Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

My political views

Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:51 pm by Laurens

I often feel unable to adequately describe my political views, but I thought perhaps the best way to elucidate them would be to describe my ideal world (or at least snippets thereof) rather than detail any particular philosophies I adhere to. I am ever aware that all political ideologies should be tempered with realism, however I do not feel that my intellect is entirely capable of completely sticking to this principle. For that reason I would welcome any criticisms and ideas in the comments thread.


I believe that a prosperous society should be focused upon improving technology. Technology greatly improves the standard of living and has many economic benefits. A better quality of life for all individuals is something that should be strived for .The pursuit of technology will greatly increase our odds of overcoming many of the issues facing our species.


Tied to this point is the very important topic of education. It goes without saying that we need engineers and scientists to push forward technology. Also the higher the standard of education in all subjects the greater our standard of living and culture would be. I feel rather strongly that putting barriers (such as incredibly high tuition fees) in front of university level education is going to impede our ability to generate the next generation of great thinkers. Obviously universities need to economically sustain themselves somehow, but I feel restricting access to them by having absurdly high fees is not the best way to go about it (although admittedly I could not tell you what exactly the best way to go about it would be).


One thing I feel that was sorely missing from my own education was critical thinking. I was in my early twenties when I first began to learn about this important subject—which is indicative of a failing in our education system. With simple critical thinking tools one is endowed with a greatly accentuated ability to educate oneself. Being taught disparate facts and snippets of information and retain them for just long enough to pass the exam was not a great way of helping me actually learn in any real sense of the word. I felt disengaged with the learning process and viewed education in a somewhat negative light until fairly recently. What we really need is a population of individuals that are highly engaged in learning as a life-long process. Though I do not presume to know exactly how this might be implemented, or whether such a radical change would be economically viable, I do feel that a nation of educated thinkers would vastly improve our culture, our innovations, and endow us with a highly skilled workforce.


Of course I would not wish to live in a society in which people are forced to become lifelong learners or penalized for not aspiring to this, as this would be antithetical to basic principles of liberty. However, I feel that in order to attain a fully liberal society, individuals must be given the greatest possible opportunities to achieve their potential. If you want to be a bin man that’s fine, but nobody should be in the position of being a bin man simply because other opportunities were denied of them. In my current situation, I feel denied of opportunities because my ability to gain the qualifications I need in order to fulfill my potential has been hidden behind a wall of cash. Thus I am in a position in which I am having to seek employment in areas that are completely beneath me in terms of what I know I am capable of. I would like to live in a world in which as few people as possible wind up in a similar position, and I think the flaws in the education system have a great deal to do with it.


In essence my political focus would be to raise the floor of our society and culture by greatly improving education and opportunities. This simple factor would, in my opinion have a knock on effect in almost all aspects of politics. A population of critical thinkers is liable to approach issues more reasonably, be less affected by the media, and more innovative—which in turn would pave the way to prosperity in the long term.


As for other areas of politics and economics I remain largely naïve. It can be said of me that I am a liberal secularist, with some socialist tendencies. I am also an advocate of democracy, which is something I feel could be improved with technology also (particularly information technology). I’ve never aligned myself with a particular political party, and I tend not to devote a huge amount of my time to elucidating my political views in discussions. Hence why the focus of this post is somewhat narrowed to subjects I feel comfortable expressing my views on. If you have any further questions about my political beliefs, please feel free to comment in the thread and I shall endeavour to answer them.

Politics – Part 3: The Greens

Sun Jul 07, 2013 1:38 pm by Inferno

As promised in my last post, I now want to focus on the Greens.

As with the centre right party, their program is over 70 pages long, so I won’t read through it all. I want to make you aware of something though: The extreme right-wing party has a program 17 pages in length, the left wing party (SPÖ) has one 31 pages long, the centre right 68 pages and the Greens is 88 pages long. Now obviously the quantity of the program says nothing about the quality, but a lack of quantity… hm, maybe.

I’ve also decided to drop the extreme-left parties, instead I’ll talk about recent trends in politics, new parties and some tools. After that, as I’ve already explained, I want to start a big discussion about “the ideal party”.

