Saturday, September 22, 2007

Post Hoc Rationalization

Good points...basically Stuart is saying that we all have the tendency toward self-justification but "intellectuals" have more tools in their arsenal to accomplish the task.  Add the "moral imperative" that we all feel about our most cherished ideals and advocacy becomes a very sticky wicket. The only real salvation for all of us is complete transparency and openness so we are forced to admit mistakes in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Democracy and Free Market Capitalism work not because they magically transform the human intellect or psyche but because they expose our mistakes and biases quicker than other societal structures.


One of the great intellectual challenges is to be consistent in the way that you approach evidence. What most people do, however, is hold one side of a debate to a much higher standard of proof than the other. That is, if Side A and Side B are fighting about something, then Side A will trumpet to the heavens every study and report and news story and anecdote and sheer speculation that supports Side A, whereas even the most meticulous study supporting Side B will be nitpicked to death and then ignored.

Consistent with what Taber and Lodge found, I think this may be most often true of professors and intellectuals -- they're smart enough to come up with a post hoc rationalization for any prior belief, they love to nitpick any contrary evidence, and they can walk away from any debate more convinced than ever that they are right, regardless of the evidence or arguments brought to bear on the other side.