(2500 words; 11 minute read.)
Last week I had back-to-back phone calls with two friends in the US. The first told me he wasn’t too worried about Covid-19 because the flu already is a pandemic, and although this is worse, it’s not that much worse. The second was—as he put it—at “DEFCON 1”: preparing for the possibility of a societal breakdown, and wondering whether he should buy a gun.
I bet this sort of thing sounds familiar. People have had very different reactions to the pandemic. Why? And equally importantly: what are we to make of such differences?
The question is political. Though things are changing fast, there remains a substantial partisan divide in people’s reactions: for example, one poll from early this week found that 76% of Democrats saw Covid as a “real threat”, compared to only 40% of Republicans (continuing the previous week’s trend).
What are we to make of this “pandemic polarization”? Must Democrats attribute partisan-motivated complacency to Republicans, or Republicans attribute partisan-motivated panic to Democrats?
I’m going to make the case that the answer is no: there is a simple, rational process that can drive these effects. Therefore we needn’t—I’d say shouldn’t—take the differing reaction of the “other side” as yet another reason to demonize them.
I just published a new piece in the Oxonian Review. It argues that a general problem with claimed demonstrations of irrationality is their reliance on standard economic models of rational belief and action, and illustrates the point by explaining some great work by Tom Kelly on the sunk cost fallacy and by Brian Hedden on hindsight bias.
Check out the full article here.
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