Anyway, the Greens…
In general, the Greens parties will be moderately to extremely left-leaning and have “the environment” as their main agenda. Sometimes they’ll have some social issues on their agenda (LGBT-rights, women’s rights, etc.) and sometimes some lefty political/anti-state issues, but in general they’re a very specialized party and won’t attract a wide range of clientèle. As a result, it’s seldom you’ll see them top the 10% margin. Indeed, most green-parties have managed only a single 10%+ result.

In Austria specifically, there was one excellent Greens-chairman, Alexander Van der Bellen. This is irrelevant, but there’s a nice little story to it. In 2008, his party lost votes for the first time, going from 11.05% to 10.43%. Then from one day to the next, he suddenly said “duck it all” and left. The party has been in disarray since, but interestingly they’ll probably get a huge boost in 2013.

Now that in itself is rather interesting, I think. In the last ten years (you always vote every five years in Austria) the leading parties (ÖVP/SPÖ) have fucked up so badly, that Austrians sought an alternative. At first, in 2008, that alternative was the BZÖ/FPÖ, the two extreme right wing parties. (Gain 13% total, 6.5% each) Now, in 2013, there is one new party, Team Stronach (TS), and the Greens, who are the winners. TS won on average 8%, in some cases even 10%, while the Greens nearly doubled their votes in some states, but definitely grew quite drastically.

The reason for TS’s and the Greens’ gain can be attributed to them not being involved in the scandals, the huge loss of BZÖ/FPÖ to… well, nothing new, I guess. Who wants to hear “immigrants are shit” every day of the week?

Now in Austria, you get to vote for your state (we have 9 states) and then again country-wide. There were four state-votes this year:

Salzburg was a tremendous win for the greens, going from 12% to 20%. That’s the largest they’ve ever been in a state. ÖVP/SPÖ lost a huge deal 7.5%/15% respectively and both TS (8%) and FPÖ (4%) made gains.

In Carinthia,  the FPK (the FPÖ of Carinthia) went from being the strongest party (44.89%) to being the second strongest (16.85%), a whopping loss of 28.04%. The SPÖ picked up (+8% to 37%) and the Greens more than doubled. (+7% to 12%)

In both Tyrol and lower Austria, the votes remained largely the same, all parties except the Greens (+1-2%) lost a bit and TS achieved 9.5% quite consistently.

This changes the political landscape quite a bit! The Greens will achieve anything between 16% and 20% in the upcoming elections (huge boost, a potential double), the SPÖ will lose very slightly (1-2% to 27%), the ÖVP will remain roughly the same (25%) and TS will achieve about 8-10%. The huge uncertainty-factor will be the FPÖ. Having lost so much in Carinthia (~100.000 votes) and gained very little in the other states (~10.000 votes), they’re still predicted to make a net gain for the nation-wide votes (total of 17-19%). That’s because the votes are generally quite different, people lean more to the left in state elections but are very right-wing in nation-wide elections.

In any case, the Greens… Seriously now…

When reading the party’s program, I noticed that it is… wishy-washy. I’m not saying that their program is bad, I hope I’ve been fair enough to be rather neutral. (Mostly because I think all party-programs up until now were shit, but that’s a different story.) The problem is that the language is so passive, so neutral… For example:

A solid community of free people in an intact environment – that is our vision. This vision doesn’t describe an end-point, but rather an open future, which we want to form with our values, principals and our politics.

Now call me a cynic, but when I read that the first time I imagined hippies dancing to oriental music, throwing flowers through the air. The rest of the program goes on in the same tone. Anyway, I’ll try to pick out their main points and explain their ideology that way.

As stated in the opening paragraphs, the Greens have a moderate to strong “left” tendency. This is reflected in their roots:

Die historischen Wurzeln der Grünen liegen in den neuen sozialen Bewegungen: der StudentInnenbewegung, der Frauen-, Umwelt- und Friedensbewegung, in Bürgerrechtsbewegungen und BürgerInneninitiativen, den kritischen ChristInnen, WissenschafterInnen und GewerkschafterInnen, der entwicklungspolitischen Solidaritätsbewegung und den Bewegungen alter und neuer, sozialer oder kultureller “Minderheiten”.

