Psychological Approaches to Cognition and Rationality in Political Science

11111

The theoretical basis of information processing in politics comes largely from psychologists studying other issues and from fields outside the realm of psychology. We assume that the task of translating available information into sets of focused, legally consistent beliefs, judgement and commitments is a subtle process, not at all a straightforward or an obvious issue, and furthermore, although political reasoning may take place largely outside a person’s awareness, political cognition is a very active mental process. Cognitive theories in politics are largely bent on understanding as to how people selectively attend to, interpret and organise information in ways that allow everyone to reach coherent understandings. For various reasons known or unknown to all of us now, such understandings may deviate substantially from the true set of affairs and from whatever mix of information or disinformation is available to be considered.

The two terms ‘belief’ and ‘system’ have been a familiar part of the language of attitude psychology for decades. Let us define ‘belief system’ in a three point structure:

  • a set of related beliefs, attitudes together
  • rules of how these contents of mind are linked to one another
  • linkages between the related beliefs and ideologies.

Now to model a belief system is an attempt to create an abstract representation of how someone’s set of related beliefs are formed, organised, maintained and modified.

In the cognition of psychology, or vice versa, a commonality of two terms is being used nowadays in the form of schemas and scripts with the former being the building blocks about peoples’ beliefs about the globe, and the latter being the working assemblages of those building blocks, with an adequate emphasis on sequences of actions involving various schematised objects. Scripts are our images of events routinely take place; events involve objects and activities for which schematic representations are available. For e.g., we might have a script of leadership in mixed age groups. Men routinely expect to exercise leadership over women and bristly at having to be subordinate, while women expect the same status differentiation and fear the wrath of others if women acquire leadership responsibilities. This hypothesised script incorporates schemas about the nature of leadership, about gender differences and about emotions such as resentment and fear. Just as schemas organise our understanding of concepts and objects, scripts organise our understanding about about activities and events  that involve and link those objects and concepts.

Much of the modern social psychology is concerned with the attribution processes. These refer to subjective connections people make between cause and effect. Attribution processes, by their nature involve going beyond the ‘information given’ in the direct observation of events. They are inferential process that allow us to understand what we think are the meaningful causes, observations and motivations underlying the observable behaviour directly. they are the central elements of the broader constructive processes through which people find meaning in ongoing events. Regardless of how well our attributive reasoning corresponds with objective reality, attribution process provide us with an enhanced sense of confidence that we understand what is going on around us. two kinds of attributive processes are heuristics and biases, when the former can be considered as mental short-cuts, by which one is able to circumvent the tediousness of logically exhaustive reasoning, or to fill in lacunae in our knowledge base and reach conclusions that make sense to our already made up assumptions.

Biases can be thought of as tendencies to come to some kind of conclusions more often than others. We have to often take the short cut of relying on representations of some bit of information, while ignoring other factors that also should be taken into account. We have to attach probabilities. Suppose a foreign service analyst anted to know whether a move by a foreign government to increase security at border was part of a larger plan to prepare for a surprise military attack across the border. the cue for the analyst is border clampdown; one possible meaning is that a military invasion is about to begin. The analyst must decide how likely it is. If the analyst uses the representativeness heuristic, she would decide how typical a border crackdown is as a early sign of a coming invasion. The more typically she feels the border clampdown is a sign of coming invasion, the more credibility she would attach to that interpretation of the change. In fact, representativeness, the degree to which some cue resembles or fits as part of the typical form of an interpretation, is an important and a legitimate aspect of assessing probabilities. The representativeness of heuristic however is the tendency to ignore other relevant information and thereby overemphasise the role of representativeness. Representativeness is one of the most prominently and actively investigated cognitive heuristics. Of course in most real life settings it cannot be proven that we credit or blame the actor too much for her behaviour or consequences. However, in carefully designed experiments in which hapless actors obviously have very little control over what happens to them, observers nonetheless hold the actors responsible for their actions and circumstances.

Now moving on to integrative complexity, it is a combination of two distinct mental activities, differentiation and integration. Differentiation refers to person’s recognition of multiple issues or facets in thinking about a political problem. Undifferentiated thinking occurs when an individual sees a problem as involving very few distinct issues, or that all of the issues nearly lead to the same conclusion. Differentiating one’s understanding of political situation gives one a better grasp on that situation, but it can cause difficulties too. different aspects of a political problem may contradict each other or may lead to contradictory actions. differentiating a problem can also lead a decision maker to the discovery that she really does not have a full grasp on the relevant information, which can be an unpleasant awareness, especially when decisions are to made immediately.

