Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, March 29, 2013

You're an ignorant idiot

Well, okay, not you or me, but most people think they understand shit much better than they really do. Psychologists can't just say that, they need a fancy term for it, so they call it the Illusion of Explanatory Depth. For example, do you know how a toilet works?* Or a zipper? (How does it unzip, anyway?)**

In the linked essay, my colleague Steve Sloman and Phillip Fernbach discuss it in relation to politics and public policy.

I'll forgive the false balance since they were getting themselves published in the New York Times, but the basic idea is, if you ask people if they say, understand Obamacare and know why they hate it, they'll say definitely, they know all about it. If you ask them to justify their position they'll say something like it's sushulism, it's a government take-over of health care, it will kill people (Michelle Bachmann says that's already happening), etc.

So just ask them this: explain Obamacare. What does the legislation actually do? Much of the time, they'll stare at you bug-eyed and their jaw will go up and down and they'll say "Muh, muh, muh." They know they're supposed to hate it, but they don't know what it is. Steve finds that after that, their views tend to moderate.

I'm afraid I don't really know what the liberal equivalent is. If somebody cares to nominate a conservative policy that liberals don't like because they don't know what's actually in it, I'll listen. Meanwhile I think this is pretty much a one-way street.

* Hint: It's a siphon. Look at the back of the base, you'll see the profile of the drain pipe. Its top is above the water level in the bowl. Take it from there.

**  Hint: You have to know what's inside the slider.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The best tool in the Republican (or Fox News) toolbox is simplifying a complex, long-term project like Obamacare in to a form that is easily understandable to someone stupid, while completely misrepresenting it in all the ways that are important.

It forces a supporter of the project to give a complex, detailed explanation of why the argument is incorrect, which immediately seems weak and defensive.

It's been working for decades for topics as diverse as abortion, evolution, healthcare, etc, and there's no reason it won't work forever as far as I can tell.