In short: The Austrian Greens developed out of feminist, peace- and environment-movements as well as citizens’ actions committees and other grass-root organisations.

This multi-faceted history is reflected today: They are in favour of multi-cultural societies, a multi-national approach to problem-solving and, as already stated, an ecologically stable society.
However/additionally, they are also clearly opposed to labelling, as that would only add to existing divisions.

As also explained, they are more socialist than conservative, which shows in the following:

Alle Versuche, Solidarität auf einen engen Kreis von NutznießerInnen zu beschränken, haben in Sackgassen geführt.

Every attempt to limit the gains of society (or to limit solidarity) to one group of beneficiaries has always resulted in a dead end.

This is a clearly socialist approach to society and economics. Interestingly, the Greens in Austria tend to form coalitions with conservative parties about as often as with socialist parties. This may be due to the above discussed problem the Greens have: They’re usually very small. (In the US, they have yet to gain more than 2.74%!)

The next bit might surprise you a bit:

Grüne Politik folgt Utopien.

Green politics follows (is) Utopia.

I have purposefully included the (is), you will hopefully forgive me for inserting judgement here. Green politics IS Utopia. One of the main criticisms levelled against the Green parties I know of is that they’re out of touch with reality. Their ideas are sometimes excellent, but they’ll not be able to deliver what they want, simply because there are political limits.

The do claim to be realistic about their goals, but that’s not true at all.


Bad times bring us together

Sat Jun 22, 2013 8:17 pm by Inferno

I’m sure most people will have heard of the protests in Turkey. A friend of mine is Turkish so I always get updates, however reliable they might be, through her.

A recent message on her FB recently said the following:

Sehr geehrter Herr Ministerpräsident; heute hast du uns einen Gefallen getan, dessen du dir noch nicht bewusst bist.

Ich habe heute einen Fenerbahce Fan gesehen, der vor den Polizisten, denen du den Befehl zum Angriff gegeben hast, zu Boden gestürzt ist und dem – von einem Galatasaray Fan – auf die Beine geholfen wurde. Schüler, die ihr Brot und Wasser teilen, kurdisch- und türkischstämmige Menschen, die Hand in Hand laufen. Das habe ich heute gesehen.

Frauen, die Sie als Prostituierte bezeichnen sind mit Milch und Zitrone in der Hand, aus den Bordellen, den Verletzten zur Hilfe geeilt. Ich habe gesehen, dass Menschen, die Sie als Travestien bezeichnen, ihre Hotelzimmer für Menschen geöffnet haben, die Zuflucht suchen, Ärzte und Rechtanwälte haben ihre Telefonnummern mitgeteilt, Medizinstudenten haben Erste Hilfe geleistet.

Ich habe ältere Frauen gesehen, die Essigtücher verteilen. Händler, die ihre Netzwerksicherheitsschlüssel freigeben, Hotelbesitzer, die die Verletzten in ihre Lobby nehmen.
Das habe ich heute gesehen.

Ich habe gesehen, dass ein Fahrer der Gemeinde die Straße mit seinem Bus versperrt hat, damit ja kein Panzer eindringen kann. Apotheker, die ihre Apotheken in der Nacht öffnen habe ich gesehen.

Und sei dir sicher, heute Nacht waren nicht die Gasbomben der Grund für die Tränen in unseren Augen – es war unser Stolz !!


That’s quite the wall of text and in German too. Here’s a google-translated version with some corrections on my part:

Dear Mr. Prime Minister, today you have done us a favour, which you are not aware of yet.

Today I have seen a Fenerbahce fan who was thrown to the ground by the police, whom you have given the order to attack on the ground and said fan was raised to his feet by a Galatasaray fan. Students who share their bread and water, Kurdish and Turkish-born people who run hand in hand. I’ve seen it today.

Women who you call a prostitute with milk and lemon in hand, from the brothels, rushed to help the injured. I saw that the people you refer to as travesties, opened their hotel rooms for people seeking refuge, doctors and lawyers have posted their phone numbers, medical students have given first aid.

I have seen older women who spread vinegar cloths. Traders who share their network security key, hotel owners who take the injured in their lobby.
I’ve seen it today.

