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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Warren Kinsella, Autism and the Art of Nudge

This, from the always-insightful Warren Kinsella - a guy who gets the irrational nature of politics if anyone does.  

Partisan politics isn't designed to appeal to logic, create debate or develop shared solutions - it's about winning, period.  By it's competitive nature, partisan politics is tribal.  The focus almost inevitably shifts from what one side can do (proactive) to preventing what the other side would take away (reactive).

The problem is, even the informed get swept up in this.  More person-hours and sweat get put into things like lawn signs when there's no real evidence that they have any impact.  The same can be said for any GOTV initiative.  Yet these are the sorts of activities that get picked apart by analysts as indicative of a winning campaign.

For the pols, it's about keeping up with the Joneses - you don't want to be the one guy who doesn't play the game; it just feels too much like falling behind.  What if it really does make a difference and you cause your side to fail by dropping the ball?  That's an uncomfortable feeling to have.

The salesmen are just as good at selling themselves - often, even better.

People, whatever their knowledge base, are simply not rational creatures.  In fact, the more informed they are, the better they tend to get at justifying their existing positions.  

Where this varies in politics is when a partisan, for whatever reason, switches teams.  A floor-crosser can confabulate changes to emotional positions in ways dug-in tribal partisans can't, rebranding old friends as untrustworthy foes - which is fascinating.  It's almost like a conversion process.

What does this have to do with autism?

Do you believe this?  If you already feel autism has no correlation to inoculations, the answer is probably yes.  If, however, you're suspicious of inoculations already, the answer is probably no - instead, you'll be questioning the research.

Climate change, the effectiveness of social intervention on crime reduction, even homophobia are all similar examples - if we feel something, or if our feelings can be poked and inflamed, the facts against our position (or lack of facts for it) don't matter.

9 times out of 10 we'll go with our gut, which really means we respond to the drives of neurochemistry over external information.  This makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective - our ability to react quickly to potential threats is a big part of why our species hasn't died out.

At the same time, though, we don't live on the African plain in small herds anymore - we're socialized, specialized, technology-dependent creatures that rely on knowledge to survive in our current context. We might not feel like taking out the trash, or following the rules of the road, but we know there are consequences if we don't.  

This is the perpetual problem of public policy - how do you design systems and processes that appeal to how people actually make choices rather than how we'd like to think we make choices?

In an age where some governments are starving the public (and themselves) of facts so as to not confuse their ideological leanings, this is a huge problem the public service is trying to grapple with.

Herein, to me, lies an interesting problem - what determines success in our current political culture is to appeal to the limbic brain of the public; troubles at shores, illegal coalitions, dangerous schemes, common sense, etc.  You can win this way, but you can't effectively govern this way.

The elements of society seeking more effective governance and policy have to find a different approach; inoculations carry some risk, but far less than not getting them.  More to the point, not inoculating your own children puts other children at risk.

Autism, on the other hand, isn't leprosy or a zombie curse - it's a variation on cognitive wiring in the same way skin tones are variations on pigment.  The right understanding allows for the right accommodations.

While not every autistic person (because autism is part of the person, not some kind of virus) will become a Jacob Barnett or Temple Grandin, how many world-changers are we losing out on due to our own emphasis on avoiding a potential negative instead of supporting a potential positive? 

How might we shift gears between the growing trend towards instinctively-appealing presentation in politics, marketing and beyond and the need to promote debate, critical thinking and emotional self-regulation?  

I suspect the confabulations of floor-crossers or team-leavers will offer some insight into how this might be accomplished, but I don't have the definitive answer.  Neither do you.  

Between us, though, I know we could come up with something amazing and effective.

Your neighbours are getting on board the Open Movement - can we count on you, too?


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