Sunk Cost Fallacy In the Age of Trump

Experience is the problem.

It is how we learn.  At our earliest stages we rely on positive and negative stimuli for education; touching something hot burns us, so we don’t touch hot things again (unless we’re trying to determine if something that was hot once is still hot, or if different things generate different levels of heat.)  We get attention for a wet diaper when we cry, and thus learn to cry whenever our diapers are wet (many parents can distinguish between styles of crying for their child.  “Oh, that’s a tired cry; that’s a diaper cry; that’s a pain cry.”)

As we move beyond direct stimuli we learn to rely on others for guidance.  We use parents and teachers, books and clergy as instructors to teach us about life.  We are told that cheetah can run over 60 mph and we believe it, although we’ve only seen that they move quickly; we trust the measurements of others because they were presented to us by a trusted voice.

Many among us move on to the Scientific Method.  We use a series of reasoning steps to determine the relative accuracy of theories.  Experience has guided us toward reason.

But it hasn’t, not completely.  This is where logic needs to step in.

The “sunk cost fallacy” is a construction in logic.  From Logically Fallacious:

(also known as: argument from inertia, concorde fallacy, finish the job fallacy)

Description: Reasoning that further investment is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested will be lost otherwise, not taking into consideration the overall losses involved in the further investment.

Logical Form:

X has already been invested in project Y.

Z more investment would be needed to complete project Y, otherwise X will be lost.

Therefore, Z is justified.

This is typically used in economic terms, but there is an emotional component, as well.  The reason this fallacy exists is because of the emotional attachment to the prior investment.  And that leads directly into President Trump.

Just because people have spent time defending Trump does not mean they should reflexively defend him.  Just because people have spent their time attacking Trump does not mean they should reflexively attack him.  Experience, in this case, undermines logic.

I’m not saying that experience should be ignored.  If someone is perceived to have done good or evil in the past, if they have demonstrated honesty or dishonesty, that is a factor which must be considered regarding the person’s intent.   The problem is that most people are neither Pope John Paul II nor Kim Jong Un, and reasonable people can disagree, using facts, on whether a person is on the whole good or evil, honest or dishonest.

This, too, muddies the waters regarding defense and attack of Trump.  While I do not trust the man’s intentions, he has absolutely promoted some excellent policy.  I find it irrational to deny that truth, exactly as I find it irrational to weight it too heavily.  He has also promoted catastrophic policy.  It is also irrational to deny that.

The temptation exists to embrace only the good or bad, which further justifies our emotional investment.  Pro-Trump people will make excuses for any Trump action and anti-Trump people will find negative aspects to any Trump decision.  All the while, they grow farther apart… even as both groups claim to share the same core principles.  They are being guided by their experience, but not necessarily reason.

We, as people, should be better than that.  When we are not, the views are extended to the other groups, fostering division in a country that needs healing.

If a man is humiliated and threatened by Cheesecake Factory employees because of his MAGA hat, the sympathy should lie with the restaurant patron, not the fascists.  That happened this week.  (Business Insider)  It was misreported by many sites, because they have their political investments.  Most venues either ignored or minimized the news, despite the obvious smaller-scale parallels to people being threatened at Trump rallies; or they hyped the news and then conveniently ignored the resultant punitive actions from the Cheesecake Factory.  Both positions are only providing part of the story, the part which justifies the prior decisions made by their readers.  They feed the Scylla of “MAGA” and the Charybdis of “Resist!”

When Mueller makes his final recommendations, I’m going to trust him.  Not because I expect him to indict or exonerate Trump but because, with all available evidence considered, Mueller seems to be as honorable a man as I’m likely to find in Washington.  Against that fact, my desires and expectations are moot.  But no matter which way he falls, the cultists on one side or the other will howl for his head when their expectations aren’t met.


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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.