Category Archive: .Sloman/Fernbach

Explanation as the antidote to extremism

The challenge in an election season that largely takes place in the form of 30-second advertisements and fire-up-the-base rallies is that rarely is anybody — candidate or voter — asked to explain his or her positions. American politi­cal discourse, in short, is not discourse at all.

So what can be done to turn it into one? The answer implied by our research is not that we should all become policy wonks. Instead, we voters need to be more mindful that issues are complicated and challenge ourselves to break down the policy proposals on both sides into their component parts. We have to then imagine how these ideas would work in the real world — and then make a choice: to either moderate our positions on policies we don’t really understand, as research suggests we will, or try to improve our understanding. Either way, discourse would then be based on infor­mation, not illusion. […]

Strong opinion and vigorous debate are key parts of democracy and the foundation to American culture. Yet most people would agree that it is not productive to have a strong opinion about an issue that one doesn’t really understand. We have a problem in American politics: an illusion of knowledge that leads to extremism. We can start to fix it by ac­knowledging that we know a lot less than we think.