Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A thought about ideology and thinking

I came across an interesting article seeking to explain why the discussion of Israel and Palestine is so polarized in the United States. For the purposes of this blog I want to quote one portion:
A wealth of experimental evidence demonstrates that political life makes everyone think worse. People tend to seek out information that proves their ideology to be Good and True, their enemies to be Bad and Wrong. 
For instance, one famous study showed two groups of people identical write-ups of fake studies about the death penalty. People who believed the death penalty deterred crime uncritically accepted the research coming to that conclusion, but tried their best to poke holes in the study s no deterrent effect. The reverse was true for those who didn't believe in death penalty deterrence. The point is that people weren't neutrally evaluating arguments. They're simply reasoning to the conclusion they want.
Ideology seems to me to be a useful tool to avoid thinking. Thinking is hard, and most people don't like to do much of it. A lot of the time it is easier to draw on an ideological position than to think through a problem from the start and come to a new position.

For most of us, what we think about Israel and Palestine is not very consequential. We will not take steps to intercede to make the situation better, even if we could think of the right steps to take; indeed, American intercession in foreign problems often  seems to make those problems worse. Most of us will not choose who to vote for on the basis of positions on Israel or Palestine, or indeed on foreign policy. So taking the easy way out and avoiding thinking is in fact easy.

The problem of course is that sometimes one adopts an incorrect ideological position on an issue when one's position does count. That is clearly a problem for people in policy making positions.

And sometimes too many of us accept ideological positions ultimately empowering the wrong people in policy making positions.

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