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Guided By The Beauty Of Our Weapons

[Content note: kind of talking around Trump supporters and similar groups as if they’re not there.]

I.

Tim Harford writes The Problem With Facts, which uses Brexit and Trump as jumping-off points to argue that people are mostly impervious to facts and resistant to logic:

All this adds up to a depressing picture for those of us who aren’t ready to live in a post-truth world. Facts, it seems, are toothless. Trying to refute a bold, memorable lie with a fiddly set of facts can often serve to reinforce the myth. Important truths are often stale and dull, and it is easy to manufacture new, more engaging claims. And giving people more facts can backfire, as those facts provoke a defensive reaction in someone who badly wants to stick to their existing world view. “This is dark stuff,” says Reifler. “We’re in a pretty scary and dark time.”

He admits he has no easy answers, but cites some studies showing that “scientific curiosity” seems to help people become interested in facts again. He thinks maybe we can inspire scientific curiosity by linking scientific truths to human interest stories, by weaving compelling narratives, and by finding “a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science”.

I think this is generally a good article and makes important points, but there are three issues I want to highlight as possibly pointing to a deeper pattern.

First, the article makes the very strong claim that “facts are toothless” – then tries to convince its readers of this using facts. For example, the article highlights a study by Nyhan & Reifler which finds a “backfire effect” – correcting people’s misconceptions only makes them cling to those misconceptions more strongly. Harford expects us to be impressed by this study. But how is this different from all of those social science facts to which he believes humans are mostly impervious?

Second, Nyhan & Reifler’s work on the backfire effect is probably not true. The original study establishing its existence failed to replicate (see eg Porter & Wood, 2016). This isn’t directly contrary to Harford’s argument, because Harford doesn’t cite the original study – he cites a slight extension of it done a year later by the same team that comes to a slightly different conclusion. But given that the entire field is now in serious doubt, I feel like it would have been judicious to mention some of this in the article. This is especially true given that the article itself is about the way that false ideas spread by people never double-checking their beliefs. It seems to me that if you believe in an epidemic of falsehood so widespread that the very ability to separate fact from fiction is under threat, it ought to inspire a state of CONSTANT VIGILANCE, where you obsessively question each of your beliefs. Yet Harford writes an entire article about a worldwide plague of false beliefs without mustering enough vigilance to see if the relevant studies are true or not.

Third, Harford describes his article as being about agnotology, “the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced”. His key example is tobacco companies sowing doubt about the negative health effects of smoking – for example, he talks about tobacco companies sponsoring (accurate) research into all of the non-smoking-related causes of disease so that everyone focused on those instead. But his solution – telling engaging stories, adding a human interest element, enjoyable documentaries in the style of Carl Sagan – seems unusually unsuited to the problem. The National Institute of Health can make an engaging human interest documentary about a smoker who got lung cancer. And the tobacco companies can make an engaging human interest documentary about a guy who got cancer because of asbestos, then was saved by tobacco-sponsored research. Opponents of Brexit can make an engaging documentary about all the reasons Brexit would be bad, and then proponents of Brexit can make an engaging documentary about all the reasons Brexit would be good. If you get good documentary-makers, I assume both will be equally convincing regardless of what the true facts are.

All three of these points are slightly unfair. The first because Harford’s stronger statements about facts are probably exaggerations, and he just meant that in certain cases people ignore evidence. The second because the specific study cited wasn’t the one that failed to replicate and Harford’s thesis might be that it was different enough from the original that it’s probably true. And the third because the documentaries were just one idea meant to serve a broader goal of increasing “scientific curiosity”, a construct which has been shown in studies to be helpful in getting people to believe true things.

But I worry that taken together, they suggest an unspoken premise of the piece. It isn’t that people are impervious to facts. Harford doesn’t expect his reader to be impervious to facts, he doesn’t expect documentary-makers to be impervious to facts, and he certainly doesn’t expect himself to be impervious to facts. The problem is that there’s some weird tribe of fact-immune troglodytes out there, going around refusing vaccines and voting for Brexit, and the rest of us have to figure out what to do about them. The fundamental problem is one of transmission: how can we make knowledge percolate down from the fact-loving elite to the fact-impervious masses?

And I don’t want to condemn this too hard, because it’s obviously true up to a point. Medical researchers have lots of useful facts about vaccines. Statisticians know some great facts about the link between tobacco and cancer (shame about Ronald Fisher, though). Probably there are even some social scientists who have a fact or two.

Yet as I’ve argued before, excessive focus on things like vaccine denialists teaches the wrong habits. It’s a desire to take a degenerate case, the rare situation where one side is obviously right and the other bizarrely wrong, and make it into the flagship example for modeling all human disagreement. Imagine a theory of jurisprudence designed only to smack down sovereign citizens, or a government pro-innovation policy based entirely on warning inventors against perpetual motion machines.

And in this wider context, part of me wonders if the focus on transmission is part of the problem. Everyone from statisticians to Brexiteers knows that they are right. The only remaining problem is how to convince others. Go on Facebook and you will find a million people with a million different opinions, each confident in her own judgment, each zealously devoted to informing everyone else.

Imagine a classroom where everyone believes they’re the teacher and everyone else is students. They all fight each other for space at the blackboard, give lectures that nobody listens to, assign homework that nobody does. When everyone gets abysmal test scores, one of the teachers has an idea: I need a more engaging curriculum. Sure. That’ll help.

II.

A new Nathan Robinson article: Debate Vs. Persuasion. It goes through the same steps as the Harford article, this time from the perspective of the political Left. Deploying what Robinson calls “Purely Logical Debate” against Trump supporters hasn’t worked. Some leftists think the answer is violence. But this may be premature; instead, we should try the tools of rhetoric, emotional appeal, and other forms of discourse that aren’t Purely Logical Debate. In conclusion, Bernie Would Have Won.

I think giving up on argumentation, reason, and language, just because Purely Logical Debate doesn’t work, is a mistake. It’s easy to think that if we can’t convince the right with facts, there’s no hope at all for public discourse. But this might not suggest anything about the possibilities of persuasion and dialogue. Instead, it might suggest that mere facts are rhetorically insufficient to get people excited about your political program.

The resemblance to Harford is obvious. You can’t convince people with facts. But you might be able to convince people with facts carefully intermixed with human interest, compelling narrative, and emotional appeal.

Once again, I think this is generally a good article and makes important points. But I still want to challenge whether things are quite as bad as it says.

Google “debating Trump supporters is”, and you realize where the article is coming from. It’s page after page of “debating Trump supporters is pointless”, “debating Trump supporters is a waste of time”, and “debating Trump supporters is like [funny metaphor for thing that doesn’t work]”. The overall picture you get is of a world full of Trump opponents and supporters debating on every street corner, until finally, after months of banging their heads against the wall, everyone collectively decided it was futile.

Yet I have the opposite impression. Somehow a sharply polarized country went through a historically divisive election with essentially no debate taking place.

Am I about to No True Scotsman the hell out of the word “debate”? Maybe. But I feel like in using the exaggerated phrase “Purely Logical Debate, Robinson has given me leave to define the term as strictly as I like. So here’s what I think are minimum standards to deserve the capital letters:

1. Debate where two people with opposing views are talking to each other (or writing, or IMing, or some form of bilateral communication). Not a pundit putting an article on Huffington Post and demanding Trump supporters read it. Not even a Trump supporter who comments on the article with a counterargument that the author will never read. Two people who have chosen to engage and to listen to one another.

2. Debate where both people want to be there, and have chosen to enter into the debate in the hopes of getting something productive out of it. So not something where someone posts a “HILLARY IS A CROOK” meme on Facebook, someone gets really angry and lists all the reasons Trump is an even bigger crook, and then the original poster gets angry and has to tell them why they’re wrong. Two people who have made it their business to come together at a certain time in order to compare opinions.

3. Debate conducted in the spirit of mutual respect and collaborative truth-seeking. Both people reject personal attacks or ‘gotcha’ style digs. Both people understand that the other person is around the same level of intelligence as they are and may have some useful things to say. Both people understand that they themselves might have some false beliefs that the other person will be able to correct for them. Both people go into the debate with the hope of convincing their opponent, but not completely rejecting the possibility that their opponent might convince them also.

4. Debate conducted outside of a high-pressure point-scoring environment. No audience cheering on both participants to respond as quickly and bitingly as possible. If it can’t be done online, at least do it with a smartphone around so you can open Wikipedia to resolve simple matters of fact.

5. Debate where both people agree on what’s being debated and try to stick to the subject at hand. None of this “I’m going to vote Trump because I think Clinton is corrupt” followed by “Yeah, but Reagan was even worse and that just proves you Republicans are hypocrites” followed by “We’re hypocrites? You Democrats claim to support women’s rights but you love Muslims who make women wear headscarves!” Whether or not it’s hypocritical to “support women’s rights” but “love Muslims”, it doesn’t seem like anyone is even trying to change each other’s mind about Clinton at this point.

These to me seem like the bare minimum conditions for a debate that could possibly be productive.

(and while I’m asking for a pony on a silver platter, how about both people have to read How To Actually Change Your Mind first?)

Meanwhile, in reality…

If you search “debating Trump supporters” without the “is”, your first result is this video, where some people with a microphone corner some other people at what looks like a rally. I can’t really follow the conversation because they’re all shouting at the same time, but I can make out somebody saying ‘Republicans give more to charity!’ and someone else responding ‘That’s cause they don’t do anything at their jobs!'”. Okay.

The second link is this podcast where a guy talks about debating Trump supporters. After the usual preface about how stupid they were, he describes a typical exchange – “It’s kind of amazing how they want to go back to the good old days…Well, when I start asking them ‘You mean the good old days when 30% of the population were in unions’…they never seem to like to hear that!…so all this unfettered free market capitalism has got to go bye-bye. They don’t find comfort in that idea either. It’s amazing. I can say I now know what cognitive dissonance feels like on someone’s face.” I’m glad time travel seems to be impossible, because otherwise I would be tempted to warp back and change my vote to Trump just to spite this person.

The third link is Vanity Fair’s “Foolproof Guide To Arguing With Trump Supporters”, which suggests “using their patriotism against them” by telling them that wanting to “curtail the rights and privileges of certain of our citizens” is un-American.

I worry that people do this kind of thing every so often. Then, when it fails, they conclude “Trump supporters are immune to logic”. This is much like observing that Republicans go out in the rain without melting, and concluding “Trump supporters are immortal”.

Am I saying that if you met with a conservative friend for an hour in a quiet cafe to talk over your disagreements, they’d come away convinced? No. I’ve changed my mind on various things during my life, and it was never a single moment that did it. It was more of a series of different things, each taking me a fraction of the way. As the old saying goes, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they fight you half-heartedly, then they’re neutral, then they then they grudgingly say you might have a point even though you’re annoying, then they say on balance you’re mostly right although you ignore some of the most important facets of the issue, then you win.”

There might be a parallel here with the one place I see something like Purely Logical Debate on a routine basis: cognitive psychotherapy. I know this comparison sounds crazy, because psychotherapy is supposed to be the opposite of a debate, and trying to argue someone out of their delusions or depression inevitably fails. The rookiest of all rookie therapist mistakes is to say “FACT CHECK: The patient says she is a loser who everybody hates. PsychiaFact rates this claim: PANTS ON FIRE.”

But in other ways it’s a lot like the five points above. You have two people who disagree – the patient thinks she’s a worthless loser who everyone hates, and the therapist thinks maybe not. They meet together in a spirit of voluntary mutual inquiry, guaranteed safe from personal attacks like “You’re crazy!”. Both sides go over the evidence together, sometimes even agreeing on explicit experiments like “Ask your boyfriend tonight whether he hates you or not, predict beforehand what you think he’s going to say, and see if your prediction is accurate”. And both sides approach the whole process suspecting that they’re right but admitting the possibility that they’re wrong (very occasionally, after weeks of therapy, I realize that frick, everyone really does hate my patient. Then we switch strategies to helping her with social skills, or helping her find better friends).

