Is there a name for this bias towards the status quo?

I’d call it argument from ignorance, because that’s what many strains of this kind of thinking boil down to :

  • “I have never heard of this [proposed change], therefore it must suck !”, and its corollary “if [proposed change] didn’t suck, we’d be using it already, DUH”
  • “I don’t know about the bad things of the current system and/or they don’t affect me personally, therefore the current system is perfect !”
  • “I know about the drawbacks of the current system, but I cannot imagine/cannot be arsed to try and imagine a better one, therefore there can’t be any”. A more evil version would be “I know about the drawbacks of the current system, but I have been told there’s no better, so there can’t be”.
  • Of course, there’s also “Every time we/our neighbours tried to modify the system, we/they have failed, therefor it must be impossible”, which might be more confirmation bias than ignorance.

It may seem to you as though that’s what I’ve argued, but it’s not. I did not claim that “all” conservatives suffer from the problem my links above discuss (just authoritarian conservatives, although they are the most common variety by far), nor have I ever claimed that non-conservatives are immune from cognitive errors and the whole host of clear, critical thinking flaws that all humans are prone to. I said precisely that in my first post in this thread when I wrote: “Along with all the usual problems people in general have with confirmation bias and other serious impediments to clear, critical thinking …”

What I wrote is not based on personal opinions; as I indicated above, I’d never have imagined these phenomena existed, let alone were widespread, until I read the most recent scientific studies on the matter. I recommend reading at least the web links I provided earlier if you wish to have a better understanding of these issues.

Also, “mental deficit” is the kind of overly judgmental language I sought to avoid (even if perhaps not as successfully as I’d have preferred). Note this phrase I used above: “This irrational fear and somatic revulsion concerning changes in the established order is essentially an organic… um, thing (I can’t think of a neutral term)… in authoritarian conservatives’ brains…”

I tried to avoid using terms like “mental deficit” and the like because they’re both too pejorative and too unscientific. The best I can come up is “difference”, but I’m completely open to suggestions for better terminology, not just because this is GQ but more because I honestly wish to avoid judgmental language on this topic. I understand full well that condemnatory or condescending language serves no useful purpose in discussing this topic.

And you have the relationships confused. Scientists discovered the cognitive problems first, and they did so by measuring responses to various stimuli and also to political knowledge questions. Beyond the high levels of fear and revulsion they measured as authoritarian conservatives’ reaction to social and political changes from the status quo and similar measurements, they, for example, asked people during the Clinton years who Dennis Hastert was and what his title was. A shockingly low number of authoritarian conservatives knew that he was a Republican and the Speaker of the House, while a large super-majority of non-conservatives knew all that well. This pattern was surprisingly consistent, too!

The same information was available to all these individuals, but some retained it and some did not. At the ordinary level of day-to-day life, ordinary people would “explain” this as a lack of interest on the part of authoritarian conservatives, but in reality, that’s no “explanation” at all. For the question remains: Why do a/c’s (authoritarian conservatives) lack interest in these issues? It turns out that it’s because their brains are different from the other group’s brains at some deep level, and the sociobiological explanation I’ve described above and elsewhere works best (so far).

Got it, and I thank you for your explication.

I’d like to offer some further explication of my own position. First, in his OP, SenorBeef asked about a term to describe “a bias toward the status quo”. I still contend that “conservatism” is the best answer to that specific question. In my replies, I should also have pointed out that conservatism, not being synonymous with a political movement or a political worldview, is an element of every human’s mental makeup, not just that of political conservatives. I acknowledge my error in failing to point this out.

Still, to me, seeking a name for a fallacy or other abstract, high-level systematic thinking flaw to describe the kind of thing you and SenorBeef are describing seems somewhat pointless in that one must first establish that such an abstract thinking flaw actually exists apart from ordinary human conservatism before seeking a name for it.

After all, one multi-millennia-old criticism of the very concept of logical fallacies is that they don’t describe anything other than what can go wrong in arguments. In other words, fallacies do not represent thinking flaws in the real world, but are instead flaws in the construction of sound and valid arguments.

So the kind of abstract entity that you and SenorBeef and some others here in this thread are seeking has no actual existence but instead represents a far more pedestrian (and far less abstract) aspect of human psychology. And so the name I’d use to describe that is, once again, ordinary psychological conservatism. I’d say that some people don’t consider the full extent of the flaws of existing “solutions” because their psychological conservatism makes them more susceptible to the assumption that the existing solution wouldn’t be in place already if there were known serious problems with it, and therefore changes to existing solutions somehow seems inevitably riskier to them.

But it is also true that political conservatives consist primarily of those people whose ordinary human conservatism levels are considerably higher than others.

Kobal2 said:

No, I wouldn’t call it argument from ignorance, because non of your examples capture the essence of the issue.

It’s not “I’ve never heard of this proposed change” because they have heard of the change and are explicitly stating flaws with the change, not a vague “it must suck”.

It’s not “I know the drawbacks of the current one, but can’t imagine a better one” because they are evaluating a new option and pointing out flaws, and ignoring the current one.

It’s not “we’ve tried to modify before and failed” because they don’t discuss trying before, they are addressing a specific proposal and finding all the perceived flaws in it that they can.

It might be “I don’t know the flaws of the current one or they don’t affect me directly”, but I’m hesitant to agree that is the full story because they seem ready to identify flaws in the proposal while ignoring the exact same flaws in the current version. Ergo, I think there’s something else going on.

ambushed said:

How about “thought process”?

We’re not just talking about logical fallacies, but cognitive biases.

A lot of things on that list are flaws in thinking, not just flaws in constructing arguments.

The flaw is some sort of double standard effect.