Integration on the other hand refers to the careful consideration of the relationships among parts of the problem. as a political actor formulates opinions and possible choices, integrated thinking allows the person to see how various courses of action may lead to contradictory outcomes, how goals might be well set by actions that violate one’s presuppositions or outcomes. Integration moves the thinker away from all or nothing oversimplification of issues. thus it improves the chances for political compromise, the heart of successful diplomacy. furthermore, by opening up the eyes of the decision maker to the complex interconnections of many political problems, it enables her to anticipate the complicated consequences that may follow from her choices. Obviously, high levels of integration can occur when an individual or a group has successfully differentiated the various issues involved in a problem. without the identification of the issue, there is nothing to integrate. however, simple awareness of all of the potentially conflicting aspects of a problem does not guarantee that a decision maker will pull these elements meaningfully. On can recognise any number of ambiguous qualifications, contradictions and non-sequitors, yet ignore most of them in deciding what to believe and what to do. Thus integration requires differentiation, but generally vice versa does not follow.

Integrating complexity may affect the careers of political leaders. It may also help shape the outcome of entire political and military conflicts, not just the future carer of leaders. For e.g., intense diplomatic activity between the US and the USSR averted a potential WW3, which arose in 1962 when the US objected to the Soviet missile deployment in Cuba. Taking the above case, it was hypothesised that in very complex political situations, highly integrated thinking is necessary in order for leaders to discover the availability and superiority of non-military solutions.

Everyone knows that attitudes about a political problem influence our political actions. Exceptions are there, but people usually act in ways that further their beliefs avoid acting in ways that contradict their beliefs. We no longer claim that the causal link from beliefs to behaviour is simple; instead, attention is now directed towards understanding the complex and subtle ways in which beliefs influence decision-making. General beliefs are considered to be less general in predicting actions such as voting behaviour. Some also maintain that general beliefs are important influences on specific actions, though the influence is not a direct cause-effect link. Instead, general beliefs produce subtle tendencies to favour some interpretation of events over other plausible interpretations, and to favour some general styles of political action over others when choosing a specific political action. Talking of political actor’s operational code, there are diagnostic propensities which are tendencies to interpret ambiguous events in some ways rather that in others, to search for certain kinds of information rather than others, and to exaggerate or ignore the probable role of chance and uncontrollable events. For eg. one national leader may immediately look for the hostile intentions behind any important diplomatic move on the part of arrival nation. Such a person would search for other evidence confirming his or her initial presumption, by contrast, another leader might be aware that the rival nation has severe internal problems, and presume that any important foreign policy initiatives from that nation are attempts to distract its citizens from those problems. Choice propensities are tendencies to prefer certain modes of political action to others. Diagnostic propensities are the expressions in political reasoning of leader’s general views about how to act effectively in political arena.

Politics in its very essence is an impersonal activity. The vast bulk of political planning, commitment and actions take place among groups of people, whether these people come together to pool resources, squabble, or negotiate compromises among their conflicting group interests. What is then the psychology of rationality in political groups? But groups are different. Groups do not negate the picture about the nature of political cognition; they complicate it instead. Groups themselves do not think. It is still the individual people who share or hide their personal beliefs and goals.

What is a camel?
It’s a horse driven by a committee.

This old joke is a cynical comment on the creativity of committees. It is easy to point to mediocre decisions made by groups, but there is a more serious problem than middling decisions. Groups are capable of profoundly bad decisions. Some of the worst decisions in world history were made by groups that would seem to have been assembled in producing rational, creative policies and judgments.

