Ao contrário do que muitos pensam, a saída dos EUA do Acordo de Paris não serve os interesses da China – bem pelo contrário, como se pode constatar no mais recente número do China Leadership Monitor da Hoover Institution.
Sonho com o dia em que a diferença salarial média entre homens e mulheres se inverta em favor das mulheres e o número de mulheres em cargos políticos e públicos e de direcção no sector privado seja superior ao dos homens. Primeiro, porque, embora se trate de uma realidade em que gostaria de viver, especialmente considerando que durante a esmagadora maioria da história da humanidade as mulheres foram e continuam a ser discriminadas de formas abjectas, repulsivas e sem qualquer justificação, perceberíamos todos que nem assim se conseguiria ultrapassar falhas características da cultura de cada corpo político. Segundo, e mais importante, porque deixaríamos de assistir ao chinfrim que os guerreiros pela igualdade de género a todo o custo teimam em produzir vociferando os seus preconceitos ideológicos assentes numa concepção profundamente errada da condição humana e numa compreensão débil dos fenómenos sociais, decorrentes do racionalismo construtivista. O que não quer dizer que, entretanto, não encontrem outras causas a que possam dedicar os seus esforços. Afinal, o racionalismo construtivista talvez nunca tenha tido um solo tão fértil como as hodiernas sociedades demo-liberais onde, infelizmente, a política da cartilha ideológica se sobrepôe à política enquanto conversação e acomodação de diferentes perspectivas. Como canta Samuel Úria numa belíssima crítica à primeira, Repressão!/ Repressão!/ Grita-se à toa/ Qualquer causa é boa num refrão.
Niall Ferguson, “There’s more than one side to the story”:
I do not remember Biden, much less his boss, tweeting “There is only one side” after any Islamist atrocity. On the contrary, president Obama often used his considerable eloquence to make just the opposite point. In his speech following the 2012 Benghazi attacks, he even went so far as to say: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” as if there were some moral equivalence between jihadists and those with the courage to speak critically about the relationship between Islam and violence.
Last week one of the chief executives who repudiated Trump, Apple’s Tim Cook, announced a $1 million donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Yet that organization earlier this year branded Ayaan Hirsi Ali (full disclosure: my wife) and our friend Maajid Nawaz “anti-Muslim extremist.” That word “extremist” should be applied only to those who preach or practice political violence, and to all who do: rightists, leftists, and Islamists.
Trump blew it last week, no question. But as the worm turns against him, let us watch very carefully whom it turns to — or what it turns turn into. If Silicon Valley translates “There is only one side” into “Censor anything that the left brands ‘hate speech,’” then the worm will become a snake.
É o que fica patente na análise de David A. Graham a duas chamadas telefónicas de Trump, uma com o presidente do México, Enrique Peña Nieto, e outra com Malcom Turnbull, Primeiro-Ministro australiano. Graham conclui assim o seu artigo na The Atlantic:
Two countries, two leaders, two approaches—yet both succeeded, for different reasons. The calls with Malcolm Turnbull and Enrique Peña Nieto are not only a valuable document of how diplomacy works; they would also set a pattern. Time and again, foreign leaders have found that Trump is hardly the hardened negotiator he claims, but is instead a pushover. If they can get into a one-on-one conversation with Trump, they can usually convince him to come around to their position. If that was true on paying for the wall and taking refugees, it stands to reason it would be true for lesser Trump priorities, too.
Hoje, a convite do Pedro Correia, contribuo para o Delito de Opinião com um post sobre a incapacidade crónica para debater civilizadamente de que sofrem alguns académicos que, por defeito, deveriam ser intelectualmente humildes, honestos e pluralistas e fomentadores da civilidade.
Aaron David Miller e Richard Sokolsky, “Trump is a Bad Negotiator”:
Granted, international diplomacy is a lot tougher than cutting real estate deals in New York, and there’s still a lot of time left on the presidential clock to make Trump great again. But half a year into the Trump era, there’s little evidence of Donald Trump, master negotiator. Quite the opposite, in fact: In several very important areas and with some very important partners, Trump seems to be getting the short end of the proverbial stick. The president who was going to put America first and outmaneuver allies and adversaries alike seems to be getting outsmarted by both at every turn, while the United States gets nothing.