I have seen that a driver of the municipality has blocked the road with his bus, so it can not be penetrated by armour. Pharmacists who open their pharmacies in the night, I’ve seen it.

And rest assured, tonight it weren’t the gas bombs which were the reason for the tears in our eyes – it was our pride!


In itself, that’s a very nice letter sent to Mr Erdogan by Mr Akyut G.

What stands out though, at least to me, is the sharp contrast between “normal” times and “problematic” times. Generally, the football (and by that I mean soccer) fans would beat each other to a bloody pulp. The prostitutes would be shunned by large parts of the society, only to be required later on.

I don’t think this is at all unusual. For example, Germany was heavily shelled in WW2 (and in turned shelled others quite severely) but when a common enemy, the Soviet Union, was declared, other Western powers fairly quickly allied themselves with the Germans.

Yet as soon as this common enemy faded away, nationalist feelings would tend to grow and allies would once again become… well, not quite enemies, but relationships faded.

I’ll draw on one example to explain what I mean: In a recent blog post about right wing parties I introduced the Austrian party FPÖ. They’re probably the most right-wing party you can currently find in Austria. Looking at the results of national votes in Austria one can see a curious trend: With very few exceptions, the FPÖ had fewer than 10% in most counties, but in 1988, just as the fall of the Berlin Wall was imminent (as we now know in hindsight), the FPÖ suddenly made a tremendous jump in votes. (In some counties earlier, see Oberösterreich, in some a bit later)

Now there might be any number of reasons for that, but I’ll only focus on the two main reasons: In 1986, Jörg Haider took over the FPÖ, which may have caused votes to soar.
I don’t think so, however. If he were the reason for the jump, you’d have expected votes to go down after he split from the party in 2004 and after he died in 2008. The opposite is true: Though a slight dip can be seen in 2004 (after Haider created the BZÖ, the second right-wing party in Austria), the numbers rose again a few years later and the total right-wing voters consistently rose.


This leaves, in my opinion, only one conclusion, which incidentally is the second reason I said I’d mention above: Nationalism, at least in Austria, is on the rise. I think the same holds true for many other countries: The Front National (FN) in France has constantly gained votes in the presidential run since its inception in 1974. Both the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alantie (NV-A) and the Vlaams Belang (VB) have gained votes and would currently hold over 50% if they worked together. Even the British National Party (BNP), by the way the only party that Wikipedia claims is “right-wing extremist”, has gained votes, even though they currently barely reach 2%.

I think the trend is clear: Nationalism. right-wing tendencies and euro-scepticism is on the rise and with it a sort of “fight for yourself” attitude. I think that’s all fairly undeniable.

There are two questions I would like to pose:

1) What can be done to counter that movement? It seems a fair number of people who would have voted centre-right are now voting left, simply because they’re frightened by a right-wing takeover or a cooperation. (Lefties would never work with right-wingers… right?)

2) Seeing the post in the context of the above letter: Do you think it’s true that we will only fight side by side if there are common enemies, as opposed to common goals? I can’t shake the horrible feeling that there might be something to it.

Politics – Part 2: Centre right

Thu Jun 13, 2013 3:45 pm by Inferno

Having talked about far-right parties in my first post, I wish to move slightly further toward the centre.

Centre-right parties are usually conservative parties, the examples being the Conservative Party (UK) and the Republican Party (US). I will take the specific example of the Austrian Peoples Party (ÖVP) and look at their program. Note that I can’t go through it all, it’s about 70 pages long.

A quick word about the colour system: In general, conservative parties will sport blue (UK) or black (Germany, Austria) colours. Socialist (left-wing) parties will usually have red colours. (UK, Germany, Austria) I only know of the US where these roles are reversed: The conservative party (Republicans) are red and the socialist party (Democrats) are blue.


The first point in the program of the ÖVP is:

Wir sind die christdemokratische Partei.

Basically: “We are a Christian democratic party.”

This is quite common in most any conservative party I know: State that you are a Christian party. The CDU and the Republicans alike emphasize this point.

Point three reads:

Wir sind die Partei der Ökosozialen Marktwirtschaft.

