Links and Comments: Irrational Voters; Republicans and Gays; Religious Liberty v Progress

Robert Sapolsky in last week’s Los Angeles Times: We’re rarely rational when we vote because we’re rarely rational, period.

How various discoveries about mental biases and motivated thinking play out in elections.

Probably the most striking thing about any of these biases is that they are already in place long before we understand the first thing about economics or geopolitics. This was shown in a 2009 paper published in the prestigious journal Science, a paper that should be required reading just before election day each year. Show kids pairs of faces of candidates from various obscure elections. Tell them that they are about to take a long journey by boat; which of these two people would they want as their captain? And kids, ages 5 through 13, picked the winner a boggling 71% of the time.

The implications of these studies are so broad, one has to wonder, what’s on the other side of this understanding? No individual lives their life by objectively studying every issue they might need to make a decision about. The heuristics represented by these biases are necessary to some degree — which doesn’t mean we cannot understand that they lead to conclusions that are not rational.


Frank Bruni in New York Times: The Republicans’ Gay Freakout

OUR infrastructure is inexcusable, much of our public education is miserable and one of our leading presidential candidates is a know-nothing, say-anything egomaniac who yanks harder every day at the tattered fabric of civil discourse and fundamental decency in this country.

But let’s by all means worry about the gays! Let’s make sure they know their place. Keep them in check and all else falls into line, or at least America notches one victory amid so many defeats.

That must be the thinking behind Republican efforts to push through so-called religious liberty laws and other legislation — most egregiously in North Carolina — that excuse and legitimize anti-gay discrimination. They’re cynical distractions. Politically opportunistic sideshows.

But Bruni explains why theirs is a losing game.

They will lose in the end — whether that’s 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Meanwhile they’ll do undeniable harm to the Republican Party nationally and force tough, coalition-straining choices upon it.

They’ll also steal oxygen from matters more central to this country’s continued vitality and prosperity.


And in today’s NYT, Timothy Egan on the southern states’ zeal to repeal progressive policies by individual cities within them: A Mason-Dixon Line of Progress.

Essentially, this Republican-controlled block has decided that it’s better to be poor, sick and bigoted than prosperous, healthy and open-minded. And its defense is precisely that: The region is too economically distressed and socially backward to accept progress, so why change? Discrimination, as they see it, is just another term for religious freedom.


This reminds me of a comment by one of my favorite nonfiction writers, Jesse Bering, that I just ‘liked’ on Facebook:

Who are we kidding, “religious freedom” is essentially the right to have a 17th-century, incurious, superstitious mind in the modern world.

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