April 28, 2021

What is rational ignorance?


"Rational" and "ignorance" are words that don't often go together, but sometimes they should.  In this episode Andrea and Craig explore the concept of rational ignorance. which basically means that when the cost of acquiring information exceeds the value of that information, it's rational to remain ignorant. We also have a guest appearance from Taz!

Transcript
Craig:

Hi, folks, this is Craig van slyke. Welcome to the rational ignorance podcast where we talk about facts, values and living life. Well,

Andrea:

Hi everyone. I'm Andrea Christelle, a philosopher and outdoor enthusiast who lives in Sedona, Arizona,

Craig:

and I'm a business professor, author and rancher who lives in the middle of the woods and eras, Louisiana, we're here to have fun practical conversations with smart, interesting people to help us cut through the noise and get to what really matter.

Andrea:

Rational ignorance is an idea from economics, that basically means there is a limit to what we need to know. So we'll skip the small stuff, focus on what really matters and separate the wheat from the chaff.

Craig:

So today, we want to talk about what rational ignorance is, we named the podcast rational ignorance podcast, because we thought it was really catchy, and it kind of aligns with what we want to do. But today, we want to talk about what rational ignorance is, and why it matters. So we're gonna start off just by giving an overview of what rational ignorance is from both of our perspective. Andrea, what you introduced me to this term, so why don't you talk about what it is what it means to you?

Andrea:

Sure? Well, I think rational ignorance is such an interesting phrase, because it puts two words together that we don't expect to come together, ignorance is usually perceived as something negative, right, and a condition that you would not want to be in. But rational ignorance makes it sound like well, it really makes sense in some cases, to not know. And upon examination, we find out that that's the case, it does make sense for us not to know everything. And one of the things that I think we're trying to do in this podcast is tell people what they do need to know, and also what they don't need to know. And we reached an interesting point in our society, where we have an abundance of and sometimes poor information or even misinformation and disinformation. And so in the rational ignorance podcast, I think one of the things we want to do is tell people things that they do need to know. But also tell them what they don't need to know.

Craig:

Right? Yeah, that those are great points. The The idea came from a 1957 book by Anthony down called an economic theory of democracy. So I had to track this down, I want to figure out kind of where it came from. And this is the earliest mention that I can find. And this is kind of the seminal work that people point back to as the origin. And I thought it was really interesting that it's a theory of politics. It's a theory of democracy, even though it can be applied to a lot of different areas. So the basic idea is that anything we do around information has a cost. Sorry, we had a kitten make an appearance, task, just walk across the screen. I didn't want to laugh right into the microphone.

Andrea:

No, that's okay. Guests are welcome. But we're a pet friendly podcast.

Craig:

Yeah, she she did her job today. She brought in a mouse for her rent.

Andrea:

Okay.

Craig:

Yeah, Tracy, Tracy is not one of those who start squealing and running away. So she just took care of it and told me about it, which thumbs up to Tracy with like that. So so the idea around rational ignorance is that information has a cost. There's a cost to finding information, there's a cost to acquiring that information. And there's a cost to processing that, or knowledge we we can kind of go back and forth between information and knowledge, even though they're really not exactly the same thing. And so what rational, someone is rationally ignorant, if they make a judgement that the costs of acquiring and processing the information or knowledge exceeds the benefit of having that. And so you can get more information or more knowledge, but there's just not a payoff, and there's no profit. So that's the basic idea. And what Downes applied this to was the idea of voting in a democracy. And so well, I live in Louisiana, Louisiana is not a swing state and presidential election. And so in terms of my value as a voter, the value of my vote, there's really almost no point in me seeking out knowledge about the presidential candidates or the parties they represent. Or there could be other benefits. But if we just just look at the value of my vote, because the value of my vote is essentially zero, you know, at the margin, and especially in a non swing state, there's just no value at the margin for that one individual. And so if we look at the private value, what what we get out of it personally, it doesn't make sense to spend any time doing a lot of research about these things, because there's no payoff. So that's the basic idea. And it can be applied to a lot of different things and we can talk about that later, but That's the gist of the argument is it's really rational. It's, it's optimal for me to not spend any time seeking out that information, if I just look at it in the narrow terms of what the effect is on the value of my vote.

Andrea:

Yeah, that's a really interesting point, Craig, and you actually reminded me of a book that I'm reading right now. It's called let the people pick the president, the case for abolishing the Electoral College. It's by Jesse wegman. He's a member of the New York Times editorial board, and in this book is really questioning whether or not the electoral college is still serving our interests. And I thought of that, just because, you know, you made the case that cuz right now, a state determined, you know, how the votes of every person in that state will be counted. Some people living in states may not feel like it's worth their time to learn about the presidential candidates. And so that's one question. You know, given the system we have, is it worth your time as an individual to learn certain things, but another issue that raises is maybe the system we have isn't serving the interests of individuals, and maybe we need to change it, so that every person feels empowered to learn about the presidential candidates and to feel like their voice is heard, which is really the point of living in a democracy is to empower every person to feel like that their voice matters, and they can meaningfully participate in the political process.

