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The Psychology of Ignorance and How the Tea Party Is Helping Democrats: Five Reads Friday

| October 19, 2012

Paul Ryan’s bogus soup-kitchen photo. Read more about the fakery that the Washington Post defended.

Why you don’t know what you’re talking about until you try to explain it: “[A]ttack ads work, in large part, because we don’t understand them. Statements take advantage of a fact about human psychology called the “illusion of explanatory depth,” an idea developed by the Yale psychologist Frank Keil and his students. We typically feel that we understand how complex systems work even when our true understanding is superficial. And it is not until we are asked to explain how such a system works — whether it’s what’s involved in a trade deal with China or how a toilet flushes — that we realize how little we actually know. […] Why, then, does having to explain an opinion often end up changing it? The answer may have to do with a kind of revelatory trigger mechanism: asking people to “unpack” complex systems — getting them to articulate how something might work in real life — forces them to confront their lack of understanding. […] So what can be done to turn it into one? The answer implied by our research is not that we should all become policy wonks. Instead, we voters need to be more mindful that issues are complicated and challenge ourselves to break down the policy proposals on both sides into their component parts. We have to then imagine how these ideas would work in the real world — and then make a choice: to either moderate our positions on policies we don’t really understand, as research suggests we will, or try to improve our understanding. Either way, discourse would then be based on information, not illusion.” Steven Sloman and Philip M. Fernbach in The Times.

Unemployment rates fall in most swing states. Why that may not help Obama. “The state-by-state unemployment numbers, released Friday, held some encouraging news for President Obama and his reelection prospects, with the jobless rate dropping in September in seven of nine electoral battleground states [including in Florida] and rising in none. But because the rate remains relatively high in many swing states, it remains to be seen if Mr. Obama can capitalize on the improvement. […] Examined over the course of a year, unemployment rates fell in eight of the battleground states – Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Nevada. Only New Hampshire has seen its jobless rate rise over the past year. […] The swing states where unemployment rates fell the most are Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio. Florida’s unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, down from 10.4 percent a year ago. North Carolina’s dropped from 10.7 percent to 9.6 percent. Nevada is 11.8 percent, down from 13.6 percent. And Ohio’s rate fell from 8.6 percent to 7 percent.” From the Christian Science Monitor.

How the tea party is helping Democrats: “There are those who say that the tea party is fading in influence, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the movement is on the cusp of achieving what once seemed nearly impossible: keeping the Senate Democratic. […] The switch in fortunes can be attributed to many causes — a slate of lackluster Republican candidates high among them — but one thing is beyond serious dispute: If not for a series of tea party upsets in Republican primaries, the Republicans would be taking over the Senate majority in January. In the 2010 cycle, tea party candidates caused the Republicans to lose three Senate seats easily within their grasp: Sharron Angle allowed Democratic leader Harry Reid to keep his seat in Nevada, Christine O’Donnell handed Joe Biden’s former seat right back to the Democrats in Delaware, and a tea party favorite in Colorado, Ken Buck, lost a seat that was his to lose. […] Democrats and affiliated independents now have 53 seats to the Republicans’ 47. The way things look now, they seem likely to end up with 51 or 52 after the election; if President Obama is reelected, they would keep control of the chamber with 50 seats because Vice President Biden would have the tiebreaker vote. This would mean that the seats the tea party cost the Republicans — between three and five, depending on the outcomes in Indiana and Missouri — will have kept the Democrats in charge.” Dana Milbank in the Washington Post.

Bomb in Beirut Kills a Security Chief, Reviving Old Fears: “A top Lebanese security official opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad was killed Friday in a car bomb in Beirut, which also claimed the lives of seven others, security sources told The Daily Star. Maj. Gen. Wissam Hasan, the head of the police’s Information Branch, was the target of the mid-afternoon attack that ripped through the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh, the sources said. The blast, the first car bomb in Beirut since 2008, occurred at 2.50 p.m. on Ibrahim Monzer Street as workers left their offices and students finished school in the busy, mainly Christian district. Hasan, 47, headed Lebanon’s Information Branch, which recently uncovered a bomb plot allegedly involving a former Lebanese minister close to Syrian President Bashar Assad and a top Syrian official. Hasan was also close to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and played a key role in the probe of the assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Leading officials in the March 14 movement as well as the Progressive Socialist Party accused Assad of being behind Hasan’s killing while Damascus denounced the attack. “[The one] who assassinated Wissam Hasan is as clear as the light of day and I, Saad Rafik Hariri, vow not to remain silent over this crime,” he told Future Television in a phone interview.” From the Daily Star. And from the Times: “The bombing on Friday came a day after General Hassan returned from a trip to Germany and France. He had moved his family to Paris in the aftermath of Mr. Samaha’s arrest because he had received numerous threats. […] The physical scars of the civil war that tore apart Beirut are hardly evident today in the vibrant districts of Ashrafiyeh in the largely Christian east and Hamra in the largely Muslim west. Once strongholds of Christian and Muslim factions, they are now usually peaceful areas full of pubs and restaurants where Lebanese mix freely. But vestiges of the divisions remain evident with posters of the leaders of each sect killed over the years in political violence.”