Let’s start with the president’s recent encounters with the president of Russia, a man who admittedly has confounded his fellow world leaders for nearly two decades. Apparently without any reciprocal concessions, the world’s greatest negotiator bought into Russia’s plan for Syria, where U.S. and Russian goals are in conflict; ended America’s covert program of support for the moderate Syrian opposition, then confirmed its highly classified existence on Twitter; and had an ostentatious one-on-one meeting with the Kremlin strongman at the G-20 dinner, sticking a finger in the eye of some of America’s closest allies. It’s bad enough to give Putin the global spotlight he craves while accepting Russia’s seriously flawed vision for Syria. But to do so without getting anything in return gives “the art of the deal” a whole new meaning. Trump’s failure to hold Putin accountable for Russian interference in the presidential election is the most egregious example of putting Russia’s interests first and America’s interests last, but it’s hardly the whole of the matter. There’s no other way to put it: Trump has become Putin’s poodle. If it weren’t for Congress, public opinion and the media, Trump would be giving away more of the farm on sanctions, Russian aggression in Ukraine and other issues that divide the United States and Russia. That’s not winning; it’s losing.
In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless.
They have, what anthropologist David Graeber refers to as, “bullshit jobs”. On paper, these jobs sound fantastic. And yet there are scores of successful professionals with imposing LinkedIn profiles and impressive salaries who nevertheless go home every evening grumbling that their work serves no purpose.
Let’s get one thing clear though: I’m not talking about the sanitation workers, the teachers, and the nurses of the world. If these people were to go on strike, we’d have an instant state of emergency on our hands. No, I’m talking about the growing armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society. Or something to that effect.
So, will there still be enough jobs for everyone a few decades from now? Anybody who fears mass unemployment underestimates capitalism’s extraordinary ability to generate new bullshit jobs.
Our definition of work, however, is incredibly narrow. Only the work that generates money is allowed to count toward GDP. Little wonder, then, that we have organized education around feeding as many people as possible in bite-size flexible parcels into the employment establishment. Yet what happens when a growing proportion of people deemed successful by the measure of our knowledge economy say their work is pointless?
That’s one of the biggest taboos of our times. Our whole system of finding meaning could dissolve like a puff of smoke.
I believe in a future where the value of your work is not determined by the size of your paycheck, but by the amount of happiness you spread and the amount of meaning you give. I believe in a future where the point of education is not to prepare you for another useless job, but for a life well lived.
Durante a última campanha eleitoral nos EUA, foram surgindo muitos apoiantes e acólitos de Donald Trump que, de certa maneira, se assemelhavam aos apoiantes de Obama que acreditavam que o primeiro presidente americano negro seria uma espécie de enviado divino com a missão de resolver todos os males no planeta. Claro que o entusiasmo pueril em torno de determinados líderes políticos (numa linguagem weberiana, alguns podem ser classificados como carismáticos), assim como a diabolização de outros, fazem parte da essência das campanhas eleitorais. Passada a campanha, quando o eleito é confrontado com a realidade política da governação, muitos dos seus eleitores acabam, inevitavelmente, por ver as suas expectativas frustradas, ao passo que muitos dos seus detractores, mesmo que não o admitam, acabam por perceber que o mundo não acabou e que a vida continua. Como ninguém está imune a este tipo de emoções, uma certa dose de pessimismo é, portanto, uma saudável recomendação para quem prefere afinar pelo diapasão da temperança. Por isto mesmo, não acreditei que Trump fosse um anjo ou o diabo, preferindo aguardar para ver no que resultaria a sua presidência. Quem tem acompanhado a política americana ao longo dos últimos meses reconhecerá que talvez fosse difícil fazer pior, salvando-se, no campo da política externa, como honrosa excepção, a mensagem que enviou à Rússia e à China por via do ataque lançado contra a Síria. Mas após o polémico episódio de há uns dias, em que Trump tweetou um vídeo de si próprio a esmurrar alguém com o logo da CNN no lugar da cabeça, estou convencido de que, embora não seja um anjo nem o demónio, Trump será, provavelmente, o mais patético líder político contemporâneo, um adolescente que, para mal dos EUA e do mundo, se encontra no mais poderoso cargo político existente.
David Frum, “The Souring of American Exceptionalism”:
America’s uniqueness, even pre-Trump, was expressed as much through negative indicators as positive. It is more violent than other comparable societies, both one-on-one and in the gun massacres to which the country has become so habituated. It has worse health outcomes than comparably wealthy countries, and some of the most important of them are deteriorating further even as they improve almost everywhere else. America’s average levels of academic achievement lag those of other advanced countries. Fewer Americans vote—and in no other democracy does organized money count for so much in political life. A century ago, H.L. Mencken observed the American “national genius for corruption,” and (again pre-Trump) Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index ranks the U.S. in 18th place, behind Hong Kong, Belgium, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany—never mind first-place finishers Denmark and New Zealand.