Craig:

But I think we could make an argument that the electoral college makes it better. And that reason, because there were what 100 and something million people that voted in the last election 160 million people just under 160 million voted in the election, your single vote has at the margin has zero value, it's your your vote is, you know, some fraction, I'd have to think through the exact math, but it's essentially zero. In that respect. If we went to a true democracy, you know, let the people decide in aggregate, you know, in aggregate or nationwide voting, at least in Arizona, your vote had some chance of mattering. You know, if you're in in, you know, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, we could go through the swing states, your vote matters, at least a little bit. But if it's one out of 160 million, you know what difference? Now, there are all kinds of other reasons to be an informed citizen. But you know, we're we're using the economist trick of let's just focus on this one thing, right. So I think you could make an argument against getting ready to get rid of the Electoral College, because at least now, what was it a few 1000 votes in some of the states, you know, at least kind of matters in those states?

Andrea:

Yeah. And I think you raised a really good point about all of the other reasons there are to be informed voter. So what is the value of voting? Well, the most obvious reason is that you are casting a ballot in order to try to influence the outcome of an election as the most obvious reason to vote. But other reasons include that to cast that vote responsibly, requires you to learn about the candidates other issues at stake. And by learning these things, we learn more about our community or state, our nation. Hopefully, we discussed this with other people, we become more informed about what's happening in the world. So I think, you know, another advantage, perhaps less, you know, less realized than just influencing the outcome of an election is gaining a better understanding of the political landscape.

Craig:

Well, but that that brings up another aspect of rational and that's whether or not we can actually get any true information about the candidate. You know, I mean, it's heavily filtered. And we should talk about that in a few minutes. But yeah, okay, so we can put all of this effort in. But do we find out anything that's actually true about the candidates? Or is it all very fuzzy and filtered and crafted to send specific messages? I went, when I was reading through this and thinking about it, to me, looking at it just from this perspective, it argues pretty strongly for putting whatever resources you want to put into figuring out the political landscape into local and state election, you know, where we're at. Now, your vote isn't as diluted, you know, if I vote for school board, you know, it's part of a relatively small parish in Louisiana. So I don't know the numbers. But you know, it was probably in the low 1000s or the, you know, maybe 10 15,000 vote, they were there, you start to make a difference. But again, you know, is that we have to keep in mind that rational ignorance is at the private level at the individual. So there could be group level reasons to want to gain more information. But at the individual level, the argument is that it really doesn't make sense for a lot of voters to try to do directly get information about the candidate. But there are some, there are some ways to kind of approach changing the balance of cost to benefits that we should talk about.

Andrea:

Yeah, I mean, I think you're raising a really good point about the quality of if we do get like, we'll try to learn about, you know, whether it's the local school board or, you know, a ballot proposition, or you know, who's running for the US Congress, we can get a lot of information, but then we have to do the job of assessing, you know, whether or not it's true, you know, is this true information? Is it misinformation? Is it disinformation? And that is, I think, I think it's increasingly difficult to make those determinations. So that's certainly a related and very real problem.

Craig:

It is. And so there are a number of ways that people can try to deal with this rational ignorance. I won't call it a problem. You know, I'm hesitant to call it a problem, because we practice this almost constantly, you know, there. And we've actually, I don't know about you, but I've experienced it many times, where I felt myself getting obsessed about something. And I have to say, Stop. If I told you the bicycle story,

Andrea:

I don't think so.

Craig:

So I used to do triathlons. And I, you know, before, I spent a lot of money on a bike, I wanted to kind of try it out. So I bought a bike from a friend for I don't know, 100 bucks or something like that. And I did a lot of triathlons on that bike. And then I bought a better bike but got excited. And it was too small for me. So I decided I'm you know, I'm doing this all the time, I want to buy a good bike, I spent hour after hour after hour researching robots. And I babble on about it. And my first wave finally said, Look, I don't care how much money you spend, I don't care what you buy, I just want you to shut up about the box, just go buy something. And what she was communicating besides her, her frustration of having to listen to me babble on about stuff she didn't care about was was, look, you're spending way too much time on this, you can't possibly get enough benefit out of, you know, further research into this, just go buy something. And you know, we I've done, you know, I do that around vehicles and that kind of thing, but not so much and other kinds of things. And so, really rational ignorance is truly a rational process. So I don't want us to paint it as being bad, especially at the individual level it it's kind of a survival mechanism.

Andrea:

I absolutely agree with you. I don't think rational ignorance is bad. I think it is a survival mechanism. I just when I said it's a real problem, I meant the problem of sorting through whether information is true misinformation or disinformation. I mean, our own ability to with confidence, assess information is a problem. But, but I think that rational ignorance is essential for, for our own happiness, and maybe even well being. And I think that, you know, there are really, there are really so many to know, and I'll just give you, you know, two examples, one that reminds me of your research, you know, I think about, you know, Matt's research, here, we're putting new doors and at the house, and he's getting plain knotty alder doors and staining them, and he's seen in each one, and I am amazed at the variety of ways in which it is possible to be in a door. It's really, and to how much he knows about it, and I rather in voluntarily know about it, you know, now at that stage, but there's just minutia, you know, in in so many areas that it's possible to know about. And you know, sometimes it's just want to hire someone you would think, or, you know, not research all the possible ways that there is to do something. In other words, if you've researched, you know, 50 bikes, or you know, 60 ways to stain something, you know, at what point does it become enough? And I think that because both you and Matt are sort of researchers by nature, right? That it's also kind of fun, right? It's not, it becomes like not really just about buying the bike or how you want to learn something, but you're kind of learning more about this, and the learning itself is fun. But then the question becomes like, is this really what you want to learn about? Right? every possible thing there is to know about a racing bike or everything they're possible that there is to know about stain. So so I think that rational ignorance is, is something that we should meaningfully incorporate into our lives because it's possible to go down these rabbit holes, maybe even sort of entertain ourselves, right? learning about something that may not have the most value to us,