What characteristics make groups particularly susceptible to poor decisions? First and foremost, the group is highly cohesive. Group members know, trust and like each other; they often share common or similar histories; they enjoy being part of the group and value working in it. Second, the group isolates itself from possible influencing of the others. A strong sense of identification with the group leads to lost ties with others who might have some valuable information to share. Third, the group lacks any systematic way of doing things. without formal guidelines for procedure, agenda decisions are made casually and are subject to influences that cut full deliberations. Fourth, the leader of such groups tend to be directive. Fifth, the group is experiencing stress, with a sense of urgency about some crises in which acting quickly seems critical. The choice may be among some unpleasant activities, the available information may be very confusing and incomplete and the group members may be fatigued. Thus solidarity, isolation, sloppy procedures and directive leadership in a stressful situation make some groups vulnerable to groupthink. Two features describe groupthink. First set contains working assumptions and styles of interacting that group members carry with them into the work setting. The second set features describe faulty deliberations as the group sets about its task. The group members lack adequate contingency plans to be prepared for quick response if the preferred course of action does not work as the group hopes and believes it will.

To avoid groupthink, first the leader of the group should actively encourage dissent; she should make it known that dissenting opinions are valued and they are valued not just for variety’s sake but because that they may be right. Second, the leader should avoid letting her own initials be known. Third, parallel subgroups can be set up early on to work separately on the same tasks. These subgroups will probably develop different assessments and plans, which can be brought to the whole group for consideration. This neatly disrupts the tendency of groups to focus on just option for the upcoming decision. A choice is rational if it follows certain careful procedures that lead to the selection of the course of action that offers the greatest expected value or benefit or utility for the chooser. The group members making a rational decision first identify the opportunity and need for a choice. They then identify every conceivable course of action available to them. They determine all possible consequences of each course of action available to them. They evaluate each possible consequence in terms of,

1) its likelihood of occurrence,
2) its value if it does occur.

Now the decision making group has a problem, and a set of possible solutions. This information is then distilled into a single choice by working backwards. The probability of each consequence is then multiplied by its value; the products of all consequences for each course of action are then added up. The resulting sums are the expected values of each possible consequence. The group then simply selects the option with the largest possible expected value (or smallest negative value if a choice is a no-win situation).

There is something called the posterior rationality, where the choice process is discovered after the choice is made. The world may be too unpredictable and complicated for most well intended plans to have much chance of success. If so, traditional rationality may be irrelevant as a model for complex organisations. However, goals and intentions can still be inferred in reverse, by reinterpreting earlier choices and redefining one’s original goals.

In conclusion, political actors, groups and institutions such as governments do not simply observe and understand political circumstances in some automatic fashion that accurately captures true political realities. Political realities are for most part social constructions and the construing process is built on the philosophy and psychology of human cognition. Political cognition like any other cognition is extremely complex. It is easy enough to find examples of poor political judgments: the wonder may be that politics often seems to be rational, given all the challenges and limitations. To the extent that we can find a sense of coherence in politics and government, we should acknowledge the importance of the social construction process in shaping that coherence. Although political activists devote much more time to the political agenda than does the average citizen, still they rely on the same cognitive resources and procedures and hence are subject to the same biases and distortions as any thinking person.

 

Is Philosophy Revenant?

This piece is in no way trying to endorse the polemical happenings in philosophy on the continent and across the channel and the Atlantic in the English speaking countries. The tradition of analytic philosophy and continental philosophy are indeed compossible and also in a way in a state of cold war. But one thing that is running like a common thread in the minds of many of the philosophers is the proclamation of the ‘End of Philosophy’. I want to shy from giving recognition to the eschatology that philosophy is facing and hence try to show that the death of philosophy is in no way in sight as it would mean the tragic abandonment of reflection and meaning, which keeps me in doubt if at all we would want to suffer such a loss. Indeed we do face a spate of intellectual terrorism and often badly defined and badly done philosophy, but then our valiant attempt, to echo Oliver Wendell Holmes, ‘to churn void and make cheese’ isn’t here to stay.

We have heard that physics is nearing its end. Physicists are trying to set up a system of equations which are together called the Grand Unified Theories (GUT) that would enable to answer all the possible phenomena in the Universe. Although this claim has been made for a long time, the end as such is in no way in sight. Similarly starting with the initial years of the last century, philosophical problems or systems are either being given the confident death knell or they have been branching off to explore new fields. This in a nutshell definitely lends legitimacy to what Ernst Gellner said in his Words and Things: “a cleric who loses his faith abandons his calling, but a philosopher who loses his redefines his subject.” But on the other hand there have been constant questions asked about the purposefulness nature of doing philosophy in the first place. The only philosophy one might engage in after all that has happened would no longer make any pretense of being in control of the absolute. Indeed, it would have to forbid itself to think the absolute, lest it betray the thought. And yet it must not allow anything to be taken away from the emphatic concept of the truth. This contradiction which was closely followed in the earlier days of the Frankfurt School critical theory tradition defined the precise element of the purpose of doing philosophy.

