Politics and Social Cognition


By Mick Spillane


We as human beings have amazing brains—dynamic and efficient. However, as spectacular as our brains are, they are far from perfect. One consequence of this deficiency is that the majority of us end up "knowing" a lot of things in life are not true. For example, do political candidates speak to us as adults? Will we support a candidate who tells the truth? How do we sort out the truth? Why do most people believe false news sources (I don't need to mention these sources by name)? It can be attributed to selective attention and selective memory, but it all seems so true. Indeed, those who know things that simply are not true are very hard to persuade otherwise.

 

So, are we rational beings or not? In this political climate, it can be hard to decipher. I think in our own way we try to be. The basic view of human cognition is that it is fully rational in nature—each individual attempts to do their best to be right, correct in their thoughts and beliefs. The eighteenth-century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, believed that we exercise felicific calculus, a type of happiness calculation to determine what is good or bad. Is this how we approach choosing a president? How we choose our political views? We choose the person who makes us happy, regardless of whether or not they speak the truth, or the source in which we get our news. When as informed and educated voters will we demand that political leaders present us with a realistic ideology? For a majority of society, they are happy being lazy when it comes to the political process—specifically, imploring perfect odds, the simplest of solutions, and politicians are more than happy to indulge.

 

Bentham viewed the role of government and economic systems as ways to guarantee "the greatest happiness for the greatest number." Society agreed—for the concept of felicific calculus became the principal theory, which has dominated capitalism.

 

We do not possess a God-eye view of the world—a viewpoint that is all knowing and free from prejudices. As individuals, once we know some of the limitations and common biases of the human mind, we can begin to think better make informed decisions.



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