Don’t Look For Logic

How can ANC voters possibly vote for this man!? Or for this party!? Heard around many an SA braai fire.

Well, because of their emotions. The emotion that went with the memory of first voting ANC is very powerful and is very unlikely to change.

And our emotions – yours and mine – work in exactly the same way!

Yes, they do. We do the same.

There is a part of the brain called the amygdala which is, among other things, a kind of “emotional memory center”. That’s a bit oversimplified, but essentially true; when you recall a memory that has an emotional charge, the amygdala mediates your recall of the emotion that goes along with the memory; you feel that emotion again. When you rehearse the reasons you first subscribed to your belief, you re-experience the emotions again–reinforcing your belief and making it feel more compelling.

This isn’t just a liberal vs conservative thing, either. Nor a more-educated vs less-educated thing. Its just us humans.

Say, for example, we’re afraid of nuclear power. A lot of people, particularly self-identified greenies & liberals, are afraid of nuclear. We KNOW its dangerous. If we are presented with evidence that shows that nuclear power, in terms of human deaths per terawatt-hour of power produced, is by far the safest of all forms of power generation, it is unlikely to change our minds about the dangers of nuclear power one bit. We will read it and say “no way!” or “yes, but . . “. Please read it anyway.

The most dangerous form of power generation is actually coal. In addition to killing tens of thousands of people a year, mostly because of air pollution, coal also releases quite a lot of radiation into the environment. This radiation comes from two sources. First, some of the carbon that coal is made of is in the naturally occurring radioactive isotope carbon-14; when the coal is burned, this combines with oxygen to produce radioactive gas that goes out the smokestack. Second, coal beds contain trace amounts of radioactive uranium and thorium, which remain in the ash when it’s burned; coal plants consume so much coal–huge freight trains of it–that the resulting fly ash left over from burning those millions of tons of coal is more radioactive than nuclear waste. *

But no-one is agitating for coal waste to be buried deep underground in a desert far from any towns. So many people die directly or indirectly as a result of coal-fired power generation that if we had a Chernobyl-sized meltdown every four years, it would STILL kill fewer people than coal. Not convinced? Thought not.

If we’re afraid of nuclear power, that evidence won’t make a dent in our beliefs. We would mentally go back over the reasons we’re afraid of nuclear power, and our amygdala would reactivate our fear…which in turn will prevent us from seriously considering the idea that nuclear might not be as dangerous as we feel it is.

Now – in SA in 2017 – if our argument against nuclear is financial, we’re on better ground, but we need to then ask how we could get nuclear power at a less ruinous cost. Are we doing that? Or is our amygdala preventing it?

Here’s another hot button topic: If we’re suspicious of National Health Insurance (NHI) the arguments in favour of it, the financial sums, the logic of sharing, won’t make a dent in our feelings about it. Especially if someone plants the thought of having to queue at public hospitals in our mind. Even though that’s not what National Health INSURANCE is about. Nor is the truth of public hospitals as bad as we imagine: We took Aitch’s mom and Dad to public hospitals and got great service for her hip replacement and his broken hip. BETTER service than we got for Aitch at Parklands Highly Expensive Private Hospital With Thick-Pile Carpets and Artwork on the Walls! Where she picked up a raging infection due to nurses not washing their hands.

NHI is about a national health INSURANCE plan so that all start paying towards having equal access to better health care, with all hospitals being used equally for all. The NHI website’s first words are “The NHI is a financing system . .

We’re used to being ripped off by private care and we don’t mind, because we (16% of the population) are covered for private care – and we thus enjoy the services of 79% of SA’s doctors. Often with our employer paying half. So what the actual plans for NHI actually say is unlikely to change our mind.

Anyway, we don’t need to read those plans. Our amygdala just KNOWS.



*We have had two major nuclear disasters in sixty years: Chernobyl and Fukushima. In that time we have polluted the world with thousands of dirty coal-powered plants for 21 915 days in a row.

Thank you Franklin Veaux. See his blog where he talks about Why We’re All Idiots: Credulity, Framing, and the Entrenchment Effect and learn a bit more about what makes you (us) tick!


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