Psychology and Politics

ThumbnailI wrote a post a few days ago about the government shutdown that struck a nerve with a few people. Personally, I don’t mind disagreement as long as the those disagreements are based on well-thought arguments and evidence rather than emotional and ideological pleas. And I’ll still say whatever I want here because it’s my website and my soapbox.

One thing I noticed that struck people in particular was when I referred to a “tyranny of the minority.” There were disagreements trying to point out the conservative viewpoint is not in the minority, including among conservatives in the U.S. Congress itself. They claim that they represent the interests of the majority of Americans.

One thing that’s very clear right away is how incorrect this is and there’s a single piece of evidence that shows this clearly: Elections! If a majority of Americans agreed with the conservative wing, why are they not elected to and in charge of all branches of government? We just had a major election cycle last year where the Democrats kept control of the Senate and the White House and lost seats in the House of Representatives, despite gerrymandering of districts. Clearly, it is not true that the majority agree with conservatives in this country, at least not at this time. And I don’t accept an argument of a silent majority, because if a majority is silent, then it’s useless.

However, that is not the point I want to make with this particular post. What struck me about the reactions was the rational disconnect that seems to follow a lot of people when it comes to politics. Evidence shows that conservatives are not in the majority at this time among the general population, yet they insist that they are. This isn’t unique. Liberals will also claim the same thing when conservatives are in control of the government.

It’s a phenomenon that I personally find fascinating. Aside from the intensity with which people disagree over politics nowadays, what is it that causes this particular disconnect? Part of me believes that, to start, political beliefs are themselves irrational regardless of where someone falls on the political spectrum. Politics, by nature, have to be based on ideologies at a fundamental level. Even liberal ideas such as feeding the homeless (yes, it is) are, I will admit, irrational at their core. There’s not anything I would stand to gain personally. It’s a spiritual benefit one gains from helping their fellow man. In that regard, Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy is, admitted, the most rational belief in an absolute sense.

But that’s not to say that it’s right. I and many others find Objectivist ideas abhorrent on multiple levels. So, I’m admitting that my own political beliefs are not entirely rational if my beliefs were somehow based entirely on self interest. Instead my beliefs are based on a desire to benefit everyone, to help the downtrodden, further science, promote the free exchange of ideas, and further humanity’s progress. And I can dig my heels in pretty hard over my beliefs.

So, why do people act so irrationally over their beliefs, no matter how irrational we know they are, or try to convince ourselves they are rational? And why the insistence that someone is part of a majority when they’re not? I personally believe that most conflicts of this nature stem from a basic “Us vs. Them” mentality in the age old competition for resources. Unlikely some, I don’t believe that religion is the major source of conflict. Take religion out of the equation and people would still find reasons to fight because it’s really about resources.

Convincing one’s self that their part of the majority likely comes from the desire to be part of the dominant group. People like an underdog, but not necessarily being part of such a group. With the U.S. as divided as it seems to be at this time, it’s easy to convince one’s self that they’re part of a majority and that their majority factor is simply silent. But, like I said, a majority is useless if silent, so it’s very difficult to argue it on any practical level.

I’m currently reading a book that came out last year called The Righteous Mind, which is about this subject in particular. I’ll be reviewing it once I’m done, and interested in the conclusions that the author draws.

In the meantime, however, the Dodgers game is getting very intense, behind one run in the eighth inning, so I’m too distracted to continue with this post.

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