Friday, January 27, 2006

Beliefs, and Where They Come From. (The Stork)

"Worldviews are more a mental security blanket than a serious effort to understand the world."
-- Bryan Caplan, The Logic of Collective Belief

A worldview doesn't cost much, except socially. Why shouldn't you have the one that makes you happy, instead of investing a lot of time into finding the one which accords best with reality? That is the logic behind the above. Hat tip, Arnold Kling over at TCS Daily

Recently, economist Jim Miller used the term moral free riding to describe adopting a precarious ideological position when it has little personal risk. George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan says that such free riding is the normal state of affairs. He argues that people are insulated from the consequences of their beliefs by the fact that the typical voter has a low probability of influencing the outcome of an election.

Caplan, in a book that eventually is to be published by Princeton University Press, argues that most people do not work very hard to arrive at worldviews that are logically consistent and factually supported, because the reward for rational beliefs is too small. He writes: "we should expect people to...believe whatever makes them feel best. After all, it's free. The fanatical protectionist who votes to close the borders risks virtually nothing, because the same policy wins no matter how he votes."

If you believe very strongly that there is a confederation of malign groups running your political opposites, then change your mind and decide that they're not so bad after all, what would change in your everyday life? You wouldn't likely change what your expectations for you childrens' schoolwork are, you would probably vacation in the same places, and eat the same foods. You would buy the same number of books, though a few titles might change.

The only thing likely to change would be what the people you frequently interact with think about you. Few of us have influence over enough people that our change of mind (or heart) would have much impact on the national scene. Collectively, what people in a democracy believe has an effect, and elections are made from the gradual accumulation of millions of tiny atoms. But for we atoms, why should we change our minds? Why not believe whatever we think will give us the most friends, or money,
or respect?

Trick question


Anonymous said...

There is some wisdom in holding an illogical worldview that makes you happy. For example, it costs me nothing to believe that Gagad Bob actually exists, and look at the joy it brings me. Where's the harm?

Anonymous said...

>>Why not believe whatever we think will give us the most friends, or money, or respect? Trick question<<

You are describing what is known as "Narcissistic Personality Disorder."

LiquidLifeHacker said...

LOL Petey!

Oh BTW AVI, I just stopped in to make sure you read this article today if you haven't already...its great. Symposium: Purifying Allah's Soil

David Foster said...

This line of reasoning would imply that people are more logical in their business and personal decisions than in their political beliefs. Are they really? There are plenty of examples of irrationality in the latter, too.

I think the problem of grabbing onto a hypothesis and refusing to let go of it extends way beyond politics.