Calma e gesso

Viviamo nella società dell’ignoranza e cerchiamo  di gestirla come i dottori medievali gestivano i loro malcapitati pazienti, con salamandre e decotti.

Questa almeno l’opinione da cui parte Mike Huemer nel suo “In Praise of Passivity”…

… Voters, activists, and political leaders of the present day are in the position of medieval doctors. They hold simple, prescientific theories about the workings of society and the causes of social problems, from which they derive a variety of remedies– almost all of which prove either ineffectual or harmful. Society is a complex mechanism whose repair, if possible at all, would require a precise and detailed understanding of a kind that no one today possesses…

Chi vuole agire per porre un rimedio si fermi a riflettere. Anzi, meglio ancora se si ferma e basta

… the wisest course for political agents is often simply to stop trying to solve society’s problems…

Ma cosa non conosciamo esattamente? La politica e le sue leggi, per esempio.

Esempi di ignoranza proverbiale

… Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter give the flavor of public political knowledge in America: The most commonly known fact about George [H.W.] Bush’s opinions while he was president was that he hated broccoli. During the 1992 presidential campaign 89 percent of the public knew that Vice President Quayle was feuding with the television character Murphy Brown, but only 19 percent could characterize Bill Clinton’s record on the environment. Also during that campaign, 86 percent of the public knew that the Bushes’ dog was named Millie, yet only 15 percent knew that both presidential candidates supported the death penalty… International data indicate that Americans’ political knowledge is no more than moderately below average…

Il consenso degli esperti è bellamente ignorato anche quelle poche volte che lo si riscontra…

… Fortunately, in some areas of social theory, one can find a clear, policy-relevant consensus among the experts. Unfortunately, this consensus is often boldly defied by both political leaders and the general public…

Il  caso del “protezionismo“…

… The vast majority of economists– the people whose profession is to study these kinds of things– oppose protectionism and believe that it harms the domestic economy… even left-wing economists such as Paul Krugman, famous for advocating government management of the economy,[ 21] have signed on to this consensus… When experts from opposite sides of the political spectrum converge on a given position, in contradiction to conventional opinion, who is the more likely victim of a cognitive bias: the community of experts, or the uneducated masses?…

Il caso del terrorismo…

… Experts whose careers center on the study of terrorism generally agree that terrorism functions as retaliation for specific government policies, especially for foreign military occupation of territories that the terrorists prize.[… Political leaders in countries subject to terrorist attacks, however, typically blame the attacks on fundamental and irreconcilable clashes of values, on the moral virtue of their own country and the sheer evil of the terrorists… They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other…

Non che gli esperti abbiano la verità in tasca: sanno ben poco anche loro…

… In light of the ignorance of typical political leaders and members of the general public, we might be tempted by the idea of rule by experts, as in Plato’s Republic.[ 28] [4] Unfortunately, when it comes to descriptive social theory, even the experts’ knowledge is unimpressive, as demonstrated recently by the social psychologist Phillip Tetlock…

Giusto qualcosina in più del profano… più che altro sono bravi a razionalizzare…

… the best experts did only slightly better than chance at predicting outcomes…  What the experts were good at was rationalizing their failures…

Ahimé, la politica è zeppa di questioni non testabili

… Might it be that experts have highly reliable beliefs about these untestable matters? There is no reason to think so. Typically, if a person proves unreliable whenever you actually test that person’s claims, it is reasonable to assume that that person is also unreliable with regard to the claims you did not test… Thus, experts are probably even less reliable when it comes to these untestable matters…

Senza contare che molte scelte politiche riguardano i valori: quanta eguaglianza perseguire? I disaccordi etici sono inevitabili, chi avrà ragione? Boh…

… There is no generally accepted theory– either among ordinary people or among experts– for any of the central evaluative categories of moral or political philosophy. There is no generally accepted theory of the good, the right, justice, authority, human rights, equality, or liberty…

La tentazione è quella di gridare: io ho ragione, ovvio. Ma “io” non sono un essere speciale…

… We may be tempted to argue that while other people are unreliable about evaluative questions, we ourselves have the correct values… I would suggest that we ought to be very suspicious of any attempt to treat ourselves as special…

Cose che sappiamo

… I think we know that slavery is unjust, that democracy is superior to dictatorship, that torture is almost always wrong, that free markets work better than communist planning…

Davvero poco considerate le discussioni in cui ci impegniamo di solito.

