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2004-05-19

Irrationality about politics and animal protection 

I've come across Michael Huemer's philosophical essay, Why People Are Irrational about Politics (through comments at Crooked Timber). To put it in a nutshell - I know, very dangerous with philosophy - Huemer argues that for many people it is instrumentally rational to be epistemically irrational about their political beliefs.

"In general, just as I receive virtually none of the benefit of my collecting of political information, so I receive virtually none of the benefit of my thinking rationally about political issues."
So instead, a number of sources of belief preferences frequently operate in practice, such as: self-interested bias; beliefs as self-image constructors; beliefs as tools of social bonding; coherence bias. Note however that Huemer does not claim that it's not possible to be rational about politics, he only says that many people are not, most of the time.

While I think that little practical consequences follow if one adopts Huemer's position, it seems to fit well with blogging practice: in theory it would be possible to make sure that one can present convincing evidence before writing a single word about an issue, in practice there is not enough benefit associated with doing that to justify the big additional effort. So blogging often is debate on a shoestring.

Last night, for example, the parties in the Austrian parliament agreed on a new animal protection law [in German]. It provides a step in the direction of better treatment of chicken, horses, and goats in the food industry, does little for cows (they can still be kept in a manner where they are tied to a place for all their life), and disallows puppies from being kept in zoo shops. [Sorry for the clumsy English here :-) ] My reaction to this is broadly positive, and that's why I mention it here, but I have not followed the legislative process closely and I guess I'm also not planning to read the entire new law. I feel somehow that I should, because I think that animal rights are an issue in need of much further progress, but I cannot get myself to doing it because of time limitations. And then I tell myself that as long as global poverty has not been effectively relieved, my interest for animal welfare should remain limited. I guess that's self-interested bias in Huemer's system.


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