And contrary to what you see in movies, this doesn’t usually give a single moment of blinding revelation. If you spent your entire life talking yourself into the belief that you’re a loser and everyone hates you, no single fact or person is going to talk you out of it. But after however many months of intensive therapy, sometimes someone who was sure that they were a loser is now sort of questioning whether they’re a loser, and has the mental toolbox to take things the rest of the way themselves.

This was also the response I got when I tried to make an anti-Trump case on this blog. I don’t think there were any sudden conversions, but here were some of the positive comments I got from Trump supporters:

“This is a compelling case, but I’m still torn.”

“This contains the most convincing arguments for a Clinton presidency I have ever seen. But, perhaps also unsurprisingly, while it did manage to shift some of my views, it did not succeed in convincing me to change my bottom line.”

“This article is perhaps the best argument I have seen yet for Hillary. I found myself nodding along with many of the arguments, after this morning swearing that there was nothing that could make me consider voting for Hillary…the problem in the end was that it wasn’t enough.”

“The first coherent article I’ve read justifying voting for Clinton. I don’t agree with your analysis of the dollar “value” of a vote, but other than that, something to think about.”

“Well I don’t like Clinton at all, and I found this essay reasonable enough. The argument from continuity is probably the best one for voting Clinton if you don’t particularly love any of her policies or her as a person. Trump is a wild card, I must admit.”

As an orthodox Catholic, you would probably classify me as part of your conservative audience…I certainly concur with both the variance arguments and that he’s not conservative by policy, life, or temperament, and I will remain open to hearing what you have to say on the topic through November.

“I’ve only come around to the ‘hold your nose and vote Trump’ camp the past month or so…I won’t say [you] didn’t make me squirm, but I’m holding fast to my decision.”

These are the people you say are completely impervious to logic so don’t even try? It seems to me like this argument was one of not-so-many straws that might have broken some camels’ backs if they’d been allowed to accumulate. And the weird thing is, when I re-read the essay I notice a lot of flaws and things I wish I’d said differently. I don’t think it was an exceptionally good argument. I think it was…an argument. It was something more than saying “You think the old days were so great, but the old days had labor unions, CHECKMATE ATHEISTS”. This isn’t what you get when you do a splendid virtuouso perfomance. This is what you get when you show up.

(and lest I end up ‘objectifying’ Trump supporters as prizes to be won, I’ll add that in the comments some people made pro-Trump arguments, and two people who were previously leaning Clinton said that they were feeling uncomfortably close to being convinced)

Another SSC story. I keep trying to keep “culture war”-style political arguments from overrunning the blog and subreddit, and every time I add restrictions a bunch of people complain that this is the only place they can go for that. Think about this for a second. A heavily polarized country of three hundred million people, split pretty evenly into two sides and obsessed with politics, blessed with the strongest free speech laws in the world, and people are complaining that I can’t change my comment policy because this one small blog is the only place they know where they can debate people from the other side.

Given all of this, I reject the argument that Purely Logical Debate has been tried and found wanting. Like GK Chesterton, I think it has been found difficult and left untried.

III.

Therapy might change minds, and so might friendly debate among equals, but neither of them scales very well. Is there anything that big fish in the media can do beyond the transmission they’re already trying?

Let’s go back to that Nyhan & Reifler study which found that fact-checking backfired. As I mentioned above, a replication attempt by Porter & Wood found the opposite. This could have been the setup for a nasty conflict, with both groups trying to convince academia and the public that they were right, or even accusing the other of scientific malpractice.

Instead, something great happened. All four researchers decided to work together on an “adversarial collaboration” – a bigger, better study where they all had input into the methodology and they all checked the results independently. The collaboration found that fact-checking generally didn’t backfire in most cases. All four of them used their scientific clout to publicize the new result and launch further investigations into the role of different contexts and situations.

Instead of treating disagreement as demonstrating a need to transmit their own opinion more effectively, they viewed it as demonstrating a need to collaborate to investigate the question together.

And yeah, part of it was that they were all decent scientists who respected each other. But they didn’t have to be. If one team had been total morons, and the other team was secretly laughing at them the whole time, the collaboration still would have worked. All required was an assumption of good faith.

A while ago I blogged about a journalistic spat between German Lopez and Robert VerBruggen on gun control. Lopez wrote a voxsplainer citing some statistics about guns. VerBruggen wrote a piece at National Review saying that some of the statistics were flawed. German fired back (pun not intended) with an article claiming that VerBruggen was ignoring better studies.

(Then I yelled at both of them, as usual.)

Overall the exchange was in the top 1% of online social science journalism – by which I mean it included at least one statistic and at some point that statistic was superficially examined. But in the end, it was still just two people arguing with one another, each trying to transmit his superior knowledge to each other and the reading public. As good as it was, it didn’t meet my five standards above – and nobody expected it to.

But now I’m thinking – what would have happened if Lopez and VerBruggen had joined together in an adversarial collaboration? Agreed to work together to write an article on gun statistics, with nothing going into the article unless they both approved, and then they both published that article on their respective sites?

This seems like a mass media equivalent of shifting from Twitter spats to serious debate, from transmission mindset to collaborative truth-seeking mindset. The adversarial collaboration model is just the first one to come to mind right now. I’ve blogged about others before – for example, bets, prediction markets, and calibration training.

The media already spends a lot of effort recommending good behavior. What if they tried modeling it?

IV.

The bigger question hanging over all of this: “Do we have to?”

Harford’s solution – compelling narratives and documentaries – sounds easy and fun. Robinson’s solution – rhetoric and emotional appeals – also sounds easy and fun. Even the solution Robinson rejects – violence – is easy, and fun for a certain type of person. All three work on pretty much anybody.

Purely Logical Debate is difficult and annoying. It doesn’t scale. It only works on the subset of people who are willing to talk to you in good faith and smart enough to understand the issues involved. And even then, it only works glacially slowly, and you win only partial victories. What’s the point?

Logical debate has one advantage over narrative, rhetoric, and violence: it’s an asymmetric weapon. That is, it’s a weapon which is stronger in the hands of the good guys than in the hands of the bad guys. In ideal conditions (which may or may not ever happen in real life) – the kind of conditions where everyone is charitable and intelligent and wise – the good guys will be able to present stronger evidence, cite more experts, and invoke more compelling moral principles. The whole point of logic is that, when done right, it can only prove things that are true.

Violence is a symmetric weapon; the bad guys’ punches hit just as hard as the good guys’ do. It’s true that hopefully the good guys will be more popular than the bad guys, and so able to gather more soldiers. But this doesn’t mean violence itself is asymmetric – the good guys will only be more popular than the bad guys insofar as their ideas have previously spread through some means other than violence. Right now antifascists outnumber fascists and so could probably beat them in a fight, but antifascists didn’t come to outnumber fascists by winning some kind of primordial fistfight between the two sides. They came to outnumber fascists because people rejected fascism on the merits. These merits might not have been “logical” in the sense of Aristotle dispassionately proving lemmas at a chalkboard, but “fascists kill people, killing people is wrong, therefore fascism is wrong” is a sort of folk logical conclusion which is both correct and compelling. Even “a fascist killed my brother, so fuck them” is a placeholder for a powerful philosophical argument making a probabilistic generalization from indexical evidence to global utility. So insofar as violence is asymmetric, it’s because it parasitizes on logic which allows the good guys to be more convincing and so field a bigger army. Violence itself doesn’t enhance that asymmetry; if anything, it decreases it by giving an advantage to whoever is more ruthless and power-hungry.

The same is true of documentaries. As I said before, Harford can produce as many anti-Trump documentaries as he wants, but Trump can fund documentaries of his own. He has the best documentaries. Nobody has ever seen documentaries like this. They’ll be absolutely huge.

And the same is true of rhetoric. Martin Luther King was able to make persuasive emotional appeals for good things. But Hitler was able to make persuasive emotional appeals for bad things. I’ve previously argued that Mohammed counts as the most successful persuader of all time. These three people pushed three very different ideologies, and rhetoric worked for them all. Robinson writes as if “use rhetoric and emotional appeals” is a novel idea for Democrats, but it seems to me like they were doing little else throughout the election (pieces attacking Trump’s character, pieces talking about how inspirational Hillary was, pieces appealing to various American principles like equality, et cetera). It’s just that they did a bad job, and Trump did a better one. The real takeaway here is “do rhetoric better than the other guy”. But “succeed” is not a primitive action.

Unless you use asymmetric weapons, the best you can hope for is to win by coincidence.

That is, there’s no reason to think that good guys are consistently better at rhetoric than bad guys. Some days the Left will have an Obama and win the rhetoric war. Other days the Right will have a Reagan and they’ll win the rhetoric war. Overall you should average out to a 50% success rate. When you win, it’ll be because you got lucky.

And there’s no reason to think that good guys are consistently better at documentaries than bad guys. Some days the NIH will spin a compelling narrative and people will smoke less. Other days the tobacco companies will spin a compelling narrative and people will smoke more. Overall smoking will stay the same. And again, if you win, it’s because you lucked out into having better videographers or something.

I’m not against winning by coincidence. If I stumbled across Stalin and I happened to have a gun, I would shoot him without worrying about how it’s “only by coincidence” that he didn’t have the gun instead of me. You should use your symmetric weapons if for no reason other than that the other side’s going to use theirs and so you’ll have a disadvantage if you don’t. But you shouldn’t confuse it with a long-term solution.

Improving the quality of debate, shifting people’s mindsets from transmission to collaborative truth-seeking, is a painful process. It has to be done one person at a time, it only works on people who are already almost ready for it, and you will pick up far fewer warm bodies per hour of work than with any of the other methods. But in an otherwise-random world, even a little purposeful action can make a difference. Convincing 2% of people would have flipped three of the last four US presidential elections. And this is a capacity to win-for-reasons-other-than-coincidence that you can’t build any other way.

(and my hope is that the people most willing to engage in debate, and the ones most likely to recognize truth when they see it, are disproportionately influential – scientists, writers, and community leaders who have influence beyond their number and can help others see reason in turn)

I worry that I’m not communicating how beautiful and inevitable all of this is. We’re surrounded by a a vast confusion, “a darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night”, with one side or another making a temporary advance and then falling back in turn. And in the middle of all of it, there’s this gradual capacity-building going on, where what starts off as a hopelessly weak signal gradually builds up strength, until one army starts winning a little more often than chance, then a lot more often, and finally takes the field entirely. Which seems strange, because surely you can’t build any complex signal-detection machinery in the middle of all the chaos, surely you’d be shot the moment you left the trenches, but – your enemies are helping you do it. Both sides are diverting their artillery from the relevant areas, pooling their resources, helping bring supplies to the engineers, because until the very end they think it’s going to ensure their final victory and not yours.

You’re doing it right under their noses. They might try to ban your documentaries, heckle your speeches, fight your violence Middlebury-student-for-Middlebury-student – but when it comes to the long-term solution to ensure your complete victory, they’ll roll down their sleeves, get out their hammers, and build it alongside you.

A parable: Sally is a psychiatrist. Her patient has a strange delusion: that Sally is the patient and he is the psychiatrist. She would like to commit him and force medication on him, but he is an important politician and if push comes to shove he might be able to commit her instead. In desperation, she proposes a bargain: they will both take a certain medication. He agrees; from within his delusion, it’s the best way for him-the-psychiatrist to cure her-the-patient. The two take their pills at the same time. The medication works, and the patient makes a full recovery.

(well, half the time. The other half, the medication works and Sally makes a full recovery.)

V.

Harford’s article says that facts and logic don’t work on people. The various lefty articles say they merely don’t work on Trump supporters, ie 50% of the population.

If you genuinely believe that facts and logic don’t work on people, you shouldn’t be writing articles with potential solutions. You should be jettisoning everything you believe and entering a state of pure Cartesian doubt, where you try to rederive everything from cogito ergo sum.