Craig:

right. I think that we What can get lost in this is if we focus on too much of a utilitarian view of benefit, because there's a, there's a hedonistic benefit to some of these things to what you just said, you know, if you enjoy researching or learning about new things, then you know, there's this psychological value just from the the process, rather than the outcome, I think where we could get a little bit off track is if we only focus on, you know, what's the benefit of the knowledge, there is a hedonistic or in sometimes utilitarian value from the process of uncovering the so I, you know, the these, the economists tend to look more at utilitarian kinds of value, although that's not universally true. And it's probably changing more recently, but I think you're right, it's the idea of, you know, we're researchers, and it makes us feel better if we know more about these things, but it still can be counterproductive to well being, if we don't know when to stop getting ready for doing the podcast, I spent a lot of time researching microphones and this and that, and the other and, you know, at some point is like, Look, I'm just going to pull the trigger and buy one, because I think I know enough to where I'm not going to buy a bad mic. So that's one of the ways that we can deal with with something like rational ignorance as we we can use some sort of a heuristic like satisficing, you know, I want to get one that's good enough, I'm not going to try to maximize, I'm not going to try to figure out which one is absolutely the best or the best for the amount of money you spend. I want one that makes me feel like I've got a decent enough microphone for the money. And I don't have to spend too much on it. Or, you know, I've learned 60 ways to stain, there could be another 600. But I'm pretty confident now that I'm not going to make a really bad decision, you know, whatever I do is going to be good enough. By the way, I want to know zero ways to stain. I want to know how to hire a painter, but I don't want to know any ways to stay. But that's just me.

Andrea:

Yeah, that's been doing this. And he's been talking to his dad and his dad said, you know, gee, you know, when your mother and I first got married, we were living in an apartment, and I painted the whole apartment. He said, that was the last thing I ever painted.

Craig:

Yeah, I would match data. Yeah. But now if you want to know how to bush hog something, I'm your guy. Okay, I can help you with that. But but I think we do want to not give the impression that we should always try to minimize the amount of time we spend. And we should only be looking at this from some kind of typical view of instrumental profit, you know, there's that psychic benefit to that figures into all of that up, but we have to choose, I've caught myself thinking, Okay, I'm researching whatever it is microphone, and I enjoy learning about new things. But it would be would it be better for me to, to direct that towards learning a new psychological, or a new philosophical approach or something like that? So we make these choices? Do I spend this time and energy on this thing or that thing? It's kind of a zero sum game, we can't, we don't have infinite resources until we have to make these choices. And with rational ignorance, what it's saying is we make these choices based on what we think the expected value of the additional knowledge will be. That's the gist of it.

Andrea:

Yeah. You know, I guess in December, you led the discussion for the Sedona philosophy, philosophy Sunday group, and we were talking about Senecas letters. And of course, we couldn't discuss all of them. But I've still been reading them working my way through. And one that has really stuck with me is you know, he's writing to the syllabus and says, you know, one who is everywhere is nowhere. So you really have to decide what you want to know about what you want your area of expertise. And whether you want to be maybe whether you want to be an expert or a generalist, I think that's, that's another question. So, you know, I think and I think that, that also gets back to the Socratic injunction of knowing yourself, right? I mean, so you're saying like, well, I don't want to stay in something and that madstad doesn't want to stain anything, but I can tell that it's hard work. But Matt also likes it. Right. He's enjoying doing this. And, and so I think that we are, we're different. And I don't think that it's, you know, good to stain or good not to write or so many things are like that, but they are about self conscious choosing, right, we're going to invest our time. And I think especially today, trying to stay meaningfully focused, because because it is possible to just spend a lot of time going in many different directions and really not improving you know, yourself or the world and possibly not even really enjoying the experience that much. I think we have to be strategic.

Craig:

Right, right. You know it to me a lot of these kinds of things come back to being purpose You know, generally, being purposeful is better than being accidental. And I guess that's not universally true, but it's mostly true. And so if you make the decision, you know, this is what I'm going to expend my my effort and my time pursuing, then you know, whatever that is for you. That's what it is for. And that's great. One of the benefits of understanding about rational ignorance is it kind of makes it okay to ignore some of these things. We're taught that you don't want to be ignorant. I mean, we use that as a pejorative, right? Well, don't be ignorant. But yeah, it be ignorant. Just be purposeful about, you know, what you're ignorant about. That's one of the things that I really appreciated out of this concept is that, you know, you can't know everything. So just decide how you're going to spend your time. And that, you know, that's kind of a universal truth, anyone, whether you're talking about knowledge acquisition, or who you spend your time with, you know, be purposeful about how you spend your resources. And time is like our most precious.

Andrea:

That's certainly what Seneca thinks. That's, he reiterates that over and over again, in his letters. And, you know, I'm so glad that you know, you like the concept of rational ignorance, obviously, we both do. But that's also one of my favorite things about philosophy. And I know, philosophy has a bad rap. And everybody says, you know, what's the point of, you know, philosophy or reflection, but really, the value of philosophy is in something is in identifying a concept like rational ignorance, taking a term like ignorance that is pejorative has a negative connotation. It's rarely used in a positive way. And a philosophical decision would say, Well, what exactly is ignorance? And why is it bad? And not assuming that the popular opinion about that idea is necessarily all there is to it? Or even correct? And then when we look at it, and we say, well, it's not knowing something, and then asking the question, you know, well, is it bad sometimes? Not to know? Certainly it is, and often, right, and that is, you know, how rude ignorance reasonably acquired a negative connotation. But also, ignorance can be helpful to us. And it's less obvious. And so I think that that's what we're trying to get at, right, in this podcast, with this term, and with others, is sometimes trying to get the less obvious insight.