It is definitely not the case of growing contempt towards philosophy, but a sense of decadence in doing it. This despondency in no way should be linked with the building up of contempt. Bertrand Russell in his ‘Unpopular Essays’ thinks that if contempt for philosophy is developed to the point, at which it becomes systematic, then it becomes a philosophy.

My intention in this talk is to side with what EM Forster once said: “Death destroys a man; the idea of death saves him.” In this particular saying, I wish to substitute man with philosophy. It is precisely this thought or the idea that philosophy is dead, that the entire studies in philosophy are continuing in the process of ongoing history.

One must remember the fact that when the Greeks spoke of the end of philosophy, they had telos in mind as the end and not like today’s usage wherein the end depicts the cessation or the terminal end of doing philosophy. Philosophy from the days it began had one companion always following it and that was sophistry. That clearly does not mean that we need to read the history of philosophy along with a history of anti-philosophy.

Before going any further, I would like to quote from Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling:

“Heraclitus the obscure said, ‘One cannot pass twice through the same stream’. Heraclitus the obscure had a disciple who did not stop with that, he went further and added, One cannot do it even once’. Poor Heraclitus, to have such a disciple! By this amendment the thesis of Heraclitus was so improved that it became an Eleatic thesis which denies movement, and yet the disciple decided only to be a disciple of Heraclitus… and to go further-not back to the position Heraclitus had abandoned.” 

In the universities where new courses in psychology, anthropology, applicative sciences and business sciences are being set up rapidly, philosophy departments are seeing a major decrease in enrollment. Even funds at the disposal of philosophy studies are getting reduced. This could very well mean that philosophy is at an end. This phenomenon is precisely what Heidegger calls the growing impact of specialists in the sense of being more scientific and less democratic control on the various aspects of associate life. This particular train of thought could very well be linked with Plato’s philosopher kings not getting manifested. Heidegger here expresses concern with the emergence of power vested in an uncontrolled manner that he condemns as being very deceitful and dangerous with the ever-increasing inevitability of ‘striking at the heart of the state’. This power according to Heidegger is democratic in format. Many contemporary philosophers are trying to label this scenario in a psychiatric metaphoric manner by terming it as schizophrenic.

The end could be thought of in two manners: the first being Philosophy coming full circle, and hence an aporia is reached and to do philosophy, one starts from where one originally began. This notion is Hegelian. The other is the doctrine of ‘Quietism’, which indicates the clarification of language such that the philosophical problems are not solved but dissolved, the Wittgensteinian notion. He says in the Philosophical Investigations that we are seeking complete clarity in that philosophy is given peace and hence is no more tormented by the questions that bring itself into it (PI, #133). If this is achieved, it is possible to will a stoppage to doing philosophy. But that is not all. There is Deleuze with his proclamation of the end of the verticality of ideas and replaced by the horizontality of ideas, the rhizomatic. I’ll be concentrating on Deleuze’s treatment at the hands of Badiou.

On the continent, it was Nietzsche, who is responsible for killing God. He never achieved any success in consummating philosophy, in setting it any impossible task, but then showed the futility in the very act of doing philosophy. His non-acceptance of traditional pillars of the ideas of classical age indeed persuaded the non-analytical philosophers to accept thinking as the systematic distortion of reality and Heidegger further cemented his notions. If the philosophers on the continent subscribe to this stand, it is indeed trying to correlate with the Hegelian notion of ‘coming full circle’ and thus getting stuck in nostalgia. Heidegger’s notion of ‘metaphysics’ is precisely the idea that being is order,  objectively given for once and all. If being is decidedly given once and for all, history is arrested and finds itself in a closed circuit thus ruling out any possibility of openness.  Heidegger cites in his lecture on the end of philosophy, the overturning of metaphysics at the hands of Marx. Metaphysics is still a talk of some philosophers either as a continuation of the classical thought or by analytical tradition in which it is taken to connote rigidified ‘regional ontologies’ deprived of the historicity that one traces in the Kantian and Husserlian transcendental as the condition for the possibility of any philosophy or science. Heideggerian notion of metaphysics in contemporary philosophy is largely rejected.