Discutiamo di problemi a cui eminenti studiosi hanno dedicato la vita. Ma a noi, curiosamente, non interessa quanto avevano da dire costoro…

… People often vociferously defend a policy while having no awareness of the literature on the subject…

Ma come riconoscere la conoscenza?

Ci sono 7  indizi

… Genuine political knowledge tends to be: 1. Simple… 2. Accepted by experts… 3. Non-ideological… 4. Weak… 5. Specific and concrete… 6. Supported by appropriate evidence… 7. Undefeated by counter-evidence…

Forse il punto decisivo è il quarto: la vera conoscenza della società umana è soggetta a molte eccezioni.

Facciamo un caso in cui si riscontrano i 7 requisiti: “le democrazie sono preferibili alla dittatura”…

… Consider now the claim that democracy is better than dictatorship. This claim fares reasonably well with respect to the above list…

Possiamo dire che questa è “conoscenza”. Ma non andiamo molto lontano con questa conoscenza, a noi interessa ben altro.

Ma perché siamo tanto ignoranti in politica?

Innanzitutto l’ignoranza politica è razionale: informarsi costa tanto e rende poco…

… The benefits of political knowledge are dubious. For the overwhelming majority of individuals, political knowledge makes no practical difference to how their lives go, since the probability of their causing a change in public policy is approximately zero… The costs of political knowledge, however, can be enormous, beginning with the costs in sheer time and effort…

Persino coltivare un’abitudine al razionalismo è costoso: il carico cognitivo sopportabile è limitato, meglio investirlo altrove.

Potremmo riassumere l’argomento in quattro punti

… 1. People act only when the benefits exceed the costs. 2. The benefits of acquiring political knowledge are minimal. 3. The costs of acquiring political knowledge are substantial. 4. Therefore, people will not acquire political knowledge…

E i politici di professione? Hanno interessi diversi dal bene pubblico…

… politician may have strong motives to discover which positions are popular among voters and campaign contributors. But this is quite a different matter from discovering which policies are truly best…

Non voglio essere pessimista: molta gente è sicuramente ben intenzionata. Ma lo è veramente o vuole solo sentirsi tale per sentirsi in pace con se stessa?…

… most of those who think of themselves as deeply moved by high ideals are not in fact so moved. This may seem a surprising claim…

Come discernere i veri “santi”…

… there is at least one way of distinguishing the desire for X from the desire to perceive oneself as promoting X. This is to observe the subject’s efforts at finding out what promotes X…

È una questione empirica…

… It seems to me that most people who expend a great deal of effort promoting political causes expend very little effort attempting to make sure their beliefs are correct…

I riscontri sono scoraggianti: pochi tra i più impegnati studiano, pochi cambiano idea… chiari indizi che l’ideologia spadroneggia e la santità latita. Noi vogliamo sentirci impegnati per il bene, non lo siamo veramente.

Nessuno studia anche perché la materia è difficile

… There is another reason why human beings are terrible at figuring out political issues: it is a lot harder to figure things out than it appears…

In un certo senso le scienze sociali sono anche più ostiche delle scienze fisiche, il fatto che non esistano laboratori non significa che la sperimentazione sia bandita ma che deve essere molto più sofisticata.