If you genuinely believe that facts and logic don’t work on at least 50% of the population, again, you shouldn’t be writing articles with potential solutions. You should be worrying whether you’re in that 50%. After all, how did you figure out you aren’t? By using facts and logic? What did we just say?

Nobody is doing either of these things, so I conclude that they accept that facts can sometimes work. Asymmetric weapons are not a pipe dream. As Gandhi used to say, “If you think the world is all bad, remember that it contains people like you.”

You are not completely immune to facts and logic. But you have been wrong about things before. You may be a bit smarter than the people on the other side. You may even be a lot smarter. But fundamentally their problems are your problems, and the same kind of logic that convinced you can convince them. It’s just going to be a long slog. You didn’t develop your opinions after a five-minute shouting match. You developed them after years of education and acculturation and engaging with hundreds of books and hundreds of people. Why should they be any different?

You end up believing that the problem is deeper than insufficient documentary production. The problem is that Truth is a weak signal. You’re trying to perceive Truth. You would like to hope that the other side is trying to perceive Truth too. But at least one of you is doing it wrong. It seems like perceiving Truth accurately is harder than you thought.

You believe your mind is a truth-sensing instrument that does at least a little bit better than chance. You have to believe that, or else what’s the point? But it’s like one of those physics experiments set up to detect gravitational waves or something, where it has to be in a cavern five hundred feet underground in a lead-shielded chamber atop a gyroscopically stable platform cooled to one degree above absolute zero, trying to detect fluctuations of a millionth of a centimeter. Except you don’t have the cavern or the lead or the gyroscope or the coolants. You’re on top of an erupting volcano being pelted by meteorites in the middle of a hurricane.

If you study psychology for ten years, you can remove the volcano. If you spend another ten years obsessively checking your performance in various metis-intensive domains, you can remove the meteorites. You can never remove the hurricane and you shouldn’t try. But if there are a thousand trustworthy people at a thousand different parts of the hurricane, then the stray gusts of wind will cancel out and they can average their readings to get something approaching a signal.

All of this is too slow and uncertain for a world that needs more wisdom now. It would be nice to force the matter, to pelt people with speeches and documentaries until they come around. This will work in the short term. In the long term, it will leave you back where you started.

If you want people to be right more often than chance, you have to teach them ways to distinguish truth from falsehood. If this is in the face of enemy action, you will have to teach them so well that they cannot be fooled. You will have to do it person by person until the signal is strong and clear. You will have to raise the sanity waterline. There is no shortcut.

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1,181 Responses to Guided By The Beauty Of Our Weapons

  1. dirdle says:

    Yes. This is a start. Thank-you.

  2. Rand says:

    These are the people you say are completely impervious to logic so don’t even try? It seems to me like this argument was one of not-so-many straws that might have broken some camels’ backs if they’d been allowed to accumulate. And the weird thing is, when I re-read the essay I notice a lot of flaws and things I wish I’d said differently. I don’t think it was an exceptionally good argument. I think it was…an argument. It was something more than saying “You think the old days were so great, but the old days had labor unions, CHECKMATE ATHEISTS”. This isn’t what you get when you do a splendid virtuouso perfomance. This is what you get when you show up.

    This is what happens when you’re Scott Alexander and you write a carefully thought-out 4,800 word essay directed at Slate Star Codex readers.

    Here’s Scott Aaronson. Scott is earnestly trying to convince his audience not to vote for Trump, he has a list of reasons why in the text. I can’t find any comments that suggest Scott made similar progress.

    Here’s Terence Tao to his audience. It’s a weaker argument and again, not one that had an impact on the commenters positions.

    And here’s Eliezer Yudkowsky. He’s posting on his Facebook page, but he’s making a carefully thought out argument to his Facebook followers. And I don’t see him having any success.

    (People who regularly follow SSC probably know why I’m singling out these three individuals [rather than, say, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Susskind], not as weak men but as the best we have. If not, they’re worth looking up, and reading their respective blogs.)

    Scott suggests that because he can convince people to change their mind, everybody can do it if they bother to try. That’s Scott ignoring his remarkable abilities and his carefully cultivated readership.

    This is truly, genuinely, incredibly hard. And it’s not just about showing up.

    (NB: This is not a well-researched comment. In particular, I grew intimidated by the size of the comment threads on all three articles, and instead scanned them and searched for some key words. If somebody wants to post a more detailed analysis of the responses to Scott Aa., Terry and Eliezer, that would be great.)

  3. The Nybbler says:

    I don’t think he would be grinding that axe nearly so hard if he was not under pressure to have some of the standard politically correct diatribes and doctrines in his books, because if you grind that axe, every reader who is conventionally masculine is likely to start identifying with the evil Muslim bad guys and despising your protagonist.

    Or maybe he’s not trying to convince you that Islam is bad. He’s trying to convince people that believe subjugation of women is bad that Islam is bad.

  4. redneck says:

    If you are out of power, honest and free debate, and commitment to truth, is in your interests.

    If you are in power, it is in your interest to shut down debate and enforce lies.

    The downside of speaking power to truth is that often the first to be convinced of lies are those in power, and the last to be convinced of lies are their enemies. But the upside is that it is very useful in keeping power.

    Scott is discussing a debate between two approximately equal sides. In such a debate, both have an interest in truth. And truth will, in fact, emerge.

    Does not look to me that we are dealing with two approximately equal sides, when almost every science fiction book since 2010, every science fiction book published by mainstream publishers, has been hammering away on the social justice message, often with disastrous effects on plot, story, characterization, and often resulting in radical personality changes in long established characters.

    In general, whoever grabs the reigns of power will do so with the aid of something that suspiciously resembles a religion, which religion will become the officially unofficial state religion This is in many ways worse than an officially official state religion, since being officially unofficial, it gets to exercise power without responsibility. Further, the holiest members of the unofficially official religion tend to get to the top, resulting in holiness competition, so that the religion rapidly tends to become ever holier.

    Scott argues that movement left is the result of increasing prosperity, contraception, etc. That there is a natural level of leftism and we are tending towards it. But prosperity has not improved in the last decade, and not improved much in the last 45 years, while leftism, as indicated by sermons preached at us, has accelerated considerably in the last few years. One can argue that we have not moved much left in recent decades, as one can argue that true socialism has never been tried, but it is hard to doubt that the preaching to which we are exposed has moved left drastically.

    The anglosphere has been moving left for at least two hundred years, arguably three hundred and fifty years, and nothing very terrible has happened, which is evidence for Scott’s view. The evolution of the anglosphere from the restoration to the 1960s suggests a drift towards a stable and natural level of leftism, which stable level depends on prosperity, external and internal threats, and suchlike.

    However outside of this, history is not suggestive of any stable or natural level of leftism. It is more like walking on a tight wire above a pit full of sharpened stakes, as for example the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the Munster Rebellion, the disastrous consequences of Alexander the Liberator’s land reform, and the bloodiest parts of Chinese history.

  5. Phil Goetz says:

    Scott’s analysis is good, but I think he isn’t recognizing that our current state of illogic isn’t normal or accidental–it’s the result of a prolonged century-long campaign, begun by philosophers, artists, and humanities professors, to discredit logic and reason. Most 20th century philosophy is people arguing that science and reason don’t work, and all our concepts and beliefs are socially constructed. Supporting this belief is mandatory if you want to start a career in English literature, anthropology, or certain other humanities.

    The standard narrative about modernism is that it began as a response to the failure of the epistemology of science–the realization that the scientific method was unreliable, even no better than random, which people realized once WWI started.

    But modernism was already firmly established in the arts before WWI started, and while there were a number of disturbing discoveries before WWI that made people doubt their understanding of reality (Freud, Nietzsche, Darwin, & Marx are the usual suspects), there were no more disturbing, world-shattering discoveries in the late 19th century than in many other generations.

    I believe the truth is just the opposite of the standard narrative: modernism was begun because of the success of scientific epistemology, invented by philosophers and the humanities to defend their turf against scientific analysis (which would have destroyed their careers) by discrediting reason.

    It’s no good trying to get people to reason when they’re being indoctrinated in English, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy departments to believe that reason is bad. We need to counterattack against the bad philosophy that rules the humanities in Western universities today.

    This is unfortunately an incredibly arduous task, owing to the many interlocking layers of crap supporting contemporary philosophy, and their habit of continually adding new meaningless or redundant jargon and unproductive perspectives to the field, all of which you are supposed to refer to to have credibility, nearly as fast as one can learn it.

    Also, post-modern philosophy has been developed to be internally self-consistent. It can’t make predictions, but it doesn’t value predictions. Once a person has bought into post-modernism, there is no way to logically persuade them out of it–it distorts their values and their logic in such a way that it only leads back to itself. You can’t use logic on someone who is already committed to the beliefs that epistemology should be based on rhetoric and poetry, that categories and logical distinctions are inherently oppressive, and that propositions or arguments can’t be decomposed into components that can be analyzed non-holistically.

    • Protagoras says:

      I find this description of 20th century philosophy bizarre. Kudos for recognizing that there is a continuity between the modernists and the post-modernists, I suppose, but the paradigm modernist philosophers were the Logical Positivists, so the conclusion that the modernists were anti-science is absurd (the more reasonable conclusion is that post-modernism is more pro-science than it gets credit for).

    • Most 20th century philosophy is people arguing that science and reason don’t work, and all our concepts and beliefs are socially constructed

      That is utterly wrong.

  6. lemmycaution415 says:

    To defend the Nathan Robinson article “Debate Vs. Persuasion”, there really are two ways of attacking Trump. One is to debate in the sense of grabbing all kinds of arguments willy-nilly about how Trump is bad. The other is to make policy based arguments attacking Trump while making a case for your preferred policy objectives.

    The emphasis on persuasive rhetoric seems reasonable to me as a counter-weight to bloodless debate points. A good example to me is how Sanders didn’t use Clinton’s emails to attack her. He could have maybe scored some points, but at the risk of muddling his message. The emails didn’t really matter. Sanders is passionate about the things that matter to him and doesn’t fake it about the things that don’t.

  7. Bugmaster says:

    Is there any evidence that things like truth, facts and logic, and calm reasoned debate, really do perform better in the long term ? Can such evidence even be gathered in principle (and if not, then what’s the point) ?

    I think there’s good reason to believe that truth (etc.) does perform better whenever there’s a clear, unambiguous standard to measure it against — e.g. in the areas of physics, chemistry, etc. — but only when the conclusions are not politically charged. If this weren’t the case, you wouldn’t be reading these words over the Internet today.

    However, I am far from convinced that this is the case in the areas of morality, public policy, social norms, and other such areas where an external standard does not exist. I understand that anyone could pick out a few prominent cases, but I’m not claiming that truth, etc. never wins in the long run; I merely remain unconvinced that it usually does. I’m open to be proven wrong, but if I’m right, then I’m not even sure how that may be accomplished…

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Is there any evidence that things like truth, facts and logic, and calm reasoned debate, really do perform better in the long term ? Can such evidence even be gathered in principle (and if not, then what’s the point)?

      Well, there seems to be a point in human history where at least one group of cultures took off tremendously and unequivocally in technology and quality of life, with the main cause being traced back to them deciding to try this truth and logic thing for a while.

      One of the unwritten implications of that approach is that if it works on one thing, you keep trying it on other things. You seem to acknowledge that. True, it does not appear to have cracked the nut of sociology, but where the approach fails, it also has the nice benefit of indicating the nature of the failure, so that you can keep poking at it. And some things do appear to give in only after a long period of poking, even in harder disciplines such as physics and chemistry, so it’s not clear that sociology and other extremely complex systems will never be understood. And we’ve not run out of things to try.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Right, I have already granted science and technology; but the difference between technology and politics/morality is that technology does not require debate. If you can build a steam engine that is 10% more efficient than the leading model, then you can just go ahead and do it. Nature doesn’t care about your rhetoric, it just cares about steam pressure. And if you are the guy whose engine is being replaced by the more efficient version, you don’t need to enter any debates, either; you just need to interrogate the engine itself so you can reverse-engineer it.