Craig:

Yeah, I mean, that's, that's part of what makes this sort of thing fun. So one of the one of the Go ahead, so

Andrea:

Oh, no, I was just thinking, you know, we were talking about this, we were talking about, you know, other kinds of ignorance. Right. So we were talking about, like, when it's good not to know, but there are also cases when, you know, ignorance cannot be so helpful. Right? Like, inadvertent ignorance.

Craig:

Yeah. And, in fact, there are some related types of ignorance, which you brought up the inadvertence. And that's, that's when you don't really know that the body of knowledge exists. So you know. And so it's not a purposeful thing, that it's just, you know, you being unaware of what knowledge does exist,

Andrea:

right. I mean, I bet when you were researching bikes, that there were some examples of inadvertent ignorance that came up that you had been riding bikes. But in the course of your research, you learn something that you're like, that you didn't know, before that inadvertently, right, but having learned it was helpful to you and preparing for your races.

Craig:

Right. There's also irrational ignorance, that's when we avoid learning something that could have a benefit that we're the the benefit could exceed the cost, but we ignore it because of some sort of cognitive bias. And the easiest one to think about is confirmation bias. You know, I don't want to pay attention to that, because it goes against whatever my current beliefs are. And so instead of questioning your beliefs, testing our belief, we just choose to ignore, you know, whatever the contrary evidence.

Andrea:

Yeah, I think the confirmation bias is really a difficult one, because we depend on our prior judgment to negotiate the world. I mean, we can't start every day with a blank slate. So if we've assessed something as being negative or positive, we usually rely on and carry that assessment forward. And so I think the trick is, being able to question ourselves and reevaluate our assumptions, in light of our prior judgment, realizing that, you know, from time to time we might need to change our minds, or, and I think this is really more common is that the world isn't as black and white as it would be convenient for us. You know, if it were, and I'm just thinking about my father, I had a conversation with him about Donald Trump and I cannot stand Donald Trump. So I'll just be clear about that. You know, my father doesn't like him either. And so he was saying, He's like, you're not going to believe this, but I think that maybe does Donald Trump said something that that I actually agree with. And I said, let you know, that shouldn't be surprising. Really. I mean, if there was a person with whom you could disagree about every single thing that they ever said, that would be almost Amazing, right? But, you know, say Donald Trump, like, I would say that easily, I agree with 90% of what he says or does, right. And so the temptation there is just to assume that he could never do anything that was reasonable. And I think we see this in our political culture today that just this wholesale dismissal of, you know, political figures and political ideologies, when really it's more complex. And even if unbalanced, we clearly feel one way, it would be a mistake to completely write off a competing, competing position altogether.

Craig:

Right? We hear politicians and others be accused of flip flopping, which certainly can happen where you know, somebody's just following the political winds. But if you tell me that so and so has never changed their position or their opinion, then I'll say they've never learned anything. Here's the whole point of learning is to adjust your positions to be more aligned with who you want to be and the kind of world you want to have. And so if you never change your position, then you're either a god or, or you're really not putting any effort into trying to learn anything. The other point related to that is that I think we need to be purposeful about those topics and those beliefs that we want to subject to testing. You know, I grew up in the south, and in the south, if, at least in my generation, if you were a guy, you were a Ford guy, a Chevy guy or a Mopar,

Andrea:

what is Mopar? Mopar is Chrysler.

Craig:

Okay, so yeah, for some reason, it's not Chrysler, it's Mopar. Okay. And I mean, I've even seen you drive through the south, you'll see flags up about which one you are, or there was a guy in North Carolina that had a rock sculpture built in the shape of one of the, you know, the symbols, the, the trademarks are not trademarks, but the icons for one of the, I'm a Ford guy, I'm just a Ford guy. Even though I drive a Ram truck, I'm a Ford guy, I'm not gonna put a lot of effort into testing whether or not I should still be a Ford guy. Now, when I go out to buy a truck, I'm gonna buy the one I like, I think is the best, whether it's a Ford, or Chevy, or whatever it is, but I'm a Burger King guy, not that I go to fast food places very often these days. But, you know, my belief is that Burger King is better than McDonald's, I don't want to put a lot of effort into testing that belief, right, trying to seek out new information, whether or not that's true, you know, there are other things, you know, maybe you know, what political position to hold, or I don't know what what kind of job would be ideal, where it makes a lot of sense to try to seek out contrary information to test your belief. So I think that's another aspect of rational ignorance is we need to choose wisely about which beliefs we want to test, and how extensively we want to test those, you know, maybe McDonald's is better than Burger King now, but I don't really care. So I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that.

