I think all decisions we take are based on irrationality — but this irrationality can appear at different levels.
Paradoxically, when irrationality is at a deep level, opinions are easier to change. When irrationality is at the very last of the decision process, it is very difficult, if not impossible to operate change.
One of my most irrational opinions is that I love living in Japan. It is irrational in the sense that there is no reason for that opinion. I can make up reasons, I can rationalize my decision to live here: It’s a good place to do AI research, it’s full of good people, it has nice scenery.
But I knew none of that when I first visited here at 19 yo, and decided that I wanted to live here. This irrationality drove, from the top, my decision process; it is therefore difficult to convince me of changing my decision by giving me reasons why I should not love Japan.
Take someone who loves pasta. “I don’t think it tastes particularly good, and I know it’s a bit boring, but I just love pasta.”
You could tell them that spaghetti gives cancer and is made from dead skunks, they would have a hard time just starting to hate spaghetti.
Now take someone whose irrationality is much deeper in the decision process. “I love food that is made of wheat, and I heard my great grandpa was Italian, so I love spaghetti.” If you convince them that spaghetti isn’t made of wheat and that their great grandpa was Irish, they might just lose all interest for pasta.
You can change “love” by “hate”, “fear”, or any other emotion in the above examples. The point is that the level at which your emotions guide some of your decision processes determines how much you can be swayed by new facts.
And as much as I don’t understand America’s recent choice of president, I think that might be part of it. No amount of facts about that candidate could convince his followers that he wasn’t to be trusted. Maybe they are just in love with him. He says something and they interprete it as what they want to hear, and that is enough. They say he is actually a good person, a smart man, a competent businessman, that he respects woman and is not racist. Even when he himself says the contrary.
Of course, my decision to live in Japan is not supposed to destroy the life of millions of people. And maybe all of Trump voters actually made a rational choice, which is both extremely scary and leaves place to hope. But the way that election unfolded suggest that their choice is not based on facts, and therefore as irrational as can be.
Next year are the German and French elections, and a survey already revealed that the majority of French people would have chosen Trump if they could vote in the US elections.
What can be done? Unfortunately I do not have an answer.
For the past few years I have tried to deal with the worst of my irrational opinions, and the news are not good. Facts do not work. Pushing contradictory emotions does not work. Taking a step back has mixed results, but how do you force people to take a step back from politics? Replacing one irrational behaviour by another might work, from what I hear. I have not tested it. But if it is true, does it mean that the Trump crowd could only have been swayed by a candidate that they find more charismatic?
Given what their idea of charisma seems to be, I don’t know what a “more charismatic” candidate would have looked like.
Maybe we will discover it next year. Or maybe we will have to bow to President Le Pen.