Events in Egypt and fear mongering: A cognitive status quo bias

>> Sunday, May 3, 2015

Note: This was posted on a social media on February 13, 2011.

A segment of the media and political pundits (mostly with conservative slant) likened Barack Obama's response to the events in Egypt to Jimmy Carter's handling of Iranian revolution that ousted the Shah in 1979. An American-friendly dictator's fall in Iran ushered in another dictator, Khomeini, who turned out to be an arch enemy of the United States.
For the U.S., Khomeini was unknown, undesired outcome; more importantly, his retrogressive theocratic agenda for the nation and nation's international relations was unforeseen and underestimated. Common citizens fell out of the frying pan, into the fire. Carter was roundly blamed for not doing enough to avert the ascendancy of theocratic dictatorship of Khomeini. People's revolution and clamor for freedom and human rights didn't yield the desired results.

Some conservative politicians, including Dick Cheney, and conservative media warn that fall of Mubarak's rule in Egypt could unleash an unknown series of pains for America; never even mind the instability that could ensue in the Middle East. In the days before Mubarak's fall, the message of this conservative punditry was that it is too risky for Egypt and the U.S. to see Mubarak go. Because the uknown, the pundits warned, was too risky and the change people wanted wasn't worth that risk.

In Nepal, just before the Shah Dynasty came to an almost abrupt end in 2008, political pundits warned that the end of monarchy would be too costly for Nepal, mainly because the risk was too great. The current political quagmire in Nepal probably does lend some credence to those warnings. The political pundits can say, "I told you so."

The subtext in the punditry about Iran, Nepal and Egypt is not hard to see -- averse risk; maintain status quo, even though status quo may mean having to accept and endure lack of freedom to choose.

In plainspeake, this is fearmongering.

In philosophy-speak, this is a form of a cognitive bias -- the status quo bias.

People whose decisions are influenced by this bias tend to be conservative in their thinking and behavior. They often tend to monger fear of the unknown as being too risky. To be fair, they do sometimes turn out to be prescient.

But, I think, just because the unknown is risky doesn't have to mean accepting and enduring status quo fraught with lack of freedom.

Because desire for freedom is a fundamental human right.


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