Thursday, September 24, 2015

Standard political ideology fails to serve the public interest

IVN (Independent Voter Network) published a Dissident Politics article describing an objective way to define service to the public interest. Belief in a political principle or moral that constitutes objective service to the public interest above service to special interests attempts to shift the balance of power from special interests as they define it to serve their own political or economic beliefs or desires, to the real public interest as objectively defined.

The human brain sees and thinks about the world subjectively through a distorting lens of political and/or religious ideology (values or morals). That subjectivity gives rise to the vast differences in (i) perceptions of reality (facts), (ii) common sense (logic) and (iii) policy choices. All of those are unconsciously distorted to conform to personal (subjective) ideology or principles. Personal political belief or ideology therefore dictates how different people see the public interest.

In order to (i) reduce normal human distortion of reality and common sense and (ii) focus political thinking on the broad public interest instead of a focus on narrower interests, Dissident Politics proposes an objective[1] definition of the public interest as a key part of objective political ideology. An objective public interest definition expressly balances competing interests including, e.g., competing ideologies and other special (economic) interests. The point of a political ideology or set of morals that are based on fidelity to objectively unspun fact, objectively unbiased logic[2] and an objectively defined public interest is to make politics (1) more cost-effective, (2) less corrupted by special interests and their money and (3) more responsive to the needs and desires of the American people. The article is here.

1. The objectivity in the public interest definition, e.g., as described before, comes from forcing consideration of the main concerns that constitute key elements of liberal, conservative, centrist and religious ideologies. Instead of the liberal or conservative definition of what constitutes service to the public interest, the Dissident Politics vision sees service to the public interest as a competition on the merits of a broadly defined public interest.

2. Strictly speaking, human logic as applied to politics (and probably everything else) cannot be completely unbiased. The phrase "unbiased logic" as used by Dissident Politics means logic biased by an objective intellectual framework (political ideology or morals) of fidelity to unspun fact and an objectively defined public interest. The biology of human cognition being what it is, logic will always be constrained or distorted by personal ideological belief. In humans, logic is normally used to rationalize and defend personal belief, not to critically and honestly analyze it. In other words, the human mind uses logic to support intuition or emotion, not to analyze and assess reality as a guide to refine or correct intuition. Intuition defines (controls or traps) facts, values and common sense (logic). Reason does not define or guide beliefs. One cognitive scientist puts it like this: “Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.” Some degree of subjectivity or emotion is biologically needed for logic to function properly in assessing reality or facts.

By using a political ideology that forces objectivity into the public interest definition and elevates that definition to the level of a core or "sacred" political ideal, logic will be biased within the confines of a chosen public interest definition. Although any "objective" public interest definition will be imperfectly objective, human cognition is imperfect and trying for objectivity by balancing competing political principles or morals is about the best that human biology will allow politics to be. This takes into consideration America's two-party political system, which is built on corruption by (i) special interests, e.g., both political parties, (ii) special interest money and (iii) spin, e.g., lies, misinformation, deceit, withheld facts, fact and logic distorted by both personal ideological belief and economic or other forms of self-interest, etc, all of which is constitutionally protected as free speech, freedom to address government and so on.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Biopolitics: The biology of politics

IVN (Independent Voter Network) published a Dissident Politics article describing the biology of politics. Because the human brain sees and thinks about the world subjectively through a lens of political and/or religious ideology (values or morals), vast differences between believers in different ideologies arise easily and unconsciously. Because ideology distorts reality (facts) and defines common sense (logic), differences of opinion about reality and policy choices are usually impossible to resolve. The article is here.
Biopolitics summarized: Ideological corruption
In politics, the human mind operates in a way such that facts and logic are largely trapped by, or limited to, perceptions of reality and logical conclusions that are acceptable to personal ideology, i.e., one's own values, morals or faith. Although it is counter intuitive, fact and logic are secondary to the dominance of intuitive or subjective values. In other words, personal political ideology masks fact and distorts logic. If one is of the opinion that fact and logic should dominate political reality and reasoning, the role of ideology in politics is at least as corrupting an influence on politics as is special interest money.

That is not an argument that intuition or emotion, i.e., subjectivity or personal bias, is always bad or needs to be completely removed from politics. That is impossible. Human memory (facts), emotion and decision-making are processed together in a brain structure (the amygdalae). It is not possible to fully separate objective fact and logic from subjective ideology, faith or values. Basic human biology precludes that kind of operation - people can strive be close to objective and rational, but they can never be perfect.

The two-party political system fully understands this aspect of human biology. It ruthlessly plays on the biology personal ideology as a means to distract, deceive, misinform and polarize the American people into irrational status quo support. Meanwhile, the two-party system quietly serves its own ends, primarily sustained political power with minimal meaningful opposition, with little or no regard for the public interest as Dissident Politics argued before.

