As you know, motivated reasoning is my primary interest. It is what I do my research in, teach in, consult in, blog about, and dream about. I find ways to apply it to just about everything. But I realized that there is a huge area where just about everyone uses motivated reasoning and it impacts our lives more than we know. It is in policy. Federalism v localism. That sounds boring, but really it is not.
We have many beliefs. We want to tax the rich or leave them free to create jobs. We want same sex marriage to be legal or leave it to the churches. We want to legalize marijuana, decriminalize it, or keep it the way it is. And on and on. In some of these cases, we have strong logical arguments for or against. But in many of these cases, what we think is a strong logical argument is being skewed by motivated reasoning with regard to the federalist/localist dimension.
Here is what I mean. Let’s say that an otherwise liberally minded person doesn’t believe in same sex marriage. Don’t worry about why for now – this kind of belief exists. But they can’t admit it, even to themselves, that they are against it because it causes cognitive dissonance to themselves and social embarrassment in public. It goes against their more general belief to support minority rights. So instead of being against it, they can say they just don’t think the government should be involved. This way, they can vote against it without admitting why. It sounds better (to themselves and their friends) that they don’t think the government should force an otherwise religious belief on the population. I see this happening a lot in the current debate about mandating insurance coverage of birth control. I see people who want to be against it, don’t know why, so they become against the “mandate” on religious institutions. And they can still feel liberal.
Same thing with going the other way. Let’s say an otherwise conservatively minded person does believe in same sex marriage. But they can’t admit it to themselves because it causes cognitive dissonance to themselves and social embarrassment in public. So instead of being for it, they can say they just don’t think government should be involved. So they can vote for it without admitting why. It sounds better (to themselves and their friends) that they don’t think government should be involved in defining such a private issue like marriage. Again, I see it in the birth control debate. They want to be for it, but don’t know why, so they become for liberty of the employee who follows a different religion. And they can still feel conservative.
I bring this up today because I would suggest that you make a list of all your policy positions and see where you have been saying they should be regulated. If you see inconsistencies, it just might be motivated reasoning showing its all too common face. I found some in mine. I need to think deeply to see if I really think they should be regulated at different levels or if I am just thinking that to make myself feel better about having inconsistent beliefs.