The World is Round, You Idiot
December 12, 2010 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm wondering what research has found, in general, about the relationship anger, partisanship, and truth.

There have been a number of articles to come out in the last several months about political anger and how we all just need to calm down and dialogue. They talk about how crazy the political environment is and how what's needed is level-headed clear thinking. Jon Stewart's rally was all about how we need to just relax. But I'm not entirely certain that opinions formed calmly (or articulated calmly) are at all likely to have any more validity than opinions expressed in derision and irritation. Should we distrust Paul Krugman when he insults Niall Ferguson, for example?

Strictly speaking, there's no necessary logical relationship between calmness/partisanship and accuracy. The statements: "The world is round" and "The world is round, you idiot" are equally true at an indicative level. Is there a relationship, though, in the real world? I'm familiar with some studies of partisanship and economic opinions (where partisans tend to believe wrong things simply based on their political affiliation), but I'm curious whether the dice aren't a bit loaded on these subjects. What's the connection, if any?
posted by outlandishmarxist to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that I'm mostly interested in this at the level of scientific research and public policy analysis.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 3:44 PM on December 12, 2010

>The statements: "The world is round" and "The world is round, you idiot" are equally true at an indicative level. Is there a relationship, though, in the real world?

I think this is at the heart of your question, but I still don't understand what you're looking for. Can you clarify? Do all three of anger, partisanship, and truth need to be involved? Are you ultimately interested in the likelihood of the truth of a statement and how it's influenced, if at all, by anger and/or partisanship in the statement or by the speaker?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:12 PM on December 12, 2010

Is your question "are emotionally-expressed opinions more inaccurate than levelly-expressed opinions?" Is your question "are emotionally-expressed opinions less persuasive than levelly-expressed opinions?"
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:40 PM on December 12, 2010

Well, I'll take a crack at this: What you're asking about deals with some of the concerns expressed within citizenship studies and the deliberative democracy movement these days, in so far as theorists like Harry Boyte and Amy Guttman would argue for the advantages of privileging rational forms of discourse (which avoid the "you idiot" part) in deliberative encounters between citizens trying engage constructively over issues of contemporary public policy. Although they've been critiqued on various fronts, both schools of thought originate from answers to some of the questions you raise (even though both pretty much take those answers as starting points and focus more often on their implications for, among other things, civics education, citizenship training, etc.).
posted by 5Q7 at 9:24 PM on December 12, 2010

Response by poster: @Sticherbeast: I'd be open to answers to both questions.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 6:05 AM on December 13, 2010

Response by poster: I think I may have asked this question a bit poorly (given the low numbers of responses). At a cognitive level, I'm interested in the role that emotions and ideological affiliations play in decision making and information assessment.

There seem to be two general schools of thought, one that I might characterize through Frantz Fanon's epistemological claims in Black Skin, White Masks: He makes the claim, essentially, that a psychological or sociological account of racism does not come close to the problem itself. Rather, one must approach racism from the lived experience of racism (phenomenology). There is a very large case to be made for the lag of science behind life - that complaints of racism and economic oppression are ignored by science until political activity and "emotional" people bring them to the light of day. Only the oppressed can understand their oppression.

The counter-argument to this would be that, even if it takes a certain degree of social activity to bring these claims to light, assessing their viability and solving them is a matter for scientific analysis. These are what economists call problems of scarcity and scarce resources, as well as problems of societal attitudes, and one can't simply snap one's fingers (or get angry and protest) to make them go away.

Of course, I recognize that the reality is, in general, a kind of neither/nor. But I'm interested in the point where the cognitive research dovetails with the social science work. (What does the social science literature say on whether high levels of anger in a given society, for example, jeopardize "optimal" outcomes?).
posted by outlandishmarxist at 8:28 AM on December 13, 2010

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