A philosopher analyzes contemporary political discourse and offers a plan for change.
Heath (Philosophy/Univ. of Toronto; Economics without Illusion: Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism, 2009, etc.) rails against what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness,” the belief in a claim that “feels true, even though it may not, strictly speaking be true.” Noting a “growing abuse of appeals to emotions…in lieu of arguments based on reason, evidence, or even fact,” the author gives abundant examples of the shortcomings of intuition as a basis of decision-making. He acknowledges that rational thought is more difficult than intuitive response, linked as it is “to working memory and general intelligence.” The rapidity of intuitive thinking yields quick gratification and often results in “belief persistence”: People tend to look for evidence to support already held beliefs and ignore evidence that might be contradictory. Intuition, he maintains, “is incapable of self-correction….It solves problems, but it cannot think about how it goes about solving problems.” The nonrational parts of our brains are unable to follow a complex argument, think strategically or address problems that require collective action. Heath cites many authors who claim that reasoning can never be free of personal bias caused, in part, by “unconscious instincts, dopamine levels, and pheromone trails.” While the author is skeptical of “rationalist excesses” such as social engineering and utopias, he believes that anti-rationalism threatens public life. Heath’s primary focus is politics, where he sees conservatives privileging intuition and liberals, rationality. To counter the “hazardous dynamic” that perpetuates irrationality in American society, Heath proposes a “Slow Politics Manifesto”—the civic version of the Slow Food Manifesto—which calls for slowing down, engaging in “quiet, rational deliberation,” “cultivating intelligence rather than demeaning it, building on experience rather than going with our gut feelings.”
Heath’s call for a second Enlightenment seems a rather sedate—although rational—response to his impassioned critique of the current political climate.