Ian David Moss had a great post late last year that caught my attention. He starts out with a quote describing a recent study by Dan M. Kahan at the Yale Law School on “Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection”:
[T]he study presents both observational and experimental data inconsistent with the hypothesis that political conservatism is distinctively associated with closed-mindedness: conservatives did no better or worse than liberals on an objective measure of cognitive reflection; and more importantly, both demonstrated the same unconscious tendency to fit assessments of empirical evidence to their ideological predispositions. Second, the study suggests that this form of bias is not a consequence of overreliance on heuristic or intuitive forms of reasoning; on the contrary, subjects who scored highest in cognitive reflection were the most likely to display ideologically motivated cognition. These findings corroborated the hypotheses of a third theory, which identifies motivated cognition as a form of information processing that rationally promotes individuals’ interests in forming and maintaining beliefs that signify their loyalty to important affinity groups.
To put that in Cowenspeak, both sides are guilty, the smart are guiltiest of them all, and the desire for group loyalty is partially at fault.
Something to think about for sure!
But my question is whether having the right rational reasons is always in our best interests, and whether mood affiliation is always a bad thing. Maybe its an important part of being human that we are sometimes driven by nonsense and irrationality. Perhaps a vital part of living a human life is that it sometimes defies rationality and transcends the merely rational. I’m talking (of course) about art. I’m talking about human emotions and human relationships. I’m talking Captain Kirk’s wild and eccentric decision making rather than Spock’s antiseptic logical process. I’m talking about the idea of family and friends being important. I’m talking about improbable love in the face of a cold hard Universe…. Caring is simply not a rational attribute.
And so, is the desire for group loyalty necessarily a thing to pick fault with? Clearly not always and not in every circumstance. Maybe both rationality and non-rationality are valuable in their own ways and in their own best areas of application. Rather than shoehorning our behavior into a purely rational agenda perhaps we need to acknowledge when and where these non rational practices have their place. And maybe that’s something to think about too…..
Ian’s post was really great. You can read it in its entirety HERE. This is the comment I made to it:
“I was really impressed by this article. It mirrored many of the things I had already been thinking. I guess with me you were preaching to the choir, and I was perhaps engaged in a bit of confirmation bias….. (pernicious fallacies be damned!)
My question is whether that in itself is necessarily a bad thing. In the bigger picture maybe yes if it removes the ability to think independently and for ourselves. When bias sabotages curiosity and openness something has evidently been lost. But isn’t it also true that many fine aspects of a human life are NOT rational and depend on some other perception? Like falling in love? And perhaps also appreciating art? Isn’t our devotion to loved ones and our fascination with art precisely that of an emotional and ideological predisposition? And does that make it ‘wrong’? Isn’t bias in this sense profoundly important to us? Not every preference is propped up by a rational justification, but seemingly THIS is how we navigate the world.
Art doesn’t work on rational grounds. There is no rational calculus that dictates how we experience art. And perhaps supporting the arts shouldn’t rely strictly on only rational grounds either…… So I’d ask whether a ‘mood affiliation’ isn’t actually something that often stands us in good stead. Far from being a fallacy we should shun, I would hope that an audience does develop the irrational desire to support what they are witnessing, to root for the team, and to cheer us on. Despite any empirical evidence or rational reasons to the contrary. If the arts are significantly an emotive non-rational capacity of human beings then the ties that best bind us to them will quite probably also be emotional. And perhaps those are the strongest ties of all…..
Along those lines, it also seems that the more ardent supporters are those who also have some personal stake in an activity. Passion and detachment, in fact, work at entirely cross purposes here. And if support is a kind of attachment then the nature of that involvement bears investigating. Doesn’t it seem evident that a person who grew up playing baseball would be more likely to be a fan than someone who had never heard of it or only knew about it from switching the channels on the TV? Is there a correlation to the degree of involvement? Isn’t active passionate engagement actually the tightest bond that we can tie ourselves with? Short of marriage? Two lives lived as one? That the best way to support art is to BE an artist as well?
