Political Stalemate, Inaction, and Evolution
What does evolution have to do with political stalemate and inaction? Everything. I’ll explain.
A May, 2012 article in New Scientist magazine explained it all. I’m still frustrated with political inaction but now at least, I know the evolutionary reason for it. The New Scientist article by British writer Dan Jones surveyed the works of several prominant researchers and finally gave me a good explanation for the wheel spinning, of legislators mired in political/religious mud. What the hell is wrong with these legislators? Why can’t they see compromise is required? Why can’t they see infallible doctrines are doomed to the “Inactive File”. Why can’t they understand that decisions based upon group wisdom generally serve the public better than party or/and individual mandates?
As author Jones points out, evolution taught humans to use reason and argue, and argument helped spread group wisdom. Scientific research has demonstrated that group wisdom beats out individual wisdom every time and it all happens at an accelerated pace.
I was not convinced at first, but the power of evolution soon made itself clear. A politician’s greatest enemy is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the confounder of all belief and decision making, in politics, religion, art, science, and almost any subject. A medical scientist searching for a cancer cure needs to have an open mind, flexible enough to consider new creative ways of finding a solution. Unfortunately, our minds have the instinctive tendency to pick and choose information that confirms our preconceptions while ignoring evidence of the contrary.
Author Jones – “ Everything from your choice of cellphone to your political agenda is probably clouded by several kinds of fuzzy logic that sway the way you weigh up evidence and come to a decision.”
Jones poses this question, “Why did we evolve such an apparently flawed instrument? Our irrational nature (confirmation bias) is very difficult to explain if you maintain that intelligence evolved to solve complex problems.”
The explanation lies in the fact that we are not solitary animals, we are a social animal. We have not evolved to always rely upon just one individual’s decision. We, more than any other creature that ever lived upon the earth, discus and argue in order to arrive at valid decisions. We use our argumentative abilities to make our points in group discussions. Others within our group use their argumentative abilities to shoot down our arguments. The individuals with the best arguments and reasoning usually win the day. When reason interferes with political party policy, or church doctrine, or scientific theory, reason is too often the loser. That is exactly why discussion, argument, debate, is necessary for our society to prosper. When debate and argument is not allowed, society is in trouble.
Through evolution, humans have acquired a healthy skepticism and an ability to see flaws in another argument, “allowing us to come to extraordinary solutions as a group that we could never reach alone.” A danger lies in the fact that we have the tendency to make decisions that appear to be rational but are not. An example would be our eagerness to go to war because the polls say if would be politically popular. Politicians make decisions that they think will get them re-elected and can be easily defended, rather than what is best for the nation. Their argument goes like this: “How can I serve the people if I am not elected? My election is more important than my honesty. Before all else, at any cost, I must get elected.”
Jones writes about the framing effect. A series of studies indicates that people treat identical options very differently depending upon how the options are presented. Pollsters use this trick to shape the polls toward a particular political or religious result. Participants in the study made their choices according to the options that would be easier to justify if they had to, not the options that were the best.
Another irrational bias is the sunk-cost fallacy, which is our reluctance to cut our losses and abandon a project when it would be more rational to move on. Feature creep is another irrational bias that causes us to buy goods with more features than we will use. Overall, our gut reactions are often irrational reactions.
Studies done at major universities, tell us that most moral judgments stem from our gut reactions to moral transgressions, and not from reason. Moral argumentation is seldom a search for moral truth. It usually is a tool for moral persuasion. In general, argumentation changes minds and policies, gathers supporters, directs blame, and condemns those accused of immorality and social transgressions. But, argumentation does not guarantee reasonable, moral or legal decisions if it is emotionally based. Healthy argumentation does however, serve the purpose of providing an opportunity to undermine bias opinion and bias reasoning. The results of fruitful argumentation can produce some surprisingly smart results that are superior to the isolated efforts of irrational individuals and leaders of powerful organizations. There is abundant evidence that group decisions are more likely to be fair and more creative than the decisions of individuals no matter how smart they are.
Collective intelligence refers to the way a group argues. The more participation by all group members, the more successful the group will be in solving problems and finding the best solutions to difficult tasks. When vested interests control discussions and emotions run high, dissent is stifled and ignored, causing disastrous results. When all participants have an equal chance to voice their opinions the group is more likely to provide good and fair decisions based upon reason and fact. Congress’s current stand off and it’s inability to comprimise is a good example of government gone wrong.
When educational institutions and government bodies rely too heavily upon individual personalities and long held dogmatic truths, there is less likelihood that they will produce informed, intelligent and fair results. Collective intelligence depends upon group interaction and argument. Somehow the truth rises to the top. Unfortunately, current political positions in Congress are predetermined by a few party leaders, particularly in Republican ranks. Arguments and reason fall upon deaf ears. Decisions have already been made prior to debate. When debate becomes useless, Democracy cannot live up to its promise. A million years of human evolution is ignored and the ability to change minds by debate and argumentation becomes a wasted trait, just when the nation needs it the most.
Don’t be afraid to argue; your opinion counts and helps to form a collective truth. Be critical of dogmatic politicians unwilling to argue important issues. Be critical of faith based and emotional pundits and politicians. Rely upon facts, reason, and your evolutionary abilities to argue a point and change people’s minds.