Basically: We stand for ökosocial markets.
This isn’t exactly what they’re doing though. Many centre-right parties, the ÖVP included, are straight capitalists, usually letting market regulate itself and only interfering if a crisis is imminent. This is also called “laissez-faire capitalism”.

It is generally true that centre-right parties focus on boosting the economy, while centre-left parties focus on using money to pay for social institutions.

Point four reads:

Wir sind die Österreichpartei in Europa.

Basically: “We are the Austria-party in Europe”

This might seem redundant, they are in Austria after all, but it’s actually a statement about two things:
1) European politics are quite difficult to understand, so I’ll refrain from that here. What you should know is that the European Parliament also contains a number of parties. The ÖVP is particularly concerned with representing Austrian interests.

2) Austrian interests are, in this case, national interests. This once again shows the strong nationalist tendencies of right-wing parties.

Point five reads:

Wir sind die Volkspartei

Basically: “We are the peoples party”

Again, this is not strictly true if you look at their voters. Generally, these voters are composed of wealthier people who don’t care too much about social infrastructure, that is to say free medicare, free public transport and so on. A newspaper article in the “kleine Zeitung” characterizes ÖVP-voters in the following way: Mostly voted for by farmers (huge lobby in Austria) and independent business people.

This is generally true of other centre-right parties. They mostly appeal to rich people (see GOP in the US) and independent business owners, while generally not appealing to the working-class. Note: This is prominently not true in the UK, where the working class seems to favour the conservative party.

Another point states: We want to boost the family as the core of society. (Fun fact: They misspelled the word “Kernzelle”, meaning core. It reads “Keimzelle”, meaning gamete. “Keim” also means pathogen, so I’m not sure what they’re telling us…)

This is similar to the more extreme-right parties: Focusing on the family (defined as man + woman + kids) and exclude same-sex couples. Opposition to same-sex marriage usually stems from the more right-wing parties such as the Republican Party, the ÖVP and FPÖ, the German CDU and, in most cases, the conservative party in the UK. (Note for the last one: There seems to be some movement going on.)


I think that’s enough attention devoted to the centre-right. Next up: The Green party, after which I will follow with the left wing parties.

Politics – Part 1: Right wing

Thu Jun 13, 2013 3:44 pm by Inferno

I wanted to write about education, but I’m so bummed out with Uni that I’m not in the mood. With the elections in Austria coming up, I thought I’d share my thoughts on politics.

Most countries have around five parties, of which two usually dominate parliament. I’ll start with the right-wing parties. Let’s first remind ourselves where “right” and “left” came from. During the French revolution, the politicians on the right side of parliament were largely in favour of monarchy and the “Ancien Régime”. On the left side were those who favoured the working class.

The big clash between left and right emerged during the first and second World Wars. Russia had fallen to communist Bolsheviks and after the first World War more nationalist thought began to emerge in Germany and Austria. These ideologies were directly opposed: One was based on hierarchy and structure, the other on working together. One favoured an approach that would guarantee equity to all, the other one was proud of its achievements, even if those were only done by a select few.

Now those attitudes have hardly changed. I’ll single out the “Freedom Party of Austria” (FPÖ), look at their program and make some rather sweeping generalizations about other right-wing parties in Europe. One thing that must be pointed out right at the beginning is the incongruence between what is written and what is done.


Right at the beginning of the program, you can find the following: (point 2)

Wir sind dem Schutz unserer Heimat Österreich, unserer nationalen Identität und
Eigenständigkeit sowie unserer natürlichen Lebensgrundlagen verpflichtet.

Basically: We have to uphold our national identity and protect Austria.
This is a very nationalist (Note: NOT national-socialist!) view. Generally, the more right-wing the party is the more obsessed it is with security, defence and defence-budgets.

Rather unusually for right-wing rhetoric, the FPÖ then lists the minority groups in Austria and states that they’re an enrichment. Notice that that’s not the way they present themselves on the outside.
Rather more characteristic for them is the following:

“Austria is no country for immigration.” Therefore family.

What the FPÖ, and also other right-wing parties, have missed is the steady decline of births. Immigration is an essential part of our economy, without which we would collapse in mere decades.

A last point addressed is a strong favouring of Christianity and, even though they state otherwise in their manifesto, siding with Churches to oppose other religions.

