Monday, December 2, 2013

Forcing politicians to think

By Bill Kraus

Before you pick a candidate or vote for one, you must ask that person whether they have read Thinking, Fast and Slow.

If they have not, offer to buy them the book. If they do not accept your offer, vote for someone else.

The book was written by a Nobel Prize winning economist and tells us things about the way our brains work that are startling, revealing and scary.

The book introduces you to that stranger in you, which may be in control of much of what you do, although you rarely have a glimpse of it.

A remarkable aspect of our mental lives is that we are rarely stumped. True, you occasionally face a question such as 17 × 24 = ? to which no answer comes immediately to mind, but these dumbfounded moments are rare. The normal state of our minds is that we have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything.

An academic work offers a picture of us that is far from flattering: guided by emotion rather than by reason, easily swayed by trivial details, and inadequately sensitive to differences between low and negligibly low.

Our minds are strongly biased toward causal explanations and do not deal well with mere luck. The idea that large historical events are determined by luck is profoundly shocking, although it is demonstrably true.

People can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of the like-minded.

Thinking fast cannot be turned off. And that’s okay with us. We prefer quick and easy solutions and abjure the slow, agonizing, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process of thinking slow. Who wouldn’t? The trouble is the emotion which too often drives thinking fast is prone to dismiss probability.

“Everything will turn out all right.” Wrong. It rarely does. Life is unpredictable.

What politics has succumbed to is thinking too fast. Here and elsewhere we look for shortcuts. It is much easier to find out who is making a proposal and judging its value on how you judge the proposer than examining the proposal itself.

Who needs a hearing when you trust or don’t like the sponsor?

This is a small sample of the distance from reality, the distortions of perceptions, the ways that thoughtlessness leads us astray that is what Thinking, Fast and Slow is about and why it should be required reading by everyone, and especially by everyone who has the power to make decisions for the rest of us.

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