Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fundamental Attribution Error

Akafred has two in a row for sparking off thought-connections for me. A Sudanese Lost Boy, known to both of us but closer to him than to me, is now thriving in America and in college. Peter asked him to explain Fundamental Attribution Error. Presumably he is taking a sociology or social pyschology course. If that's not a familiar concept to you, you may want to look it up. The link ties in too many other topics in trying to get a good summary, but I don't feel motivation (Jesus Freak version: "I just didn't feel led") to find a better. It's serviceable.

I have long been puzzling why liberals and other anti-corporatists will strain at the gnat - okay, probably a chipmunk or something - of business corruption, lack of competence, and indifference to others well-being, while swallowing the government camel of the same. Why in the world do they trust government to care about them and act nobly? It just seems insane to me when one looks at the record. Government employees - for example, me - are generally about like everyone else. Sometimes they go into fields that happen to be largely government run but don't have to be, such as teaching, social work, or firefighting. Not likely any better or worse than your average plumber or Avon lady. But the magnet of huge amounts of money and authority draws in an enormous number of folks who are worse than average. They like telling other people what to do. They like tinkering with social rules to make us all nicer. They actually believe, with a great show of resigned sighing, that to "get anything done" you have to play the game as it exists, which means bribery, arm-twisting, deceit, favors and fraud. Being ambitious, they usually work their way up to being in charge of the rather decent folk in more modest government jobs. Not that the more modest folks can't catch the spirit over time, of course, switching their energies into changing the system, which never means eliminating corruption and deal-making, but using those things to encourage desired social results. Does anyone who sits and looks at the record for fifteen minutes seriously think that Google, Coca-Cola, and Honda are more corrupt than the governments of any of America's large cities?

I wonder. The government has a face, in the person of the president and our elected officials. Perhaps that alone tricks us into believing that we can have some influence over them, human-to-human. We believe that they must care about us, because after all, they say they do, and know how to strike the right notes when they speak to us. Just like a regular human being. All the faceless people in government get represented by people who are always before us. The faceless people working for IBM just remain faceless, so we automatically - without passing the idea through the more-advanced parts of our brains - cannot imagine them caring about us.

This is playing out big-time in the current spin, with Obama taking on the role of rescuer and judge, showing us how much he cares by going after Big Faceless Entities.

If there is anything to this at all, then notice how much more, how freaking intensely, national journalists must be influenced by this. The government figures are right in front of them constantly throughout their careers, nobly striding forth to deliever justice to the AmPeops. The people offstage, no matter how effective and beneficent, are only the Boys in the Chorus.


David Foster said...

"Progressives," and even old-line liberals, do tend to see government as an idealized parent-figure. They don't want to understand that it is an aggregate of human beings, motivated by desires for money, power, adulation, and security. Yes, many are motivated by various forms of idealism: most people at the FAA, for example, really do care about aviation safety. But so do most people at Boeing and at GE Aircraft Engine.

I suspect that the view of government as idealized parent has psychological roots, and often occurs in people who are either alienated from their parents and are looking for a subsntitute, or who are unhealthily dependent on them and are lookig for a continuation of that dependency.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Good example with the FAA and Boeing.

jlbussey said...

I too work for the government (FDA), and while I mostly keep my head down and do my job (chemist), occasionally something will happen to remind me of what kinds of a$$holes rise to the top around here. And talk about Orwellian! (Don't ever believe anyone who uses the phrase "science-based" for example.) I try to point this out to my coworkers and they all agree on the specifics, but then their eyes glaze over and they go right back to "but the government should..." I guess they figure that if they individually mean well, that the aggregate couldn't possibly be wrong or untrustworthy. Frustrating. I would rather trust someone with a profit motive who I can pay to do a job, than an unelected busybody who won't admit that they have a drive for power and who only wants to do what they feel is best for me.