Andrea:

Yeah, I mean, this is a fascinating point, actually. And so I just have to share that, you know, I'm, I'm a Subaru person, but I intend fully to be a Tesla person and have my order in for a cyber truck. So I can't wait. But when you're talking about these is interesting, because these aren't necessarily about factual, you know, whether we're getting the facts about the world, right or wrong. These are more constituents of personal identity, right? So I'm a Ford guy, just because like this is the way I identified as a person has to do with the region where I was the friends that I had, which of these identities that I adopted, and it actually has nothing to do with the car that you drive. Right, it but it is a sort of piece of personal identity. And I think that many of our beliefs are like that, even though it seems like they are assessments of the world. And I think that that politics has really become like that, that part of someone's personal identity is being a liberal or being a conservative, right? someone's personal identities being a color, right? Whereas really talk about what you'd like your community look to look like what level of safety you want to experience in society, whether or not you want to educate children and young people. People find more common ground on these issues of how they'd like to be treated and the world that they want to live in. But the sense of identity is so strong, right? That they're willing to trade even weighing in on these issues sometimes in the way that they care about are the ways that serve their personal interests, just so they can sustain that aspect of their identity.

Craig:

Yeah, that's exactly right. So we, we tend to react quickly and strongly to threats to our identity, where there's a whole literature about identity, but we don't give up on our identity easily. And so you know, if you identify as a conservative or liberal or Republican or Democrat, or whatever it is, you know, you're not going to back off of that very easily. I think that's what was, or what's going to be so interesting to sit back and watch over the next six months or so, you know, the, are you going to see people that identified as republican maybe shifting into something else, because of recent events? Or are you going to see people in trench? I mean, we've seen some of that on on the side of the left, as some of the folks that are further to the left to become more visible, you know, and and start to argue for things that may be the more center left people don't believe in, you know, is that going to cause a reaction away from the Democratic Party. And so I it's going to be interesting to watch, I wouldn't place any bets on how it's gonna turn out.

Andrea:

It certainly will be because I think that the Democratic Party has been, you know, inching center inching center, right, for a long time, trying to pick up voters. But there were certainly some strong left wing elements. But I'm just going to talk a little bit about how I've experienced my sense of, you know, personal identity with respect to my political affiliation, because I was an independent for a long time. And that was a big part of my personal identity, because I wanted to think of myself, right, it was important for me for my own self understanding, to think that, you know, I could identify with positions or points from different political parties and different points of view. And I wanted to be able to sync issues over on their merits, right, not just join one side or the other, and being independent had become a really important part of my personal identity. But then, you know, eventually, with, you know, trumpism, and the turn the republican party has taken, I finally realized that the most important thing for me to do politically, was to be as effectively anti republican as possible, because I saw what the republicans were doing is so damaging to the fabric and unity of the nation, that I changed that and I and sometimes still, I don't enjoy the sense of personal identity as a Democrat, as much as I enjoyed the sense of personal identity as an independent. But what I'm trying to point out is that it doesn't it my decisions, were not just driven by what I thought was the politically right thing to do. Right. My decisions were driven by my self understanding. And I think that it's hard for us to separate sometimes.

Craig:

Well, it is, it's hard to give up on those things. Although I'd be curious to think through whether or not you've changed your identity, or you've just changed how you implemented that identity. So you know, being a member of a particular party, doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to vote party line or line up with everything that party puts in their platform. In fact, rational ignorance is one of the outcomes in terms of politics is the right is the the instance of party line voter. And so if you think about how, how are you going to make decisions about how to vote on everything that's on a ballot, and you can't possibly gather and process all of that information to help you make, you know, decisions that would align with with your view of the world. So one way to do that is to say, All right, I'm going to reduce that search set to being I'm going to, I'm going to vote along the democratic party line, or the republican party line, or the libertarian party line, or the Green Party line, or whatever it is. That's how I'm going to vote. And so now, I don't have to look at all of that information anymore. I just have to look at what my party supports and doesn't support and that's how I'm going to vote. It's also one way to account for single issue voter me. You know, we have a lot of people. We've seen that in two presidential election there. There were a lot of people, I think, in the 2016 election that voted for Trump, because Trump was not Hillary Clinton, and so they were not Hillary vote. And I think that one of the reasons that President Trump lost the 2020 election is because there were a lot of people that were not Trump folks. And so and what's interesting is didn't didn't Trump in 2016, and Biden in 2020, end up with almost exactly the same number of electoral college votes. I think it's really close. I know the popular vote is different, but it's really the last time I looked at it, and I kind of quit when you could when I could see what the outcome was. But they were remarkably similar. And so, you know, you see this with abortion, you might see this with death penalty or with taxes or with, you know, pick a big issue. And there are a lot of people that base their vote on that one issue or on a small number of issues. That's a rational, ignorant outcome. So I can't possibly look at all of these things. But I really believe strongly about x. So I'm going to support the candidates that believe the same way I do on immigration, you know, whatever it might be, and you tend to see that in conversations with people is a lot of them will, they'll they'll latch on to one thing. And that's what shapes their view of all of the candidates.

