Three Sources of Political Polarisation

Three Sources of Political Polarisation

Jazi Zilber
Jazi Zilber
2 min read

Three sources of political polarisation

It is puzzling how smart people can diverge so much on political issues. Especially when their lines of reasoning are completely delineated, covering much of the arguments in dispute.

How come?

Three thinking dynamics are listed below. Which together, I believe, can explain much of it.

1) Starting point bias.
Assume that both arguments have merit.

The right will argue: “Economic incentives are crucial, lower taxes encourage investments, and industriousness!” This argument has merit, and its core assumptions are inarguable. What we can argue about is how far this can go. (No state can offer zero tax, for example.)

The left will argue: “Welfare is crucial. We need taxes to fund it!”. Again, this argument has merit, and its core assumption is inarguable. The only the extent that it is controversial is how far a state takes it. (No state can offer to build beach side mansions for the poor, for example.)

But where exactly do you start from?

Leftists will start from welfare importance. Rightists will start from the importance of encouraging commerce and not strangling the economy. You can see how, even with similar beliefs, just changing the starting point of one’s thinking can have a huge effect — especially when some issues are blurred and subjective.

2) The cumulative effect of biases.
One of the biggest secrets in stupidity is that a slight bias if multiplied 10-50 times, this bias can become enormous.

If you slightly over estimate parts of a discussion but do it over multiple parts and issues, the cumulative effect can be gigantic.

Lets see how the fate of the poor can easily be exaggerated either way.

For analysing the suffering of the poor, and the effectiveness of welfare, you go in stages:

Where is the poverty line? How much are the poor themselves responsible for their fate? How effective is government aid? How does welfare improve quality of life? (By helping people stay in workforce? By helping the kids of the poor staying in society?) Or how does welfare degrade quality of life? Does it encourage dependence? How effective is welfare? How much is being wasted by bureaucracy before it gets the poor themselves? How much welfare is our moral obligation?

There are many more questions.

Eventually, a rational answer to the value of welfare is the combination (a kind of numerical product) of all the questions above, as well as similar ones.

If one can err on each question in say 20% the multiplied effect over 10 questions will be huge (1.2^10 = 6.16).

Basically deviating either side about those 10 questions by a mere 20% will either turn you into an anti-welfare fanatic, or into a unquestionable pro-welfare fanatic. (And this is only looking at rational logic, not emotional or moral frameworks).

3) The complexity of the involved logic and circularities
The way to decide a political question is not a pre defined one. There are multiple issues to decide upon, and many of them are interrelated. It is even common not to trust some sources based on other peripheral opinions we do have. This complexity opens the door to endless bias.

This complexity and circularity will be familiar if you try to recall arguments you ever had with people on the complete opposite of the political spectrum from yourself. You think you will be done with discussing aspect A, but it ends up being related to subject B, which is related to a bag of facts regarding C. And on it goes.

If you were stupid and persistent enough to carry on enough, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

Thanks for reading. It has been exhausting.

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