        However, when matters stray away from pure physical constants, we seem to be resolving our differences through bloody revolutions, civil wars, world wars, and massive amounts of propaganda on all sides. Can you show some evidence that this is false, and that it’s actually the side with truth on their side who consistently wins social disagreements — as opposed to the side with more guns, louder radios, or more Twitter followers ?

  8. VolumeWarrior says:

    Didn’t you just write a post about how high-modernism fails at everything? People are communicating many complicated things when they talk about politics. There’s no reason to thing 90 degree angles are the solution.

  9. Freddie deBoer says:

    And yet, somehow, Scott, you remain incapable of remaking the world.

  10. jzdpendragon says:

    I am sure that someone has said this already somewhere in this thread, but hopefully I can at the very least say it again in a new and interesting way.

    I think the biggest problem here is that it is unclear whether facts and logic are actually asymmetric weapons. Claiming that they are asymmetric weapons seems to be an article of rationalist faith, or worse, demonstrably false.

    First, take logic. As far as I can see, there is no reason to think that logic is asymmetric. Logic is formal; it doesn’t decide what is true, it merely says what follows from what. Why think that the good guys are going to get any more out of it than the bad guys? Being bad doesn’t mean you can’t do derivations, it just means that you have various purposes to which you put your derivations that are nefarious.

    You might respond by saying “oh, I didn’t mean logic in that very minimal sense, I meant something richer, like being responsive to the evidence, maybe by conditionalizing and obeying the axioms so your beliefs are probabilistically coherent.” Okay fine, but there are two problems with this new view. First, why think that there is in fact a unique rational response to a body of evidence? There is a growing literature on epistemic permissivism, that indicates that there are multiple rational attitudes that we can take toward the same body of evidence. If this is the case, there might be something of an impasse when we try to convince people of our points. Rational principles might merely be constraints, and if they are, then within those constraints there may be no arguing. This is a very serious and scary challenge for any rationalist, and I have been worried about it for a long time.

    Okay, but suppose that there is a single rational response to the evidence, and we all have the same evidence. And now suppose that we weight the evidence in the same ways, etc etc. But why think that there is only one way to characterize the evidence? Everyone laughs at the idea of “alternative facts”, but I, for one, am not laughing. If you read a philosopher like Nelson Goodman, or for that matter any pragmatist, they’ll throw their pluralism at you, and say that there are multiple ways of talking about the same thing, and plausibly all of them are true, even though some of them may conflict. This is kind of like the problem of the reference class in statistics.

    The problem is that pluralism is a kind of plausible position. I, for instance, don’t think that there is a single true logic. We use logic for various different purposes, and some logics are suitable for some purposes and not others. Permissivism is getting at the idea that the same might be true for reasoning: there are many kinds of responses to evidence, some may be more suitable for some purposes than others. Goodman, I guess, is getting at the same thing for facts: there are many different ways of characterizing the same piece of reality, and we are not in a position to say which ones are absolutely best. There is no privileged way of describing the world, even if there are objective facts about it to be discovered.

    And lastly, the idea that facts and logic can lead us to the good seems a little strange. I mean, again citing the pragmatists, we might think that there are no value-free facts. What we take to be the ultimate truth is bound up importantly with what we take to be important. Think that physics provides the ultimate story about the world? Yes? Can you give me any arguments? why privilege that level of description over others?

    Or you might think that there is a fact/value distinction, and that fact-find and derive as you may, these things won’t help you solve any deep moral problems, because deep moral problems are not susceptible to answers based on evidence – that’s just not the kinds of questions they are. Not everyone thinks that morality consists in the grasp of reasons.

    Anyway, sorry for the skepticism. I’m generally on board, I just thought it would be good to weigh in on the other side, as I’m sure many of us have a tendency to do.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Something I seem to be running into a lot lately is what I call “counter productive premises” where I find myself thinking “I’m not convinced that fact X is true, but if it were true action Y (the conclusion that is being argued for) is the last thing I would do.” Possibly related; people who write scathing indictments of X without really intending to.

    • carvenvisage says:

      There being many valid responses doesn’t mean there’s not infinitely more invalid responses. Two great authors might write a book a different way, each according to their own understanding and order, but it does not follow that a chimpanzee can write one, or that someone terminally opposed to quality-in-a-story can write one.

      Being irrational or antirational has the same effect with regard to finding the truth about the world, which is of course important for making beneficial decisions, and especially for making decisions which are more beneficial to others than oneself (perhaps harmful to oneself), and ones which might require sacrifice in the short term.

       

      Also, being bad means you will want to stop other people from doing derivations about you, and what you’re doing, including by degrading general discourse standards, and will mean you want it to be normal not to do derivations on yourself- to not examine and see your own motives for what they are.

      It’s logic in precisely this minimal sense that people acting wrongly stand to be harmed by. Of course facts and logic are asymetric weapons. You can manipulate someone by controlling which facts you present to someone, but it’s far easier to just use falsehoods if you can, and better yet to somehow dissolve the distinction altogether in people’s minds.

      • jzdpendragon says:

        I hate to say it, but I think you missed most of the point of my post. The worry is that there may be no unique rational response to evidence, and so we may have no way of adjudicating responses using further facts. And logic doesn’t help, because a valid argument is only as good as the premises it starts from. Everyone is capable of making valid arguments. The issue is just whether their premises are true.

        I don’t know quite what you mean by “stop people from doing derivations about you”, nor do I think that “Of course facts and logic are asymmetric weapons” is a good argument.

        I’m not denying that there are rational constraints, but it may be that, in certain cases, it is in fact true that there is just no arguing about certain things.

        • carvenvisage says:

          but it may be that, in certain cases, it is in fact true that there is just no arguing about certain things.

          Well, yeah, logic isn’t magic.

          nor do I think that “Of course facts and logic are asymmetric weapons” is a good argument.

          not an argument

          The worry is that there may be no unique rational response to evidence

          You’re saying I missed this, but it’s exactly what I addressed. There doesn’t need to be a unique rational response to evidence, there just need to irrational responses to evidence, and rational argument will be an asymetric weapon. (because at a minimum it will point away from those)

          It points away from the monkey and the person who hates good writing. It doesn’t get you to charles dickens or gene wolfe or (insert/replace authors as you please). Because it isn’t supposed to. It’s not magic.

           

          TL:DR It’s not FOR discovering ‘ultimate’ truth, it’s for discovering reality, or ‘actual’ or ‘factual’ truth if you prefer. (and for avoiding error)

          Whether and to what extent those overlap, or intertwine, for you, (and whether you even recognise the legitimacy of the latter), is up to what you feel, think, value, etc.

           

          And logic doesn’t help, because a valid argument is only as good as the premises it starts from

          Yes it does. Logic helps you refine your premises. Most obviously when they lead to contradictions it highlights for you that this is something to check and consider. Training seeing the connections between things can also improve your passive judgement.

          Everyone is capable of making valid arguments.

          Becoming less capable of making self serving invalid arguments is altruistic, even if it doesn’t benefit you personally. (which I think it does /tends to, but not gonna argue because long topic)

          The issue is just whether their premises are true.

          premises aren’t insulated from consideration or reason. Helping you check them is one of the things its best at.

          _

          I don’t know quite what you mean by “stop people from doing derivations about you

          I meant analysing what a person is like. I think that’s in line with how you were using the word

    • AnonYEmous says:

      First, take logic. As far as I can see, there is no reason to think that logic is asymmetric. Logic is formal; it doesn’t decide what is true, it merely says what follows from what.

      well, the point of logic is to derive down to facts and then argue from principles with full knowledge of the facts.

      in other words, people may always disagree about what is best, but they’ll at least know what they’re getting. This makes the discourse much less toxic, and allows for certain areas where one side is probably correct by both sides’s principles to shine through.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Yes, that was exactly how I reacted to the article, as well.

      I just wanted to add that stringently following the Bayes rule won’t get you out of this problem, either. Bayes rule is highly sensitive to the priors, so if two people have different priors, they will interpret the evidence completely differently — coming to completely opposite conclusions, in some cases.

  11. I see that, as if on cue, the Jacobin has come out with a lamentable article on how the left needs to beat the right at its own game and create a “Breitbart for the Left“.

    There are a number of things that the author doesn’t seem to understand:

    1. The Left already has plenty of its own “Breitbarts.” The problem isn’t that they aren’t as slick as the right-wing version. The problem is that, fundamentally, people don’t agree with the Left’s views, so the left versions of Breitbart don’t become as influential. This Jacobin article seems to posit a theory where, given a universe where Andrew Breitbart neglected to set up Breitbart News, politics and the kulturkampf would have taken a radically different direction. To me, this reeks of “Great Man Theory of History.” My prior assumption for what a world without Breitbart would look like is a world basically similar to our own, except Breitbart wouldn’t be called “Breitbart” but something else. Someone else would have stepped up to fill this role, as long as many people were floating around in the body politic with these right-wing ideas. Don’t focus on defeating or surpassing the institutions; the institutions are mere epiphenomena of the ideas that are bolstering them. Focus on defeating and surpassing the ideas.

    2. The problem I see with the Left is that they don’t know what game they want to be playing. For example, imagine capitalism was like football and communism was basketball. The Left, even the moderate left, seems to want to import a lot of elements of communism into capitalism. But I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. You kind of have to import the whole ruleset over at once, or it doesn’t work.

    It’s like a bunch of would-be basketball players discovering that nobody in town wants to play basketball, and there aren’t any basketball courts, so they decide to play in a football game. But when they show up to the football game, they try to import at least some elements of their favored sport (basketball) into the football game, like trying to dribble the football, or refraining from deliberate physical contact. Accordingly, the team that they end up joining fails badly at the game of football. Their teammates (ordinary Americans) can only assume that either these newcomers are naive idiots or deliberate saboteurs hell-bent on making their team lose. Either way, the pro-basketball leftists alienate everyone else even more than if the leftists had just come up to people straightforwardly and said, “I think we should play basketball rather than football.”

    In other words, profitability is the engine of capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t work without profitability. Leftists will often say that they want to “put people before profit,” but under the capitalist ruleset, this is like saying that you want to “dribble the football to the endzone.” People end up getting harmed, not helped, if you cut into profitability. Jobs close down and/or move and/or go to other workers where a higher profit rate can be obtained. If you want to play the game of capitalism, you’ve actually got to play the game and cater to the system’s inherent incentives, or else the system strikes back and undoes all of your intended improvements…especially now that capital can easily move all around the world.

    The only way to dribble the football into the endzone successfully would be to get every team to sign a pledge that they would play with this new informal rule as well, thus leveling the playing field. That means, getting all ~500 million Chinese workers to pledge to work for your union-scale wage. Absent that, it won’t work. And I don’t see the Left even trying to do something like this, or realizing that this is what they would have to do to be successful with half-measure, piecemeal reforms.

    Now, personally, I am all in favor of “putting people before profit,” but I think it could ever only work in the context of an entirely different system of social incentives, from the ground up. I am, I guess, a bit of an “Austrian Marxist.” I say, don’t meddle with libertarian capitalism unless you are going to replace it whole-hog. Of course, replacing capitalism whole-hog requires a lot more creative thinking, but the Left doesn’t want to trouble itself with that, so instead they settle for trying to dribble footballs into the endzone.

    • Sandy says:

      What niche would a “Breitbart of the Left” even occupy? Jacobin’s not the first to arrive at this idea; David Brock promotes his site Shareblue as “the left’s answer to Breitbart”. But what would these sites put out that could possibly match Breitbart’s skill at outrage farming? Breitbart identifies and magnifies every crime by a black person or an illegal immigrant or a Muslim against white people; they say they have to do this because the mainstream media sweeps a lot of this stuff under the rug to avoid awkward conversations about race. They’re not exactly wrong about this: the creator of COPS, for instance, has admitted that he skews the demographics of the criminals represented on his show to be more white and less black because he doesn’t want to contribute to stereotypes of black criminality. But there isn’t exactly a dearth of media invested in racial narratives about white supremacy and black oppression. I don’t have to go to Shareblue to hear about how black children are one unlucky minute away from being gunned down by a white cop; I can just turn on CNN for that.

