Thoughts on Partisan Cues and Filters

Thoughts on how we think.

As is often the case, the comments section on a post (in this case my post on vaccines and monoclonal antibodies) prompts further thoughts, so here we go. Note that when I bring up issues of identity or partisans filter, I am not saying that individuals are simply slaves to their identities or to partisanship.  I am saying, however, that we all let these things influence our thinking, sometimes in small ways and other times in large ways.  This is, I would note, inevitable because it is impossible to actually weigh the facts and come to truly independent assessments for all things.

We all need shortcuts and one of those shortcuts is whether the group we trust endorses an idea or not.  This can sometimes be all that an individual uses to assess a given situation because, sometimes, that is all the information that person has.

Clearly, on topics about which a person is well educated, the odds of a more independent assessments increase significantly.

On topics for which one has low levels of information, one is far more likely to use filters to assess them.

Consider that you see a headline pop on your phone that we just launched cruise missiles at Belavaria. You read the story and see that the president has stated that this was in the national interest of the US.

If you don’t know where Belavaria is or anything about Belavarian politics, you will immediately start falling back on various filters to set your initial response. One of those filters is going to be whether you trust the president who made the decision.  For many in the population, that will be the only criteria used to judge the event.

Will experts on Belavarian politics have a deeper understanding and be able to better assess the situation than you?  Sure.  MIght expertise lessen the effects of other filters?  Quite possibly.

Will some people hold off forming an opinion before they do their own research?  Perhaps, but it remains rather unlikely that some set of priors didn’t influence the initial reaction.

There are a whole set of factors (life experiences, religious beliefs, and such) that filter our responses.

Are there people who can truly make utterly dispassionate, facts-first, no-filters-involved decisions?  Maybe, but I have my doubts.


But the real issue here is mass behavior

How do humans in the aggregate behave?  How do they form opinions?  And how do those opinions lead to actions?

It is quite clear that a person’s partisan allegiances affect how they view events in the world. This should not be a surprise, and indeed, is fundamentally how parties are supposed to work.

Party labels are shortcuts that help us organize a complicated world. We, even the political junkies that read this site (or even the PhDs in Political Science who write it) don’t have time to know everything about everything.  So, we sometimes let the shortcut of letting our team be the arbiter of what is acceptable. We may, I would note, have very good, well-considered reasons for this, but the reality is we use partisanship as a filter.

To put that last sentence another way: you may say to yourself that you trust your party over the other one because of its track record.  Perhaps you can provide evidence for why you have come to that conclusion. That does not change the fact that once you have decided to trust that party that you aren’t using party affiliation as a filter.

And, I would note, the reality is that individuals rarely come to party affiliation through a process of pure reason. Rather, things like family influence, class, education level, regionality, religion, and a host of other factors lead us to our partisan affiliation.  It is rarely an act of pure reason and evidence.

A really simple illustration of how we might use party label as a filter: if you have ever decided between two candidates on a ballot based solely on party affiliation, you have engaged in the behavior I am describing,  Given the long ballots in the United States it strikes me as impossible that every person reading this paragraph has actually thoroughly researched every candidate for every office for whom they have cast a ballot and have never used party label as the filter. 

So when we get to things like the vaccines v. monoclonal antibodies discussion, the question of how to understand the behavior under discussion isn’t one that is about evidence and logic but instead is largely one of partisan filtering. Partisan leaders (political and in the media) have sent mixed signals on the vaccines and have made the topic (along with masking) into issues of “freedom” and “liberty” as linked to Republican identity in many cases.  But they have done the opposite with the Regeneron infusion.

Note, that not all Republican voters have taken this approach. Many have, in fact, gotten vaccinated.  Either they did weigh the information independently or allowed some other filter to overcome and drown out the messaging from Tucker and friends.  Or they just choose to hear a given governor (like Ivey of Alabama or DeSantis of Florida) say “get the shot” while ignoring all the other messaging from those politicians that are anti-vaccine (such as signing laws banning vaccines requirement, issuing anti-mask orders, or vocally opposing the Biden vaccine mandates because “freedom”).

Human beings are not fully rational.  They do not use pure logic to assess the evidence and make decisions.  This is true even of the highly educated. For one thing, we simply don’t have time.

None of us are the Infinite Vulcan.

Note: If the reference doesn’t land, please ignore–sometimes one just has to amuse onself. I will note that even Spock, in all of his logic and empiricism very much let his Vulcan identity influence his thinking and behavior (and yes, I know he isn’t real).

