Why It's Ok to Ignore Politics - Chrisopher Freiman


Politics is a waste of your time.

Indeed, you have historically unprecedented opportunities to feed the hungry, heal the sick, enrich the poor, and literally save lives. You should seize them and leave politics behind. [137]

political identity makes us stupid

We're becoming one-dimensional:

Our partisan commitments are beginning to swallow up the rest of our identity. [122]

We're becoming prejudiced:

About one-half of Republicans and one-third of Democrats reported being "somewhat or very unhappy" at the prospect of inter-party marriage. [125]

We're becoming callous:

20% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans agreed that "we'd be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party just died". Think about that: politics is driving people to think that out-party deaths are a good thing. [125]

We're trading on self-worth:

Immediately after their candidate lost the 2016 presidential election, the decline in life satifaction experienced by Democrats was greater than the adverse effects of losing a job. [121]

politics steals your time

Informed voting requires a lot of time:

What are the candidates' platforms? What does the text of their sponsored legislation say? Next, you need to evaluate the information you've got. Is the legislation efficient? To answer this question, you'll need to learn basic economics. Is the legislation fair? Now you've got to crack open some books on moral and political philosophy. And once you've finished analyzing this policy, you've got to do the same for the others. [9, 54]

The median voter is far from informed:

Only 42% of Americans can name the three branches of government. [12]

Voters are rationally irrational:

If you know that there is only, say, a one in a billion chance that your vote, protest sign, or tweet will chance political outcomes, then you have little reason to begin the methodical, labor-intensive, and time-consuming job of softening up your partisan bias. [42]

Voting takes 1 hour, voting well takes 10,000 hours:

Focus less on an individual act of political participation and more on the long-term habit of political participation. Consider what a lifetime of political participation might include: regularly reading opinion pieces, watching news and debates, studying social science and political philosophy...Now the opportunity costs of political engagement starts to piling up. [135]

politics is about identity, not policy

We are partisan hacks:

Most Americans exhibit an "absence of stable views independent of party" [30, 31]

Politicians are a weighted sum:

Are the ways in which the Democrat is better than the Republican more important than the ways in which the Republican is better than the Democrat? Suppose one candidate is better on education but the other is better on immigration. Which of those two issues is weightier? [61]

Unrelated policy beliefs cluster in politically convenient ways:

Consider that people who believe that a fetus has a right to life usually oppose gun control and support school vouchers. It's not clear that there is any meaningful philosophical connection between those three political beliefs. [32]

Confirmation bias affects political views:

Since we react to opposing viewpoints defensively -- by trying to prove the other side wrong -- exposing people to opposing viewpoints will serve to increase the number of arguments they have available to justify their own position and reject the other side. [39]

Confirmation bias more pernicious for the intelligent:

The higher your IQ, the better you are at giving reasons on behalf of a position -- so long as it's your position...intelligence does not make you more fair-minded or less protective of your social standing. [37]

don't vote

Individual votes don't even matter in tight elections:

Even if your vote does defy the odds and makes or breaks a tie, the result would be a recount. And if history is any guide, a razon-thin margin of victory will send the election to the courts. [44]

There is no moral obligation to vote:

By analogy, consider that you could do a monumental amount of good with the money you could win playing the Powerball lottery. Nevertheless, you shouldn't buy a lottery ticket because the probability of hitting the jackpot is too low. And so it tends to go with your vote. [47]

Your vote has a negative regression to rest of society's interest in politics:

The correct response to the objection, "What if everyone stopped voting?" is "In that case, I'd study hard and vote." [72]

Non-voters help voters:

When you don't vote, you actually benefit voters by amplifying the power of their vote [71]

Non-political action > political non-action (voting, signalling):

You can expect to do more good for the world by taking direct, nonpolitical action to help people rather than by participating in politics [43]

Forgoing the opportunity to help people to send the signal that you care about helping people actually sends the wrong signal. Helping people is the right way to send the signal that you care about helping people. [110]

When I make this argument in conversations, people often reply that they simply won't engage in nonpolitical altruism instead of political engagement. But I confess that this response puzzles me. It doesn't discredit the claim that effective donating tends to do more good than a vote; rather, it suggests that my interlocutor isn't really that intrested in doing good on Election Day. [54]

we should be suspect of our own political beliefs

We don't understand the outparty; that is, we fail the ideological Turing test:

Although people are misinformed about their own party, their misperception of the other party is worse. For instance, Republicans estimate that over one-third of Democrats are atheist or agnostic, but the right number is under one-tenth. Democrats think that 44% of Republicans earn at least $250,000/year. The right number is 2.2%. [127]

On policy matters, we think that there are enormous differences between our views and the views of the other side. However, it turns out that the gap is smaller than we think -— a phenomenon called "false polarization." On issues like taxes and immigration, the perceived divide between Democrats and Republicans is larger than the actual divide. You should at least have accurate beliefs about members of the other party before you disown them.

I'd like to point out an irony: if politics weren't so central to our social identity, we'd probably get better politics. [129]

We should be less certain in our beliefs because the world is a complex system:

Society is a complex mechanism whose repair, if possible at all, would require a precise and detailed understanding of a kind that no one today possesses. Unsatisfying as it may seem, the wisest course for political agents is often simply to stop trying to solve society's problems. [18, quoting Huemer 'In Praise of Passivity']

You might think I'm exaggerating how difficult it is to form an impression of the better candidate...but you should resist that thought. After all, when we're talking about running a cost-benefit analysis of competing presidential candidates, we're talking about estimating how different packages of large-scale changes to a complex system with countless moving parts are going to play out on a global level over a number of years. [62]

If you're certain you have the right answer, you're the dogmatic one:

But it is simply not obvious what ought to be done about abortion, immigration, gun control, foreign aid, capital punishment...These are extremely complicated issues. Honest, well-meaning people can reach different opinions about politics. [128]

I'm not endorsing the claim that all political opinions have equal merit. There are opinions that are beyond the boundaries of what is reasonable or decent. (Don't be friends with Stalin.) I'm saying that we have grounds for thinking that many, if not most, of our political opponents are not downright evil. [128]