    • BBA says:

      Gawker was the Breitbart of the left. (Or maybe Breitbart is the Gawker of the right?)

      • hlynkacg says:

        Breitbart is generally less click-baity than Gawker. I think The Blaze would be a better Gawker comparison, with Breitbart filling filling the role of the HuffPo or Salon

    • dndnrsn says:

      I had always thought Breitbart occupied the same niche as Salon. Lots of hot takes, lots of articles where the narrative matters more than the facts, a focus on the immediate impact of things over long-term consistency, etc.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I would say, in fact, that the left’s Breitbarts are slicker than the right’s. The left is dominant in elite society, among the sort of people who have expensive educations in web design and journalism. Breitbart is starting to close the gap somewhat, but the quality difference in how the message is presented between Breitbart’s product and say, Salon’s or HuffPo’s is really obvious. The people freaking out and saying the left needs a Breitbart have not been paying attention to this advantage they’ve had all along, possibly because it’s dissonant with their narratives of privilege, and so they think the right catching up on this axis is actually the right pulling ahead.

      • gbdub says:

        On the other hand, Breitbart is designed to appeal to people for whom “slick” is not necessarily a compliment.

    • hlynkacg says:

      While I like your analysis, the nit-picker in me feels compelled to point out that “a Breitbart for the Left” already exists. It’s called the Huffington Post.

    • Aapje says:

      @citizencokane

      You are confusing direction pushing with the end goal. “Putting people before profit” doesn’t actually mean abolishing profit for many/most people who use the term.

      • What I’m saying is, you can’t even meaningfully push in that direction under capitalism without capitalism pushing back to undo your work and penalize you for it. You really do have to cut right to the end goal, or give it up. And yes, most people who want to “put people before profit” don’t want to abolish profit, which shows how confused they are—because that is the only way they are going to even make progress towards that goal.

        • Aapje says:

          Child labor laws.

          Please explain how these laws to put people above profit were undone and penalized.

        • rlms says:

          “What I’m saying is, you can’t even meaningfully push in that direction under capitalism without capitalism pushing back to undo your work and penalize you for it.”
          Why not? Laws that regulate working conditions are not exactly uncommon. Boycotts of unethical companies might not generally be effective, but I can’t see any intrinsic reason why that should be the case: if e.g. Nike’s sweatshops were suitably vividly evil, campaigns against them would probably be successful. And workers’ cooperatives are rare, but not nonexistent.

          • Capital flight. If it harms profitability too much, and there are better alternatives elsewhere, how are you going to stop investors from closing up shop and moving to better settings with fewer taxes and regulations and lower wages? Yes, I suppose this will apply more to the “tradeable goods” sector, in that there will always be some desired services that must be performed locally. But you will end up with a hollowed-out country regardless.

            Laws will work, as long as they apply to most, if not all, of the world. If there is a large market where capital can scurry to in order to evade these regulations (such as China), then kiss your jobs goodbye. We’d need to get China and India and African countries on the same page with us if we really want to keep good working conditions and high wages.

            Workers’ cooperatives are fine…except that they too will go out of business unless they can beat the competition and be profitable. So most workers’ cooperatives find themselves transforming themselves over time into bog-standard evil businesses because it is simply more profitable to do so, and financial survival requires profitability.

            And as for why we don’t have child labor anymore…I don’t doubt that many businesses left the U.S. for precisely that reason. If we had children willing to work for a dollar a day, we would probably still have textile industries. Maybe you don’t care about this capital flight because we compensated for it in other ways (lucky for us!), but this is not a strategy that scales up to a level of saying, “$15/hour for everyone!”

          • Aapje says:

            @citizencokane

            Somehow that capital flight didn’t make the West poorer than the places where child labor is legal or at least, not policed very well.

            I would argue that child labor laws may have cost us the textile industries (perhaps), but it made parents far more willing to send children to school. This in turn resulted in a better educated populace, which has many advantages to business, as well as governance.

            I’d rather have jobs that require high education and be the US or Germany, rather than Bangladesh or China (where companies are already moving to cheaper inland regions because the wages are getting too high in the coastal regions).

  12. Beautiful post. One thought,

    >You end up believing that the problem is deeper than insufficient documentary production. The problem is that Truth is a weak signal. You’re trying to perceive Truth. You would like to hope that the other side is trying to perceive Truth too. But at least one of you is doing it wrong. It seems like perceiving Truth accurately is harder than you thought.

    Doesn’t this assume though that if both groups perceive truth properly, they will converge?

    If two pre-history tribes both perceive there is only enough water in the pond to sustain one of them through the drought, they are both probably perceiving truth. That wouldn’t necessarily stop the bloodshed though.

  13. Josh Oldham says:

    Would someone be able to help me understand the way in which Scott’s talking about “signaling” here? I’m assuming he’s not shortening “virtue signaling” given the context. Even just a link would be fine:

    And in the middle of all of it, there’s this gradual capacity-building going on, where what starts off as a hopelessly weak signal gradually builds up strength, until one army starts winning a little more often than chance, then a lot more often, and finally takes the field entirely. Which seems strange, because surely you can’t build any complex signal-detection machinery in the middle of all the chaos,

  14. Ilya Shpitser says:

    For folks who are still on the cross because they are confused between having unpopular ideas and being a toxic asshole, here is Jim, exhibit A.

    Jim was banned from here. In other words, our host asked him to leave and not come back. Jim is now circumventing the ban, whining about being banned, is talking about precisely the type of stuff Scott probably doesn’t want here (specifically genocide, inferiority of certain minority groups, etc.) Presumably to drive traffic to his blog, which he links from his username.

    Now, independently of Jim’s political position, or how good his facts actually are, Jim is a toxic asshole, and a web traffic parasite. That’s the point of the ban.

    • rlms says:

      Between Jim and John Sidles, it’s just like the good(/bad) old days. Maybe multiheaded will turn up soon.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I don’t think Jim and John coincided in time (before now). At least on SSC.

      • Barely matters says:

        On one hand, I’d really like to see a verbal cage match between Moon Jill and Redneck Jim. On the other, I think it would just look a lot like the rest of the internet.

        I think in a weird way they’re good to have around as a reminder of what discussion is like elsewhere. I’m not sure if it’s quite worth the disruption of civil norms that makes this comment section great, but it’s slightly better than all bad.

        • redneck says:

          > . I’m not sure if it’s quite worth the disruption of civil norms

          I am really doing my best to conform to your rules as to how thoughts may be expressed, and as far as I am aware, am doing so. Sometimes the rules are arcane and to outsiders seemingly arbitrary as in the Life of Brian. If I am deviating from the rules, draw my attention to this and explain the rules.

        • Nornagest says:

          Jim? Goddamn, that is Jim. Must have been too long for me to recognize his style.

          Aren’t you banned, Jim?

      • Brad says:

        I consider the people knowingly and substantively responding to them to be defectors.

        • Barely matters says:

          True say,

          I keep thinking about an alternative to bannings wherein they would be relegated to an Atonement thread (Possibly held on the reddit) where they can earn their ability to post back by civilly arguing against one another and attaining votes of confidence from the rest of the community.

          It’d be like our own blood war. Jill, Earthly Knight, and Multiheaded leading their faction against Jim and an army of NoActionFairies. It’d be amazing to have a place where their hyperbole and invective is appropriate. And even more amazing if it was somewhere not here.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Throwing a bunch of uncivil people together and expecting this to encourage civility seems liking a counter productive strategy.

          • Barely matters says:

            Throwing together uncivil people to entertain each other seems perfect to me. For the frothing ideologue, it even seems a bit poetic, being they if they’re looking to change the world in either direction, these are the people doing the most damage to their worldviews.

            Like, if EK wants to go on about how half the country are rape enablers, then let’s give him some real rape apologists to try to convince of their error. If Jim wants to be angry about degeneracy in modern America, these are the most degenerate degenerates we know, so have at! To my mind, they all really deserve each other.

            And I’d much rather they argue amongst themselves than derail otherwise productive discussion.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Based solely on your description, I would be confused about whether he falls into “being a toxic asshole” or “having unpopular ideas”: you mention that he’s “whining about being banned” but go on to describe several unpopular (and also incorrect, but that’s beside the point at the moment) ideas for which you claim he was banned.

      (As I remember it, he was actually banned not just for his ideas but for the language in which he was advocating them?)

      • keranih says:

        “Toxic asshole who promotes ideas at the edges of the SSC Overton window in the most annoying fashion possible” gets my vote.

        (I think it’s the three-fer that got him the boot – if he posted in an amusing manner, I think he’d be safe.)

      • ChetC3 says:

        I’m a freethinker, you have unpopular ideas, he/she/it is a toxic asshole.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Are you sure it’s Jim? He said “I apologize for my careless and offensive hyperbole,” which is about the most un-Jim thing I can imagine. Could just be trying to throw us off his track, but my first guess would be a disciple of Jim instead.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Jim was banned from here. In other words, our host asked him to leave and not come back

      That’s not what banning is.

  15. Null Hypothesis says:

    A Problem: This ‘Reasoned, Logical Debate’ requires participation on both sides. The use of the asymmetric weapon requires the consent of both to be used. What incentive do people have to permit it’s use?

    If people can even entertain the idea that they might be unknowingly wrong (a pre-requisite for using this weapon), then they may see the weapon’s use as a high-risk, high-reward scenario. If they are wrong, maintaining the Status Quo may be preferable to losing. Is that really worth the risk of winning? Much in the same way the various Super-countries in 1984 agreed to continue fighting over the neutral zones of Asia and Africa, rather than risk a true test of whose system didn’t suck as bad economically, and thus would win in all-out war.

    And even more so, what incentive do people who are knowingly wrong have to permit their use? It seems advantageous to actively prevent the use of asymmetric weaponry.

    And taking the reverse, what might that say about the people who seem intent on actively avoiding Reasonable, Logical Debates and sticking to sniping, lecturing, and violence?

    This observation brought to you by ironic snark – the most symmetric of all weapons. Because Equality In All Things is the most equal of virtues.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If people can even entertain the idea that they might be unknowingly wrong (a pre-requisite for using this weapon), then they may see the weapon’s use as a high-risk, high-reward scenario.

      This is not an issue for the truth-seeker, who in that case will consider being corrected to be a win. It _IS_ an issue for those with other terminal values… who are far more common.

      As for the US vs the USSR, I don’t think you can ignore the side-effects there. Even if both sides were truth-seekers convinced they would win, it would still be better to fuss around with proxy wars than to go for an all-out war.

    • carvenvisage says:

      A Problem: This ‘Reasoned, Logical Debate’ requires participation on both sides. The use of the asymmetric weapon requires the consent of both to be used.

      Not really. things like being honest are recognised as righteous by the populous and are thus ways to score points. It’s possible for a society to exist which completely doesn’t recognise these (for a while at least), but it isn’t ours.

      Doing both at a high level, at once, is really hard, but rhetoricwise it absolutely fucking DESTROYS rhetoric without logic. One person like MLK can sweep away a whole morass of nonsense.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        The catch I see with a scathing denouncement is that if the audience doesn’t share the underlying premises, it works about as well as a slightly off human simulation – the audience is more repulsed than if you’d made a noticeably weaker appeal.

        This appears to be the status quo now. All the low-hanging denouncements have long since been picked. An MLK III has to work much harder, because he has to construct a new platform of shared premises. Moreover, anyone who thinks they can sweep the nonsense by sounding like MLK Jr. without the premises makes it that much harder for a real MLK III to stand out.

        Meanwhile, I’ve lately found it hard to engage Reasoned, Logical Debate against an obstinate adversary. Two obstacles from recent memory: one, they interpret your argument in bad faith. Two, they then accuse you of dishonesty and stop discussion.

