obama is speaking not about lipsticked animals gussied up as world leaders, but about real education IDEAS for America’s future, after saying that “enough is enough” of the phony same old same old that Bush-McCain politics have kept our kids dumbed down with:
“They’d rather this election be about phony and foolish diversions . . .I don’t care what they say about ME but I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and swiftboat politics. Enough is enough!”]

Anyway,  as I read her comment, Stephanie feels her thinking has no feeling (?) and argues her own politics are pure logic with no emotion or rationalization, no childhood scripts and stories embedded in her intelligent software, nope, nope.  She is a veritable Vulcan, Mr. Spock in lipstick!   😉

All of which I thank her for, because it has my creativity stirring and neurons firing this morning, remembering all sorts of stimulating ideas more worthy of Thinking Parent conversation than the phony fear-mongering and “news” reporting these past couple of weeks. 

Btw, tomorrow is the anniversary of September 11, after all the Republican leadership’s (to me shocking) cynical exploitation of the overwhelming emotions that day evokes. I grew up in the South where “waving the bloody shirt” has been a cynically successful form of politics by division for 150 years:

The Republican party thus continued to depend upon the bloody shirt long after the war was over, with Lewis Gould noting that in the post-Reconstruction years sectionalism was “a genuine and continuing source of Republican strength.”

And it’s similarly shocking to see John McCain now intentionally exploiting for partisan division, another bloody shirt already 50 years old. Talk about playing to emotion! Must we accept for the next 100 years, then, nine-eleven bloody shirts waved by old warriors every election cycle, to keep our past the most powerful enemy of our future, our own divisions making a dysfunctional mockery of this “united” states? Does that make us safer in a third-millennium world and economy finding new equilibrium without following our lead, or make us throwbacks unable to lead even ourselves?

But think about it — we CAN learn to do better. For example, here’s something I remember posting about psychological power of story research, from Wired:

Some scary things are not really as risky as they seem, and others are better handled by staying in the scary situation to set up a more advantageous future response. This means there’s an evolutionary advantage to being able to hold off the reflexive fight-or-flight response while you work out a more sophisticated analysis of the situation and your options for handling it. . .

So here’s the first fundamental problem: We have two systems for reacting to risk — a primitive intuitive system and a more advanced analytic system — and they’re operating in parallel. It’s hard for the neocortex to contradict the amygdala. . .

A lot of the current research into the psychology of risk are examples of these newer parts of the brain getting things wrong.

And it’s not just risks. People are not computers. We don’t evaluate security trade-offs mathematically, by examining the relative probabilities of different events. Instead, we have shortcuts, rules of thumb, stereotypes and biases — generally known as “heuristics.” These heuristics affect how we think about risks, how we evaluate the probability of future events, how we consider costs, and how we make trade-offs. We have ways of generating close-to-optimal answers quickly with limited cognitive capabilities.

Don Norman’s wonderful essay, “Being Analog”, provides a great background for all this.
[And I LOVE Norman’s book, Emotional Design which I blogged here.]

Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in Economics for some of this work, talks about humans having two separate cognitive systems, one that intuits and one that reasons . . .

Thinking Parents take on many real-world risks along with our “actual responsibilities”, and we know it all too well.  We FEEL what we think when it’s about our own children and families — no mere academic exercise for us!

So doesn’t it make sense that we’d benefit ourselves and our kids’ future, by educating ourselves about analyzing and coping well with risk, tune up those helpful heuristics and make them more productive?




5 responses

10 09 2008

Humans are notoriously bad at judging risk. Maybe that is an evolutionary trait that contributed to us surviving this long? A species that was prone to risk taking would be in greater danger of killing themselves off before they grew to dominate the earth, no? So instead humans over react to perceived risk. See for a particularly ridiculous example.

Of course, this assumes we actually dominate the earth. The insects may have other ideas…

10 09 2008
Nance Confer

Picturing grasshoppers with tiny little swords. . . 🙂


P.S. Last night’s “news” here was all about the “danger” of frogs. We have more tree frogs out and about with all the rain lately and somehow they are endangering humankind. I didn’t hear how or why. . . in cahoots with the insects, no doubt!

10 09 2008
Nance Confer

And, JJ, Biden said something along the lines of your last two paragraphs above. Something about not being distracted by nonsense and not even worrying so much about ourselves but thinking about issues that might impact our children and grandchildren and how we feel about their futures.


10 09 2008

To COD – OMG yes! I remember this from MY fencing days 35 years ago, when we had to fight exactly the same ignorant risk-averse prejudice among supposedly well-educated bureaucrats. They knew absolutely nothing about the sport but were reluctant even to let us practice on campus at our own expense, much less fund us as an official sport, so sure were they that they were being justifiably logical about weighing the risks and benefits.

Chef Anthony Bourdain had a similar rant about kitchen knives, btw. Some bureaucrats in the UK had proposed regulating their length down to unusable size a few years back, “reasoning” that it would keep all the people safer. (This same know-nothing do-gooderism ignorance is why home education struggles so, to stay free.)

And I’m not a gun person but isn’t there some counterintuitive maxim about a loaded gun being safer than an unloaded one?

10 09 2008

Remember my six-word candidate support statement for the Evolved Homeschoolers essay, why I had decided to vote for Obama? It came from thinking through what I was feeling. 🙂


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