I secoli passati sono cosparsi dai cadaveri di teorie elaborate nelle scienze che riteniamo più affidabili…

… From ancient Greece through the middle ages, the received view in (what then passed for) science was that the physical world was composed of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. The received medical theory was that diseases were caused by imbalances among the four bodily fluids, namely, black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. For instance, a fever was caused by an excess of blood, which therefore needed to be treated by draining the patient’s blood. The 20 ancient and medieval theory of the cosmos located the Earth at the center with the sun and planets orbiting the Earth. The fixed stars were points of light on a large spherical shell encompassing the sun, Earth, and planets….

Cosa dovremmo pensare delle teorie di moda oggi nelle pseudoscienze sociali?

L’attenzione, la cura, l’impegno deve come minimo decuplicarsi!

C’è un altro fatto: il numero di teorie possibili che spiegano un fenomeno è infinito…

… the number of possible theories of any given phenomenon is enormous, if not infinite. Of these, all but one are false. So given just the information that T is a theory, the probability that T is correct is approximately zero….

Conseguenza prevedibile: bias ovunque (specie di conferma)…

… 1. People act only when the benefits exceed the costs. 2. The benefits of acquiring political knowledge are minimal. 3. The costs of acquiring political knowledge are substantial. 4. Therefore, people will not acquire political knowledge…

Non sorprende che la politica sia il paradiso dell’ideologia e della “razionalizzazione”: “pensare male” ci consola e ci costa poco, “pensare bene” ci costa caro e ci deprime…

… We now test hypotheses experimentally, making serious and explicit efforts at falsification. But when it comes to political ideology, no such techniques have been developed…

Nessun laboratorio a disposizione, nessun test, nessun esito fastidioso da razionalizzare…

… questions are difficult to investigate because of the unavailability of controlled experiments. If we want to test whether fiscal stimulus cures recessions, we cannot prepare two identical societies, with identical recessions, and then apply fiscal stimulus in one society but not the other… social phenomena are vastly more complex than the phenomena studied by physicists and chemists…

Le generalizzazioni delle scienze valgono “a parità di condizioni”. Ma in politica le condizioni non sono mai “pari”, cambiano sempre come cambia sempre una nube gassosa…

… Generalizations about human behavior almost always contain “ceteris paribus” clauses. Almost any factor influencing our behavior can be amplified or moderated by numerous other factors. When we move to the behavior of an entire society, matters are only that much more complicated. If there are laws of social evolution, they are no doubt incredibly complex… But as Tetlock found, this rarely happens; most experts prefer to explain away their errors in ways that preserve the experts’ theoretical beliefs…

Ma non lasciamoci sedurre dallo scetticismo assoluto: non siamo completamente ignoranti…

… Fortunately, however, we are not completely ignorant, and we can derive some plausible recommendations for political agents…

Traiamo allora alcune conseguenze pratiche dalle considerazioni svolte.

Primo, meglio non votare.

Analogia…

Imagine that someone asks you for directions to a local restaurant. If you have no idea where the restaurant is, you should not make it up. You should not tell the person some guess that seems sort of plausible to you. You should tell them you don’t know and let them get directions from someone more knowledgeable… Ignorant voting is even worse than ignorant giving of directions, because voting is an exercise of political power (albeit a very small one)– to vote for a policy is not only to make a recommendation, but to request that the policy be imposed on others by force…

Si potrebbe imporre all’elettore lo studio e la razionalità, ma sarebbe una forma di schiavismo vista la mole di studi e di sforzo cognitivo richiesto…

… One might suggest that citizens have an obligation to become informed, and then vote. But becoming sufficiently informed to know who is the best candidate in a given election is typically extremely difficult…

Seconda conseguenza pratica: trascurare i problemi sociali.

Analogia della droga

… Consider for example the problem of recreational drug use, which leads to health problems, addiction, and general deterioration of the lives of drug users and their families. Perhaps there is something government could do to solve the problem. But given the ignorance of political leaders, activists, and the public, a government attempt to solve the problem is unlikely to succeed…

Obiezione: ma se qualcosina so, qualcosina posso fare… magari poco ma qualcosina…

… one might think that, if we were completely ignorant, our policies would be as likely to increase as to reduce the problem; but as long as we have some relevant knowledge and understanding, and we are aiming at a reduction in the problem, we should be at least slightly more likely to alleviate the problem than to exacerbate it….

