"American life has always had this kind of moronic inferno quality to it"by Jay Elwes / January 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Donald Trump is this walking embodiment of faith in his gut,” said Michael Lewis (pictured below). “He thinks his first step, his first impulse, is always right then tells the story afterward—no matter what happened—how it was right.” Lewis was in London to discuss The Undoing Project (reviewed here by John Kay), which examines the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli-American psychologists whose insights laid the foundations of behavioural economics. Central to their thinking was the idea that assumptions—gut instincts—can be deceptive, in that they lead people to think in terms of stories, which then act as a replacement for truth. “I’d say they are describing, among other things, what’s wrong with Trump: what’s wrong with his mind.”
Lewis’s book explains how Kahneman and Tversky analysed this tendency to rely on assumptions, in the hope that understanding it would allow them to find ways of improving decision-making—to use the brain to move beyond the gut. But Trump’s rise, the decline of the expert and the spread of fake news might suggest the gut is winning.
“I agree that there is a lot of stupidity in American life,” said Lewis. “There always has been. It has just organised itself a little bit more.” But, he added, “I don’t think of this moment in American life as being one in which experts are particularly on the run.” Our view of “who the expert is has changed,” he said. Experience used to be the defining characteristic, experience that refined the sort of g…