Ezra Klein has a very good piece up at the new Vox website about how politics is making us all stupid. He says:
“The threat is real. Washington is a bitter war between two well-funded, sharply-defined tribes that have their own machines for generating evidence and their own enforcers of orthodoxy. It’s a perfect storm for making smart people very stupid.”
I don’t know how accurate that is. Better informed ideological reinforcement doesn’t make us dumber unless we allow it to make us dumber. The problem is, most people don’t mind being force fed things they think they already know. I can’t be certain why this is, but I have a few guesses:
- Humans hate being wrong because it’s a sign of weakness.
- Learning new things is difficult therefore it’s easier not to learn new things.
This is all just a classic case of confirmation bias. We love to oversimplify things and create an excessively dumbed down version of the world that makes things very black and white. This is convenient because it allows us to learn new things easily and it allows us to compartmentalize our thoughts into a “right” or “wrong” compartment. No further inspection is needed. The mainstream media has become masterful in the way it force feeds this type of thinking to us.
The real problem in politics is not that it makes us stupid, but that we allow it to make us stupid. In essence, we fall victim to our own biases and fail to view the world with a sufficiently open-mind. We compartmentalize things into the “Republican” or “Democratic” view and then follow the path of least resistance into the land of confirmation bias. And in doing so we fail to see that there’s a huge amount of gray area in all of these discussions. In other words, politics doesn’t make us dumber. It just makes us more prone to our inherent biases. The antidote for that is simple. Problem is, it requires learning and probably admitting that you have some stuff wrong.