Sbagliato per almeno quattro ragioni. Innanzitutto, intervenire produce già dei costi certi a terzi (esempio proibizioni) a fronte di benefici incertissimi…

… First, any government policy that imposes requirements or prohibitions on citizens automatically has certain costs. One cost is the reduction of citizens’ freedom…

Ci sono poi i costi delle punizioni inflitte…

… suffering on the part of those who violate the law and are subsequently punished by the legal system…

C’è il costo della burocrazia necessaria da mettere in piedi…

… the monetary cost involved in implementing the policy…

C’è poi una questione morale: se per te vale il principio “liberty first” non ha senso agire di fronte a tanta incertezza e tanta ignoranza…

… moral presumption against coercive interventions…

L’omissione ci rende meno colpevoli da un punto di vista etico…

… when the state actively intervenes in society– for example, by issuing commands and coercively harming those who disobey its commands– the state then becomes responsible for any resulting harms, in a way that the state would not be responsible for harms that it merely (through lack of knowledge) fails to prevent…

Ma l’argomento più forte è l’ultimo: la possibilità di produrre danni è sempre preponderante.

Se turbo un ordine naturale complesso e non lo faccio dominando tutte le variabili in gioco, avrò degli scompensi, anche se magari la mia conoscenza di quel sistema è molto avanzata. Conoscere poco non serve perché non serve nemmeno conoscere molto: bisogna conoscere tutto quando si toccano sistemi complessi…

… Fourth and finally, a policy made under conditions of extreme ignorance is not equally likely to be beneficial as harmful; it is much more likely to be harmful…

Torniamo ai medici medievali, ma anche a quelli che curarono il povero George Washington per comprendere meglio l’idea di fondo…

… It is here that we must recall the case of George Washington. Washington’s doctors, ignorant of the germ theory of disease and lacking in antibiotics, had no chance of curing Washington’s infection. The human body is a complex mechanism with parts that work together in specific ways. Nearly all things one might add to or take away from the body, and nearly all ways in which one might rearrange the parts of the body, will interfere with that mechanism. Indeed, almost all large changes in the body are fatal. Thus, given their state of ignorance, almost any treatment the former President’s doctors prescribed could be expected to be harmful. Society can be viewed as a vast mechanism, whose parts (individual human beings), like the parts of an organism, work together in extremely complex ways…

Non è questo un invito all’inazione, molte soluzioni registrano un consenso e debbono essere implementate…

… I am not arguing that states should never intervene in society. Some interventions are clearly justified. For instance, prohibitions on murder, theft, and assault are justified. What differentiates these from, say, a prohibition on recreational drug use? A number of differences might be cited, 10 but what is most relevant to this paper is the difference in the state of our knowledge with respect to these prohibitions. We know that prohibitions on murder are beneficial– there are no real counter-arguments to the claim, and all experts agree…

Il non-intervento prudenziale non è un dogma quanto un modo per attribuire l’onere della prova

… Rather than recommending universal non-intervention, I am advocating a strong burden of proof for those who advocate legal demands or prohibitions…

Ora sappiamo come trattare i casi dubbi di intervento: alcuni esempi…

… The same lesson applies to many other controversial issues, such as gun control, fiscal stimulus, the minimum wage, immigration, and so on…

Altra raccomandazione pratica: indebolire la democrazia.

