What should we do about irrational politicians?
Why so many policy decisions are based on major cognitive errors
We probably don’t need to convince you that this idea of irrationality is quite topical right now. Tragic events in Charlottesville this past week have unveiled a well of hate lodged deep in large parts of American culture. They also helped reveal the extent of Donald Trump’s bigotry and hatred, which has been unsettling and disturbing, to say the least.
The events of this past week have been heartbreaking and completely unacceptable. But beyond the immediate feelings of shock, disgust, and devastation, we also felt confused. Confused by many of the statements Trump made in the aftermath that once again displayed the twisted logic that seems to govern his decisions. On twitter he railed against the “the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks” by the removal of Confederate monuments and symbols that are clearly also symbols of this country’s deeply shameful history of racism and intolerance.
And then he asked: “Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!” While to us and probably most of our readers, this is an absolutely ridiculous question that is also wildly offensive and completely misses the point, unfortunately this question seems to resonate with many more Americans than it should. Many Americans would agree that these monuments are part of “history” like anything else and shouldn’t be removed because then we’d be on a slippery slope toward destroying our entire history.
To be clear, from our point of view, this is completely unacceptable. It is morally repugnant in every way. In addition, it represents a form of irrational thinking that is too often shared by both individuals and elected representatives. We would like to think that our elected representatives are able to think in a way that goes beyond the limits of our own cognitive errors, biases, and irrational thought patterns. We’d like to think that they are not simply falling into all the same traps everyone else is. We elect them to represent us in part because we think on some level that they can think and act in a way that’s better and more effective than the flawed ways in which most of us think and act. In other words, we hold them to a higher standard.
In reality, what we find out over and over and over again, even among leaders who are far more qualified and seemingly rational than Mr. Trump, is that policymakers fall into many of the same cognitive traps the rest of us do. This can create frightening, frustrating, and dangerous conditions for all of us. This is the basis of a recent piece we wrote for Psychology Today, before the tragic events in Charlottesville. We hope you enjoy the piece and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.
We at Critica would also like to add that our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and with those who lost loved ones as a result of recent tragic events in Charlottesville. At Critica, we are tirelessly devoted to creating a society of rational, critical thinkers. The events of the past few weeks are blatant displays of a society that’s thinking in an irrational, uncritical, and completely unacceptable way. We will continue to persevere and do whatever we can to contribute in our small way to ridding our country of these horrific thoughts and actions.