Proposed Clay charter elementary school wants to plant undercover cop in student body: “A proposed charter elementary school in Clay County has a drug abuse prevention plan that calls for an undercover narcotics agent to pose as a student. The implausibility of real-life kindergarten cop was among the deficiencies cited by the school district in its recommendation to deny the application of Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. “In a grade K-5 configuration, the committee found it highly unlikely that the Sheriff’s Office will be able to pass off an undercover narcotics agent as an 8- or 9-year-old,” Lyle Bandy, the district’s director of student services, told the School Board Thursday night. Bandy quoted the school’s application as stating one of the remedies to keep drugs was “registering a sheriff’s undercover narcotics agent as a student of the school.”
Bandy detailed other areas where the application failed outright or only partially met state standards for curriculum, student programs, school staffing, safety, transportation and food service. The drug prevention issue was among the most glaring. After nearly three hours of discussion, the board decided unanimously to give the charter school officials more time to amend its application to meet state standards. Such revisions would include providing a more realistic approach to keeping drugs out of the schools.” From the Jacksonville Times-Union.


Georgia’s legendary Congressman John Lewis getting into the swing of voting gangnam style:

Jon Stewart on Fox News last week, unedited:

Jon Stewart on Bill O’Reilly, the full interview, from last year:

Flagler County Jail bookings, Oct. 18-19, 2012.

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4 Responses for “The Psychology of Ignorance and How the Tea Party Is Helping Democrats: Five Reads Friday”

  1. NortonSmitty says:

    OK, one story at a time. As far as the grown-up Eddie Munster and his wife slipping in to a closed St. Vincent De Paul homeless shelter for a photo-op, it is just the most recent of the phony things he has done or said in a long and consistently phony career for this Koch puppet. But two things. First, he even is phony in claiming to worship Ayn Rand, for as we know charity to the unproductive classes is the purest of evils. And second the desperately needed shelter in Youngstown has seen it’s donations drastically reduced due to a backlash. But not from the progressives who usually support these type of shelters, but Romney/Ryan backers who feel for some reason that this selfless institution is somehow to blame for making their boy look bad! So they leave threatening anonymous phone calls as well as threaten business donors to let the poor starve.

    I love the story on “illusion of explanatory depth,”. It is how Fox News makes their audience think they are well informed politically by throwing verbiage slightly over their heads they can nod to and pretend to comprehend. Remember, these are people that think they are getting and education when O’Reilly hits them with a three syllable word to memorize every day. It is up there with “low-information voters” on the bullshitometer. Just another way of avoiding the time honored phrases like dolt, half-wit, brain-dead,Stupid Idiot, moronic or working class Republican.

    As for unemployment, I love how Fox says how the only reason unemployment isn’t higher is that Thousands and Thousands have given up looking for work and left the labor force…” When will somebody call them on the fact that WWII ended a little over 65 years ago and the biggest Baby Boom in history is turning 65 about now and retiring?

    As far as the Tea Party goes, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

    There seems to be an awful lot of car and suicide bombs in Syria and now Beirut taking out high level officials. The opposition is getting better a this. Or a cynical person might suspect drones were involved.

    Unless the Clay County Sheriffs Office has gotten very lucky in their Affirmative Action program recruiting from the Restricted Growth Association, I don’t think it will fly right away. However on test days I’m sure some of the Deputies will pass for kids who flunked a few.

    I know the last one’s not that funny, but sometimes it’s just hard to improve on reality.

  2. Lonewolf says:

    It’s a sad statement that voters are so lazy that they don’t check the facts and instead base their vote on attack ads.

  3. Stevie Nicks says:

    yes the Tea party has caused those Democrats to change their tunes. They are forced to appeal to conservatives. Some of them might even come to their senses.

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