        My approach is imperfect in various ways, I’m sure. But I also notice an underlying problem: sometimes the logical conclusion requires empirical evidence, which simply won’t arrive within the time frame in question. I’m often unsure what to do about this.

        • carvenvisage says:

          sorry, I edited the bit with ‘scathing denouncement’ out ,before I saw your reply, because it was a poor illustration. (way too particular and non-central)

          About the last point. I think there’s a really terrible habit of thought/debate-standards where if one person claims to have a study or statistic or something, the other person is expected to have a ‘counterstatistic’ to rebut it, but when this happens it’s treated as a draw, rather than as a massive loss for the original person who was implying the empirical data was well settled when it wasn’t, and pressuring the other to have their scientist-blessed prepackaged claim to assert-back, or concede the point.

          Imo it’s just a terrible problem in how debates are judged, like how insulting quips are sp allowed to substitute (or supercede) an argument.

          Anyway, my point with MLK wasn’t so much that we expect someone to emerge now of similar stature, just that in fact you don’t need the consent of dishonest people to show their lies, so long as there is a nominal dedication to truth and honesty in the society, that you can hang them by.

          Which there still is, and hopefully long will be even even after (-if) bad ideas and/or dishonesty gain true nigh-unopposed ascendancy. It will be long after even that, that they can escape from the shadow of the standard of truth. It’s in our blood. Or something like that.

          And the standard can can always be reestablished even if it falls, because it’s an eternal, intuitive, pattern.

          Even a total oppression system like 1984 is bound to one day fall. No order like that can be stable. Truth (or extinction) will win in the end.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I think there’s a really terrible habit of thought/debate-standards where if one person claims to have a study or statistic or something, the other person is expected to have a ‘counterstatistic’ to rebut it, but when this happens it’s treated as a draw, rather than as a massive loss for the original person who was implying the empirical data was well settled when it wasn’t, and pressuring the other to have their scientist-blessed prepackaged claim to assert-back, or concede the point.

            This bugs me, too. And in more than one way. I may be in a discussion where someone cites a statistic, and I simply can’t offer a counter-statistic, sometimes because I’m not as deep into that topic as they are, but often because there simply isn’t a counter-statistic for it yet, because it just came out in the last few hours. Unfortunately, the argument that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” looks weak if you use it too often, even if it’s true in the limit – by which I imply that in any issue, the available statistics often cover only a sliver of what’s useful to know when making decisions, and so decisions are swayed less by the quality of statistics and more by who decided to expend how much effort to look where.

            The problem you describe sounds like it’s proximately caused by a lack of good faith. I’ve been trying to mitigate that problem lately by trying harder to agree with some component of the claim before saying “however…”. This seems to help – it sucks away a lot of the high emotion, keeps me honest (part of me often wants to agree with them to an extent), and it costs only a reasonable amount of extra time.

            I think I agree that truth wins in the end. Interestingly, I notice my level of agreement varies with what discussion I’m in. Worst case is the ol’ “society staying irrational longer than I can stay patient / alive” problem.

  16. Eva Candle says:

    SSC readers represent multiple strands of political thought, and yet a spectrum-spanning majority of SSC readers (as it seems to me) are finding sufficient reason to appreciate that (as Politico puts it) “Paul Ryan failed because his [TrumpCare] bill was a dumpster fire

    Regarding the primary causes of the TrumpCare dumpster fire, there is less unity of opinion, yet on the other hand, dumpster fires as long-burning and hot-burning as TrumpCare invariably are sustained by multiple fuels. The harsh assessment of White House General H. R. McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty in respect to the Vietnam War, concisely summarizes the multiple fuels of the TrumpCare dumpster-fire too:

    The responsibility … was shared by [the president] and his principal advisors. The failings were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people.

    As the shared appreciation that “TrumpCare is a dumpster fire” becomes increasingly prevalent among the American citizenry, the confidence of SSC readers in the compatibility of rationality and democracy may concomitantly increase.

    This associated spectrum-spanning confidence in the compatibility of rationality with democracy may be (for at least some SSC readers) the principal silver lining to the still-burning TrumpCare dumpster fire, isn’t that plausible?

  17. Alessandro Sisti says:

    I want to believe this post, but I just don’t. Briefly, I think it wrong for three reasons. I think the piece (a) gives too little attention to the phenomenon of trolling and how bad-faith argument can make rational debate impossible; (b) wrongly credits persuasion for defeating the Nazis, when what I believe defeated them was violence; (c) doesn’t acknowledge the disconnect between getting someone to admit something in an argument and getting them to change their behaviour. A huge proportion of ethicists believe that eating animals is wrong, for example, but ethicists aren’t any more likely to be vegetarian or vegan than is the population at large

  18. This was a thought-provoking article. Thanks for writing and sharing it!

    I think my personal take-away from this one is to start interpreting “I’m not convinced but your arguments make sense” as a ‘win’ (for lack of a better term) on an emotional level, to increase the chance of a personal satisfaction in respectful discussions, and for that reason engage in respectful discussions more often.

    I currently tend to avoid discussions because I’ve convinced myself I’m really not at all good at them. Reflecting on it now, that might not be true, and I should reevaluate the matter by engaging in such situations and seeing what happens. (It might still turn out I’m not good at discussions and ought to stay out of them! But I realise I’ve been disheartened by my supposedly unconvincing nature way too easily and should gather some new evidence, at least.)

  19. grreat says:

    Honestly, I’m a bit worried that I totally don’t agree with this article. I mean I agree with the idea of slow, fact based analysis of the situation. I seem to be very far removed from the very premise that this brings up, that most normal individuals should seek truth of … of what? This politics game is not for the average voter to seek truth about very complex issues. It just isn’t very efficient for the varying person in America to know the complexities of our health care system and what the bill is going in on Congress, or whether subsidies on coal make sense. They are going about their lives, being experts at their own livelihood of building things, manipulating information, servicing others. Why should they become experts on highly political things?! So what people do is go with the person that thinks best represents them, shuffle along after, and argue for entertainment. These discussion are purely entertainment, unless you truly have to make such decisions and it’s your job. Where does this leave us? On post truth? Never really expecting the elected officials to represent them, to just vote for those that make you feel better, smile or laugh more? People shouldn’t be experts in what government does, shouldn’t be expected to spend time on it, but they should introduce enough chaos to never let someone truly evil to stay for too long.

  20. keranih says:

    All of us have a variety of things we “know” – from cultural touchstones like evolution, equality, Christ as savior, and the best way to cook steak, through ‘facts’ like the time the sun rose today, the color of apples and what’s on my desk.

    I think it’s arguable that all of these rest on facts at some level. But we don’t go about knifing each other over sunrise and I’ve yet to be defriended over ideal apple colors.

    How do we go about choosing what to try to persuade people about, and what we just shrug off? How do we decide what to argue for with persuasion/other dark arts, and what to use logic and rationality for?

    Do we want to use rationality for everything? Are we secure enough in our understanding and observation to be able to accurately measure everything? (If we consider things with flawed data, our reasoning can be sound, but we can still conclude that bumblebees don’t fly.) Are we really open to considering if an equalitarian state is ‘best’, if it’s in a society’s interest to allow legal abortion, if people who live in religious societies have better lives than people who live in secular ones, if modern higher education is only applicable to 20% of the current college freshmen?

    What if rational evidence shows that irrational arguments are better trade offs in terms of efficiency?

    I supposed I’m asking, as others have, if “constructing a rational argument in support of something” is something we only do when we’re trying to persuade others, or if we have to do it all the time with ourselves as well. And if so, how do we get so far as to get dressed in the morning?

  21. Eponymous says:

    By the way, reflecting further on your Trump post, I wonder if one thing that reduced its effectiveness is that it seemed that you had determined ahead of time that one shouldn’t vote for Trump, and then proceeded to argue for this proposition.

    Now that might seem a completely normal thing to do. But in fact most of your posts have the amazing quality that you seem to be *actively and intelligently making up your mind* throughout the post, and inviting your readers along for the ride. We get to see a master rationalist in action, sifting the evidence, trying to poke holes in the various pieces, and finally reaching a tentative conclusion. Sometimes the conclusion is just “I don’t know what to think”, and sometimes it’s more solid than that.

    By contrast, it seems that you decided before your wrote the post that you didn’t like Trump, and didn’t think anyone should vote for him. Now I happen to agree with this conclusion, so I didn’t really notice this at the time; but then I wasn’t part of the intended audience.

    It seems possible to me that this reduced the persuasiveness of the post. You immediately put Trump voters on the defensive, thinking that you were trying to persuade them by marshaling an overwhelming army of arguments. They know you are a master at the art of argument, and doubtless braced themselves for this onslaught.

    I wonder if the post might have been more persuasive had you written it as though you were actively deciding who to vote for. Though doing this honestly is a high level rationality exercise, and maybe practically impossible in many cases.

    As an aside, did you decide to vote for not-Trump after going through a deliberative rationalist decision process? Or was it more of an “Ick, not that guy” decision?

    • gbdub says:

      You bring up an interesting point that I was hoping Scott would cover more in Part V – how many of the people arguing so hard for facts and logic and truth actually arrived at their conclusions via rational means?

      How many casual arguers about climate change started from a position of skepticism, carefully weighed arguments from trustworthy scientific sources, and only then came to a conclusion? Vs those who just saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and have never since questioned that belief? Or who just believe what their friends or cool people on Twitter believe and only then backfill their conclusion with supporting facts?

      Now, I’m not saying that arriving to the correct/truthful conclusion via non-skeptical means makes you wrong. You don’t have to start out a Klansman to be a true anti-racist. But I do think it ought to induce some humility – if you’ve never had to question your deeply held beliefs, because you were fortunate enough to be exposed to the “correct” rational position from the get-go, perhaps you should be nicer to people who lack that privilege?

      Ultimately the biggest issue is just the lack of willingness to argue persuasively rather than antagonistically. Meaning make an argument designed to actually appeal to someone who disagrees with you, rather than just “proving them wrong”. That requires modeling the other person realistically, which naturally will result in a more charitable understanding of their view. You can’t unconvinced someone of their position if you don’t understand/give some credit to their position in the first place!

    • Eva Candle says:

      Q  “How many of the people arguing so hard for facts and logic and truth actually arrived at their conclusions via rational means?”

      Most folks would agree that the answer is “few (if any)”, and many SSC readers would agree too (as would I) that this entirely correct answer nonetheless is too shallow.

      One insight from modern neuroscience and psychiatry — per the work of e.g. Eric Kandel and Marsha Linehan mentioned above — is that humans train their cognitive connectome by practices that (sometimes) involve fact-based ratiocination, with the end-result that day-to-day decision-making (including political decision-making) is conducted by neural-net unravelings that are not so much irrational, as arational.

      It is striking that modern AI engines (Google’s AlphaGo for example) operate by an essentially similar mechanism. Namely, rationality plays a crucial role in training AlphaGo’s neural nets, but not in AlphaGo’s actual game-playing. Similarly, Linehan-style DBT therapy trains clients’ neural nets by rationality-dependent methods, with a view toward eliciting healthier (albeit arational) life-trajectories. Unsurprising, DBT therapists protect themselves against the ever-present risk of burn-out by attending weekly among-therapist therapy sessions.

      The rationalist citadel of mathematical pedagogy is itself being invaded by these radically arational training methods … this being the service that (for example) automated proof assistants increasingly provide. For details see (e.g.) Vladimir Voevodsky’s interview La bifurcation de Vladimir Voevodsky: De la théorie de l’homotopie á la théorie des types (available also as the English-language YouTube video as “La bifurcation de Vladimir Voevodsky“).

      Especially relevant to the themes of Scott Alexander’s OP are Voevodsky’s remarks (around 16m54s) regarding “Can I read and believe and enjoy“?

