All entries for Saturday 07 January 2006

January 07, 2006

Ignoring Arguments & Conservative Policy

Conjectures & Refutations recently linked to a piece describing how people on opposite sides of an issue can talk past each other; each appearing to misrepresent and ignore the key arguments of the other. It outlines a subconscious tendency to do a disservice to arguments which are likely to cause cognitive dissonance. Here’s a quote

What you see here is..[someone] tapping into his understanding in order to formulate a rebuttal. But that rebuttal probably won't be very good, because he has not allowed himself to be fully aware of that understanding [that comes from not subconsciously disregarding the argument]. The "understanding" is locked up in a mental cage so it can't hurt him.

There are many warning signs that this is taking place. One you may recognize is "Yes-butting", where the person replies, "Yes, but" to every challenging statement they hear, then makes a fairly lame rebuttal.

Antiprocess [term used to describe the rejection of troubling info] doesn't help Bob get any closer to truth, but his mind has already assessed the information in advance and perceived a threat. Thus, the last thing it wants is understanding, even if that means turning away from truth. That's because at a level below Bob's awareness, his mind has decided that there is a threat to his mental equilibrium.

Read it in full here.

The article explains why the public may dismiss Conservative party statements containing loaded statements like ‘tax cuts’, ‘private sector’, ‘efficiency gains’, ‘business competitiveness’, etc.* Cameron’s choice to focus on social issues and to co-opt positive themes of family, society and wealth inequality is thus a sound strategic choice. Perhaps with better use of language, he could illustrate how less interventionist policies could help achieve the left’s goals of better opportunity for the less well off to a better extent than the traditional left.

A strategic choice or not, I suspect Cameron has as much faith in his ability to engineer 'better' social structures and public services as Brown & Blair. That miguided confidence doesn't bode well for proponents of liberalism. That he has even allow the party be associated with a scheme of compulsary social service (see here) says something. This view was aired by David Green of Civitas in a Telegraph article earlier in the week.

Mr Cameron was elected without anyone being quite sure what he stood for. Now quite a few of the blanks have been filled in. Yesterday, he ruled out social health insurance. Oliver Letwin, his head of policy, has said he would be "utterly astonished" if education vouchers were accepted, and has called for welfare policy to be based on egalitarian redistribution. It is beginning to look as if the policy commissions will not be open investigations of policy options at all. The "right answers" have already been decided for health, education and social security, which account for about 55 per cent of public spending.

On Sunday, Mr Cameron declared the police to be the "last great unreformed public service". They are no such thing. Health and education remain public-sector monopolies, frayed at the edges by talk of consumer choice but firmly under state direction.

Rapid, radical upheaval of existing structures is unpractical but it’s unfortunate to see options closed off so early. I'm no longer sure what I should be looking forward to under a Cameron leadership.

*This isn’t to say those who don’t agree with traditional Conservative policies are in any way foolish. The process works in the reverse too.

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