Why Politics Is Hopeless (from Oct. 17, 2009)

Political opinion is driven by two factors. First, people are hard-wired to be hostile toward thieves, and to regard people who have more as thieves (because in the ancestral environment, it’s a really good heuristic). So much of political opinion is determined by what models you use to identify who are the thieves. People on the left default to the hard-wiring that says “he has more, he must’ve stolen it or cheated someone out of it” and people on the right default to “he had it and then it was taken from him against his wishes, the takers have stolen it from him.” Knowledge of microeconomics can help undo the first bias (having more is not necessarily due to theft), but it’s a powerful bias, so the right tends to use it too, by focusing on “liberal elites” (people who have more than you do, so they must’ve stolen it–an easy line, since government is often in there somewhere, and government taxes). Second, a quasi-Freudian thing: do you associate authority with your parents (and you are a child still striving to achieve autonomy), or do you associate authority with yourself-as-parent? And when you think parent, do you think nurture, or discipline and protection from threat? For most people, ideas are just rationalizations of what they already know: who the thieves are, and who the parents are. Changing ideas is up against the psychological obstacle of initially thinking you have to lie down to thievery and surrender either your autonomy or your authority first. Once the ideas are changed, one won’t have viewed what one has done that way, but as a rule, no one ever gets that far.

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