      In Voevodsky’s radically innovative approach to mathematics, we perceive the actionable convergence of multiple themes of the 21st century’s Radical Enlightenment — themes that are biologically, psychologically, medically, physically, mathematically, economically, ecologically, and even politically “homotopic”. Enjoyably because (unlike previous centuries) “the revolution is being televised.” 🙂

      The 21st century’s Radically Enlightened revolution is evolving from STEAM-foundations that are sufficiently broad, deep, and diverse, that … well … in the long run… resistance is futile. Isn’t it? Especially because the 21st century’s Radical Enlightment revolution is so constructed as to be (in Voevodsky’s phrase) “enabling rather than restrictive”. For many SSC readers this trait ensures that the 21st century’s Radical Enlightenment is irresistibly attractive. 🙂

  22. benign says:

    Sorry, but this all seems so beside the point. Once a ruling elite achieves concentrated wealth and income, the marginalized fraction will oppose whatever the elite fraction proposes, quite rationally believing the elite fraction is serving their own interests.

    Hence, Obama. Hence, Trump. And as both defected from their promises to “fight for” the interests of the suppressed classes, hence the incipient complete delegitimization of the US government.

    cheers,
    benign

    • Eva Candle says:

      Spinoza! Ph*kh yeah! (warning: numerous anti-SJW puppets 🙂 ).

      More seriously, also worth reading is today’s in-depth STEAM-friendly post-mortem by David Frum: “The Republican Waterloo” is commended to those reflective SSC readers who are mustering in ranks of the “altered-right”, that is, folks whose conservatism finds its most natural expression in the pragmatic political philosophy of e.g. Dwight Eisenhower:

      The Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it.

      The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything — even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution.

      Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. …

      There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things … Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

      The complete text of Eisenhower’s meditation is available on-line.

      What a pity for the American people that — as the TrumpCare dumpster-fire showed everyone — “Mad King Donald’s” administration acquired neither insight nor foresight from Dwight Eisenhower’s time-tested brand of pragmatic American conservatism.

      David Frum: your insights and foresights, sir, have proved to be entirely correct, moreover for entirely rational reasons. There is no forum more appreciative of insights and foresights, gained through rational assessment of facts and history, than SSC (uhhh … is there?).

  23. Deiseach says:

    There’s a reason Rhetoric was taught as part of education from Classical times onwards, and was seen as vital if you wanted a political or public career of any kind. It’s not enough to have the facts, or to know you have the facts, you have to communicate the facts. And the art of rhetoric teaches you to do that by convincing people instead of lecturing them.

    Trump may not be educated in it, but he’s good at a rough-hewn, instinctual, populist version of it. And they can write all the thinkpieces they like bemoaning why don’t the plebs listen to them instead of him, but unless and until they take rhetoric as an art seriously, they’ll keep preaching to the converted and doing nothing else.

    Because rhetoric aims for effectiveness rather than correctness, it deals not only with the paragraph and the whole composition but also with the word and the sentence, for it prescribes that diction be clear and appropriate and that sentences be varied in structure and rhythm. It recognizes various levels of discourse, such as the literary (maiden or damsel, steed), the common (girl, horse), the illiterate (gal, hoss), the slang (skirt, plug), the technical (homo sapiens, equus caballus), each with its appropriate use. The adaptation of language to circumstance, which is a function of rhetoric, requires the choice of a certain style and diction in speaking to adults, of a different style in presenting scientific ideas to the general public, and of another in presenting them to a group of scientists. Since rhetoric is the master art of the trivium, it may even enjoin the use of bad grammar or bad logic, as in the portrayal of an illiterate or stupid character in a story

    .

  24. Steve Sailer says:

    Generally, the way the Establishment used to win debates was not by logic but by getting fired those who mention unmentionable facts, pour le encourage les autres.

    For example, Jason Richwine got fired for mentioning his Harvard doctoral dissertation. Heck, James D. Watson and Larry Summers got themselves fired for mentioning facts.

    Much of the rage directed at Trump is the concern that he has, so far, been immune from getting fired, that he’s the guy who fires people … and therefore he is free to say ANYTHING that is factual and logical.

    Thus he’s constantly being accused of implying things about blacks and crime statistics and Jews and wealth/power statistics, even though nobody can come up with anything except the most contrived examples.

    It’s the principle of the matter: if Trump is allowed to mention true facts about immigrants, such as that Mexico isn’t sending their best, then he might someday point out that blacks commit a lot of crimes on average and that, worst of all, Jews have a lot of money.

    Granted, all the actual evidence suggests that Trump is pro-black and pro-Semitic.

    But that’s not the point, the point is that Trump is a bad example of an American using his First Amendment right to cite facts and use logic in public. How can we tolerate that kind of example?

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      “Larry Summers got themselves fired for mentioning facts.”

      Except apparently he didn’t? https://mathbabe.org/2012/03/11/why-larry-summers-lost-the-presidency-of-harvard/

      • keranih says:

        I am not sure that article’s reasoning – that Summers was voted out because “an anon person distro’d a copy of an inflammatory article about a friend of Summers to the committee members” – is any better than what I had heard previously, which was a pair of (older) Harvard grads who told me that “Harvard wasn’t going to take that kind of sexist talk, particularly from a fat slob who doesn’t take care of himself. Harvard isn’t like that.”

        (I note with some interest that Mathbabe’s article about Summer’s actual ‘women in math’ talk focuses on ‘stereotype threat’ as a basis for women’s under performance in math – hasn’t that theory come under scrutiny here lately?)

        • Neutrino says:

          Summers was weakened by his handling of the Harvard-Russia scandal (Andrei Schleifer, et al) and what that did to the reputation of the university. I had the impression that his science views were used as nails in the coffin.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        I wrote a lot about the Summers-Shleifer scandal a decade ago, such as:

        http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/03/real-larry-summers-scandal.html

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          Which is good, but would give all the more reason not to reduce this to a narrative of “Summers got fired for not being PC”.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Summers was massively weakened politically by his scientifically sophisticated talk in 2005. One obvious piece of evidence for that is: Who is Summers’ successor as President of Harvard?

            It just happens to be the former head of the feminist Radcliffe Institute to whom Summers gave $50 million of Other People’s Money as reparations: Doctor Faust.

    • DavidS says:

      Can you unpack this? I’m not sure
      – Who the Establishment is in this case? Is this meant to be coordinated
      – How long you think this has been going on for and how many people have been fired?
      – If you think that trump opponents actually believe he’s logical and using facts?
      – Is there a sense trump is free to say factual/logical things but not to say nonfactual or illogical things?

      • Evan Þ says:

        This is an example of the sprinting generalizations about the outgroup which have been rightly deplored in many subthreads, and which flies in the face of this very post of Scott’s. There is a kernel of truth to it (perhaps a small kernel; perhaps larger – but that remains to be shown because the poster has not even waved a single piece of evidence or reason in that direction), but that kernel could be phrased in much more artful language – and then, perhaps, even some of the poster’s outgroup might listen to it and be drawn to the truth.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Of course the left does not react to all logic as “ridiculous”, but only when crimestop stands in the way of logic, and similarly, does not react to all evidence as “ignorance”. Only hatefacts are “ignorance”.

          Thank you for walking back on your generalization. That makes a huge difference, both in logic and more pertinently in rhetoric.

          Remember what Scott assumes in his post – you aren’t just talking to people who agree with you; you’re talking to people who view themselves as part of the outgroup! You don’t want to make hasty generalizations that call them bad names, because you are talking to them, and you (I assume) want to convince them to join you!

      • Steve Sailer says:

        To take just one subject area, there has been a long history of threats of violence and firings against scholars speaking up on IQ-related topics, from Arthur Jensen needing a police escort at Berkeley and having to move secretly out of town after his December 1969 Harvard Educational Review meta-analysis, to Hans Eysenck being beaten up by a mob at the London School of Economics in 1973, to the recent assault by masked vigilantes on Charles Murray that put a woman professor in the hospital.

        Similarly, famous firings include James D. Watson, Jason Richwine, and a sizable part of the firing of Larry Summers as president of Harvard (along with Larry’s more deplorable expensive defense of his best friend Andrei Shleifer on charges of helping loot Russia).

        And the pursuit goes on beyond the grave. Just this month, the historic figure with the best claim to being the Father of Silicon Valley, Stanford dean of engineering Fred Terman, had his name taken off a middle school in Palo Alto because his father, Lewis Terman, developer of the Stanford-Binet IQ test in 1916, believed in heredity!

      • Steve Sailer says:

        What motivates much of the rage against Trump is not when he lies (due to his lack of verbal dexterity, he’s strikingly untalented at lying) but when he tells the truth.

        A lot of the hysteria is over paranoia about what other truths Trump might tell.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Does a stopped clock tell the time?

          Your desire to try to cast Trump as an actual truth teller is understandable, given what I believe is your freely admitted desire for someone to run on a white-identity platform, but runs completely counter to the spirit of what Scott is proposing in this post.

    • Eva Candle says:

      Oh those mathematicians … not only do they (1) rejoice that Larry Summers got fired, they (2) welcome immigrants and celebrate diversity, and (3) reject STEAM-capitalization, and (4) oppose Brexit.

      Why do the world’s mathematicians — devoted practitioners of a discipline that celebrates logic and embraces reason — oppose apart-right worldviews so staunchly? The world wonders!

      Perhaps 20th century history has taught the mathematical community some sobering lessons, that being logical and rational, mathematicians have not forgotten?

      Mathematicians too are unlikely to embrace a president and party whose command of facts and logic is so evidently deficient as to make rational negotiation processes utterly infeasible.

      Nowadays, math-minded folks increasingly appreciate these realities, don’t they?

      • AnonYEmous says:

        Or maybe, like most of academia, they’re just staunchly left-wing?

        Because you don’t offer a convincing reason why “firing someone who you consider sexist” has much to do with “Hitler”. Seems like you just try to lump it in with, uh, “apart-right worldview”.

        Anyways, the only piece of math that matters is electoral – if mathematicians are crying tears, then I shall enjoy their taste :).

      • Eva Candle says:

        AnonYEmous, please let me observe that your remarks will remind SSC readers who are familiar with Fred Charles Iklé’s Every War Must End (1971) of several quotations (page 26, 109, and 118 respectively):

        “There was just one thing that the N*z*s [i.e., the apart-wright] never considered at all. That was the possibility that if the war did come, the USSR [i.e., the Radical Enlightenment] might win.”
          — Finnish military analysts during WWII

        “If we handle Adolf H [i.e, Donald T] right, my belief is that he will gradually become more pacific. But if we treat him as a pariah or mad dog, my belief is that we shall turn him finally and irrevocably into one.”
          — British Ambassador Neville Henderson in 1939

        “We will never capitulate, never … We might be destroyed, perhaps; but we will drag a world with us — a world in flames.”
          — Adolf H himself.

        These passages, especially the grotesquely irresponsible rhetoric of “a world in flames”, summarize the reasons why White House Generals Mattis and McMaster — who for professional reasons are thoroughly familiar with the history that informs Iklé’s work — cannot with an entirely easy conscience contemplate the hand that opens the “football” that irrevocably launches America’s nuclear arsenal.
        —-
        Note: A link to the fear-inducing DuffelBlog essay “[redacted] still trying to find good hiding spot for [redacted]” has been redacted.

      • Sandy says:

        Why do the world’s mathematicians — devoted practitioners of a discipline that celebrates logic and embraces reason — oppose apart-right worldviews so staunchly? The world wonders!

        “Why do the products of a university system whose primary function is to socialize people into a particular class adopt the dominant views of that class?”

        The world wonders.

        To be clear, I doubt the answer is as simple as one thing or another, but it is fairly stupid to think mathematicians are all just calm rationality-machines making perfectly calibrated logical decisions completely divorced from the politics of their class and background. Scott Aaronson does this schtick over at his blog — “I oppose Drumpf because I am a man of science, logic, reason and rationality, and my scientific mind has dispassionately concluded that he is the inferior choice. Also I think his redhat death squads will hang Jews like me in the public square any day now, but that’s another thing”.

      • Sandy says:

        Why do the world’s mathematicians — devoted practitioners of a discipline that celebrates logic and embraces reason — oppose apart-right worldviews so staunchly? The world wonders!