If you want a non-political test of this proposition on the individual level, go to any high school soccer game and watch the parents and how they assess the ref’s offside calls.  Or, since I am writing this on an NFL Sunday:  watch a football game with a diehard fan and see how objective they are about the officiating (or, just pay attention to your own emotions as you assess whether that should have been offensive pass interference or not).

All of this makes me think of John Locke and his Second Treatise on Government:  “it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends: and on the other side, that ill-nature, passion and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others; and hence nothing but confusion and disorder will follow…”

If you need a non-sports example:  have you ever been reading a story about a politician you are unfamiliar with and having your view of the story colored by knowing (or not knowing) the party affiliation of that politician?

So, what’s my point?

First, I think it is essential for anyone who aspires to rationality and intellectual pursuits (whether professionally or simply as an approach to life) to engage in constant self-reflection. It is useful to keep track of not only what one thinks but to ponder why one thinks as they do.

Second, and of especial concern to a political scientist interested in elections, is understanding mass behavior. It may be satisfying to simply express incredulity about the wacky behavior of people (especially ones with whom one disagrees) but that way does not lead to actually understanding why they behave as they do,

Note:  understanding is not the same as acceptance.  And further, understanding is not excusing.

I would note that when there are only two truly viable choices in the party system, this deepens and exacerbates the dynamics described herein because every single political opinion has the potential to be about either adherence to my team or rejection of the other, regardless of any other factors (and polarization makes the partisan-driven opinions even starker and harder to change, even in the presence of additional evidence because admitting a mistake is not just saying that I am wrong, but also saying that my adversary is right).

So, I return to the fact that I noted yesterday: many (really, most if not pretty much all) people allow partisan affiliation to drive them to policy preferences rather than the other way around on a regular basis. We are not the radical rationalists that we might like to think we are.

I would also note that if party leadership can be problematic, then the way in which leaders are chosen needs examination.  Hence my ongoing criticisms of the primary system to nominate candidates and of the Electoral College to select presidents.  And, further, if party polarization can mightily contribute to the logical disjunction we see over vaccines v. Regeneron treatments, maybe would be better off with multiple parties.

But, of course, we are unlikely to engage in any of the needed reforms to facilitate changes to the above structures, and, worse, the media landscape will continue to facilitate problematic elite messaging. Still, understanding all of these factors helps us understand what we should be paying attention to and what kinds of reforms are worth advocating for, even if they may not be likely.

(I expect more on this topic as time permits).

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Democracy, Democratic Theory, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    I forget where I read it, but a “completely rational” human being would be indistinguishable from someone in a coma, as based purely on reason, there’s no reason to favor being alive over being dead. We only favor being alive because of an instinctual survival instinct.

  2. Mimai says:

    Thank you for taking the time to highlight this. A few quick reactions to your closing points:

    1) Constant self-reflection: I’ve become increasingly skeptical of the benefits of this. I think a lot of people, especially the highly educated, engage in self-reflection as a means of reinforcing one’s priors. Rather, (positive/facilitated) intergroup contact is more effective but harder to motivate, scale, etc. Much more comfortable and convenient to keep things as they are.

    2) Understanding why people think/behave as they do: This is a constant frustration of mine. It comes up a lot in political discussions, where the mean grade is an F on the Ideological Turing Test. More broadly, the bias/heuristics literature has long chronicled our failure of, er, imagination when it comes to understanding the motivations and behaviors of others. Again, comfort and convenience rule the day (and the human).

    Your post also reminded of what Gilovich captured so nicely many years ago in the contrast of:

    “Can I believe this?” vs. “Must I believe this?”

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    I’ll take a shot at a rational reason to prefer life to death. Life is something, death is nothing. Pain may alter the equation, but absent pain, a rational person will choose something over nothing because life is experienced and death is not; it’s not an alternate reality, it’s a termination of life in favor of nothing. An active to decision to accelerate the inevitable, and that is the decision a rational person has to confront.

    How would a rational person justify choosing nothing over something, particularly when the nothing is inevitable in time? If that person places no value on their own life it follows that they can place no value on their decisions, no value on their own analysis of the situation, which leads us back to wondering how a rational person could complete the following sentence: “I should choose to end life rather than continue it because. . .” That question cannot be answered rationally, leaving us with no rational basis for choosing death.

    Reversing the question makes it clear. “I should choose life over death because. . . death is inevitable and there is no rational reason to rush the process.”

