Monday, June 15, 2015

Hard wired for false reality and bad choices

A central Dissident Politics criticism of two-party politics is its constant reliance on spin[1] to paint false realities, distract the public and win policy arguments and public support. Differences in how the left and right see facts and apply logic are vast. One reflection of that are accusations of lying each side levels at the other (dems lie, dems lie, reps lie, reps lie). Fact checking groups suggest spin is routine in political rhetoric (PolitiFact, FactCheck). As argued before, spin is constitutionally protected free speech and it is subtle (mostly unconscious) but very effective. Spin leads to vast waste, creates false realities, ineffectively serves the public interest and is used to serve special interests[2] with little or no regard for impacts on the public interest.[3]

Presumably most or essentially all hard core partisans on the left and right would deny that they are subject to distorting reality or logic. In view of what modern science knows about the frailties of human cognition or perception and human biases, that assertion is simply false.

Humans and apes succumb to "framing spin"
The framing effect, a cognitive bias, tends to lead people to choices that can be objectively wrong or bad. For example, people are more inclined to buy a diet product that is asserted to work 40% of the time than when the same product is framed to fail 60% of the time, even though the product may not work at all. In other words, a choice framed positively, i.e., people are told (spun) that the glass is at least half-full, is tends to be accepted even when the actual choice without framing is negative, i.e., the glass is actually less than half-full. That's just human biology.

Recent research demonstrates that primates are also susceptible to the framing cognitive bias. Apes presented with choices presented in a positive or negative frame tended to choose the choice if it was positively framed, even though both choices led to the same outcomes. That suggests that susceptibility to this form of spin is hard wired in both humans are apes.[4]

Political framing: Deceiving or informing the public?
Framing in politics is a well-known tactic for manipulating perceptions of reality or deceiving the public. Politicians, partisans, the media and other players in the two-party system frame their desired policy choices or stories to attain the desired outcome. Typically, this involves description of only one frame for a given issue and the frame is presented as positive for the public interest, even when the actual unframed scenario or choice is actually neutral or negative. That's where some spin damage comes from.

Although some argue that framing should be used to inform the public, there is nothing in the law or the U.S. Constitution that prohibits this form of spin from being used on the American people in service to special interests. What is the net effect of framing in politics, more good than bad? Used only by one side and not the other? Answers to those questions boil down to how one sees the two-party system. Most or all partisans on each side will probably accuse the other of routinely using this form of spin while rarely or never using it themselves. In Dissident Politics' opinion, that is solid evidence that both sides routinely employ this spin tactic. For the most part, neither the left nor right has the self-awareness and/or moral courage to be honest with the American people, which is a reflection of its failures and corruption.

1. Spin includes lies, deception, misinformation, withholding, distorting or denying inconvenient facts or arguments, unwarranted character or motive assassination, and, usually unconsciously, the use of fact or logic that is distorted by ideology and/or self-interest. Distortion of reality and logic by ideological bias, e.g., confirmation bias, self-interest or both, is common and has been documented by years of research. For example, strongly-held political ideology or values appear to facilitate or cause false perceptions of fact (reality). People routinely act on the basis of those false fact. Dissident Politics sees no way to spin that fact as a good basis for doing politics that efficiently and effectively serves the public interest. It is a very good basis for deceiving the public while serving special interests, but it cannot be good for the public interest.
2. Special interests in two-party pay-to-play politics include both parties, most or all of their higher-level politicians, their partisan supporters, partisan media outlets, lobbyists and people or entities that are major funders of political operations.
3. Research shows that politically active 'economic elites' are far more influential in determining policy choices compared to average Americans. Special interest money in politics is a much more powerful a determinant of policy choice than public opinion or the public interest. That situation fits Dissident Politics' definition of political corruption and how political corruption has been seen for over a century.
4. Being hard wired for framing effect spin does not mean that humans have to always succumb to it. As the ape study researchers put it: “Although susceptibility to framing is in our blood, being aware of the bias can help us avoid making poor decisions. Next time you encounter a well-framed ad, try figuring out what the negative framing would be and see if you are still tempted. Chances are, you can use your brain to outwit your biology.” That is not a message one can reasonably expect to hear from the two-party system. One can expect to hear the opposite.

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