28 May 2010

Psychology and Politics

I am disappointed by seeing a significant number of articles (mostly in the blogs, such as this article that makes an assertion and then follows with several anecdotes about mental patients to justify the assertion) on Psychology Today where the author is: employing psychology to support negative characterizations of persons holding political views different from the author's own; employing psychoanalysis at a distance to explain the political beliefs and policy opinions of others; using psychology to support speculation about the intentions of others whose beliefs about the world and policy differ from the author's; the labeling of people with opposing views as suffering from diagnosable mental illness, arguing or implying those views are a result of mental illness. Doing so without holding the same mirror of analysis up to their own self seems hypocritical and intellectually sloppy on the face of it.

I prefer inquiry that follows the rule of curiosity. Instead of characterizing or questioning, the curious person wishes to learn what another person's views are. An excellent example of curiosity-driven inquiry is Brain Lamb's interviews conducted for C-SPAN.

I believe in the importance of free intellectual inquiry, which is driven by curiosity about the nature of things, so it is not the political content of these articles that offends me, but the undermining the grand project of enlightened inquiry, to which I am dedicated.

As someone who has a lot of contact with the world of folk studies, I am aware that all people without any exception posses a "folk wisdom" about the world, which they absorb by osmosis from their family, neighbors, and community. Our opinions, decisions in life and as policy makers (whether you are a politician or a voter, or opinion shaper), are affected by this personal viewpoint, almost without thinking. I believe this is why so many articles of this type are emerging, and I would like to remind people to follow their curiosity in order to be led beyond our prejudices and ideologies that we may hold without even being aware of them. We also have to be careful about assuming our beliefs are automatically real or true and not conclusions about the world, possibly shaped by our temperament, folk culture and education.