    It’s shaky, but not irrational.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I’d just add that the rational person would realize that only by continuing to live can he hope to reach a rational position on life vs. death.

  5. dazedandconfused says:

    That Spock metaphor has another quite valid aspect: Spock could only be what he was by being an outcast. A loner, not a joiner.

    An old State Dept analyst with a strong background in counter-intelligence once said you have to develop a reflex that prompts you to initially disbelieve everything you liked hearing and it’s a lonely undertaking, especially when you silently dismiss those who agree with you, which you must.

  6. Scott F. says:

    To put that last sentence another way: you may say to yourself that you trust your party over the other one because of its track record. Perhaps you can provide evidence for why you have come to that conclusion. That does not change the fact that once you have decided to trust that party that you aren’t using party affiliation as a filter.

    I would agree with this in its entirety. OTOH, in this statement…

    And, I would note, the reality is that individuals rarely come to party affiliation through a process of pure reason. Rather, things like family influence, class, education level, regionality, religion, and a host of other factors lead us to our partisan affiliation. It is rarely an act of pure reason and evidence.

    … “pure” is doing a LOT of heavy lifting if you want to focus on filtering and shortcuts to position. I think your argument falters if you would recognize that “reason” isn’t all or nothing and evidence over time can/should/has proven to change minds.

    I fully admit to being a partisan. Fair enough. But, I’m also a technocrat and a pragmatist and a craftsman. I came to my party affiliation via those perspectives and, yes, it was based on party track records. But, I am a strong believer in self-reflection, evidence based decision making, and continuous improvement. So, the trust I’ve given the Democrats was earned, but also that trust has to continue be earned. And though it is true that, in a binary system where the other party is So Far Away from everything of value from my perspective, it would take a massive shift in trust for me to switch affiliation, my trust isn’t fixed. I would argue that yours, Steven, isn’t either – if your writing here over the years is any indication.

    What is dumbfounding to me in this current political moment is not some much the powerful sway of Political Identity, but rather the Identity Über Alles being demonstrated by the Trump faction of the Republican Party – both politician and voter. You don‘t have to start trusting Democrats, let alone give them your vote, in order to chose not to kill yourself so you don‘t give the libs a win.

  7. wr says:

    Unlike the rest of you, I am completely rational and totally unaffected by partisan cues. Only I can see the world as it actually is, and I am never swayed by sentimentality or other fleeting passions.

    Now I am going to kill an old lady pawnbroker with an axe to prove that I am free. And I’m gonna feel just fine about it afterwards.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @StevenTaylor, I think your differentiation of individual behavior vs. mass behavior is important.

    The vast majority of people are sheep. There’s no better analogy that comes to mind. The border collie says go right, they go right. Border collie says go left, they go left. They never learn to think independently. In part this is because it takes more brain cells to think independently, and some just don’t have the brain cells to do it. (Think: running OS 10 on an old Macintosh.) Some have the ability to take control but make a choice to follow their programming – they’re the people who have a decent computer but can’t be bothered to learn anything beyond email and docs. And some are the border collies who direct the dumb and the lazy, sometimes with a degree of respect and compassion, more often not.

    This is why I harp on the destructive effects of religious indoctrination. First comes DNA, then comes your earliest environmental inputs – sometimes called parents. And then we are subjected to programming from outside sources: peers and school being two examples, Sunday School being another.

    The earlier the programming the harder it is to ignore. It’s all but impossible to get outside your DNA programs, hard as hell to get past your early childhood, and still pretty damn hard to overcome your next level of programming. Each level of programming helps to define the next. It’s brick upon brick upon brick. Before work is college, before college is school, before school comes religious indoctrination (loosely, cosmology), early childhood and DNA. We can’t (and don’t want to) alter people’s DNA. We can’t (and almost certainly shouldn’t) interfere in early childhood. We’re stuck with those. But we don’t have to be stuck with mythical creatures watching us from the clouds, threatening us, condemning us and defining our epistemology. Superstition is not necessary and it is harmful.

    It is not an accident that the MAGA cult and the least intellectual iterations of religion are virtually coterminous.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Hey, Fyodor, that bitch had it coming.

  10. Mikey says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Completely off topic, but I was just at Target and your lovely wife was on the wall of TVs talking about her new book.