As I promised earlier, my focus is on the philosophical thought of Deleuze. To take his treatment at the hand of French philosopher, Badiou is my primary interest here. His contribution could lead us into a created framework wherein we could be led out of the labyrinth of this badly defined continental philosophy. This might not be any space of hope as it could also play itself on the flip side. There are occasions where his doxa that are traces or rather traits of the Heideggerian or Deleuzian doxa are compelling him to fall prey to; thus cutting off a truer confrontation with the radicality of his work that he starts off with.

Badiou talks of the reinvention of the categories of truth and subject against Nietzschean critique, eventuality, politics vis-a-vis ontology born again and the treatment of European nihilism and capitalism. He takes the cases of Heidegger and Deleuze in explicating these issues. In his treatment of Heidegger in the Manifesto and of Deleuze in the Clamor for Being, he has caricatured Heidegger’s opinion supporting crypto-teleology of the ‘end of philosophy’, while opening up the thought of Deleuze for a conceptual confrontation. Badiou’s system echoes Deleuze’s philosophical injunctions in that he never believed metaphysics to die a natural death but insisted it’s stifling at the hands of sophistry, philosophical thought as immanently multiple and without taking any recourse to nostalgia as far as explaining phenomenon like Nihilism.

For philosophy to be revenant, Badiou advocates a concept called ‘Platonism of the multiple’. According to Badiou, the first responsible cause of the death is borrowed from Lacan’s concept of Suture. That philosophy sutures (binds) itself with the non-philosophical conditions i.e. the destiny and the praxis of philosophy is sutured with these conditions. His four conditions are politics, science, art and love. For instance, political suture: Marxism, that is philosophy binding itself to a particular political programme. It is extremely essential if philosophy has to travel historically, these sutures are to be retained. The problem of the end of philosophy arises in the case of ‘double suture’ when a belief in the complicity of the ‘metaphysics of subjectivity’ and technological determined totalitarianism is maintained. Such complicitous natures urge philosophy to abandon its consistency and thus compel a cadence of a kind. This is in a nutshell is the jettisoning of independent procedures philosophy is used to take to.

Badiou demands that philosophy thinks of the discontinuity in the productions of evental subjects as holes in the fabric of knowledge thus undermining living philosophical traditions and reinventing Subject and Truth. Both these reinvented categories are thought of as ‘event’ emerging out of the void (inconsistency) of any situation. His fidelity to the event as rare, the subject as finite fragment of the post-event objectless truth and truth as the event of the void of the situation has adverse ramifications. In his study on Deleuze, the only way of reinventing these categories is through the reinvention of meontology that is the equating of Being with Multiple-Composition of the world through set theory. This is his Platonism of the Multiple. Badiou not only denies the phenomenological subject, but also the continuity of Being thus rejecting the notion of philosophical temporality. To that even Deleuze was anti-phenomenological in his approach, as he would take the experience to its utmost consequences and then de-suturing the subject/object distinction to make it impersonal.

Badiou took the approach to the Set Theory only to discern his denial of the concept of experience and primacy of language. If truth has to be given a rebirth as objectless, the problem of indiscernible must be dealt with. He takes the help of the set-theoretical approach to de-suture being and language. He defines truth as the singular and extra-linguistic production of the multiplicity within one of the four conditions viz, politics, science, art and love of philosophy. If truth is looked at like a supplement rather than any recourse to the transcendence, then there is this inconsistency of the void in the form of an indiscernible (not nameable, but capable of conceptualization), and then are we not dealing with the truth of the situations as such rather than the truth of this situation? What singularity can we attach to this inconsistency? Are truths only to be differentiated on the basis of decisive intervention of meaning? Badiou’s taking to meontology fails in its defence of the singularity of the event. So it seems clear here that the very destination of Deleuze’s thought is the One, and that the profusion of cases does not attest to their irreducible singularity and that alleged philosophy of the event is already there.

