Re: Confidence: A Basic Politics Puzzle

Eric Watt Forste (
Tue, 18 Feb 1997 18:05:49 -0800

Robin Hanson writes:
>Calm vs. excitement is not the same as caution vs. confidence. Why
>should being excited make you feel confident? Any why would/does
>confidence help you win arguments?

Now you are asking questions about the cognitive and performative
functions of the amygdala and others parts of the brain. In my
experience, people do assume a much more confident tone in
argumentation when they are excited about what they are arguing,
and people who have a confident tone in argumentation tend to win
over the less thoughtful spectators, some of whom vote. So there
is an incentive structure here as well. It's not much of an incentive
on its own, but given that people argue anyway because they enjoy
it, this might be enough of an incentive to skew how they argue.

I wrote:
>Ah, yes. Another answer to Robin's question is that our society is
>permeated with the Dogma of Democracy, and the Dogma of Democracy
>is that any randomly chosen citizen's opinion about a political
>issue is exactly as valuable and likely to be "true" as anyone
>else's opinion of that issue.

Robin replied:
>This seems to just restate the puzzle, rather than explaining it.

Yes, but it makes it clearer that this is a historical puzzle. The
current widespread belief in majority-rule dogmas *may* be explicable
only as a result of accidents of history. Do current political
economists acknowledge accidents of history? I would expect that
as political economy matures, it would acknowledge the diachronic
as well as the synchronic aspects of the field.

When I try to approach questions like this one seriously, I don't
try to answer them just by looking at current conditions (though
I'm glad that there are some people working on the problem who *do*
discipline their inquiries in that way). What I do is study history
and try to figure out what happened to the development of the family
of liberal political ideologies between the early nineteenth century
and the mid twentieth century. It's a nasty can of worms. But the
dogma of majority rule got entrenched in North America and Europe
during the nineteenth century, for the most part, and then just
kind of exploded and washed over the world after the end of World
War II. Or at least that's how it looks from where I sit. (See,
now I'm doing the same kind of "collectivist thinking" I was just
chiding Reilly about... hmm.)

By "majority rule", I mean specifically the idea that minorities
in a society ought to submit to the will of majorities in a society,
not the practice of using majority rule in voluntary organizations
and small parliamentary bodies. And lest this be misconstrued, I
should mention that I don't care for minority rule either. I think
government, if it exists, should be very careful to preserve a
distinction between the law and the will of the majority, and our
current political system is doing a very poor job of preserving
that distinction.

Robin also replied to Ken Kittlitz:
>People believe that cars and planes have a direct impact on their
>lives, but view have much confidence in their opinions on what
>makes these safe/efficient etc.

I know I'm taking this out of context, but cars and planes are not
agents, and people are not generally forced to ride in them and
fly in them if they don't want to.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++