  11. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    They never learn to think independently. In part this is because it takes more brain cells to think independently, and some just don’t have the brain cells to do it

    Behaving rationally in each case, with no priors, requires perfect knowledge. You either have to spend years learning about the intricacies of the Afghan culture, and the influences of the neighboring states, or you can have an ill-informed, deeply flawed decision.

    For most things, “good enough” really is good enough.

    For more complicated things we often delegate — this ranges from “honey, I can’t figure out these taxes, can you figure it out or do we just call an accountant? Also, how do we find an accountant?” to “well, we elected this guy to solve it.”

    Swap out taxes and put in God, Afghanistan, Modern Monetary Theory, purity of our bodily fluids, homelessness, whether jet fuel can melt steel girders, whether unemployment insurance keeps people from working, whether the Jews are secretly controlling the world and need to be exterminated, the Laffer curve, etc. The fact that this list has a lot of batshit insane things on it is intentional — with the wrong trusted sources that you are delegating to, people will go off into batshit insane pretty quickly. (The Laffer curve? Really? We’ve run that experiment enough to know that’s bullshit…)

    And it can start easily enough. Is butter better for you than margarine? The doctors have gone back and forth on that enough that it’s easy to assume they don’t know what they are doing (and with nutrition… they kind of don’t, as we are learning new things on a regular basis and missing the importance of some of the big factors like gut flora). And that can metastasize into a distrust of doctors on vaccines.

    This, by the way, is why Libertarianism doesn’t work. We don’t have the time or energy or knowledge to figure out if chicken from this farm and processing plant is likely to be safe. So we delegate. Either to our priests (kosher and al halal butchers) or to the FDA.

    If we are very smart, we recognize this, and sometimes question it. But that very smart is probably a 1% change in behavior.

    If we are very stupid, we “do our own research” and discover that Q was right.

  12. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Agent Kay (Men in Black): “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Life is something, death is nothing. Pain may alter the equation, but absent pain, a rational person will choose something over nothing because life is experienced and death is not;

    Pain and loss are inevitable. They are as natural a result of life as death. I live with pain 24/7, the result of a hard lived life. I can see a day coming where I might well say, “I’m tired. I’ve had enough.” At that point the rational thing for me to choose will be death. Oblivian. Peace.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    Yes, she’s doing very well. Well enough that I’m not sure why I’m still working. Portugal has legal weed, excellent wine and fine beaches.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    I agree up to a point. You do need shortcuts (filters) but you don’t have to get your filters off the rack, you can build your own. You create a sort of algorithm that compares new data to established facts. Of course ‘established facts’ is necessarily up for review at all times, but as a practical matter if you are vigilant you can manage most decisions by reference to your custom-built matrix.

    For example, there are a few, but only a few, cases where vaccines have had bad side effects, but net net they’ve been hugely positive. Knowing that fact you can reasonably default to ‘safe,’ unless you have reason to suspect otherwise. If, for instance, you chanced upon a motive for someone to knowingly produce fault vaccines, you’d want to re-examine. If you began to see real life evidence of an issue with a vaccine, ditto. Etc…

    It’s not much different than applying the scientific method, but without beakers or a lab coat. Scientists assume gravity, but if they suddenly started seeing chairs levitating, they’d take a closer look at their assumptions. I assume that a vaccine is likely to be safe, but if I saw differently, well, I’d have no choice but to think differently. Right there is the difference: you have to accept that everything you assume you know is still subject to doubt. You have to remain open to contrary evidence. This is why I despise the idea of faith – faith means doubling down, regardless of facts.

    I was raised Christian and started to have the first tingling of doubt when I was eleven or twelve. I’d started asking questions in Sunday School and found the answers unconvincing. Within a couple of years I was more openly dubious, and at age 16, in a Greyhound bus station in Youngstown, Ohio, I took a closer look (not much else to do but philosophize while waiting for The Dog) and became an atheist formally. (Lovely ceremony.). However, if tomorrow I start witnessing miracles I’ll have to re-examine my thinking, won’t I?

  16. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Also some of the best roast chicken I’ve had in my life (in Lisbon).

    Lisbon was also the city where I was offered more drugs in a 5 hour period than any place else in my life. Not sure what that says about me or Lisbon circa the mid 90’s.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:


    Pain and loss are inevitable.

    Indeed. And it is rational to answer the question, “Why should I end this?” with the answer, “Because: too much pain and no end in sight.” I’ve always assumed if things got bad enough I’d call it a wrap and eat some pills or disconnect my catalytic convertor and sit in the garage listening to music. But now I’m not so sure.