As I said: pre-Trump. Now the United States has elected a president who seems much more aligned with—and comfortable in the company of—the rulers of Turkey, Hungary, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines than his counterparts in other highly developed countries.
That result forces a reshaping of the question of American exceptionalism.
“Why was the United States vulnerable to such a person when other democracies have done so much better?” Part of the answer is a technical one: The Electoral College, designed to protect the country from demagogues, instead elected one. But then we have to ask: How did Trump even get so far that the Electoral College entered into the matter one way or another?
Thinking about that question forces an encounter with American exceptionalism in its most somber form. If, as I believe, Donald Trump arose because of the disregard of the American political and economic elite for the troubles of so many of their fellow-citizens, it has to be asked again: How could the leaders of a democratic country imagine they could get away with such disregard?
Até ao fim de Julho podem aceder livremente a esta colecção de artigos subordinados à temática ‘Political Science and the 2017 UK General Election’. Destaco “Political Opposition and the European Union” de Peter Mair e “The Populist Zeitgeist” de Cas Mudde.
Se considerarmos os problemas do SIRESP recentemente revelados, nomeadamente, a cláusula de exclusão de responsabilidade da empresa que gere o sistema caso este falhe aquando de situações de emergência – que terá tido a anuência de António Costa, Ministro da Administração Interna que assinou o contrato em 2006 -, o relatório de 2014 da KPMG, solicitado pelo governo de Passos Coelho, que identificava várias falhas no sistema, e, no que diz respeito em particular ao que se passou no incêndio em Pedrógão Grande, o vergonhoso jogo de vários organismos que procuram atribuir culpas uns aos outros e não se responsabilizam pelos seus próprios erros e problemas, concluímos que não só ninguém fica bem na fotografia, como estamos perante indivíduos com uma mentalidade infantil no que concerne à assunção de responsabilidades – só falta dizer, como as crianças, que “foi sem querer”.
Todos os anos Portugal é assolado por incêndios. Todos os anos os políticos se lamentam, mas pouco ou nada fazem para mudar esta situação. Desta feita, morreram 64 pessoas, muitas das quais devido a terem sido encaminhadas para uma estrada que deveria ter sido cortada. O Estado falhou naquela que é a sua principal incumbência, proteger os seus cidadãos, ninguém quer assumir responsabilidades pelas falhas e erros e o pior é que, provavelmente, no próximo ano continuaremos a ver milhares de hectares do país a arder. Tudo isto é absolutamente vergonhoso.
Não sou adepto daquele estafado provincianismo que acha que o que se faz lá fora é que é bom e tem de ser importado para Portugal. Mas neste caso, basta olhar para as realidades de Bruxelas, Londres ou Washington para compreender que um regime de transparência na actividade de representação de interesses seria um saudável desenvolvimento que melhoraria a qualidade da nossa democracia. Bem, portanto, o CDS, o PS e o PSD. Já os “argumentos” de BE e PCP são de uma pobreza atroz.
Pierre Manent, “Populist Demagogy and the Fanaticism of the Center”:
As a term, “populism” is indisputably marked with discredit and denunciation. The populist orientation is often said to have a “passionate,” “extreme,” or “irresponsible” manner and tone. But its content, too, is never credited with the characteristics of reason, moderation, and responsibility. The term “populism” denotes an orientation, a political opinion, or certain orientations or political opinions, which are discredited and denounced. What opinions, what orientations? They can vary widely, and it is possible to distinguish them according to their basic political polarity, a populism of the Left or extreme Left, and a populism of the Right or extreme Right. It is important, however, to understand that the common substantive of populism tends to prevail over these opposing qualifiers of Left and Right. Even if this effect is not desired, it at least follows from the use of the term. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is thus effectively placed in the same boat as Marine Le Pen, which displeases him greatly. (Here, despite the axiological neutrality that ought to rule political science, I cannot help but sympathize with Jean-Luc Mélenchon.) By classifying these two political leaders under the same heading, this grouping effectively clouds the political landscape to the point of rendering it incomprehensible.