Qual è il difetto delle democrazie? possono  sempre “agire” anche in assenza  senza un consenso diffuso…

… for issues that are controversial or require careful reasoning or specialized knowledge, democracy is about the equivalent of drawing policies out of a hat… When an issue is controversial, the best solution is not to simply take a vote; the best solution is to remove the issue from the political arena…

Una soluzione pratica: super-maggioranze

… It is perhaps infeasible for a Constitution to include prohibitions on all the policies that would be controversial or whose effects would be unknown. A reasonable proxy would be to require large supermajority votes for the passage of any law. For example, a state could be designed in which a 70% vote of the legislature would be required to pass any new law, while a 30% vote would suffice to repeal any existing law…

Altra conseguenza pratica: non lottare mai per cio’ in cui credi.

Qui do’ per scontato che si “lotta” solo per ideali controversi

… Fighting for something, as I understand the term, involves fighting against someone. If one’s goal faces no (human) opposition, then one might be described as working for a cause (for instance, working to reduce tuberculosis, working to feed the poor) but not fighting for it. Thus, one normally fights for a cause only when what one is promoting is controversial…

Lottare per qualcosa di controverso produce molti costi che paghiamo in prima persona e riversiamo su terzi, e in molti casi l’esito è deprecabile… non ne vale la pena…

… Fighting for a cause has significant costs. Typically, one expends a great deal of time and energy, while simultaneously imposing costs on others, particularly those who oppose one’s own political position. This time and energy is very likely to be wasted, since neither side knows the answer to the issue over which they contend… In many cases, the effort is expended in bringing about a policy that turns out to be harmful or unjust…

Un caso esemplare…

… Thus, suppose you are deciding between donating time or money to Moveon.org (a left-wing political advocacy group), and donating time or money to the Against Malaria Foundation (a charity that fights malaria in the developing world). For those concerned about human welfare, the choice should be clear. Donations to Moveon.org may or may not affect public policy, and if they do, the effect may be either good or bad– that is a matter for debate. But donations to Against Malaria definitely save lives. No one disputes that…

Scegliete allora solo cause non controverse e dedicatevi a quelle, sono più che sufficienti per assorbire tutte le vostre energie.

***

Rolf Dobelli spiega bene i bias dell’iper-reazione parlando di calcio

…I calciatori che devono tirare un rigore calciano per un terzo nel mezzo, per un terzo a sinistra e per un altro terzo a destra. E i portieri che fanno? Nel 50 per cento dei casi si buttano a sinistra, e nel restante 50 a destra. Ma in pochissimi casi rimangono fermi nel mezzo, anche se un terzo delle palle finisce proprio lì. Perché? Perché sembra loro preferibile e meno doloroso buttarsi dalla parte sbagliata invece di rimanere fermi come scemi e vedere sfrecciare la palla a sinistra o a destra. Questo comportamento si chiama action bias (traducibile con iperattività): agire anche quando non serve…

L’action bias è più forte nelle situazioni nuove o poco chiare…

…Quindi: nelle situazioni incerte sentiamo il bisogno di fare qualcosa, qualunque cosa, poco importa se serve o meno. Ci fa sentire meglio, a prescindere dal fatto che la situazione sia migliorata. Spesso non lo è…

Chiudo citando Pascal

… «La più grande sventura dell’umanità consiste nel fatto di non essere in grado di restarsene tranquilli nella propria stanza»…

 

COMMENTO PERSONALE

La preghiera è il modo migliore per coltivare una sana e razionale abitudine alla passività, per tenere a bada cioè lo sciagurato istinto di reagire in modo eccessivo (overeaction) quando capita qualcosa di spiacevole. I terroristi compiono un attentato? Prega, prega per almeno una settimana e invita i politici a farlo. La crisi economica colpisce duro? Prega, prega a lungo e invita i politici a farlo. Si scatena il terremoto o l’alluvione? Limitati all’emergenza, dopodiché prega a lungo invitando i politici a fare altrettanto. Pregare a lungo ci impedisce di agire, l’attività interiore genera passività esteriore, e quindi anche un mondo migliore. I motivi sono finalmente ben spiegati nel saggio di Huemer.

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