If you Want to #YallaVote, Think Slow, not Fast

I want you to follow these two instructions. First, take a look at the picture below then decide which individual you like the most within the photo.

The Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee
The Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee

Now, solve the following without a calculator:

17 x 24 = ?

If you are at least slightly informed about the U.S. elections (and if you actually tried to calculate 17 x 24), I will bet that it took you more time and energy to solve the multiplication problem relative to making a choice about which U.S. presidential candidate you prefer in the above photo (if you prefer Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, let me know accordingly in the comments below). You took a look at the multiplication problem, halted your train of thought, experienced a slightly higher heart rate, and focused on the problem at hand. For the presidential candidates, no heart rate jump or halting of thought trains occurred. You ended up answering a familiar question about familiar faces with little to no concentration. Overall, you thought fast about the candidates and slow about the multiplication problem.

The contrast between fast thinking and slow thinking presents itself everyday. Your morning routine has you thinking fast. Your writing assignment has you thinking slow. Your conversation with a friend or friendly coworker involves fast thinking. A task involving the determination of the probability of an event involves slow thinking (unless you resort to intuition, which oftentimes does not consider probability. How often do you think about the math in statistics?). Your brain has two systems of thinking: System 1 (the fast way) and System 2 (the slow way). These two systems are delineated by Dr. Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

According to the book, System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional. System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. System 2 uses memories and emotions from System 1 to either cement beliefs (beliefs involve you considering something as true, and considering something true involves logical mechanisms), change perceptions (e.g., realizing the logic behind someone’s argument and subsequently tweaking your perception of that argument based on that realization), or reject notions (e.g., disagreeing with someone about a lifestyle preference, such as an exercise program or a diet). System 1 comes into play throughout most of your day-to-day activities. You cross the street, you drive, and you talk on the phone to a familiar person with System 1 activated and with System 2 barely being involved. System 2 jumps in at times when you’re presented with a complex problem or with a series of steps you have to take (e.g., that math problem I asked you to solve).

Why should one care about people have two systems among their brains? Well, for many reasons. At the tip of the iceberg, understanding Systems 1 and 2 can help you explain why economists, politicians, and CEOs make the decisions they make. It can help you explain why some people stick to stereotypes to predict individuals when they should instead use probability as a logical means to predicting people. Most importantly, it would help you prevent yourself from committing all sorts of fallacies, such as believing someone is more likely to be both a feminist and a bank teller relative to being just a bank teller. It would also help you appreciate the effects of numbers. Never again would you simply look at numbers and think “Oh, 10,000 is a lot!” when, at the grand scheme of anything, 10,000 would either be an intermediate or small number. Never again would you bet that Mike, who enjoys reading books and keeps a tidy bookshelf, is more likely to be a librarian than a farmer, despite the fact that there are more farmers than librarians.

Don’t make your System 2 a lazy system. Additionally, don’t rely on your System 2 all the time. System 1 is on most of the time because it is more efficient than System 2. You don’t get tired from walking at a regular pace as opposed to writing a series of essays. The lesson to be learned here (and the lesson I must heed myself) is to activate your System 2 anytime a logical situation pops up. Whenever a number, trend, change, or prediction comes up, I must rely not only on my intuition, but also deliberately explore logic and probability with System 2. I must know that a percentage is not an absolute metric. I must know that correlation does not imply causation. I must know that someone having hair is more likely than someone having blond hair. I must know that a small sample size is more likely to present extreme or homogeneous results characteristics (e.g., cancer is least prevalent among rural and sparsely populated areas, and cancer is most prevalent among rural and sparsely populated areas, at least in the United States).

Now that you know System 1 and System 2 (whether or not you do or do not, I highly recommend you to read Kahneman’s book), it is your obligation to employ both systems appropriately when you vote. And I use “vote” here in whichever context voting pops up in your life. Whether that context is an election, a business decision, an amendment to a document, or a piece of legislation, you need to consider the numbers and trends behind that context. Get out a piece of paper or a word document if need be. Let your intuition take you places with your voting, yet also take the time to question your intuition. Find fallacies, consider statistics, and listen to people you disagree with. Get as many cards on the table as possible before you deem yourself informed.

With regards to #YallaVote, the Arab American Institute’s voter mobilization vehicle for Arab Americans, American citizens of Arab descent can change the outcomes of any American election they come across.  Arab Americans live in swing states, have a high percentage of voter registration, and care about issues that other Americans care about.  There are times, unfortunately, when Arab Americans, like anybody else, resort to their System 1 and have a lazy System 2 behind their voting behaviors.  Arab Americans should not only depend on their intuitions of laws and rhetoric, but also look at the numbers, trends, outcomes, and backgrounds of bills, politicians, hearings, briefings, and decision-making of all houses and senates. The resources are more easily accessible than people ought to think of them.  There’s congress.gov, a Google search, C-Span, and your local newspaper.  Then there’s your pen and paper or word document.  Additional cards are there in addition to your System 1.

Think slow, not fast, when it comes to voting.


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