In Considerations on Representative Government, the great nineteenth century economist, philosopher, and early feminist John Stuart Mill advocated experimenting with more widespread political participation. Mill hoped that participation would make citizens more concerned about the common good, and would entice them to educate themselves. He hoped getting factory workers to think about politics would be like getting fish to discover there is a world outside the ocean. As he said, “Among the foremost benefits of free government is that education of the intelligence and of the sentiments which is carried down to the very lowest ranks of the people when they are called to take a part in acts which directly affect the great interests of their country.”
20th century sociologist and economist Joseph Schumpeter tendered a grimmer hypothesis about how political involvement affects us: “The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in away which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again.” (Schumpeter 1996, 262.)
Both Mill and Schumpeter were scientific thinkers, but neither quite had the data needed to test their hypotheses. However, we now possess over sixty years’ worth of detailed, varied, and rigorous empirical research in political science and political psychology. The test results are in. Overall, Schumpeter was largely right and Mill largely wrong. In general, political participation makes us mean and dumb. Emotion has a large role in explaining why.
The distinctive feature of the Hooligan mind is that Hooligans have strong preferences over beliefs, in the sense that they prefer to believe some things rather than others. To put it very broadly, they are driven to believe what they want to believe (especially what they find comforting or flattering to believe), rather than driven by a rational assessment of the evidence. They engage in “motivated reasoning”: that is, they try to arrive at beliefs that maximize good feelings and minimize bad feelings.
Here is how political psychologists Milton Lodge and Charles Taber summarize the body of extant work: “The evidence is reliable [and] strong…in showing that people find it very difficult to escape the pull of their prior attitudes and beliefs, which guide the processing of new information in predictable and sometimes insidious ways” (Lodge and Taber 2013, 169) Political psychologists Leonie Huddy, David Sears, and Jack Levy concur: “Political decision-making is often beset with biases that privilege habitual thought and consistency over careful consideration of new information” (Huddy, Sears, and Levy 2013, 11).
This predisposition to motivated reasoning leads to paradoxical results. We are accustomed to think that reasoning about evidence would make political agents more likely to acquire true beliefs and reject false beliefs. But this assumes we think like Vulcans. For Hooligans, “reasoning” can actually undermine rationality. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt (2010) puts it, “…reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That’s why [psychologists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber] call [their theory of why reasoning developed] The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it…, “The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions”.
In short, the evolutionary purpose of “reasoning” is not so much to turn us into scientists who can discover how the world works. Rather, it is to give us the power to influence, manipulate, and control one another. As a result, when it comes to politics in particular, when we confront contrary points of view from our own or evidence that shows we are wrong, we tend to react by getting angry and becoming more extreme in our views.Read the whole article here: Politics Makes Us Mean and Dumb | Emotion Researcher
Hat tip to Reddit: Jason Brennan: Politics Makes Us Mean and Dumb : philosophy