A common red thread through almost all right-wing parties is the non-acceptance of other religions, especially Islam. If you want to find people opposing Islam, you’ll usually have some luck with the more right-wing parties instead of the left-wingers.


Point four reads:

Die Familie als Gemeinschaft von Mann und Frau mit gemeinsamen Kindern ist die
natürliche Keimzelle und Klammer für eine funktionierende Gesellschaft und
garantiert zusammen mit der Solidarität der Generationen unsere Zukunftsfähigkeit.

Basically: A Family consists of a man and a wife along with children.
Right-wing parties tend to be against same-sex marriage.

Point five:

Wir fördern Leistung in einer Marktwirtschaft mit sozialer Verantwortung, schützen
das Privateigentum und stehen für eine gerechte Aufteilung von Beiträgen und
Leistungen für die Allgemeinheit.

Basically: The protection of property and pushing markets.
Right-wing parties are usually fairly obsessed with the economy, protecting it, making it grow. This usually means a purely capitalistic market.

Point ten, incidentally the last one:

Ein Verbund freier Völker und selbstbestimmter Vaterländer ist Grundlage unserer
Europapolitik und unserer internationalen Kontakte.

Basically: Free countries and self-governing fatherlands are important.
Leaving aside the non-gender-conformist writing, this once again reinforces the nationalist concept. Where you come from is important.

These are the main headings, of which I’ve picked out the most characteristic ones. Each point is then elaborated on, as I’ve pointed out above.

I think that many of these examples will be true for other right-wing parties as well. The next four posts will be about centre-right parties (including the republicans), centre-left parties (including democrats), far-left parties and finally the greens. I will then either talk about upcoming parties, about politics in general or about anything you’re curious about. Heck, I might even put up some tools to make quick fact-checks of politicians.

The EU wants to restrict seeds!!!1!!!one!!eleven

Wed May 22, 2013 9:59 pm by Inferno

No reeeealy, believe me! It’s a petition after all. Here’s one of many Austrian newspaper articles on the topic.

The EU is the ultimate force of political evil in the world, we all know that. The EU wastes trillions of Euros every year on full body scanners, requires women to hand in their old sex toys and otherwise tries to infringe on our freedoms.

I am, of course, being only slightly facetious. If you look at the number of myths about the EU made up by newspapers since the early 1990’s, you might find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the stupidity floating around. One of the more ridiculous myths suggests fishing boats must carry a minimum of 200 condoms so the sailors can practice safe sex.

In short, the amount of nonsense about the EU floating around the media is staggering. If you see a story about the EU, be slightly weary.

However, I want to get back to the seeds I mentioned at the top. There is currently a lot of fear, at least in Austria, about the EU interfering with biodiversity and farmers’ rights to own/use/sell particular types of seeds.

The tabloid “Heute” “reported” that the EU wants to once again strip us of our God-given rights. Well, you can already see where this is going. The charges are the ones mentioned in the petition above: Basically, various rare seeds are to be restricted. That means no more green tomatoes and red cucumbers, etc. etc.

There’s only one problem with these allegations: They’re simply not true.

The EU law was only concerned with the compulsory registration of these seeds and the creation of norms guarding the safety and quality of them. The old, rare seeds would still be available to collectors and small enterprises, just like in the already existing laws. In short, nothing would change except that you would have to report which seeds you were planting and buying.

This was recently reported in “Der Standard”, quoting Mr. Borg: “Die Kommission schlage lediglich eine Vereinfachung der Meldepflicht vor. Ausgenommen von den EU-Vorschriften ist der Einsatz von Saatgut für private Zwecke.”

And in English: “The Commission merely suggests a simpler way of notification requirement. These prescriptions do not apply to the use of seeds for private use.”

The prescription (not a law!) has since been amended, though neither drastically nor have any of the points changed in their essence. And yet, this is counted as an “Austrian victory against the EU”. (Minister of Agriculture, Niki Berlakovic)

When will people stop talking crap and just take the time to research what is actually said?

This leads me to another point. The other day, I was talking to my uncle. He said something along the lines of “We need to know WHY laws are being passed. But companies will continue to prohibit that knowledge because that would interfere with their profit margin.”

