Re: Confidence: A Basic Politics Puzzle
Wed, 19 Feb 1997 10:44:28 -0500 (EST)

Robin Hanson asks:

>Why do people seem so damn confident of their political

He contrasts this confidence with the self-doubt freely expressed in the
"harder" sciences.

Assuming Robin's observation holds true, I'd posit two causes:

1) Relative indeterminancy. The sciences have widely-accepted and effective
means to root out error. Due to the difficulties of creating double-blind,
replicable experiments, and the profusion of variables, political scientists
have a comparatively harder time defending their claims. Political thinkers
(especially, in contrast to Robin, amateurs) fall back on force of opinion as
a signal of veracity.

2) Relative risks of error. If physicists err in matters of phlogiston or
caloric, they at worst merely slow technical advances. If politicians err in
matters of public or foreign policy, they put my life, and the lives of my
loved ones, at grave risk. People thus perhaps hew to strong political
beliefs because the risk of suffering others' errors seems so grave. Few
people regard the risks of their *own* political error with equal horror,
since they pick their beliefs with an eye to self-interest. In other words,
if you err in your political beliefs, I could suffer horribly. If I err,
*you* might suffer horribly but *I* would probably still end up better off
than I would under your erroneous schemes.

T.0. Morrow