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    • Ran across this study this morning:

      This article has a number of little nuggets, but this is probably the best summary:

      The refusal to admit error, or consider new evidence, is closely linked
      to measures of “dogmatic intolerance” and “authoritarianism,” the
      researchers concluded. Both, in turn, are linked with holding very
      left-wing or very right-wing political opinions.

      Our society seems to be producing zealots isotropically...more than I remember being the case a decade or so ago. Zealots tend to elect those who pander to them and demonize their opponents. They are quick to lose perspective, magnify any real or percieved slight, and are perpetually infuriated by any gains which are not theirs. In the political realm, the name of the game has become: wrangle for control of all three branches of government in order to impose one's own brand of zealotry on the remainder of the population. The candidates and platforms of the major parties drift further away from the middle with every election, such that we're really only able to select which extremist we disagree with less, or flip flop every 4 to 8 years so we don't get dragged too far off to either side.

      It makes one wonder if there is an effective way to generalize the principle of "separation of church and state" to "separation of ideology and state". How do we create a reality where the state is no longer an accessible weapon with which one imposes one's own beliefs on the unwilling masses? Would this end be served by increasing the bar for getting a law passed? (Say we require 67% yea votes instead of 51%...)

      Another interesting question: Are political zealots actually the norm, as they appear to be on Facebook and the news, or are they simply the noisiest or somehow the most attention-worthy? Is there no one left who recognizes and applies reason, or is everyone a sucker, ripe for the picking by whomever knows what button to push? Are the politicians responding to the zealots simply because they are the loudest, most passionate, most consistent voices, or are the more reasoned individuals factoring themselves out of the equation simply because they're more circumspect, cautious and reserved...particularly concerning topics which have no immediate personal relevance, or with which they have no personal experience? How does balanced reason inject itself into this environment where there is a clear need, but little in the way of an obvious means?

      Finally, an optimistic remark for the current times: America is actually working quite well even now. The function of our government is not to make us like each other, agree with each other, or impose our beliefs on each other. It's to keep feuds--especially feuds between zealots--from turning bloody. It's workling flawlessly. Deciding to walk away from the feud...well that's up to us.

      Anyway, enjoy the article....

    • That “article” read more like an ad for new subscribers than a report on scientific neuro-biology to me. “Smart people know they should constantly consider new information, or they’ll go broke.” (Implied: read Marketwatch to get new information about the financial world and don’t become an extremist blockhead.) Ha. Maybe I’m too suspicious of profit motives these days...


    • My entirely subjective sense is that while zealotry has increased in the past 25 years, it is not as pronounced as it was 50 years ago, and of course, that was nothing compared to 150 years ago. But OK, looking only at recent history, I don't really see how the study "helps explain the growing polarization of politics in the U.S and other open societies." While it does explore the underpinnings of thought in political extremists, I didn't see anything in the original paper (or in the MarketWatch article) that addresses changes over time. The original study was pretty tough reading for me, so perhaps I've overlooked something, dunno.

    • I think the article's intent was to apply findings from a particular study to a particular domain. ("If you are an extremist blockhead, understand you may have a metacognitive deficiency which blinds you to risks, so be extra vigilant when investing your money.") It's not going to read like a strict summary of the scientific article's findings.

      I think one of the key takeaways is that radicalism is correlated with factors which resist compartmentalization and which adversely affect one's decision making ability.

    • First, kudos for going to the original article and taking the time to wrestle with it!

      The statement you refer to appears to be from the marketwatch article rather than the paper. Products of journalism are rarely as precise or careful as peer reviewed scientific literature. The marketwatch author may see the journal article as a neat new mental tool which helps explain personal observations. Maybe he was just sloppy. In either case, I agree that the paper itself does not address change over time.

      My initial subjective assessment that zealotry is increasing appears to agree with your own. Your reference to 150 years ago I assume refers to the civil war. I'm sure zealotry was a part of that, but I suspect there was a lot more going on there--especially once it turned bloody. I'm certainly not an expert. However, I hope we can agree that while conditions of that time were more extreme than now, they also represent conditions we do not want to revisit...and increased zealotry is taking steps in the wrong direction. The paper does reference two studies which document recent trends in polarization:

      The latter is pay-to-access, so I was only able to read the abstract....or physically go to a subscribing library. However, even the abstract contained a nugget relevant to this discussion.

      We note that the willingness of partisans to display open animus for
      opposing partisans can be attributed to the absence of norms governing
      the expression of negative sentiment and that increased partisan affect
      provides an incentive for elites to engage in confrontation rather than

      I assume "elites" means elected officials and party leaders, while "partisans" means regular people. So if this statement is true, it perhaps suggests that making "hate-shaming" trendy (especially among one's own party) would ultimately lead to cooperation? That seems intuitive to me.

    • That's seriously fascinating, buzzkill. I wish I hadn't missed this conversation when you first posted it.

      The extraordinary thing to me is when extreme views turn out to be right and we only discovered that because the person with the extreme view couldn't let it go. You could argue that the greatest scientific breakthroughs came from people like James Clerk Maxwell, perhaps the most influential scientist of the modern electronic era, who couldn't be dissuaded about his theories of invisible fields and waves.

      I wasn't there for Maxwell, but I was for my ex-boss Steve Jobs and he was exactly that kind of extremist who rarely could admit he was wrong and would stick to something doggedly no matter what anyone else said — like when he had the obviously insane idea to sell computers in expensive luxury stores in high-rent areas. Everyone, no exceptions that I'm aware of, thought that plan was anything but insane.

      I often wonder in the political sphere where compromise is essential and someone can't just go off and start an insane delivery company based on flying airplanes to get packages there overnight, what extreme ideas would have turned out to be right had they not been labeled as extreme and defeated by all the checks and balances.