Some examples exemplify and clarify how this aspect of human biology routinely plays out in real wold two-party politics.

Example 1: Research makes it clear that misinformation (spin) is common, “sticky” and hard to correct. Whether conscious or not, politicians and partisans routinely rely misinformation or spin in their political rhetoric and logic. In this context, misinformation includes denying, distorting, hiding and irrationally weighting relevant facts and arguments. It is much easier to accept or accord undue persuasive weight to information that agrees with a person's pre-existing ideological beliefs or values. Critically assessing truthfulness or to objective persuasive weight is much harder and most people are unwilling or uncomfortable with that. 

Even retraction of unintended false information often fails and attempts to fix rhetorical or fact errors can strengthen incorrect beliefs. Researchers have observed that simply retracting a piece of misinformation "will not stop its influence". The two-party system is fully aware of the power of misinformation and this aspect of human biology. That knowledge is applied with a vengeance against the American people to serve narrow interests, e.g., both parties and their politicians.

Example 2: Dr. Michael Shermer, a libertarian and editor of Skeptic magazine, described the impact of this aspect of human cognitive biology on his personal assessment of a political issue. His understanding first required self-awareness of his own biological nature. He described the impact of his own libertarian ideology on how he saw and applied logic to the gun control debate: “Take gun control. . . . Although the data to convince me that we need some gun-control measures were there all along, I had ignored them because they didn't fit my creed [i.e., his ideology]. In several recent debates . . . . I saw a reflection of my former self in the cherry picking and data mining of studies to suit ideological convictions. We all do it, and when the science is complicated, the confirmation bias (a type of motivated reasoning) that directs the mind to seek and find confirming facts and ignore disconfirming evidence kicks in.” 

In this case, a thoughtful person who considered themselves to be rational and solidly grounded in reality (facts) realized that his own subjective ideology, libertarianism in this case, led him to ignore or distorts facts and, in part, that affected his logic as applied to the gun control debate. In this case, personal political ideology led to ignoring or distorting facts that tended to contradict or undermine the ideology. 

Example 3: Consider this experiment using a hypothetical brother-sister incest scenario. The short interview transcript shows conflicts between uncomfortable facts and ideology or morals playing out. It is obvious from the transcript that subjective ideology struggles against accepting objective facts that undermine or contradict ideology. The experimental subject is simply unaware that he or she is trying to pound a round subjective peg into a square objective hole. The effort just doesn’t make sense, not even to the person involved. Unspun facts keep getting in the way of the logic needed to rationalize disapproval of the incest incident used in the experiment. If this was a political situation, the facts would be spun (denied, ignored, distorted or logically underweighted) and the rationalization would be much easier. In that case, the fact spinning would be done by the politician or partisan speaker and/or by the listener.

Fact and logic vs. ideology conflicts like this play out for all or essentially all issues in politics. If there are exceptions, they are rare.

Being rational is affected by human physiology, e.g., blood sugar levels, physical fatigue and being sleepy. Perceptions of reality and logic are subject to an astonishing array of unconscious biases, e.g., priming effects, framing effects, halo effects, anchoring effects, confirmation bias and the powerful but easy to invoke “what you see is all there is” (WYSIATI) bias.

Political rationality varies with intellectual engagement and open mindedness. People who are mentally engaged are “less willing to be satisfied with superficially attractive answers [and] more skeptical about their intuitions.” A political mindset where the slow, hard to use rational brain has conscious impact is more rational than a mindset that relies on the easy, comfortable, subjective political auto-pilot that people normally rely on. Objective politics is neither easy nor for the faint of heart.

Example 4: Some people do see this aspect of human biology in human affairs and a need to guard against it. In the context of the law, see, e.g., Brooklyn Law Review, vol. 79, issue 1, pages 107-174, 2013, quoting Justice Sonya Sotomayor on judging: "We have to know those moments when our personal bias is seeping in to our decision-making. If we’re not, then we’re not being very good judges. We’re not being fair and impartial." Some judges criticize others for pretending their biases are not there at all, e.g., Justice Scalia claims to be an unbiased textual originalist, but to support his conservative views on abortion, states’ rights, guns, and other issues, he relies on subjective (ambiguous) rules of legal interpretation that allow him to rationalize his conservative legal opinions. Objectively, Scalia's biases could not be clearer, but to Justice Scalia, such an accusation is pure nonsense.

The same is true for politicians and partisan pundits - they need to when personal bias distorts laws facts and logic. Unfortunately, they rarely know bias because seeing it is uncomfortable and requires moral courage.