Sunday, May 29, 2016

It is politics-as-novel, rather than politics-as-system

From Don't Blame the Republican Party for the Rise of Trump by Megan McArdle.
So whose fault is Trump then, if not the leadership of the Republican Party and the conservative movement?

I tend to think that’s a bad question. It is politics-as-novel, rather than politics-as-system. We are a large, fractious nation full of clashing interest groups and wildly differing opinions, as well as differing levels of engagement with politics. That system will often spit out results that most of us don’t like very much. Trying to ascribe those results to a person, or even a small group, is like blaming the weatherman because it’s raining, or an economist for a recession. You have selected the most visible target, not the most likely one. And, in the case of Democrats who fault Republicans for Trump, a very convenient target as well.
I like that phrase, "It is politics-as-novel, rather than politics-as-system."

This relates to an informal fallacy first identified, as far as I am aware, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.
Or increases our impression of certainty.

But McArdle's twist is a useful one, politics-as-novel, rather than politics-as-system. It is much easier to construct a narrative hypothesis that is cognitively digestible and emotionally pleasing than it is to rigorously test the complex, dynamic, non-linear system which is human activities. The complex system spits out a result we don't understand and that is less acceptable than a logical narrative despite both having no factual basis, one way or the other.

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