Saturday, July 17, 2010

Brian Leiter: Jackass, Cont'd

Yesterday, the Distinguished Professor posted a link to this piece in the Boston Globe. It's a good piece. The gist of it is, to quote Princeton University’s Larry M. Bartels, “the political ignorance of the American voter is one of the best documented data in political science,” and that the typical American voters' response to belief-refuting facts is to retrench further with the belief:

What’s going on? How can we have things so wrong, and be so sure that we’re right? Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired. Generally, people tend to seek consistency. There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.


Now, one might think that this behavior is exclusive to the uneducated, non-academically-elite rabble, right? But let's also consider this:

And if you harbor the notion — popular on both sides of the aisle — that the solution is more education and a higher level of political sophistication in voters overall, well, that’s a start, but not the solution. A 2006 study by Charles Taber and Milton Lodge at Stony Brook University showed that politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong. Taber and Lodge found this alarming, because engaged, sophisticated thinkers are “the very folks on whom democratic theory relies most heavily.”


Professor Leiter and his band of emulators pride themselves on being more sophisticated than the average boob. But they are not immune from this cognitive deficiency. Indeed, when the likes of Professor Leiter bash capitalism (which is awesome) and praise socialism (a total failure), they are engaging in sophisticated forms of rationalization of rather base emotions ("capitalism is bad because of the pursuit of profit" or some such BS). Attendant to this process of rationalization is a reflexive antipathy towards thinkers like Ayn Rand not actually borne out by a remotely careful investigation of her ideas. But since the Leiter-types have the prestige, they evidently feel some kind of special entitlement to dismiss contrary viewpoints in a very sneering, snide, and smug fashion, and to evade accountability for doing so when reasonably challenged.

In linking the Boston Globe piece, Leiter clearly demonstrates a monumental lack of self-awareness for someone so "sophisticated."

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