    I offered a rationalization for life above as an intellectual exercise, but that’s not how I think about ending my life. I’ve made some choices, one of which is to believe in the concept of duty. A choice, but not one that can be rationally defended. I accept that it is not rational, but as it has no negative externalities that I know of, I find it harmless and for me it’s a good fit. So, I’ll call it quits only if life has become miserable, and I’ve done my duty by my family.

    Beyond that of course there’s simple curiosity. I want to see what happens. When you’re dead nothing happens. There’s no show, no story.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    death is nothing.

    How do you know? Have you ever been dead? Is what you see/feel/etc. the total of reality?

  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    I have an odd emotional connection to Portugal via the Azores. My Dad used to be stationed there, skippering an Army tug boat out of Praia da Vittoria on Terceira. I went over a couple of times in my late teens, early twenties. First time in an American C-141, first time in an Iranian Air Force C-130, the one and only black-out drunk of my life, my first clap scare, first time bull fighting in the street, SCUBA diving, conducting secret meetings with rebels, (if by rebels you mean the FLA – Front for the Liberation of the Azores), first (and only) time being threatened by Air Force intelligence, and the first thing I ever published – Nine Islands In Search of a Future, Christian Science Monitor front page.

    It’s an amazing place almost devoid of tourists aside from a few Germans.

  20. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    It may depend a good deal on the type of religion involved.
    Literalist fundamentalism tends to have massive problems when encountering Reality; and because it is literalist, tends to an inflexible response: “Reality is mistaken!”, in effect.
    It cannot easily deviate from the actual, “right there in black-and-white” texts.
    There are other religious traditions that find accommodating to reality, and to other modes of knowledge, a lot easier to handle.

    Being educated in a Church of England primary school (and sitting a CSE exam in Religous Education at 16, and getting a grade 1) certainly didn’t stop me being a fairly agnostic Anglican 🙂
    I think family example is probably more influential than education.

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Death is by definition nothing. The candle’s light is snuffed out and no more light. If there’s something after this life it’s another life, not death. Which would certainly be interesting. Beep…beep…beep…be………….. and then, hello! I’m in alien world, like Rik and Morty jumping between universes!

  22. Joe says:

    I very much agree that people use their partisan views to identify what they consider to be reliable sources of information because no one has time to know everything or even to know very much about a lot of important things. (When ever I hear someone say “do your research,” I want to ask them to show me their lab.) But given that so many rely on their political party to be their trusted source, I think it is pretty unforgivable to cynically gin up answers rather than use their political status to identify best policies, even if they are best policies based on certain political views.

    I think this loop becomes even more problematic when politicians are signaling policies on the basis of popularity with their base. So the base is looking at their leader to provide them with a wise leadership and the leader is just looking back at them to guess what they want and putting a leader stamp on that policy outcome. There is an illusion of a trusted source, but the trusted source is just a fancy mirror.

  23. Andy says:

    Great post. I didn’t real the comments in the other thread about anti-bodies, so I’m just going off of what you post here.

    A really simple illustration of how we might use party label as a filter: if you have ever decided between two candidates on a ballot based solely on party affiliation, you have engaged in the behavior I am describing, Given the long ballots in the United States it strikes me as impossible that every person reading this paragraph has actually thoroughly researched every candidate for every office for whom they have cast a ballot and have never used party label as the filter.

    I know I’m unusual in that I do research on every candidate for every election. Usually, there isn’t deep background on many local candidates, so it’s mainly a matter of looking at what they want to do and the position summaries published by the local media. This is especially necessary for ballot initiatives, which are often quite confusing. I’d say tt takes maybe 2-3 hours tops. And since I’m in Colorado where pretty much everyone gets a ballot mailed to them, I can fill out my ballot as I go along and then send it in when I’m done. Easy!

    Even without the convenience of filling out ballots at home, spending 2-3 hours every two years is a pretty minimal commitment, but there are many people who will claim they don’t have the time. That may be true of some, but it’s not an excuse that I have a lot of sympathy for.

    Anyway, let me give you an example of mass behavior from the 2018 election which had several local and county elections in my area coinciding with the mid-terms. Now, the county where I currently live is pretty solidly Republican, and county GoP candidates tend to win by 60+% of the vote. That tends to mean that people who really want a county position will affiliate with the GoP regardless of their actual views, because Democrats just don’t have much of a chance.

