Beware of Cognitive Shortcuts

I am still sort of stupefied by Bertrand Russell’s claim that Hitler is an outcome of Rousseau. And if one does not critically think about it, and takes Russell as a wise authority, one may be apt to repeat this claim as a dogma.

This has led me to reflect on how ideas become dogmas, i.e., as assumed truths. And if you start thinking about this, there are all sorts of mental cobwebs produced by Abstractions, Chants, Slogans, Maxims, Heuristics, Stereotypes and other Cognitive Biases. And there is enough here to think about to fit a few books. And there are many such books — just do a Google search for “cognitive biases books.”

The main users of these mental manipulation techniques are those with something to sell. We know their products as propaganda and advertisement. The first book that brought this phenomenon to my attention was by Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders, 1957. And then there was the book by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, 1988.

The most successful books of dogmas are, of course, religious books. For Europeans this is the Bible with its Christian companions like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But in the heyday of the Inquisition and the burnings of heretics, there is no greater book of evil dogmas than the Malleus Maleficarum (1489), which gave instructions how to identify, interrogate, prosecute, and execute witches.

But books like those of Rousseau and Locke (and of most intellectuals) do not have the same function as a procedural manual for a Catholic inquisitor. And I am confident that Russell is totally wrong that “Hitler is an outcome of Rousseau; Roosevelt and Churchill of Locke.”

For example, here is a BBC video on Churchill’s policy in India.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.