I’ve previously introduced readers to the idea of a logic bubble. This is a concept introduced by the magnificent and prolific Edward de Bono in his book Edward de Bono’s Thinking Course. The Logic-Bubble is a way of thinking about a person’s mind-set – the set of assumptions and logical reasoning which allow them to interpret the world around them and make decisions about acting in that world (page 83):
A logic bubble is that bubble of perception within which a person is acting. The bubble includes perception of circumstance, structure, context and relationships.
The similarity of the Logic-Bubble to a person’s mind-set can be seen from this quotation from page 10 of Heuer’s book, discussing the mind-set:
Patterns of expectations tell analysts, subconsciously, what to look for, what is important, and how to interpret what is seen. These patterns form a mind-set that predisposes analysts to think in certain ways. A mind-set is akin to a screen or lens though which one perceives the world.
They are universal and so we don’t often notice them and their influence on people’s ideas, thinking and behaviour. It’s only when something goes strongly awry with a person’s thought that we tend to notice the existence of the logic bubble that made such a mistake occur, and can begin to examine what is wrong with it.
One notable and important example of a logic bubble causing its owner to think and say something ridiculous is, I think, this example from Hillary Clinton’s recently published discussion of how she lost the 2016 US presidential election:
Attempting to define reality is a core feature of authoritarianism. This is what the Soviets did when they erased political dissidents from historical photos. This is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers as ordered. The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves.
Now there are three errors that I can immediately spot in this passage:
- authoritarian regimes don’t attempt to define reality so much as control the perception of reality held by those that they hold prisoner;
- the people erased from historical photos by the Soviets weren’t ‘political dissidents’, they were former members of the Soviets’ highest decision-making councils who had lost intra-party power struggles and had fallen into disgrace.
- the ‘torturer’ referred to in the passage is not ‘a torturer’, it is O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party and an immensely powerful figure in Airstrip One and, I would dare say, in Oceania;
Four sentences and three serious errors. Either Hillary or her ghost writer weren’t paying attention, or they don’t know what they’re talking about, or both. This really isn’t a good advertisement for the book.
But what I want to concentrate on here is the last sentence, which seeks to explain why authoritarian regimes act in this way:
The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves.
This is, I think, completely wrong. What Clinton here describes is the action of gaslighting – acting in a way, and saying things, which would cause a person to doubt their senses and their reason, in order to disorient and manipulate them. Authoritarian regimes don’t want to gaslight their prisoners: this is far too subtle a tactic for authoritarian regimes, and it is usually only used by those with limited power.
Authoritarian regimes simply decide what reality it is that they want to impose on their prisoners, make whatever changes to the physical world that they need to in order to make this happen [think of the Soviets airbrushing the disgraced party members out of historical photos, or Winston Smith re-writing newspaper reports], and imprison or kill anyone who disagrees.
Leave aside also that the leaders in an authoritarian regime, whom Clinton says we need to rely on, are the people who are attempting to define reality – honestly, what a disgrace of a book.
More alarming than all of these errors, however, is Clinton’s presumption that the people we need to rely on
our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves
are people whom we should not mistrust. These are exactly the people whom we should mistrust, precisely because they have the power to shape both the reality that we see, and the way that we see reality.
In Clinton’s world, we shouldn’t mistrust these people. We should take them at their word. This is despite the ample evidence that they cannot be trusted, and that we must always treat their claims with scepticism. The 2016 presidential election was remarkable, and frightening, for both the degree to which the media lied about reality and sought to distort it for its audience, and the degree of cynicism on the part of the electorate, who could see through the manipulation and were utterly sick of it.
But none of this appears to have registered with Clinton. In her world, we should trust our leaders, the press, the experts, to provide us with the information that we need, and to rely on them for this. Having lived within the ruling, decision-making elite for so long, and having absorbed its nostrums, its outlook, its self-belief, Clinton can’t see how anyone could not rely on the political-media-academic elite for their information about the world.
I’m being charitable here. On another, more cynical reading, this is Clinton telling people ‘You can trust your leaders, the media and the experts, and anyone who makes you question them is an authoritarian whom you shouldn’t trust’. A most self-serving poisoning of the well, the sort of thing that caused her election loss but which I bet isn’t canvassed in her book. I have sympathy for this reading – but let’s be charitable, and put this garbage down to Clinton’s faulty logic bubble.