    One of the choices that year was for the county coroner. The incumbent was a Republican, he had the job for quite a while, had all the requisite qualifications and as far I as I could tell, performed the job competently. The Democrat running against him, by contrast, was some random guy who I’m not sure even finished high school. The only published information about why he wanted the job was something to the effect that he wanted to Coroner’s office to be more communicative. I’m sure there is some kind of backstory there, but regardless, he wasn’t even minimally qualified to perform the duties of a coroner. I voted for the Republican.

    Yet the random guy still got 34% of the vote. To me, that is very clear evidence of voting based on party ID. His numbers were about 3-4% lower than other Democratic candidates at the county level, indicating that at least some probably did some basic research before voting.

  24. Andy says:

    Another point is that I think the left & right / Republicans and Democrats increasingly do live in different worlds. I read very widely from the far left to the far right because I want to see as many views as I can, which has long been my practice. And what seems to have changed over the last decade or so is that the differences between left and right aren’t merely or even mostly about differences in interpretation and preferences or applied values. More often, the two sides are talking about completely different things and are usually focuses on themes that highlight the excesses of political enemies.

    Just as an example, pretty much everything I hear about Tucker Carlson or the Koch brothers comes from left-wing sources. Sometimes it seems as if Tucker’s audience is actually composed primarily of progressives given the attention they pay to what he says. In contrast, the right-wing sources reliably make sure that I hear about every case of woke overreach or whatever stupid thing AOC and “the squad” did recently.

    So much of the landscape these days is more about pointing out the evils of political enemies than it is about promoting, explaining, and improving one’s own ideals. It’s becoming a terrible kind of negative and mostly tribal negative partisanship. People who swim in that media universe are missing a lot – much more than was the case even a decade ago. It’s a cycle of negative partisanship that is highly distorting, but is the consequence of normal human cognitive behavior in an environment of hyper-niche media and manipulative algorithms.

  25. grumpy realist says:

    @Scott F.: You’re reminding me of my argument as to why the Black-Scholes equation has to be taken with a large grain of salt: “gas molecules never scream and stampede in a panic to one corner of the box. Humans often do.”

    (Sigh…there’s a very good reason that quantitative finance is ok for 90% of the time and throws you off the cliff the other 10%)

  26. JohnSF says:

    Determining trusted sources, and building out from them, is the problematic thing, when most people lack the time and training for anything like a thorough interrogation of information.
    I certainly default to just certain “authorities” on the whole. Saves time.

    Most people have tended to rely on such conventional “authorities” as their starting point.
    It seems that the modern (anti-)social media environment is amplifying a long standing possibility of “memetic hijacks” by alternative reality interpretations (aka conspiracy theory) injecting themselves into the information streams. Which can also be monetized, and politicized.

    There are also interesting parallels with cults; and with some “totalizing” political parties.
    Nazis and Communists both generated cultures of immersive indoctrination. But now it’s amorphous, freelancing, market-based.
    Networked indoctrination, rather than hierarchical

    Of course, a lot of Marxist analysis continues to insist that capitalism generates ideologies and systems of indoctrination for its own sustenance.
    Which IMO shows how adept Marxisant intellectuals are at shooting themselves in the head.

  27. Kathy says:

    Off-topic, but perhaps a little critical though on Spock is in order.

  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’ve been dealing with depression all my life. I had one really bad period in my early 20s and after I finally climbed out of that hole I swore I would never allow myself to fall back into another. So far so good.

    One thing depression did teach me tho is how inconsequential any one individual is. I’ve lost more than a few friends and family over the years, some in truly tragic circumstances. I miss them all, but I and every one I know still had lives to live and so we did. The day will come when I will no longer exist and dawg willing I will leave my sons and granddaughters behind me, hopefully with a few memories that bring them smiles and maybe even a life lesson or 2.

    After her father died, my wife “made” me promise I would outlive her and if I can, I shall. It will be my last duty, even if it is only by 5 minutes.

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JohnSF: Of course, a lot of Marxist analysis continues to insist that capitalism generates ideologies and systems of indoctrination for its own sustenance..

    I have to ask what you mean by “for its own sustenance”. I ask because “generating ideologies and systems of indoctrination for its own sustenance” sums up pretty much every product ad campaign I have ever been subjected to. The example that comes to mind is, “Great taste! Less filling!” How many decades ago was that and yet it is still stuck in my head?

    Or how about, “Where’s the beef???!!!”