We encounter, then, the following difficulty. How is it possible that a notion which seems to have become indispensable for the understanding of political debate tends rather to make it confused and indecipherable? Does this notion indicate the new reality of those who are thus labeled, or is it not rather a product of the new political intention of those who use it? If the notion of populism can cover political orientations as distant as those of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen—if it thus has the power to prevail over the opposition between the Left and the Right, and even between the extreme Left and the extreme Right—it is because powerful forces intend to reconstruct the political landscape no longer around the opposition between the Right and the Left but between populism and . . . what? We do not know yet, but since “populism” is pejorative and implies discredit, we will say “respectable” and “accredited” politics.
These powerful forces intend to reconstruct the political landscape around the opposition between populism, which we can still describe as Right or Left, and respectable politics, which can still retain its versions of Right and Left. When I speak of the intention of these powerful forces, I do not refer to any sinister plot to give new names to things that have not changed, or to any plot to deceive good citizens. The situation has doubtless already changed enough so that the effort to pit “populism” against “respectable politics” is not merely possible in theory, but already has real purchase. The ability of the Right/Left polarity to organize and describe political life is now likely much weakened.
We can, however, already remark on the difference between how the Right/Left polarity and the populist/respectable polarity see political life. The Right/Left polarity attributes an equal legitimacy to both poles. Even if each of these halves claims full political legitimacy and doubts the legitimacy and occasionally even the simple morality of its opposing half, the system itself is based on the equal legitimacy of the two halves or the two poles, with an uncertainty or a gray zone represented by the extremes (extreme Right or extreme Left), whose democratic legitimacy is always suspect. The new mode is characterized by the unequal legitimacy of the two poles or the two halves: populism as such is tendentiously illegitimate, while “respectable” politics is tendentiously the only legitimate politics.
It seems to me that we have not sufficiently noted to what extent this new mode is actually new. The distinctive feature that the democratic and liberal order used to have as its foundation was the equal legitimacy of the majority and its opposition. The new order now imposing itself more and more upon us rests on the contrast between legitimate opinions and illegitimate opinions. The point deserves to be examined further, but it already seems clear that with this transformation, we have started to pass from an order built on confrontation between equally legitimate opinions to an order relying on confrontation between legitimate opinions and illegitimate opinions, between political orthodoxy and heresy. If this were true, then we would be in the process of departing from democracy as it has thus far been known.
Jerry Useem, “Power Causes Brain Damage”:
Lord David Owen—a British neurologist turned parliamentarian who served as the foreign secretary before becoming a baron—recounts both Howe’s story and Clementine Churchill’s in his 2008 book, In Sickness and in Power, an inquiry into the various maladies that had affected the performance of British prime ministers and American presidents since 1900. While some suffered from strokes (Woodrow Wilson), substance abuse (Anthony Eden), or possibly bipolar disorder (Lyndon B. Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt), at least four others acquired a disorder that the medical literature doesn’t recognize but, Owen argues, should.
“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.
I asked Owen, who admits to a healthy predisposition to hubris himself, whether anything helps keep him tethered to reality, something that other truly powerful figures might emulate. He shared a few strategies: thinking back on hubris-dispelling episodes from his past; watching documentaries about ordinary people; making a habit of reading constituents’ letters.
But I surmised that the greatest check on Owen’s hubris today might stem from his recent research endeavors. Businesses, he complained to me, had shown next to no appetite for research on hubris. Business schools were not much better. The undercurrent of frustration in his voice attested to a certain powerlessness. Whatever the salutary effect on Owen, it suggests that a malady seen too commonly in boardrooms and executive suites is unlikely to soon find a cure.
Carlos Lopes, “Africa’s Stake in Brexit”:
By far the most significant impact of a “hard Brexit” for Africa would be felt in the financial services sector. In negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government will be seeking to ensure that the City of London retains its place as Europe’s premier financial center. But even if May fails, London-based financial institutions could simply pull up stakes and decamp to continental Europe. Africa, however, could suffer as a result.
For example, the strengthening of the African banking sector in recent years – including the expansion of cross-border banking activities – has been made possible in part by innovative fintech (financial technology) products developed in London. Cutting-edge finance solutions used to modernize institutions like Standard Bank, Africa’s largest bank, depend on the expertise housed at UK-based institutions. If Brexit weakens London’s role as a financial center, the collateral damage for Africa would be measured in diminished investor confidence, gaps in banking services, and interrupted networks and processes. The financial innovation engine, in other words, could grind to a halt.
