Viewpoint: Irrational politics and reactionsThose political ads are so bad. They seem to work on the premise that we are all a bunch of idiots. They tell blatant lies, they distort, they appeal to our worst instincts — fear, selfishness, xenophobia.
By: Carl Scheider, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
Those political ads are so bad. They seem to work on the premise that we are all a bunch of idiots. They tell blatant lies, they distort, they appeal to our worst instincts — fear, selfishness, xenophobia.
And if the ads aren’t bad enough, everyone seems to think that I will be persuaded to vote for a candidate based on the number of signs they have spread around. How dumb do they think we are?
But, unfortunately, these folks are actually onto something.
The best research indicates that the vast majority of us do not really make rational decisions based on information. Rather, we react emotionally to our first impressions — our gut call.
It’s how evolution shaped us to survive. We respond to first impressions, colored by experience and prejudice, and make snap judgments. Then we support this with labored reasoning to give ourselves some semblance of rationality.
But we are basically gut instinct responders to stimulus. When I hear a“threat,” “attack” or other risk to my prized possessions or opinions, I respond automatically.
Evolution gave us these fine-tuned instincts to survive. In a world full of fast-moving predators and dangerous enemy tribes, we had to make quick decisions just to survive. If we did not, our genes did not get passed on.
So the ones who responded the quickest are our ancestors, not the ones with the most reasoned approach, or solid facts, or anything resembling structured thought and planning.
These are some of the dominant semi-automatic emotions that are fired off by our brain stem, and result in these gut instinct decisions:
• Black and White. You are either with me or against me. There is no middle ground, no complicated and grey area of compromise. Anyone that wants to get elected has to be simple and on my side — no quibbling allowed. This instinct was enormously useful when one encountered a foe on a mountain pass and a quick decision was the difference between life and death.
• Xenophobic. My tribe is the only one that counts. If you are an outsider, you are a threat. If you look like me, and sound like me, you are friend. Everyone and everything else is foe. Simple enough. This makes decisions easy and quick.
• Power is Right. The strongest guy is the leader — figure out who it is and follow him. It’s not smarts and not wisdom, it’s brute strength. If you choose wrong, you are in the out crowd and don’t get any of the hunt.
• Follow the Herd. It’s the best way to find food and get protection against predators. You do not want to be left out there alone or with a splinter group. This is why those signs are important — I need to be where everyone else is going. Point the way and I’m there.
• Symbols Are Everything. In the midst of a battle or flight, people prone to long, complicated speeches do not survive. Make it simple, give me a picture, a label — that’s all the information I can handle. Give the enemy a name, and say it often enough, and it starts to sound like it makes sense.
It’s still the best form of government around — but we definitely have to improve the participants.
Scheider is a resident of Woodbury.