Salon on Politics and Psychology

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Reader Marco sent me to an interesting article on the psychology of voting—and whether we’re willing to change our minds in the presence of new evidence or information. Neurologist Robert Burton writes on Salon.com:

In the current presidential election, a major percentage of voters are already committed to “their candidate”; new arguments and evidence fall on deaf ears. And yet, if we, as a country, truly want change, we must be open-minded, flexible and willing to revise our opinions when new evidence warrants it. Most important, we must be able to recognize and acknowledge when we are wrong.

Most of us don’t seem to be very good at that. It also turns out that the less competent we are, the less likely we are to be aware of our own incompetence. Burton quotes from a Cornell psychological study:

People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else’s.

I also stumbled across this on Salon (but now can’t find it again). It appeared first in the Baltimore Sun, and is an open letter to John McCain, which says in part:

At a Sarah Palin rally, someone called out, “Kill him!” At one of your rallies, someone called out, “Terrorist!” Neither was answered or denounced by you or your running mate, as the crowd laughed and cheered…

In 2000, as a lifelong Republican, I worked to get you elected instead of George W. Bush. In return, you wrote an endorsement of one of my books about military service. You seemed to be a man who put principle ahead of mere political gain.

You have changed…

Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs.

I didn’t know until I got to the bottom that this was Frank Schaeffer, author of the book Crazy for God, calling McCain to task for inciting (or certainly tolerating) the flames of hatred at his rallies. It is true that Senator McCain stopped one woman who was denouncing Obama as an Arab—though it might have been good if he had also noted that “Arab” does not equal “bad”—but where was his reaction when people start shouting “Kill him!”?

(By the way, I’ve read Schaeffer’s book, and it’s a fascinating story of journey as a member and leader of the evangelical right who later left the movement in complete disillusionment. Not a political story so much as a personal odyssey.)

“Muddy water will become clear if allowed to stand undisturbed, and so too will the mind become clear if it is allowed to be still.” —Deng Ming-Dao

Post your comment before you lose your train of thought. (Mine already left the station.)