Andrea:

Yeah, I mean, I know that that I know that that is an actual outcome of the concept of rational ignorance. But I think that it's one of the most unfortunate outcomes, and one that's been really damaging in society. Because I used to have this debate all the time with a political science professor, she always said, we've got to have political parties, we need political parties, you might like to research issues, but you're an outlier. And most people don't have the interest or the time. And so political parties serve a very important function people, they allow them to see how their values are generally reflected. And then they can just vote for that party and still weigh in on the political process, without actually having to, you know, research, every candidate or every ballot proposition or other issue that might show up on the ballot. I think what's really dangerous and unfortunate about this, is it really gives people an opportunity to abdicate their personal responsibility. And I think that, you know, we don't talk a lot about the obligations of living in a democracy. But I think that there are real obligations to live in a democracy. And it can't work unless citizens understand that the status status of being a citizen is not just a right, but it's also a privilege and a responsibility. And I think when people start to think of their democratic obligations as optional, right, then what we see is the erosion that we've largely seen, or people sometimes complain that they don't find it pleasant or enjoyable. But not all duties and obligations are pleasant or enjoyable. I think that it can be and I think that if we really thought it through, and realize that we all have the capacity and the power to participate in our communities, that the you know, the opportunity to democratically engage is the opportunity to have a voice in shaping the world around you. And that is something that many people for most of history have been denied. You know, usually that sort of power has been relegated to a select and privilege viewed, you know, determined by birth, right. And so, in the advent of democracy, democratic practices, still fairly new, a really a unique privilege, but also an important responsibility. And so I think that political parties have served have have damaged democracy, actually, because they've given people an opportunity to not learn about what's happening in their communities and in their country as much as they should.

Craig:

I want to talk a little bit if we could switch gears just a bit about how people can reduce the costs of knowledge aquas or information aquas There are three main ways one is personal contact with people that already have that not. So we do this for a lot of things. You know, before I do something financial, I talked to my brother, you know, he stays up on things he you know, he has a compared to me as a complicated portfolio of investments. He's very shrewd. So before I make some kind of a big move, I talked to him, you know, when I got the mortgage for our house, I talked to him Should I get a 15 year mortgage or a 30 year mortgage. And so that's one way we can reduce those costs, we can also get data from people or groups that bear the information or knowledge acquisition. So these tend to be issue groups or political parties, that this is a big danger zone, in my mind, you know, if you talk to the NRA, about the effect of gun, you know, that that's what they they exist to, to know about that world. You know, and so, you're a rational thought might be I'm going to go to the NRA to find out some of this information. But you know, that's clearly going to be biased in a certain direction. And you could, I'm not picking on the NRA, you could go to the flip side of the issue, and you would certainly get information that was biased, you know, on that side of an issue and you can pick any issue you want. And you're going to find these these issue groups exist to paint a particular picture. And I think there are some exceptions to that. You know, for example, pew, you know, the Pew Pew Research Group, I I've never found them to be driven, you know, they collect data, they process the data, they put it out there, they even put out the raw data. And so a lot of issues, if I want to find out something, I'll take a look at what Pew has to say, and what's the one that you've been involved with?

Andrea:

Well, I work a lot with Kettering foundation. And they, they do research, but but they don't publish in the same way, or as regularly as pews. I mean, there, there were research is really focused on, you know, making democracy work, as it should, and, you know, really focused on trying to understand, I think citizens understanding of their own role, and what improves a citizen self understanding of self efficacy of participating in the political process,

Craig:

but they don't seem to be agenda driven from a right or left or a particular issue. So there are some examples of groups where you can go out and get relatively independent information. But there's a cost to that as well, you've got to go find out or talk to somebody who's knowledgeable. So that's, that's what so one of the problems, you have personal contacts, which you which may already know the information, and that's great, but they tend to be pretty limited. You know, we all have a limited number of people that we know, and they tend to be like us. So a lot of what we get from personal contacts is confirming information. So then you have these groups that I'm sorry, go ahead. Oh, no,

Andrea:

I was just I think you're really right about the importance of connecting with personal contacts. And I think that, you know, that can be most valuable, when, you know, the information isn't necessarily factual. And by that, I mean, sometimes, you know, the answer to a simple math problem has a clear answer, that many of the things that we care most about don't. And so often, you know, the benefit we get from talking to others, is just improving our scope of understanding and the different possibilities that are at stake. So I'm sure when you talk to your brother about potential investments, I mean, no one knows for sure, what the how those investments are going to turn out. But that's why it's so helpful to discuss the range of options and the range of possibilities. And he might be able to expand the horizons of what the possibilities or likelihoods are. And so I think one of the reasons we enjoy, you know, connecting with others so much is that so much of what we're interested in, doesn't have certain outcomes. And so much of what we need isn't so much defined a fact. But to increase our general understanding of a domain.

Craig:

Right, well, and facts are fairly useless without context and without any kind of understanding about those facts and understanding those facts in place. So I think you're right, the problem with the personal contacts is that they tend to be people like us. Yeah, it takes an effort to expand outside of those people that are like us. And so, you know, you tend to get this this reinforcing feedback.

Andrea:

Yeah, no, I absolutely agree with you. And that's why I think it's so fun to have these opportunities to come together and talk with people that don't necessarily see the world in the same way that we do. I mean, I think sometimes that's hard for people. And a lot of times, it's accompanied by strong emotional responses. But really, if you can temper that, and really listen to what someone who has a different point of view thinks and why they think that it's a real opportunity to expand your horizons and just increase your understanding of the world, right, and other people, and then I think we can, you know, figure out how to live with each other more effectively. So, you know, there's so much emphasis right now on joining aside or being polarized, but really, I think, if we could, if we could learn to listen, and not, and not necessarily come to agreement, but to improve our understanding of different perspectives, you know, it would really it would be good for the world. And I think fun. I mean, I think it's actually fun to do that.

