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17 useful concepts to survive the election Listen to the losers, not the winners

It's time to swot up. (HM Treasury)


May 27, 2024   4 mins

We humans are neophiles; we’re drawn to whatever’s new. This anxious curiosity may have saved our lives when we lived as hunter-gatherers, but in the digital age, it’s mostly just exploited to keep us checking our phones. Even the most trivial update is now presented as Breaking News, and it gets us every time. The news cycle churns out so many updates that anything older than 24 hours is considered prehistoric — especially during an election.

This is an underlying problem because the most valuable information tends to be old. From classic literature, to proven theorems, to replicated studies, the past is the archive of wisdom that has weathered the fickleness of fashions and the erosion of aeons. And yet, just because it’s old, it is typically overlooked in favour of the latest gossip and rumours (which almost never stand the test of time).

So, as we stare down the barrel of another interminable election campaign stuffed with trivial updates, I plumbed the past for time-tested ideas forgotten by our collective 24-hour memory. I recently presented a few of the best, to start the year. Here are 17 more to get you through the next six weeks.

1. False Consensus Effect

“Everyone driving slower than you is an idiot and everyone driving faster than you is a maniac.” — George Carlin. Our model of the world assumes people are like us. We don’t just do whatever we consider normal, we also consider normal whatever we do.

2. Fredkin’s Paradox

The more similar two choices seem, the less the decision should matter — yet the harder it is to choose between them. As a result, we often spend the most time on the decisions that matter least. To avoid being paralysed by meaningless choices, use decision-making heuristics.

3. Package-Deal Ethics

“If I can predict all of your beliefs from one of your beliefs, you’re not a serious thinker.” — Chris Williamson. Being pro-choice and being pro-gun control don’t necessarily follow from each other, yet those who believe one usually also believe the other. This is because most people don’t choose beliefs individually, but subscribe to “packages” of beliefs offered by a tribe.

4. Ovsiankina Effect (aka Hemingway Effect)

We have an intrinsic need to finish what we’ve started. Exploit this by taking your breaks mid-task; the incompleteness will gnaw at you, increasing your motivation to return to work. (When writing, I end each day mid-sentence because it

5. Champion Bias

We assume winners have the best advice, but those who win rarely examine why they won, while those who lose often regretfully dwell on their mistakes. So you’ll often obtain the best advice on winning not from winners but from losers.

6. Premortem

Instead of waiting for something to go wrong and then conducting a post-mortem, conduct a “pre-mortem” by imagining it went wrong — and then using the power of hindsight to deduce the likeliest reason it went wrong.

Imagine you get drenched during a big campaign speech. What could have been the most likely reason? Is there anything you can do today to prevent that?

7. Youngest-Kid-in-Class Syndrome

A study of 300,000 children found that the youngest kids in class were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. This suggests that immaturity is sometimes being mistaken for disorders.

8. Woozle Effect

When a source makes an unproven claim and it’s then cited as proof by another, which is cited by another, and so on, until the chain of citations looks like evidence. This is common because, while many writers check their sources, few check their sources’ sources.

A recent example: evidence that puberty blockers are safe and effective was overestimated because institutions were circularly citing each other.

9. Post-journalism

The press lost its monopoly on news when the internet democratised info. To save its business model, it pivoted from journalism into tribalism. The new role of the press is not to inform its readers but to confirm what they already believe.

“The new role of the press is not to inform its readers but to confirm what they already believe.”

10. Roseto Effect

Many long-term studies, including the 50-year Roseto study and the 85-year Harvard Study of Adult Development, found that having close-knit relationships is as important for longevity as diet, sleep and exercise, yet it’s often neglected by fitness gurus. If you want to live, love.

11. Hitchens’s Razor

“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” ― Christopher Hitchens. If you make a claim, it’s up to you to prove it, not to me to disprove it.

12. The Liking Gap

Multiple studies have found that people consistently underestimate how much a conversation partner likes them and enjoys their company. So don’t be shy, you’re probably cooler than you think.

13. Boomerang Effect

Deny someone something, and they’ll want it even more, out of defiance. If you want your child to eat broccoli, tell them they’re not big enough to eat broccoli. This also helps to explain why censorship often backfires (the Streisand Effect).

14. Anchored-to-your-own-history bias

“Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.” — Morgan Housel. Boomers and Generation X had wildly different experiences of how the economy works, and this gave them different dispositions, world views, and political preferences.

15. Common Knowledge Effect

Groups are meant to be better decision-makers than individuals, because they combine many perspectives. But in practice, a group doesn’t base its decisions on the info specific to each member, but only on the info common to them all. This casts doubt on the idea that “two heads are better than one”, and helps explain why, despite popular wisdom, diversity generally does not make teams better.

16. Gibson’s Law

“For every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD.” Both sides in a court case or policy debate will have support from experts, no matter how crazy the position, because education doesn’t make someone right, it often just makes them more skilled at being wrong.

17. Cached Thoughts

Most of your beliefs were formed earlier in your life, when you were more naive. You continue to believe them only because you’ve never reconsidered them. When you’re about to offer an opinion, consider when you formed it, and ask: is it really your belief, or that of your younger self?

And one final thing: as usual, don’t mistake these rules of thumb for laws of nature, as that would be a fallacy called Secundum Quid.


Gurwinder Bhogal is a freelance writer. His work can be found at gurwinder.substack.com

G_S_Bhogal

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
1 month ago

Number 18: Sunak is a ding-dong who can’t govern.
Number 19: Starmer is a wing-wong who can’t govern.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago

Well, one of those two (almost certainly the second) is going to be the next PM, so you’re going to have to get used to it. I agree that Sunak is looking extremely desperate, but Starmer has done many of the right things. I mean, he has purged the socialists from the Labor Party.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

No he hasn’t. He has purged a couple of elderly, high-profile socialists so the easily misled will think he has removed them all.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 month ago

Nobody elected can govern The Blob.
They can only increase it.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago

They don’t even have to actively increase it; it just grows when they do nothing to actively oppose it – like garden weeds or, rather, that vast fat-mountain they found ‘living’ in the London sewer system.

Geoff W
Geoff W
1 month ago

18 – Ignoring Pretentious Irrelevant Journalism

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff W

How is it irrelevant?

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

Excellent. And precisely the sort of amusing diversion needed to help survive the next 6 weeks.
And isn’t this the truth ?
“The new role of the press is not to inform its readers but to confirm what they already believe.”
Indeed, don’t we often prefer it that way ?

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Not only have most newspapers become opinion-papers many have also majored in ‘reporting’ gossip. Sadly this has infected other media reporting too, such as broadcasting and scientific magazines – once respected sources of information.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 month ago

Well worth following this guy on Substack.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago

I enjoyed that, thank you.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
1 month ago

This is excellent!

Pip G
Pip G
1 month ago

#6. “Imagine you get drenched during a big campaign speech

 Is there anything you can do today to prevent that?”
Ha, ha. [Use an umbrella or give the speech indoors].

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
1 month ago

I do like point 17 ‘Cached Thoughts’, and the implied rejoinder to continually reevaluate our opinions.
Unusually, I find myself drifting from being a Nietzschean, survival of the fittest, ‘Tory Boy’ young man, economically leftwards as I get older.