Politics is the Mind Killer: Rational Reasons for Being a Political Hack

Politics is the Mind Killer. This is the title of one of my favorite posts on the web. In this post, Eliezer Yudkowsky talks about how people seem to be so irrational when it comes to politics. In two posts, I hope to talk a bit about this.

One way that we exhibit irrationality about politics is by behaving inconsistently. We often come across as partisan hacks. How can we distinguish between a principled person and a partisan hack? This is a tough question. But at least one way is to determine whether one is switching one’s position when the other party is doing the thing one dislikes. Many Republicans opposed large government, but still supported George Bush’s expansion of Medicare drugs. Many Democrats opposed George Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afganistan, but do not criticize Obama’s actions in Afganistan. This makes one look like a partisan hack.

My guess is that these people do not perceive themselves as partisan hacks. If one confronted them with the evidence, how might they respond? One possible justification is that the liberal trusts the liberal President more. And therefore he gives the liberal President the benefit of the doubt. If President Obama is ordering these national security activities, he must have a good reason for it.

Another justification might be that the conservative is less inclined to criticize the conservative President, because he wants the conservative President to remain in office. While President Bush behaved in a liberal way by exanding Medicare concerning prescription drugs, this compromise might have been thought to have been necessary for the President to maintain popularity and stay in office – and therefore to secure other conservative programs.

Thus, there were rational reasons for these people to support their President, even though they might otherwise have disagreed with his actions on policy grounds.

Libertarians are known as being especially principled. While there are many possible explanations for this aspect of libertarianism, one possibility raised by this post is simply that libertarians are rarely in power. Thus, they do not give their leaders the benefit of the doubt and they do not make compromises to stay in power.

In my next post on this subject, I want to think a bit about some of the nonrational or preference based reasons for acting like a hack.