Politics, Reasoning, and Group Affiliation

Daniel Kahan writes that one should view culturally motivated reasoning (CMR)

as a form of reasoning suited to promoting the stake individuals have in protecting their connection to, and status within, important affinity groups. Enjoyment of the sense of partisan identification that belonging to such groups supplies can be viewed as an end to which individuals attach value for its own stake. But a person’s membership and good standing in such a group also confers numerous other valued benefits, including access to materially rewarding forms of social exchange (Akerlof & Kranton 2000). Thus, under conditions in which positions on societal risks and other disputed facts become commonly identified with membership in and loyalty to such groups, it will promote individuals’ ends to credibly convey (by accurately conveying (Frank 1988)) to others that they hold the beliefs associated with their identity-defining affinity groups. CMR is a form of information processing suited to attaining that purpose.

That sounds right to me. I wonder if Kahan would consider the possibility that this description applies as much to climate-change activists as it does to their opponents.

Related and recommended: Scott Sumner’s post on intellectual decay.

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3 Responses to Politics, Reasoning, and Group Affiliation

  1. Handle says:

    I thought Sumner was himself a bit unfair calling the tendency of climate change alarmists to be disproportionately affiliated with the left as indicative of intellectual decay on the right.

    1. First, David Friedman has deconstructed the ‘95% agree’ statement and found it to be extremely dubious and definitely misleading in the way it has been promulgated. Indeed, the odd survey questions seem designed to bring about the sort of results that permit such a claim, which was widely published and shared in its misleading form precisely so that people like Sumner would adopt the voice of authority and consensus without any further independent investigation and disparage those who didn’t do the same as anti-intellectual or anti-science. In other words, the actual signal of intellectual decay is the success-rate of misrepresentations just like that on people just like Sumner.

    2. That being said, Sumner has a perfectly valid point about the conveniently inconsistent use of ‘consensus’ as an effort to rhetorically bolster some policy proposal.

    3. The real sign of intellectual non-decay is that claiming there is an expert consensus can give rise to a presumption of a best guess, but one that is open to rebuttal if one can show that A. The purported ‘consensus’ is overstated (as Friendman did), or B. That there is some especially good reason to believe that the consensus has come about from various kinds of group-think pathologies or political distortions that infest a particular field of inquiry, or C. That the predictive track-record of the field’s community consensus has been terrible (relative to exaggerated assertions of high confidence levels and imminent dangers) and future forecasts should be regarded with skepticism, (Lubos Motl and Steve McIntyre have been excellent on B and C).

    Intellectual decay is being willing to degrade the intellectual rigor and competence of others on the basis of a simple claim of consensus without taking any trouble to examine the matter.

  2. Lord says:

    Because followership is so much easier than leadership, politics so much simpler than thought, and platitudes so more direct than nuance?

  3. Dr. Manhattan says:

    You don’t have to wonder: Kahan agrees and has written so numerous times, most recently http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/9/1/krugmans-magic-motivated-reasoning-mirror-show-ive-stopped-w.html

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