  30. Mimai says:

    One frequently sees the directive: read more across the ideological spectrum. I agree with this.


    Reading is depersonal. Whereas much of what ails us is personal/social. The corrective then necessitates a rubbing of shoulders. With good intentions. Pursuing shared goals.

    In many ways it’s never been easier to do such things. In many other ways, it’s never been more difficult.

    Motivation to see the other as a fellow human, with common joys, sorrows, fears, etc? We lack it. For many of us, it would shatter our worldview to see the other as such. Hence we continue as we have been.

  31. Mimai says:

    This discussion also brings to mind the notion of epistemological humility. Wish we could put this in the water (ala fluoride) and/or salt shaker (ala iodine).

    Funny (sad) enough, many of us are rather arrogant in our epistemological humility.

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I want to see what happens.

    On further thought, I want to see what the James Webb telescope reveals.

  33. steve says:

    “pretty much everything I hear about Tucker Carlson or the Koch brothers comes from left-wing sources.”

    Carlson gets good bit of coverage from Rod Dreher and some other Christian conservatives. Agree with the others.


  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Here’s something that I never expected to read in the current intellectual climate

    a Trump-loving preacher at a Texas megachurch has decreed that there is “no credible religious argument” for turning down a shot, the Associated Press said.

    The Rev. Robert Jeffress, a pastor at the 12,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, told the news agency that he and his staff are neither “offering” exemption letters nor “encouraging” members of their congregation to seek out religious exemptions from coronavirus vaccine mandates.

    “Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection,” said Jeffress in an email.

    Jeffress, who once suggested that he would vote for former President Donald Trump over somebody who embodies the teachings of Jesus, is one of many religious leaders who have recently opposed the use of religious exemption letters.

    I guess that it just proves that all those people that I grew up with who said that Southern Baptists were a bunch of liberals who don’t preach The Word were right all along. /s

  35. Gavin says:

    @Scott F.:

    evidence over time can/should/has proven to change minds

    Confirmation bias is very real.

    Threads around this topic also presume everyone is acting in good faith.. which commenters on this forum generally are [except a very special few] however that’s absolutely not the case everywhere.

    I rarely come across a humanoid possessing the humility to be interested more in objective reality than just confirming their own prior biases/assumptions.

  36. Ken_L says:

    I began to write a very long comment, but realised this summarises what I intended to say. Social identity theory offers rich insights quite distinct from issues of partisan political loyalties.

    More Similarities than Differences in contemporary Theories of social development?
    Campbell Leaper, in Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 2011

    5 Self-Categorization (and Social Identity) Theory
    Social identity theory was proposed in social psychology by Tajfel and his colleagues (Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Social identity refers to the ways that people’s self-concepts are based on their membership in social groups. Examples include sports teams, religions, nationalities, occupations, sexual orientation, ethnic groups, and gender. (As discussed earlier in the chapter, psychologists’ identification with a particular theoretical approach can also constitute a social identity.) Social identity theory addresses the ways that social identities affect people’s attitudes and behaviors regarding their ingroup and the outgroup. Social identities are most influential when individuals consider membership in a particular group to be central to their self-concept and they feel strong emotional ties to the group. Affiliation with a group confers self-esteem, which helps to sustain the social identity. Some key processes associated with important social identities include within-group assimilation (pressures to conform to the ingroup’s norms) and forms of intergroup bias (positively evaluating one’s ingroup relative to outgroup [i.e., ingroup favoritism] and possibly negatively evaluating the outgroup). In developmental psychology, social identity theory has been used to explain conformity and socialization in peer groups (e.g., Archer, 1992; Harris, 1995; Leaper, 2000) and group-based prejudice (e.g., Bigler & Liben, 2007; Nesdale, 2004).

  37. JohnSF says:

    Wasn’t thinking of food when I said sustenance, LOL.
    Though that will teach me about commenting while cooking, perhaps.

    It’s the Marxist concept that productive modes generate class systems, and these naturally generate ideologies, whole modes of thought, that derive from the social-economic system, justify them, and help to maintain them.

    The ideas and beliefs that are dominant in society are usually produced by the dominant class, and therefore tend to justify the position and interests of that class.
    It can be conscious, but doesn’t have to be, and usually isn’t.

    And subordinate classes can adopt the rulers ideologies, which Marxists have usually catgorised as “false consciousness”, which mislead the subordinate class(es) and which need to be contested.

