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srdiamond comments on Politics is the Mind-Killer - Less Wrong

71 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 February 2007 09:23PM

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Comment author: [deleted] 22 January 2012 01:10:37AM *  3 points [-]

An unstudied cognitive bias is what's really responsible for political irrationality. Less Wrong could tackle politics if it recognized and managed this form of irrationality, which I term opinion-belief confusion.

To understand some biases you must understand the biological function of the relevant practices. Belief is for action; opinion is for deliberation. Belief, per the Agreement Theorem, is usually highly sensitive to the beliefs of others; opinion abstracts from such influence.

Irrationality in politics is mostly a matter of being far too confident in one's opinions, and one fallacy is paramount in causing this error: treating mere opinions as though they were one's beliefs. This confusion arises because democracy tends to promote this form of epistemic arrogance. Tackling belief-opinion confusion would allow rational discussion of politics insofar as participants can accept that on most issues their beliefs and opinions will and should differ from each other. From this recognition, it follows that the discussion of political opinion should be conducted with the requisite tentativeness and intellectual humility.

I discuss the politically important opinion-belief-confusion fallacy at: "Two kinds of belief", "Is epistemic equality a fiction?", "The distinct functions of belief and opinion", "Pathologies of belief-opinion confusion", and "Explaining deliberation".

Evolutionary psychology doesn't condemn us to political irrationality. Hunter gatherers can make rational decisions as a group regarding matters of practical concern, for example, whether and where to move the camp. (But more anthropological detail would be helpful.)