A weaker UK financial-services sector could also lead to a dearth of talent with knowledge of African markets. That could hurt UK-African trade more broadly. Unfortunately, Britain may be more important for Africa’s future in this regard than vice versa. With less than 5% of Britain’s trade deficit tied to Africa, the continent is not likely to be near the top of the UK government’s current preoccupations.
Diplomatic ties could be damaged, too, if a more inward-looking UK closes its doors to African travelers and students seeking to enroll in British universities. In short, the historical, political, and economic ties strengthened over decades could fray as UK-EU negotiations move forward.
But the risk Brexit poses to Africa should not be overstated. For one thing, trade isn’t the backbone it once was in the relationship. Only a small number of African countries are vying for access to the UK market, whereas many are looking to conduct more trade with one another.
Africa is learning to stand on its own in other ways, too. Since 2000, total annual aid to Africa has averaged $50 billion, while tax revenue during the same period grew from $163 billion to an astonishing $550 billion. The increase in FDI inflows, access to sovereign debt, and sharp expansion of migrant remittances have all contributed to a shift in the revenue base away from commodities. And African leaders are today busy establishing new alliances with their neighbors, improving business environments, and collaborating on industrialization projects.
Jamelle Bouie, “Who Needs Rule of Law?”:
Just one of our two parties is interested in checking this president’s abuse. The other, the Republican Party, is indifferent, content to tolerate Trump’s misconduct as long as it doesn’t interrupt or interfere with its political agenda. What defined Thursday’s hearing, in fact, was the degree to which Republicans downplayed obvious examples of bad—potentially illegal—behavior and sought to exonerate Trump rather than grapple with Comey’s damning allegations about the president. Sen. James Risch of Idaho, for example, pressed Comey on his claim that President Trump had asked the then–FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn, suggesting that—because Trump didn’t give a direct order—we ought to ignore the clear subtext of the president’s statement. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma described Trump’s actions on behalf of Flynn as a “light touch.” Other Republican committee members, like Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John McCain of Arizona, steered the conversation toward the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Still others, like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, defended Trump’s actions, blasting leaks to the press as efforts to undermine his administration.
Republican committee members were aided in all of this by the official organs of the GOP, which treated the hearings as a distraction—a partisan frivolity driven by Democrats and the press. “Director Comey’s opening statement confirms he told President Trump three times that he was not under investigation,” said a statement from the Republican National Committee that recommended a strategy of deflection. The RNC additionally argued that “Director Comey lost confidence of both sides of the aisle, and the president was justified in firing him.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, commenting on the procedures, defended Trump’s potentially illegal behavior as the mistakes of a novice. “He’s just new to this, and probably wasn’t steeped in long-running protocols,” he said.
James Comey’s sworn Senate testimony, both written and spoken, is evidence of one political crisis: A president with little regard for rule of law who sees no problem in bringing his influence and authority to bear on federal investigations. The Republican reaction—the effort to protect Trump and discredit Comey—is evidence of another: a crisis of ultra-partisanship, where the nation’s governing party has opted against oversight and accountability, abdicating its role in our system of checks and balances and allowing that president free rein, as long as he signs its legislation and nominates its judges.
Americans face two major crises, each feeding into the other. Republicans aren’t bound to partisan loyalty. They can choose country over party, rule of law over ideology. But they won’t, and the rest of us will pay for it.
David Heinemeier Hansson, “Trickle-down workaholism“:
It’s not hard to understand why such a mythology serves the interest of money men who spread their bets wide and only succeed when unicorns emerge. Of course they’re going to desire fairytale sacrifices. There’s little to no consequence to them if the many fall by the wayside, spent to completion trying to hit that home run. Make me rich or die tryin’.
The sly entrepreneur seeks to cajole their employees with carrots. Organic, locally-sourced ones, delightfully prepared by a master chef, of course. In the office. Along with all the other pampering and indulgent spoils AT THE OFFICE. The game is to make it appear as though employees choose this life for themselves, that they just love spending all their waking (and in some cases, even sleeping) hours at that damn office.
Not only are these sacrifices statistically overwhelmingly likely to be in vain, they’re also completely disproportionate. The programmer or designer or writer or even manager that gives up their life for a 80+ hour moonshot will comparably-speaking be compensated in bananas, even if their lottery coupon should line up. The lion’s share will go to the Scar and his hyenas, not the monkeys.
