Culturally Constructed Ignorance Wins the Day | Bloomberg View

Barry Ritholz ascribes the BREXIT vote to “culturally constructed ignorance”:

….there is a disconcerting trend that has gained strength: agnotology. It’s a term worth knowing, since it is going global. The word was coined by Stanford University professor Robert N. Proctor, who described it as “culturally constructed ignorance, created by special interest groups to create confusion and suppress the truth in a societally important issue.” It is especially useful to sow seeds of doubt in complex scientific issues by publicizing inaccurate or misleading data. Culturally constructed ignorance played a major role in the Brexit vote, as we shall see after a bit of explanation.

….Current agnotology campaigns seem to be having similarly desired effects. We see the results in a variety of public-policy issues where one side has manufactured enough doubt through false statements, inflammatory rhetoric and data from dubious sources that they can mislead public opinion in a significant way, at least for a time.

….In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, there is evidence that people didn’t fully understand what they were voting for. Some didn’t think their protest vote would matter, or misunderstood what they were voting for, or what the EU actually was. There seems to be a rise in voters’ remorse the days after. Many blamed the tabloids in the U.K.. The misstatements and myths which were being pressed by the leave campaign about the EU were so rampant and absurd that the European Commission had to put out repeated corrections and maintain a blog to rebut the nonsense.

While I am as concerned as Barry over the dumbing down of political debate, ably assisted by the tabloid press and the Internet, where “false statements, inflammatory rhetoric and data from dubious sources” are used to inflame the public, this is nothing new. That is politics. When emotions are aroused, the intellect is dormant.

But we should guard against the arrogance of presuming that voters are misinformed. Perhaps it is us, as George Friedman points out, who are aloof from issues on the street:

Immigration is socially destabilizing. There is always friction between older residents and immigrants…..But, better educated and wealthier individuals normally don’t experience this…

….the British who were for it, to a large extent, did not feel the profound social costs of immigration. That fee was going to be paid by those who—again with many exceptions—voted for leaving.

Source: Culturally Constructed Ignorance Wins the Day – Bloomberg View

4 Replies to “Culturally Constructed Ignorance Wins the Day | Bloomberg View”

  1. Fully agree, this was nothing new. (Ref:…where “false statements, inflammatory rhetoric and data from dubious sources” are used to inflame the public, this is nothing new. When emotions are aroused, the intellect is dormant.)

    Hitler’s Jews, Bush’s weapons of mass destruction, Howard’s “knowledge” of Hussein’s people shredding machine, Trump’s Muslims, and even Shorten’s Medicare are just a few plucked from recent history. Such lies create a villain that only the liar “knows” how to defeat. It’s clever because it directly appeals to people who believe themselves to be powerless. External locus of control, the psychologists used to call it. Everything that happens to them is someone else’s doing, so why should they bother to think past their first thought, which is usually the initial emotional response. If it sounds good, it must be right.

    What’s amazing is how people keep falling for it time after time. Maybe because history in schools is just names and dates and “great men” instead of valuable training in how to spot and crush liars wanting power of us.

  2. ‘But we should guard against the arrogance of presuming that voters are misinformed’ Not on this occasion. Objecting to immigrants/tightening immigration laws does not normally bring with it a potentially serious recession/loss of standard of living (& even before any cut in immigrants) ; the warnings for which were ignored because Cameron was seen as a liar over his stupid immigration promises over recent years and economists seen as his lackeys. In addition false promises were made: eg use of EU gross payments for NHS and that independence on migration policy could be achieved with a free trade .

    1. …..Either that or voters felt so strongly about this issue that they were prepared to weather a recession which even the Bank of England warned would occur.

    2. Thanks grahamdcox:

      Hard for me to tell from Perth how well informed the Brits were. If our election is anything to go by, there would have been precious little information but plenty of spin on 10-second sound bites. As far as I can tell, there were no exit plans or risk assessments explained, but that could be just my lack of searching.

      Well constructed arguments on both sides are essential for a referendum given they are even more problematic than elections, since there is no way to predict the long term future of taking one blind fork in the road over another. Wasn’t it Zhou Enlai in 1972 who said when asked about the effect of the French Revolution: “It’s too soon to say”? Coincidentally, when I Googled that quote, some sites claim he misunderstood the question. Sounds familiar.

      I live in WA, and I bet if there was a referendum to secede from the Federation (heaven forbid), there’d be a hefty yes vote based purely on the emotional response to WA’s seemingly poor recovery of the GST collected here. That’s about as deep as the thinking would go.

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