In case you haven’t read this, you should:
“Post-factual democracy” is such a great way of describing the hegemony of disinformation. We live in a world where politicians can focus on a mythical figure of £350 million per week, and claim that a “Leave” vote will stop immigration. It’s the same world in which Donald Trump can claim to be both reducing and increasing the National Debt, and both increasing and reducing taxation rates for Hedge Fund managers. The facts don’t matter.
It reminds me of an article on the Huffington Post ‘Science of Us’ blog, titled How To Talk Your Friends and Loved Ones Out Of Supporting Donald Trump. Here’s one of the rules:
Quit with all the debunkings.
Trump is, even by political standards, a prolific and ostentatious liar. He also has no grasp on public policy whatsoever, and in most cases hasn’t really bothered developing a platform or coherent positions. Trump says things all the time that aren’t true, and his fibs and misrepresentations cover everything from his own business background and acumen to major public-policy debates. Even after one of his claims has been debunked, he’ll repeat it over and over again.
Given all this, it’s natural that anyone arguing with a Trump-supporting relative would start by pointing out all the stuff Trump has lied about and/or gotten wrong. That would be a mistake, though. Over and over, political scientists and psychologists, not to mention various other researchers, have shown that when it comes to political arguments, we don’t really respond to factual appeals. This technique can even lead to the dreaded “backlash effect” in which challenging someone’s views by providing disconfirming evidence causes them to cling tighter to those views.
The reason debunking often doesn’t work is that, as I hinted at above, most people don’t come to their political preferences having carefully and logically sifted through their options. Rather, they come to them from a more gut- and emotion-driven place. Trump’s fabled impregnable border wall (that Mexico will pay for, naturally) is a wonderful example of this principle in action. It’s a horribly impractical idea that would cost billions and do all sorts of harm, but the voters excited about it obviously haven’t run the numbers or looked closely at the proposal (there isn’t even a detailed proposal to look at) — rather, the wall, as a symbol, speaks to their feelings about immigration and humiliation and American greatness and whatever else. (Trump voters aren’t alone in doing this, of course — can you confidently say you’ve never thrown your support behind a political idea because it felt right, without knowing the full details?) So if they didn’t care about the numbers when they adopted their belief that the wall is a good idea, why would pointing to the project’s impracticality cause them to discard the belief?
And if you’re looking for some of that science, here’s an older RA post from early May: “Don’t Argue With Fanatics“. [Side-note: I originally called that post “Don’t Argue With Stupid People”, until I cowarded out and went with something less controversial.]
I guess I could lament the fact that the facts don’t matter, and point out that education is apparently failing us, and question whether the democratic voting system needs to self-correct for all the racist/bigotted/dumb/misinformed/extremist votes.
But this is probably just another stage in a very-repetitive cycle. From what we can see of the tapestry of human history, civilisations seem destined to transition back and forth between xenophobia and xenophilia, with social movements always rising to counter the prevailing attitude at the time. And also, if we’re entirely honest, being a xenophile can be just as fact-less and belief-based as being a xenophobe.
Given that, my one real comfort is this: generally speaking, whatever the masses decide, the educated classes are the most likely to be the least affected, because they have the ability to plan and manage and diversify risk. Unless you get a full-scale French/Russian-style revolution, obviously – in which case, time to become a migrant. #irony
I’m going to close with these two tweets:
PS: check out this photo album on facebook of tweets and facebook statuses about anti-immigrant and racist incidents since Friday’s result. It’s biased against Brexit, of course. But it’s filled with bias.
Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.