One commentator, when trying to figure out why Democrats have not reached a consensus regarding whom they want to run for president in November, explained the indecision by asserting, “They are looking for someone to fall in love with.”
If that is true, what does that imply for the ability of the electorate to pick their leaders? Shouldn’t they be more rational? Shouldn’t they look more logically at policy statements and resumes than at whom they are attracted to emotionally?
We may be surprised to learn that rational, empirical, scientific research reveals that reason has never been the main driving force in human decision making.
“Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason,” Jonathan Haidt declares in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. “We all need to take a cold hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. . . finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons.”
Reasoning has evolved, Haidt contends, “not to help us find truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people.”
And that conclusion is based on rational, empirical research!
Jim Camp in a 2012 online article in the Big Think argued that because decisions are made primarily on the basis of intuition and not logic, “People who believe they can build a case for their side using logic alone are doomed to be poor negotiators, [because] they come armed with facts, and they attempt to use logic to sway the other party. They figure that by piling on the data and using reason to explain their side of the situation, they can construct a solution that is simply irrefutable — and get the other party to say yes.
“They’re doomed to fail, however, because decision-making isn’t logical, it’s emotional, according to the latest findings in neuroscience.”
Have you ever, for example, tried to convert your spouse or your children or your boss to your way of thinking by presenting a logical argument? How did that go for you?
Facts and “reasoning” tend to “convince” only the people who already view the world through the lens that the facts selected support. And if the impeachment trial is an Exhibit A of human behavior, everyone selects facts that support their non-rational views. Some researchers call it “cognitive bias.”
Anastasia Belyh, in a post a year ago on Cleverism.com, defined intuition as an “automatic feeling of immediate knowledge, understanding, or awareness that neither comes from reasoning nor perception.”
“Moral foundations” is how Haidt refers to these sources of intuition. “These moral foundations,” he writes, “act as our political ‘taste buds’ and explain our political preferences in the same way that our taste buds explain our culinary preferences.”
Similarly, according to Belyh, intuition comes from our experiences and the networks of people we connect with. It comes from emotional intelligence.
“People who are more in tune with their emotions,” said Belyh, “tend to have a more developed sense of intuition.”
None of these defenders of non-rational factors in decision making want to throw the rational baby out with the bathwater of rationalism. For example, Olivia Goldhill in a 2017 online post in Quartz said that the rational model works fine when there are solid statistics and objective facts “resulting in the same choices as would be computed by a logical robot.”
“In a world where you can calculate the risks,” she continues, “the rational way is to rely on statistics and probability theory. . . But we live in a world of deep uncertainty, in which neat logic simply isn’t a good guide. It’s well-established that data-based decisions don’t inoculate against irrationality or prejudice, but even if it was possible to create a perfectly rational decision-making system based on all past experience, this wouldn’t be a foolproof guide to the future.”
And, when it comes to motivation, it’s not reason which drives people to passionately work for good or evil but non-rational factors like courage and compassion on the one hand and greed and ambition on the other. The first responders who walked toward the twin towers on 9/11 while everyone else was running away weren’t motivated by rational calculations.
So, what does all of this praise of intuition imply for how we vote in the primary on March 17? First, it means that we should not feel ashamed of trusting the non-rational part of our brains as well as our reason. It “makes sense” to say, “I just have a feeling that so and so will do a good job.”
Second, the website people.tamu.edu defines culture as “the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.” All of it being non-rational.
If the research is correct that our heads merely “rationalize” what our hearts have already concluded, then in order to bridge the polarized cultural chasm in this country, we need in my opinion to become vulnerable with those folks on the other side of the aisle by sharing the non-rational moral foundations undergirding our decisions and inviting them to do the same.
I can’t imagine Mitch McConnel, of course, or many of the folks I read on Facebook responding in kind, but there are many others, I believe intuitively, who hunger for bridges across the divide.