“The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor,” observes the American political scientist Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012,) a captivating voyage of discovery of the social psychology of politics and ethics. Haidt makes a compelling case for why reason and logic aren’t what people use to contend with problems and steer through to the right answers.
Most people’s politics tend to be ill-informed. People don’t engage in deep causal thinking about the consequences of their favored political positions. Information and analyses tend to provoke—not calm—their preconceived judgments.
Reason is Motivationally Inert
As the Scottish philosopher David Hume noted in his masterful Treatise on Human Nature (1739,) “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”
Reason becomes subordinate to the passions that have come to life in people’s tribal allegiances and their confirmation bias. People are prone to making decisions derived from instinctive, emotional, and fast thinking of psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s “System 1,” not the slow, logical deliberations of “System 2.”
Most people feel good about sticking to their guns, even if they are wrong. They tend to read newspapers, periodicals, blogs, and social media feeds to settle ever more comfortably into their preexisting beliefs. They use their tribes’ “notice boards” not to reassess their established opinions but to have them validated, comforted, legitimized, and intensified.
On the rare occasion that they do converse with someone or read something they may disagree with, they don’t revaluate their judgments, let alone change their minds. They merely use reason as a weapon to discredit contrasting evidence, spot others’ flaws, and convince them that they are wrong. Consequently, reason doesn’t bind but drives differing people apart.