    So, feudal societies elevate the ruling class position of the landed aristocracy: include importance of inherited status, the superiority of land to trade, “chivalry” systems, martial ethos, religion-based ideation, static legal codes.

    While bourgeois capitalist societies have an entirely different ideological superstructure: classical liberalism, property, markets, property-centric law, limited franchise representative government, formal legal equality but actual economic inequality, etc.

    So people using Marxist analysis (possibly a tad over enthusiastically) often contend that only a communist society ruled by the proletariat can sustain truly objective information.
    In a bourgeois/capitalist/market society the “authoritative” knowledge is all-too readily compromised by the ideological interests of rulers, consciously or unconsciously.

    The contention is the default “filters” are inherently biased unless actively countered via a Marxist analysis.

    And all that is a summary so simplified as to verge on caricature.

  38. JohnSF says:

    Review of a book that seems relevant to this subject
    Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters
    by Steven Pinker
    Reviewed by Simon Kuper in the New Statesman

  39. de stijl says:

    When I was a young voter I agonized over every vote.

    I read the candidate bios and quasi manifestoes in the local alt-weekly supplement. I puzzled over that and determined my vote.

    After a bit I realized I could safely ignore conservatives. They did not and never would support policies I preferred. Eliminate half on party identification alone. It makes life way easier.

  40. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    As a young voter, I realized I had voted for municipal judge the one guy I did not want. I remembered the name but backwards.

    Yes, it is much more rational to investigate and evaluate each candidate and decide how to allocate my vote on thorough evaluation.

    My crikey does that get tiring fast. Juggling 4 candidates for a city council position.

    You learn to take shortcuts. Party X is better than party Y. You can safely ignore party Y – they actively want shit I would hate.

    Everybody makes their own sorting system. As a new voter I was rosy eyed and overly-idealistic. It’s pretty tribal as a rule I found out.

  41. Joe says:

    @de stijl: My only objection to party affiliation voting in my very blue town and county is when the Democrats run a local nutcase for county judge against a very good Republican candidate, it’s like a suicide mission for the county court and local bar. There really are some offices where candidates are more important than their party affiliation, but it’s impossible to differentiate them where voters are just going to pull a party lever.

  42. de stijl says:


    Don’t get me wrong.

    I don’t vote for D exactly, I vote against R. I would not ever consider an R even for the bottom of municipal ballot. Not even for Dog Catcher. Nope.

    Crucial difference. Ds have my conditional vote, Rs have my permanent always anyone but you anti-vote.

  43. Kurtz says:


    It cannot easily deviate from the actual, “right there in black-and-white” texts.

    What now? Excuse me; what?* I don’t know how the people in the part of the world who can only be successful via dependence on ‘Murica prints Scripture, but for us, the most important words in The Good Book are not black and white…they are red.

    *please say aloud like this.

  44. DrDaveT says:


    Just as an example, pretty much everything I hear about Tucker Carlson or the Koch brothers comes from left-wing sources.

    Those who suck at the teat don’t generally feel compelled to comment on it.

  45. Zachriel says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’ll take a shot at a rational reason to prefer life to death. Life is something, death is nothing. Pain may alter the equation, but absent pain, a rational person will choose something over nothing because life is experienced and death is not

    Then you *prefer* experience over nothing.

    @Michael Reynolds: That question cannot be answered rationally, leaving us with no rational basis for choosing death.

    Or life. Naked rationality is inert.

    @Michael Reynolds: Beyond that of course there’s simple curiosity.

    So you *do* care. Now act.

    “Reason is the slave of passions.” — David Hume

  46. JohnSF says:


    Naked rationality is inert.

    Is it though?
    After all, life give you the option of choosing life or death.
    Death entails no options whatsoever.
    Only life as a human (or equivalent) gives the capacity to be rational in the first place.
    Therefore, if rationality is valued, so must be existence as a rational being, as rationality cannot exist as a disembodied Platonic quality.
    At the same time, it is rational to prefer non-existence to existence if such life is productive only of misery.
    Subjectively judged, as rationality is always subjective. 🙂

    “Hume’s philosophy, whether true or false, represents the bankruptcy of eighteenth-century reasonableness.” – Bertrand Russell

  47. Zachriel says:

    @JohnSF: After all, life give you the option of choosing life or death.

    So, you *prefer* having options.

    @JohnSF: if rationality is valued

    So, you *value* rationality.

    If you are like most rational beings, whether of the human or canine or rodent kind, you will cling desperately to the life preserver, so that you may continue your rational existence.