Craig:

What right and I agree, but you know, you're a special kind of person,

Andrea:

I kind of take that in the best possible way,

Craig:

in the best possible way. But you know, you're you're wired like but but the importance of what what we're saying right now really drives home the fact or my I call it a fact, it's really my opinion, that the main job of the incoming administration needs to be to restore some level of civility. Because as long as you get you have these barriers that we seem to have now, you know, we don't get anywhere we just keep living in our echo chambers and getting these self reinforcing biased bits of information. You know, we don't get anywhere as a society. We We've all experienced that where you're in a meeting, and somebody goes off on a rant, and you can just watch people shut down. And they, you know, well, I'm not going to listen to another word this person has to say, because they're so clearly angry, and they can't really be providing an unbiased view of whatever this issue is. And so until we can restore some level of stability, and that doesn't mean, you know, stability is not agreement, it's not agreement, it's just what we are going to agree on is that we're going to have some level of respect and at least some level of open mindedness, you know, rather than thinking you're an awful person, because you disagree with so I really think that's the most important job in the in the us right now. And, and a number of other cuts?

Andrea:

Oh, yeah, I mean, I agree, 100%. And I really think that Joe Biden is the person to do this job. And I am so excited that Joe Biden is going to be our next president. And, you know, in the early stages, when we were determining who the Democratic candidate was going to be, I did not want it to be Joe Biden, I mean, he was on the bottom of my list, I really supported Elizabeth Warren, I've loved her economic agenda. And I think that, you know, we really need I think an economic agenda is probably one of the most important things for this country, and that we, you know, keep seeing the wealthiest people acquire more wealth. And it's becoming, you know, more and more difficult to be a member of the middle class and horrible for the least well off in this country. And I really think we need economic reform. But, you know, given you know, the events that have transpired, and given Biden's experience, and the decimation of the, you know, federal staff that, you know, civil servants that have dedicated their lives to running this country, and the way that that has been dismantled, I think someone was, Biden's experience is great. And he's just a middle of the road relatable guy. And I think that he really does want to see this country united, I don't think that he is someone who is interested in sowing seeds of division. I think he wants to bring people together. And I just, I'm really excited for him to be our next president and happy that he won the Democratic nomination. And, and I was wrong about that. So I think another thing that it's important for us to be able to do is admit that maybe we were wrong. I mean, I think that my Early Assessment of who the best Democratic candidate would be, was probably wrong. And I think that Biden probably probably is the best candidate, and he won the election. And I don't know if my favorite candidate could have won. Actually, my favorite candidate was Andrew Yang. I love Andrew Yang, I thought he had a great economic agenda, and sort of entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of technology that this country needs. So I hope all of these people end up in leadership positions, and in one way or another. But you know, I mean, I think that's an example of how democracy can work. Because, you know, I cast, you know, I did not support Biden, but I'm happy that other people did. And I think that in this case, anyway, the majority was right. And I still think it's good that I participated in the political process. And you know, that you can even be happy about being wrong. And I'm, I'm kind of happy that I was wrong about the right Democratic nominee may see you as

Craig:

less optimistic than you are. But and I should point out that this is not a political podcast. It just happens to be that, you know, the main way that rational ignorance as a concept has been applied, has been in politics. And so that's why we've kind of gone down this path. But this is not, you know, this is not a political podcast. And I should also point out that, if it were, we would often differ, because we don't really fall on the same side of a lot of issues. But that's okay. You know, neither one of us at least, you know, I don't think either one of us are so dogmatic is to not entertain the idea that we might be wrong about something I never have been. But I guess there's always

Andrea:

I know, we'll I'll help you through it when that happens, because I have been plenty of times. But I will say this. This is not a political podcast, per se. What this is, is January 6 2021. So, you know, this is the world that that we're in right now. And, you know, I think that politics has perhaps never been more tumultuous or threatening to our country. So I think that, certainly we'll talk about other things, but it's hard not to talk about politics right now.

Craig:

But if it's your first time listening, don't I don't want people to think that, you know, we're always going to be on politics. We'll talk about politics when it's germane to whatever the topic is, but we won't have You know, if you happen to disagree with us, because we like each other, and we don't really fall on the same side of the aisle, although it, it's funny, if I'm looking at my screen, I'm on the left, and you're on the right on our videos, which is, which is not how it would appear. But you know what one of the things that I think is important in politics and in life in general, is we don't really know anything, you know, we don't know anything about the future, we really only kind of know about the path. And so there's so much uncertainty. I mean, I would have this time last year, I was pretty confident in a prediction that Trump would serve another four years, you know, the economy was going strong, you know, things were the winds were kind of blowing in his favor, and then COVID comes along. And, you know, even if you're a supporter of President Trump, I think we'd have to admit that he kind of screwed the pooch, in a number of ways on the COVID response, you know, the economy, which was his big thing suffered, until the world changed, because of COVID-19, the world changed on 911, you know that a lot, that things can change very quickly. So we don't really know anything. And my point of bringing that up is it's okay to have beliefs, it's okay to have predictions, but we need to recognize that things are always highly uncertain. And so we should not have this, you know, this dogmatic I know, about the future because you don't?

