A possie in Aussie

February 11, 2010

Don’t be afraid of asylum seekers: mammoths are the real worry!

People like to be scared. Otherwise how would ghost trains and roller coasters make money?

John Humphries takes this one step further to explain why immigrant issues are such big vote winner. The problem with democracy Humphries’ idea is that fear is hardwired into our brains – otherwise we would have all ended up as mammoth fodder – and as the big risks, like large wild animals, disappear from everyday life, we transfer the fear to new and less serious problems.

Humphries claims that because ‘fear’ is hardwired into our brains, as the really big problems disappear, we shift our fear onto new, less-serious, problems. Effectively, we are becoming risk-averse to more and less dangerous things.

Humphries quotes the thesis of Bryan Caplan’s book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, that most  people are not informed about politics, political philosophy or public policy, but vote instead from their ‘preferred beliefs’. Caplan outlines four areas where the average voter gets politics wrong, including “overly-negative impressions about the impact of foreigners”.

It makes sense to me that ‘fear’ can be free-floating, that is, just ‘there’ until it finds something to land on and to be afraid of. And that is why I feel very strongly about public discourse – those of us who speak publically, politicians, journalists, and even bloggers with a handful of readers like me, have a responsibility not to offer ‘straw mammoths’ as a landing pad for fears (anyone care to illustrate that mixed metaphor?), and not to turn one mammoth into a herd.

But in recent weeks I have discovered how difficult this can be. Partisans interpret careful speech as a vote for the other side. And then I get sucked into discussing the mammoth as if it really exists.

Don't be afraid: it's in a cage

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2 Comments »

  1. I think we need a government program to defend us from mammoths. And from people spelling my surname wrong. 🙂

    Comment by John Humphreys — February 11, 2010 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

    • Absolutely, an anti-mammoth program, incorporating a pro-Humphreys clause.

      Comment by nayano — February 11, 2010 @ 4:21 pm | Reply


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