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Decision making in the future

by Patrick Leach on November 10th, 2014

At the 50th Anniversary of DA celebration yesterday, a number of people expressed optimism (some admitted it was more like Pollyannaism) that in the years to come, everyone will use the principles of DA to make rational decisions.

I’m an optimist by nature, but I’m not so sanguine on this subject.  I think the biggest problems facing us (society, that is) are Tragedy-of-the-Commons issues that require global cooperation to solve.  This will require changes in human behavior that are going to be extremely difficult to accomplish, due to three factors:

1) Tribalism – i.e., the instinct for people to trust those who share their cultural background, and distrust those who don’t.

2) Cognitive dissonance, or more accurately, the most common human reaction to cognitive dissonance, which is to deny any evidence that contradicts what we want to believe.

3) The fracturing of media outlets into political factions, making it possible for everyone to hear only information which supports their political beliefs (even if that information is dwarfed by information that counters their beliefs).  Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.  But these days, people do feel entitled to their own facts.

The optimist in me wants to focus DA on dealing with these problems, and who knows? – Maybe we can actually move the needle in the right direction.  But I’m concerned about whether we can move it far enough and fast enough to prod society into using a rational, structured approach to solving global problems.

Pat Leach

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