Do Politics Make Us Stupid?
Ezra Klein’s new venture Vox launched this week, and it’s full of great and provocative articles. One of the first was a longish think piece from Klein on how politics makes us stupid.
There’s a simple theory underlying much of American politics. It sits hopefully at the base of almost every speech, every op-ed, every article, and every panel discussion. It courses through the Constitution and is a constant in President Obama’s most stirring addresses. It’s what we might call the More Information Hypothesis: the belief that many of our most bitter political battles are mere misunderstandings. The cause of these misunderstandings? Too little information — be it about climate change, or taxes, or Iraq, or the budget deficit. If only the citizenry were more informed, the thinking goes, then there wouldn’t be all this fighting….
But the More Information Hypothesis isn’t just wrong. It’s backwards. Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.
You can read the whole piece here.
It’s a fascinating read and an odd way to launch a political/policy site that more than most is dedicated to More Information. But boy do I appreciate the point.
I think it also raises many, many questions that merit exploration. More information may not necessarily work by itself. But maybe it works in combination with other appeals and techniques. What are those other techniques? Which political topics rise to the “I won’t be swayed” level of tribal politics and which don’t? There are clearly some subjects that are amenable to rational, evidence-based decision making. What are those subjects and why are they still subject to information?
Do we need political truth and reconciliation commissions?