As for the treatment meted by Badiou on the topicality of Eternal Return, the opposition is Nietzsche contra Mallarme and is regarded on the basis of chance and accountable to the topology of the fold. Badiou opposes any conceptual probabilism that would allow Events to be tendentially captured by the entropy of the Same. Univocity must approve of divergence. However, Badiou is not too articulating in his distinction between the actual and the virtual with regard to the Bergson’s duration. In Deleuze’s treatment of entropy (D&R), the thought is for both the efficacy of the statistical reduction of events to identity and the inability of this position to account for its own genesis and for genesis itself, a sort of a double bind. What is questionable though is the very transformation of entropy to simulacrum. The philosophical ‘plane of immanence’ and the scientific ‘plane of reference’ are in a sort of unproblematic opposition and this antagonism precisely is the continuity for the philosophical endeavour.

Both Badiou and Deleuze share an utter disdain for ‘End of Philosophy’ and Badiou especially feels a deep scorn for spreading the ‘Empire of Opinion’ as in one conference, he said that ‘The Freedom of Opinion is the Enemy of Philosophy’.

Gerald Bruns mentions in his end of philosophy essays that philosophy is to be located at the level of the singular and irreplaceable rather than at the level of the universal and the necessary. He talks about this openness precisely in the sense of alterity in that this openness finds a way of substitutability of the sovereignty of the subject. Bruns believes that philosophy can recapture ‘an intimacy with the world’ of the kind Levinas talked about of the relation of proximity. This means that our relation with the world is not just confined to purely a theoretical one, but that of practical relation with those situated within an ongoing history. Now with the primacy placed on the practical, ethics can be given a privileged position in establishing a dialogue between philosophy and literature. This thesis aims at subverting the inherited conception of philosophy as the foundation of knowledge by elevating the singular over the universal and event over the law.

I do agree to a complete detour being taken on the continent in the very practice of doing philosophy and that was the reason why I had commented on Badiou being the protector. Postmodernism sounded the death knell for the classical way of thinking of philosophy in terms of grand narratives. Micro or localized narratives are the more sensibly thought of in answering the changing world scenario. Even by the time, post-modernism could actually sink in by dethroning the ideas related to modernism, talks of ‘Performatism’ started to surface. This concept signifies the sign, subject to come together in ways for creating the aesthetic experience of transcendency…locating it in a place where meaning is constructed. Performatism is looked at as ‘New Faith’. Together these new epochal ideas have come to be known as ‘New Sincerity’ and are the talk in the west of a loose connection between cultural studies and philosophy post 9/11.

Thus is to concur that philosophy as revenant is indeed what we are witnessing today as the break from the ideas of the classical ages gone by is getting more and more subscriptions. All is not lost, if we pay heed to deconstruction techniques in the sense that the end is deferred and yet to come. We need to get the old methodology back from its marginalized occupied space to the center. This may just be a lot of demand but then it is the most viable way to encounter this apocalypse.

If philosophy is to be realized, it has to be eliminated – Marx…..

The Dark Prose of the Voidic

It is questioning in itself, an inmost, deepest amazement, which often moves towards nothing, and yet quiets the flux of what was just lived: lets one reflect into oneself such that what is most deeply meant for us appears there, regards itself strangely. More deeply, it are the values of amazement that are carried by the state of presentiment, and ultimately reflected: something small, the kernel within so much impressive empty emballage, a messiah who appears not in a flash but in warmth and is nearby, as our guest, the discarded within a metaphysical perspective, the wafting comprehensible/incomprehensible symbolic intentions of the whole. The simplest word is already much too for it, the most sublime word much too little again, and yet what is true of these small, penetrating, and yet, followed through to the end, always the most authentic of all emblems, was true until now only of the greatest things: of the Delphic, of the reverberations of the primordial experiences of great dark poetry. What is felt, meant here is the same every time; our life, our future, the just lived moment and the lighting of the darkness, its all containing latency, in the most immediate amazement of all. Our moral-mystical concern and our self-ascertainment in itself is meant; some surplus based on nothing extrinsic, the surplus of the mutual mystical existence meaning in itself, is proper to every such experience and especially to symbol intentioned profundity. That gives them their immense promiscuity with respect to time, space and the terminus: that marvels through these constructs in a philosophic lyricism of the final border standing above every discipline, spiritually, arch jamming immanence and thus meta-religiously superior, exterior, even to the formations of faith, to the other world. Can we escape this depression of the visualization of the other world; a world object-less, not even ether, but not objection-less. Is there an answer to the nothingness in which all of us are in an awe struck moment if we try comprehending it?