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Blogging About Politics
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Jonah Lehrer has a post about why he doesn't blog about politics, even though he is intensely interested in the subject. First he talks about moral judgments, and points to research that shows that people often make snap "gut" judgments about actors in stories designed to test moral perspectives (e.g., a story about a brother and sister who have sex). People tend to make up their mind very quickly, and then justify their responses post hoc with often murky, convoluted, and irrational reasons.

How does this apply to politics? Lehrer says:


My hypothesis is that political judgments are like moral judgments. When you see a candidate, you experience a visceral, instinctive, inexplicable response. Your brain generates an emotion - Obama is uplifting, Hillary is commanding, McCain is honorable, etc. - and then the rest of your brain goes about explaining your emotion. The inner interpreter gathers together bits of evidence, post hoc justifications, and pithy rhetoric in order to make our automatic reaction seem reasonable. But this reasonableness is just a facade, an elaborate self-delusion.


While I think the issue of emotion biasing reason is an important one to be aware of, I think it's a cop-out to use this an an excuse not to discuss an issue that affects everyone living in a democratic society. So is Lehrer worried about his own biases, thinking he can't discuss political issues with some degree of objectivity? Or is he worried that the comments will only be irrational, emotional rants? Does he use this excuse to never discuss politics at all, even in person with close friends?

Subjective bias is something that all subjects have to deal with. Scientists attempt to reduce the amount of bias systematically, and so do other fields and disciplines interested in getting at the true state of things.

Lehrer's reasoning is akin to self-censorship. He doesn't want to talk about politics because people tend to make snap judgments and override reason with emotion. Instead of not discussing such a subject, why not strive to raise the bar, reducing the level of emotion and increasing the level of reason in the discussion?


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