02 April 2012

An incomplete list of advice for political novices

1) Pay more attention to passage and execution of laws than to elections, if you must pay attention to politics. If nothing else, you will be a much better informed voter by knowing something of what the people you elect actually will do or have done than by the simple heuristics of things like "what party they belong to". 

2) Generally ignore politics. You probably have better things to do with your time. You know, like "life". Be aware that you more than likely don't know very much about almost any given political issue. Unless you follow politics like a junkie or are an activist, you will feel you have things to do. This means of course that your opinions should be noted to yourself as ill-formed and incomplete assessments. That doesn't mean they're necessarily wrong either, or that people are generally stupid. Ignorance differs from stupidity. This can however mean it may be perfectly appropriate to abstain from expressing opinions as actual votes and that people telling you that you must or should vote are missing some vital points (such as freedom of speech protections allowing you to voice even ill-formed opinions in a manner possibly less damaging to the general public).

3) Whenever anyone proposes passing a new law in the wake of a major media story (usually a sensational murder or kidnapping) that you did actually hear about, you should a) be skeptical of the terms of the law and its probable and actual utility to the public and b) keep a closer eye on the politician(s) who pass it, introduce it, or the organisations that encouraged its passage.

4) The easiest thing to do if you refuse to follow these things, refuse to admit your ignorance of the actual issues, and refuse to oppose sensationalist figures and movements, is something like the following:
a) don't pick people who "share your values". They more than likely do not. This is an utterly useless heuristic 95% of the time.
b) don't use campaign commercials to gather information. Most of you say you don't, but most of you actually do. This is why mudslinging has worked for thousands of years.
c) follow interest groups that appear to share your interests, or, alternatively, those that don't appear to share your views and see who they appear to support or oppose. I fully support a system of transparency wherein politicians have to disclose their ardent supporters and major donors by the NASCAR patch method.

5) Aggregation errors would be one thing if they could be canceled out by random ignorance, but these ignorance biases are systemic. It's therefore important to eliminate them. Or failing that reduce them. In addition, it appears that generally speaking the biases are toward "conservatism", not as the political ideology and its specific points, but toward the status quo rather than acceptance of the newest and brightest. Hence things like the rate of incumbent re-election, or toward preserving previously established legal or cultural mores (and explaining some of the annoyance of even liberals at things like Citizens United because it overturned some previous established law). This is also why things like immigration or significant technological shifts are often treated with such public disdain.

As less obvious examples, something that occurred to me after a recent dream (which happened the night after reading this), was the presentation of children being offered allowances, or reimbursements for yard work by parents. Within the dream context, it was clear that there's a significant gap on whether or not children can/should/do receive allowances from parents, or that they would do so for chores or arduous tasks like landscaping or snow shoveling. What wasn't made clear in the dream context is the also significant percentage of children who don't even have lawns or driveways on which to perform such tasks, and the relative correlation therein with denser urban environments (and hence, some amounts of poverty). Without even that opportunity, and in some cases even the awareness of such an opportunity, more changes in experience and development are bound to occur. Those are extremely subtle biases that are easily available to us beyond the more obvious "this person looks/talks funny" or "is an opposite gender/sexual orientation" or "eats strange things/listens to strange sounds and calls it music" biases.
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