I call bullshit on that, but that’s not my main point. I disagree with the “why?”. We do not need to know why a law is passed, at least not as a first step. Far more important is the knowledge WHAT is suggested and HOW that affects us. Knowing the exact details is often far too complicated and really up to experts, but we should be able to understand the broad gist of the laws and prescriptions, not only of the EU but most importantly in our own country. Currently, we are light-years away from that goal.

In two future posts, I will suggest ways to achieve that goal.

The focusing illusion

Sat Apr 20, 2013 8:21 pm by Aught3

If you asked a large group of students the following questions: (1) “How happy are you with your life in general?” and (2) “How many dates did you have last month?” What do you think the correlation would be? In other words, what impact does the number of dates a student experiences on their happiness? When the study is done, the correlation is statistically insignificant (-0.012) indicating that dates have no impact on a happy student life. Now consider the following two questions: (1) “How many dates did you have last month?” and (2) “How happy are you with your life in general?” Now how will the number of dates correlate with life happiness? Quite well (0.66). This reversal in correlation upon reversing the question order is called the focusing illusion.

In the first set of questions the students had to consider their life in general first. All aspects, positive and negative, had to be added up and averaged out. Dating made up only a tiny fraction of their lifetime experiences and was judged unimportant by the students. In the second set of questions their focus was first drawn to the aspect of their lives devoted to dating, trying to recall the dates they went on over the last month. When asked how happy they were in general, dating was occupying a large amount of their cognitive attention and was a big component of their overall happiness judgment. Similar effects have been observed when asking about marriage, health, income, and location of residence.

If you are entering into a negotiation with someone the focusing illusion can be used to your advantage. By being the first to make your position known, you anchor the likely outcome nearer to your target. In a salary negotiation, for example, when you have in mind a specific amount for a raise – making sure that number comes out early will constrain the range over which the negotiation can roam. Another use, when selling a house, is to set the price as a non-round number. This tactic will limit the negotiation to the lower units making it more likely you will get the price you want. Setting your price at $799,800 will encourage a smaller range of buy offers than setting the price at $800,000. This is because buyers will focus at the $100 unit rather than the $100,000 unit when making counter offers. Priming the people you are dealing with the answer you want makes it more likely you will be pleased with the outcome.

However, there is a darker side to this cognitive bias. Advertisers make use of the focusing illusion and cause us to overestimate the positive impact their products will have on our lives. They show us people making creative use of their items and invite us to image how we would use them ourselves. By focusing our attention on the product we come to believe that it will markedly improve our relationships, happiness, or efficiency when it reality most products will only have a very small impact on our lives. Politicians also love to use the focusing illusion to narrow the window of debate. Rather than conduct a full discussion of the issue and the merits of various alternative solutions, politicians like to forcefully state their solution and then claim there is no other option. The political debate is shifted to the relative merits of the proposed solution only and any alternatives put forward are ridiculed as too radical and unlikely to have the perceived impact that the proposed policy will.

Avoiding the focusing illusion seems to be impossible. In the same way it is impossible not to think of an elephant, once the influencing factor has entered our consciousness it will immediately colour our future perceptions and decisions. If time allows, try to make the decision at a later date when the focusing factor has receded in importance. Another tactic is to shift your focus to concentrate on what isn’t there. If you think about the information that has been left out you may give your conscious mind a more accurate conception of the problem at hand. If an advertiser or politician claims a particular benefit for a product or policy try to think of the things they are not claiming. If their policy will create more jobs why are they not talking about its impact on government revenue? If an advertiser is touting their product is high in vitamins, ask yourself what they might be leaving out about its sugar content. Training in formal argumentation helps but remember that nothing can break the focusing illusion once it is in place. Be on your guard.

Here we go again! “Militant Atheism” and Communism

Thu Mar 28, 2013 2:55 am by theyounghistorian77

Another day, another documentary purporting to educate us all on “hidden truths” about the USSR when in reality, the “hidden truths” have been known about since even before the collapse of the USSR. This time however to the interests of all of us secularists and atheists, the entire emphasis on the film being “Militant Atheism, in the Former Soviet Union”. (Watch the trailer)


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