Our ‘Road Rage’ Based Economic Policy

Chris DillowOne of my favorite concepts is the “fundamental attribution error.” This is where we tend to attribute internal causes for the actions of others but external causes for our own actions. Consider my favorite example: driving. I like it because everyone I know complains about other drivers to one extent or another. Ask someone if they’ve ever been cut off in traffic, and they will almost always jump at it like a dog on red meat, “Just the other day! I was driving…” But what’s more important is the reason that they were cut off: the guy’s just a jerk.

On the other hand, if you are driving with someone who cuts someone else off, they will tell you they had reasons. They are in a super big rush because their boss will kill them if they are late or the traffic was so bad that they had no choice or — and this is the most common — they just screwed up. And they are right! I’ve never known someone who drives around just looking for opportunities to piss off other people. But if you point this out to someone who has been cutoff, they will usually reject the notion violently.

I ran into this with a Christopher Hitchens fan who was mad at Richard Seymour. There was an admittedly vague sentence in Seymour’s book Unhiched. The reader understood the sentence to mean something that was clearly not true. I noted that he was misunderstanding what Seymour had written. And the reader’s response was, “Garbage.” Because it just had to be that Seymour was an evil man who wrote something he knew was wrong just to slander Hitchens. The much more reasonable explanation that Seymour had written a vague sentence that could be misinterpreted was not possible. Obviously, the reader would have had a different opinion if we were talking about his own writing.

Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling wrote something interesting in regard to this, Demand Deniers. It’s about the Tories in the UK. They believe that people don’t have jobs because they just don’t want them — rather than blaming it on outside forces. So they deny that the problem is the lack of demand that these unemployed and under-employed people experience. This, as Dillow noted, is a classic fundamental attribution error. But it is worse than that, because unlike people driving or even ignorant Christopher Hitchens fans, there is economic information on this subject.

But you can see where this comes from. The people making policy in the UK are all from the same class. They are all educated at the same top tier schools. They know that if they found themselves out of job, there would be plenty of people who would give them a job. So it must be the same for gardeners and auto mechanics and computer programmers, right?! It’s amazing that the moment that the left talks about inequality, we are blamed for class warfare. But these people live in a separate, closed off, society and that is just right and proper.

I’m not sure why we are so prone to the fundamental attribution error. But its result in the modern world is that we assume that the rich must be good, hard working people, and the poor must be bad and lazy. Public policy should be based on science, not such base instincts. We shouldn’t be running our economy based upon the same thinking patterns that bring us road rage.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “Our ‘Road Rage’ Based Economic Policy

  1. I came late to the Hitchens party, I fear; I first read him (or even heard of him) when he was writing a column at Slate. With no prior knowledge to frame my opinion of the man, I could only react to what he wrote – which was a drumbeat of support for the Iraq invasion and a full-throated defense of waterboarding (until somewhat later, when he got waterboarded himself for a few seconds and decided it was torture. I’m glad he grew some empathy at last; it redeemed him, in my eyes, from being a completely hopeless a*****e to merely _mostly_ hopeless.

    I didn’t even realize, at first, that he was an atheist; he was essentially no different from any of the other neocons writing at the time, so what did I care whether he had an imaginary friend or not? Now that I know, I still don’t care. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that he was a misogynist as well; it tallies quite nicely with the profound lack of empathy that he displayed in so much of his writing. The fact that he’s so widely accepted as one of “movement” atheism’s public faces is a major reason why I will never be a movement atheist.

    • I love that term: “movement atheism.” That’s so much better than “new atheism.”

      And I had forgotten about the waterboarding thing. It’s called wisdom: it comes to some suddenly.

    • Y’know, some of his stuff was terrific. He did an article on the myth that cowardly Palestinians fled their homes in 1947 because radio broadcasts told them to, the silly buggers. Turns out that was bogus nonsense, and Hitchens listened to a bunch of BBC recordings of intercepted broadcasts to prove it wasn’t true. Small point but important research.

      I think despite raging denials to the contrary, he worshiped Orwell. And Orwell had great articles about pacifists in Britain, and how silly they were. thinking passive resistance would defeat Hitler. The 2001 attacks on New York/DC gave Hitchens his chance to do an Orwell and stand out from other lefty writers. He had a book called “Letters To A Young Contrarian.” Clearly he didn’t want to be someone adding more unread contributions to the ephemeral (my feeble attempt at a Hitchens word) cause of democracy. He wanted fame, importance. He got it, in a way.

      I can’t blame him on one score. When I work my butt off on something, I want lots of people to read it, too. Nobody was reading Hitchens in “The Nation.” He got way more readers as a war apologist. Pretty much blowing up everything he’d said in “The Trials Of Henry Kissinger.” But then again nobody read that book. (I did, and I liked it, and it meant a lot to me.)

      He wanted to be Orwell. But not then Orwell, who died poor and nobody read. Today Orwell, who’s taught in schools. It’s completely understandable for anyone who writes to feel unappreciated, even the most lazy writers (Orwell was not lazy, Hitchens . . . eh, I’ll give him a gentleman’s “C.”)

      Hitchens made his deal with the devil to get more attention. And now, when I look back at his stuff, I see a lot of rhetorical flourishes I’m not proud of liking. I read the recently-dead Eduardo Galeano — in translation — and I’m way more impressed. Fancy vocabulary is fine if it’s the best way to express your meaning. Good original metaphors/similes are better and cross linguistic borders.

      And Orwell would have hated CH’s use of obscure words. That’s a given. I’m pretty sure he would have hated CH’s support of colonialism, too.

      • No question: Hitchens wanted to be a “star.” He got a huge amount of attention at The Nation. It just wasn’t as much as he wanted. He was the king of cognitive dissonance. He never repudiated his past socialist writings, even as he became a hardcore libertarian. Ultimately, I think he didn’t believe in anything — except that he was totally awesome.

  2. Love the longer intro paragraphs. You’ll have to see if others do. Internet readers are short on patience. Yours might be better at this.

    One of my favorite politicos, our worthwhile governor Mark Dayton, ran in the primary saying “there is a class war in this country. And our side didn’t start it.” I knew immediately I was voting for this person. And I haven’t regretted it. Every road in the dang state has been under construction all summer, drivers are furious, and I’m thrilled. Why? A good Democratic governor planned to retire and pushed through all the necessary infrastructure repair he could before he was done. My bus route takes a five-minute detour around a highway bridge! Yay! Now the bridge won’t fall down.

    Just for trivia, Dayton is actually rich as hell. His family ran a store company that eventually became Target. So the great line “our side” is a bit flimsy. However saying liberals didn’t start the class war is entirely correct.

    • Yeah, I would think the people in Minnesota more than anyone would be happy about bridge repairs.

      I think the reason there aren’t more rich people on the side of the working class is because there is now so much money that can be made that the appetite for more money never ends.

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