Andrea:

Well, yeah, just a couple things I want to respond to there. One is like, while we couldn't have predicted a 911, the response to it was managed swiftly. And you could disagree with some of the military that actions that were taken in response to that, but there was certainly national attention given to it. And yes, COVID happened, but it was grossly mismanaged by Trump. I mean, there was an opportunity to manage this much more effectively, and it has been managed much more effectively in other countries. And so it's not just that we were faced with COVID, you were faced with COVID. And then it was just complete negligence on those willful negligence that his has caused, you know, a number of needless death, no, on a grand scale. So it's not some sort of natural disaster or one time strike that happened to occur, there was something that could have been managed effectively, there was expertise in place, we know what we needed to do we watch other countries do it, and we just failed. So trauma,

Craig:

my point is that something unexpected can change the state of the world in a way that we couldn't have predicted. So it wasn't to get on to the response necessarily. It was, you know, we don't, we don't have certainty about these things. And so we should recognize that we do have some level of ignorance.

Andrea:

Right. And I think that so I agree that there's always an element of uncertainty about the future, that is the nature of future states of affairs. But I don't know that that means that we don't know anything, I think that there are there are things that that we still do know, even though there's an uncertain future. So I don't see this thing. I see this as two different issues. In other words, you know, you know how to teach a class on economics, even though there's an uncertain future, you know, the name of your goats, even though there's an uncertain future, you may be no, you know, there are all sorts of things that we do, in fact, now, and, and there's an uncertain future. But they're, you know, they're different probabilities. And we rely on probabilities. And so a lot of our success, again, if you're talking about, like, which investments to make, I mean, our success in doing well, in many arenas has to do with our ability to predict the future, and and all the time recognizing that it's impossible to do it perfectly. Right. And

Craig:

when I, when I said, we don't know, anything, I, what my intent was, was to say, we have no certainty about the future. I mean, there are certain things that we can know, and what so what we do is based on our past experience, and based on what knowledge we do have, we make predictions about the future and take actions based on those predictions to try to get the outcome that we want, but we can never be certain about? Until when I when I hear people say, you know, well, we should absolutely do this. You know, we don't know, maybe that's the smartest thing to do. And maybe that's the best path forward based on what we know right now. But you know that what, what bothers me is the level of certainty that we sometimes hear people at least imply when they talk about the future. And so we just don't we don't know exactly how thing.

Andrea:

Well, I love this topic, and I think that we should definitely have it for another podcast and Improve to our listeners that this is not in fact, a political podcast. I think certainty and uncertainty about the future is a great topic. And we can talk about Bayesian conceptions of certainty, and how we have used our past experience to understand the future, we should definitely pick this topic back up, because it's really a good one. And I know that we're running out of time here. And so, before we go, I wanted to ask you, Craig, what did you learn this week?

Craig:

Well, I learned a lot more about rational lidner. Actually, I had never really thought through why we depend so much on parties and why why we have so many people that are are either single or a small number of issue voters. But this really puts a different spin on it, it's really a way to try to deal with the mass of information. And it's causing me to rethink some of what I'm going through with trying to protect my privacy, which should be another topic, you know, I became a little bit of a privacy free, and recently, it's just exhausted me. And one of the reasons is that there's so much uncertainty and so much new information coming out constantly about privacy threats, that it's probably rational to not worry about me. And I'm starting to really rethink that. And so that's what my you know, my surprising my learning has been this week is, you know, really do I need to think about this privacy issue in a different way. So how about you? What did you learn or what was surprising?

Andrea:

That's, yeah, that's really interesting about privacy, that that would be another good topic for us. So well, this week, I learned about an organization in my community, you know, I'm here in Sedona, Arizona, where it's unbelievably beautiful. It is really great community here. And I learned about an organization called Northern Arizona restorative justice. And that's a that's a local nonprofit that, you know, helps kids that have, you know, been in trouble with the juvenile system, or, you know, had some trouble with the law. And what they do is they bring people together, to engage in dialogue. And it really is like a lot of like, what we were talking about earlier, you know, often when something unfortunate happens, or a crime is committed, there's a lot of resentment. And one person can't understand what the other person did, but they're really always, you know, are multiple points of view. And so and so they facilitate people coming together and having, you know, an open and honest dialogue so that they can promote reconciliation. Because we know that, you know, we have a justice system for a reason. And there's a, you know, retributive justice system where sometimes people have to pay penalties for things that they've done, and that can, you know, include, like some time in a facility or other penalties. But really another part of justice is bringing about a reconciliation proved understanding. And anyway, this is a nonprofit here in the Sedona area that does that, and they're just a great group of people. So I learned about them.

Craig:

Do you think there are similar organizations in other communities? I'm guessing there are

Andrea:

Yeah, I mean, restorative justice is a concept that was I need to learn more about a bit but brought up in opposition to the idea of retributive justice. So retributive justice is what we're most familiar with, right, you know, committed this crime. So you're going to pay this price, there's retribution or a penalty and vote. And restorative justice is like there's there's been a harm here. And what could be also, you know, bring about justice is repairing the harm, right, not just paying the price, but repairing the harm and restoring in the best senses, conditions of mutual respect and goodwill. That could be another interesting topic for a future episode.

Craig:

Good. All right. Well, it sounds like we're ready to close this topic. I think we may return to this because there's a lot more to talk about with respect to rational ignorance, so maybe we can do it from time to time. The rational ignorance podcast is sponsored by Sedona philosophy, a completely unique tour company that uses sedonas amazing natural environment to unlock personal growth and insight, explore nature, culture and history with a philosophical twist. Visit Sedona philosophy.com to learn more.

Andrea:

Thanks, Craig. If you enjoyed this podcast, hit the subscribe button, please rate review and tell your friends until next time