So don’t tell me that there’s something uniquely demanding about building yet another fucking startup that dwarfs the accomplishments of The Origin of Species or winning five championship rings. It’s bullshit. Extractive, counterproductive bullshit peddled by people who either need a narrative to explain their personal sacrifices and regrets or who are in a position to treat the lives and wellbeing of others like cannon fodder.
So who’s right? Are conservatives more prejudiced than liberals, or vice versa? Research over the years has shown that in industrialized nations, social conservatives and religious fundamentalists possess psychological traits, such as the valuing of conformity and the desire for certainty, that tend to predispose people toward prejudice. Meanwhile, liberals and the nonreligious tend to be more open to new experiences, a trait associated with lower prejudice. So one might expect that, whatever each group’s own ideology, conservatives and Christians should be inherently more discriminatory on the whole.
But more recent psychological research, some of it presented in January at the annual meeting of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), shows that it’s not so simple. These findings confirm that conservatives, liberals, the religious and the nonreligious are each prejudiced against those with opposing views. But surprisingly, each group is about equally prejudiced. While liberals might like to think of themselves as more open-minded, they are no more tolerant of people unlike them than their conservative counterparts are.
Political understanding might finally stand a chance if we could first put aside the argument over who has that bigger problem. The truth is that we all do.
Jeffry Frieden a explicar coisas fáceis de entender sobre a crise do euro e o futuro da União Europeia. Não vi esta entrevista muito divulgada por cá e compreende-se porquê: à esquerda é mais fácil continuar a acreditar na narrativa sobre o malvado ultra-neo-liberalismo, ao passo que à direita é mais fácil continuar a acreditar na narrativa dos trabalhadores do norte contra os preguiçosos do sul, dos responsáveis contra os irresponsáveis que só gastam dinheiro em copos e mulheres, que serve os interesses alemães.
Robert Burton em entrevista à Scientific American:
BURTON: A personal confession: I have always been puzzled by those who seem utterly confident in their knowledge. Perhaps this is a constitutional defect on my part, but I seldom have the sense of knowing unequivocally that I am right. Consequently I have looked upon those who ooze self-confidence and certainty with a combination of envy and suspicion. At a professional level, I have long wondered why so many physicians will recommend unproven, even risky therapies simply because they “know” that these treatments work.
LEHRER: To what extent do these mechanisms come into play during a presidential election? It seems like we all turn into such partisan hacks every four years, completely certain that our side is right.
BURTON: The present presidential debates and associated media commentary feel like laboratory confirmation that the involuntary feeling of certainty plays a greater role in decision-making than conscious contemplation and reason.
I suspect that retreat into absolute ideologies is accentuated during periods of confusion, lack of governmental direction, economic chaos and information overload. At bottom, we are pattern recognizers who seek escape from ambiguity and indecision. If a major brain function is to maintain mental homeostasis, it is understandable how stances of certainty can counteract anxiety and apprehension. Even though I know better, I find myself somewhat reassured (albeit temporarily) by absolute comments such as, “the stock market always recovers,” even when I realize that this may be only wishful thinking.
Sadly, my cynical side also suspects that political advisors use this knowledge of the biology of certainty to actively manipulate public opinion. Nuance is abandoned in favor of absolutes.
LEHRER: How can people avoid the certainty bias?
BURTON: I don’t believe that we can avoid certainty bias, but we can mitigate its effect by becoming aware of how our mind assesses itself. As you may know from my book, I’ve taken strong exception to the popular notion that we can rely upon hunches and gut feelings as though they reflect the accuracy of a thought.
My hope is the converse; we need to recognize that the feelings of certainty and conviction are involuntary mental sensations, not logical conclusions. Intuitions, gut feelings and hunches are neither right nor wrong but tentative ideas that must then be submitted to empirical testing. If such testing isn’t possible (such as in deciding whether or not to pull out of Iraq), then we must accept that any absolute stance is merely a personal vision, not a statement of fact.
Perhaps one of my favorite examples of how certainty is often misleading is the great mathematician Srinivasava Ramanujan. At his death, his notebook was filled with theorems that he was certain were correct. Some were subsequently proven correct; others turned out to be dead wrong. Ramanujan’s lines of reasoning lead to correct and incorrect answers, but he couldn’t tell the difference. Only the resultant theorems were testable.
In short, please run, do not walk, to the nearest exit when you hear so-called leaders being certain of any particular policy. Only in the absence of certainty can we have open-mindedness, mental flexibility and willingness to contemplate alternative ideas.