A recent study on what is being called “The IKEA Effect” actually postulates that it isn’t merely that we do what we love, but that we love what we do. Participation engenders emotional loyalty. And so it seems that perhaps the best way to love art is to also make art. Doesn’t that just make sense?
So much of the arts industry seems focused on keeping an audience passive and in its consumptive place in the bleachers. But if no one grew up playing baseball would baseball remain popular? A consumer’s interest only carries us so far…. If no potbellied businessmen spent Sundays out at the over 50 softball league, swinging away and shagging fly balls, would support be as sustained? If dads and their sons didn’t go outside and play catch, mothers and their daughters, would the sport still be popular? If no child dreamed the dream of a career in the majors (or a flirtation with it in the summers) would so many families take their kids to the park? It seems that the only way the MLB survives is that there are countless participatory opportunities throughout the country: Co-ed, women’s, and men’s, little league, high school and college ball, the minor leagues, neighborhood and a plethora of amateur pick up games…. And art is very much like that. Its not only the folks who have made it to the major leagues who are ball players, and its not only the cream of the artistic gallery crop who are artists. Its not only the full time professionals…..
Isn’t it simply in the best interest of individual art practices themselves that they be more inclusive and open to public participation than shrouded in the secrecy of holy shrines and dispensed only by the anointed clergy? Isn’t our loyalty better safeguarded by being indoctrinated into the very mysteries rather than being kept distant and passive as mere outsiders? Separate and unequal? Aren’t we on the verge of an egalitarian artistic Reformation that puts art back in the hands of laypeople and that speaks the common tongue rather than a stilted esoteric Gallery/Museum dialect?
If, as you say, we often make the mistake of assuming other people are just like us, and that we fail to communicate adequately because of our personal ‘mood affiliation’, perhaps our efforts should be less focused on disembodied rational reasons why and more on welcoming the outsiders within our membership. Instead of seeking cold rational consensus perhaps we should be focused on passionate issues of inclusion, of identity, of artistic kinship, and of creative community. Of firsthand familiarity. They will understand and appreciate the arts more fully if they first learn to see themselves as artists, if the DO art themselves.
Too much institutional art looks down its nose at the public. It sneers at populism. And it bases its self important superiority in an unholy and subjective elitism. When we behave as though the unwashed masses are only ignorant outsiders then it only makes sense that they will behave as outsiders. And isn’t that an ultimately self defeating attitude for us to have?
Rather, lets make them more like us. Teach them baseball. Send out missionaries. The impasse only exists because each side is unrecognizable and unintelligible to the other….. If the division only supports the authority of an elegant institutional bias, are we content to live by those terms? Is the status quo enough? Are art institutions justified in keeping the outsiders in their dyspeptic place, feeding off the scraps of other people’s creativity? Some seem to say “yes”. There’s money in that…. I would not.
So, I’d like to propose that we fully embrace this idea of mood affiliation. That we put our efforts into a more inclusive partisanship. A partnership. How else do we entice people who have no rational reason to support us? And rather than this project needing an extraneous rational justification, if we want folks to support the arts then that’s all the ‘reason’ we need. Let us work toward that. “Go team!” The contest will perhaps never be decided on rational merits…..
“…what you do in your community for your audience is the value that you have to articulate. And you have to keep telling that story over and over again in different ways. Umberto Eco’s wonderful essay Travels in Hyperreality unpacks the distinctions between — and value of — both high and low culture. Long before we had coined the phrase “audience participation” he noted that art lives when people who partake of it do so actively, intellectually, emotionally and energetically. Sequestering our institutions from the daily lives and concerns of our audiences and communities does not work and will be our undoing if we are not careful. We know now that the rise in amateur art movements is going to happen either with us or without us, and it may in time take the place of the educational spot that the arts had in schools a generation ago as a way of developing loyal and informed audiences. What role do we want to play in encouraging or advancing this “movement?” -Russell Willis Taylor, from his Keynote Address at the Midwest Arts Conference, September 2012
Make beauty real!