        “Why do the products of a university system designed to socialize people into a particular class adopt the dominant views of that class?”

        The world wonders.

        To be clear, I doubt the answer is quite as simple as one thing or another, but it is fairly stupid to think of mathematicians as uniformly cold-blooded logic-machines who make perfectly rational decisions that are completely divorced from the politics of their class and background. This has become Scott Aaronson’s schtick over at his blog: “I oppose Drumpf because I’m a man of science, logic, reason and rationality, and I have dispassionately concluded through sound heuristics that he is the inferior choice for President. Also I think his redhat death squads are going to hang Jews like me in the public square any day now, but that’s another thing”.

      • Sandy says:

        Why do the world’s mathematicians — devoted practitioners of a discipline that celebrates logic and embraces reason — oppose apart-right worldviews so staunchly? The world wonders!

        “Why do the products of a university system designed to socialize people into a particular class adopt the dominant views of that class?”

        The world wonders.

        To be clear, I doubt the answer is quite as simple as one thing or another, but it is fairly stupid to think of mathematicians as uniformly cold-blooded logic-machines who make perfectly rational decisions that are completely divorced from the politics of their class and background. This has become Scott Aaronson’s schtick over at his blog: “I oppose Trump because I’m a man of science, logic, reason and rationality, and I have dispassionately concluded through sound heuristics that he is the inferior choice for President. Also I think his redhat death squads are going to hang Jews like me in the public square any day now, but that’s another thing”.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      and therefore he is free to say ANYTHING that is factual and logical.

      That is hardly a good summary of Trump’s approach to communication.

      Trump says what ever he thinks sounds good, and then defends it without ever admitting fault.

      Trump is the complete antithesis to a dedication for seeking actual truth rather than motivated reasoning to desired “truths”.

  25. TheRadicalModerate says:

    I know how to have a reasoned debate with somebody face-to-face: engage with body language, interpersonal skills, peer pressure, and hang the reasoning on the social interaction. I know how to have a reasoned debate with somebody in print: take your time, marshal your arguments, prepare detailed rebuttals, anticipate counter-arguments, trade emotion away for intellectual power, and make a standalone exposition that’s completely verbal. I know that there’s at least the possibility to use TV and radio to debate reasonably: you appeal to people visually, compress your arguments down to their simplest form, rebut only when it’s easy, try to avoid free-for-alls, and hope that the images you project influence people enough to listen to the details in print or face-to-face.

    But social media is a nightmare.

    It has all the worst attributes of everything else. It uses peer pressure to ensure conformity. It removes any emotional nuance in favor of anger and outrage and grievance. It almost guarantees that anything remotely substantive provokes a melee. And it always moves so fast that if you stop even for a moment to reason out a response, your argument will be framed by the mob.

    We think in our media. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of years to perfect interpersonal communication, less than a thousand to adjust to broad print distribution, less than a hundred to adapt to visual media, and no time at all to deal with this internet monstrosity. If you’re going to have a reasoned debate with somebody, you have to know how to convey the reasoning through the medium you’re forced to use. And nobody has a clue how to do that with what we’ve got now.

    • Eva Candle says:

      The questions that The Radical Moderate’s comment raises — it is an outstandingly excellent comment (as it seems to me) — receive a considered answer in historian Bernard Vincent’s essay “Storming the ‘Bastille of words’: Tom Paine’s Revolution in Writing”.

      Vincent’s essay forms the Introduction to his well-regarded (but little known, alas, except among historians) monograph The Transatlantic Republican: Thomas Paine and the Age of Revolution (Amsterdam Monographs in American Studies, 2005).

      How sad it is that Vincent’s cogent essay is not (apparently) available on-line, in that history is not chiefly for people who seek describe it, but rather for people who seek to shape it … people like SSC readers! 🙂

      Here is what Vincent has to say in respect to Paine’s methods and influence upon the Radically Enlightened revolutionary process that created and shaped the present-day United States of America:

      A man of the people writing for the people (more particularly for the new emerging class of artisans, craftsmen, and small shopkeepers), Paine ‘stormed the Bastille of words’ (in which titled aristocrats immured themselves) …

      Who, however uneducated, could not understand the following?

      The duty of man … is plain and simple, and consists of but two points. His duty to God, which every man must feel; and with respect to his neighbor, to do as he would be done by.

      Paine wanted to be read by all classes, and he was …

      I dwell not upon the vapors of the imagination. I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A,B,C, hold up truth to your eyes.

      Thanks to that virtuoso performance [of Common Sense] (close to that of a magician), Paine was able to amplify, beyond whatever could divide his contemporaries, a nascent form of patriotism which, within months, was to galvanize the Revolution and ensure its final success.

      In the role of the (mentally ill) King George III, our present era has its (mentally ill, alas) Donald Trump. Concomitantly, in the role of Tom Paine, today’s Radical Enlightenment has no shortage of voices that are irrepressibly eloquent and ardently passionate, yet withall closely reasoned.

      That today’s Radical Enlightenment is galvanized is inarguable, and of Radical Enlightenment’s sustained and progressive success in the 21st century there are Great Expectations! 🙂

  26. alexmennen says:

    > Even “a fascist killed my brother, so fuck them” is a placeholder for a powerful philosophical argument making a probabilistic generalization from indexical evidence to global utility.

    That was not clearly phrased. I use a lot of those words sometimes, but I still don’t know what you mean.

    • marvy says:

      My philosophy vocabulary is not great, but I think that the idea here is goes like this: you know your own situation pretty well, but you don’t have a clear picture of the world at large. But, unless you have reason to suspect otherwise, you can by default assume that your situation is typical. Silly example: you notice that if you have an umbrella with you when it rains, you get less wet than when you don’t have an umbrella. You don’t know if this applies to other people, but you figure you can’t be the only person in the universe that is kept dry by umbrellas, so if you know a friend is about to go out in the rain, you suggest they take an umbrella.

      Now, how does that apply here? Well, a member of this group killed my brother. I don’t know if this group makes a habit of such things, but if I assume I’m typical, then this should be taken as evidence that they do make a habit of such things, at least more so than other groups that didn’t kill my only brother. This works even though I’ve only met one of them in my life. You could argue that this sort of logic leads people to easily create stereotypes, so is probably not recommended if you do have more global evidence available. But still, if everyone uses this logic, then averaged over the whole population, a group will have the correct number of “haters” (people who hate them).

      Doe that help?

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      E.g. “The 9/11 Terrorists were all Muslim; therefore building a mosque at Ground Zero is disrespectful” is also an argument to ban men’s restrooms at Ground Zero, since the 9/11 Terrorists were all male. Both the original proposition and the comparison are absurd since

      P(Muslim | terror) != P(terror | Muslim)
      P(terror | Muslim) != P(terror | male)

      The original proposition doesn’t explicate this. Hence, the original proposition is also unclearly phrased.

      • Mary says:

        “The 9/11 Terrorists were all Muslim; therefore building a mosque at Ground Zero is disrespectful”

        Who argues that? The argument is that they were the 9/11 Terrorists BECAUSE they were Muslim.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          It’s supposed to be a straw man for a deeper argument. Mentioning causality unnecessarily complicates the example imho.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Building a mosque at “Ground Zero” is at best tone-deaf, saying that you’re going to name it “Cordoba” is so tone-deaf given the context that it becomes hard to believe that the offense was not intentional.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Oh? How’s Cordoba especially tone-deaf? I’m primarily aware of it as a center of high Andalusian culture?

          • rlms says:

            Maybe hlynkacg agrees with Wikipedias characterisation of Newt Gingrich’s objection that that name symbolises the Muslim conquerors’ victory over Christian Spaniards. Apparently, the original intention was to reference a place where Muslims, Christians and Jews peacefully thrived together.

            Loosely related: the Wikipedia page for Córdoba mentions the 3rd Caliph there, Hisham II, as wearing a veil, using makeup, and keeping a male harem. My first thought was that it was interesting there was a female Caliph, but following the link it turns out he was a man (or possibly trans woman or something). Sadly I can’t find any sources backing up the veil/makeup parts.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s mostly about the place that Cordoba holds in the Sunni (and to a lesser extent Christian) meme-space as the first Spanish city to be taken by force of arms (rather than siege and capitulation) and one of the last Islamic hold-outs during the Reconquista.

          • rlms says:

            You were definitely banned.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ redneck

            To be fair, the letter of the treaty was honored. The Cathedral was left standing and it remained a house of worship. Also, friendly word of advice, how you say something is almost as important as what you say. Drop the “cuckold” talk.

        • ChetC3 says:

          Stop working so hard to be offended.

      • BBA says:

        Talk about impervious to facts. I live in lower Manhattan and during that whole “scandal” I would scream at anyone who’d listen that the proposed building wasn’t at Ground Zero. It’s close to it, but there are several other buildings in between, including two historic churches. (I also didn’t consider the building a mosque, more like the Muslim equivalent to a JCC*, but given that the largest mosque in Manhattan calls itself a “cultural center” I’m willing to concede that point.)

        Not to pick on anyone in this thread, but references to the “Ground Zero Mosque” still stick in my craw.

        *What is the Christian equivalent to a JCC anyway? The only one I can think of is a YMCA but I don’t know how “Christian” they are these days.

        • Brad says:

          Forget the churches, on the very same block there was (is?) a strip club. It’s lower Manhattan several blocks covers a huge amount of real estate.

        • Evan Þ says:

          There was a thread on Slacktivist several years ago (when it was just left, not rabid left) where they said something like, “It’s not at Ground Zero, it’s not a mosque… but at least it’s on the ground, so they’re saying something right!”

          The response was, of course, “Ooh! I want to visit the Flying Mosque!”

      • Jiro says:

        “The 9/11 terrorists were Muslim and committed terrorism in the name of Islam; therefore building a mosque at Ground Zero is disrespectful”. They did not commit terrorism in the name of being male.

        (And if you agree with Michael Moore that the NRA shouldn’t have held a meeting close (in time) to Columbine, then wouldn’t that also apply to opening a mosque close (in space) to 9/11?)

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          So, do you agree with Michael Moore that NRA shouldn’t have held a meeting close to Columbine?

          • Jiro says:

            Moore was lying–the NRA actually cancelled everything that they weren’t legally obliged to keep going.

      • That’s because syllogistic reasoning is long outdated tool of trying to use simple statements to model a multi-dimensional and complex world.

  27. Nic says:

    Concrete takeaways.
    How should I change my behaviour given this?
    What’s stopping me from just showing up?

    Debates are often emotionally charged to some extent. And I’m normally pretty conflict aversive. I could be taking this the wrong way yet I think my biggest personal gains probably come from not avoiding that conflict.

    I need a TAP.

    Trigger – Notice a disagreement with someone.
    Action – Snap my fingers.

    I think just being aware that this is an instance where you can fire your beautifully asymmetric weapon may cause you to do so. An impetus to launch you into understanding the other person is you, given different initial conditions.

    My trigger is piece of unwieldy kludge.
    However I hope to get a phenomenological object of what flinching away from a disagreement feels like. I’m thinking of a few past instances now. Hopefully I’ll catch the next one.

  28. BBA says:

    I’ve been thinking about Obamaphones. You know, the policy that Obama imposed on his first day in office to have the government buy cell phones for every black person in America, celebrated in black communities across the country and decried by every conservative commentator ever. Of course, none of that description of the policy is true. It’s a Bush 43-era expansion of the FCC’s Lifeline program, which since the Reagan administration has funded discounts on phone service to low-income customers and communities with one of those dozens of surcharges on your phone bill. Bush’s FCC made cell phones eligible for discounts alongside landlines. But between the economic downturn making lots of people eligible for Lifeline at the same time Obama took office and (to be blunt) crude racial stereotypes, we’ve all got this warped picture of “Obamaphones” and it isn’t politically useful to anybody to point out the true provenance of the policy. This makes it nearly impossible to debate it on the merits, unless you’re among telecom industry wonks and the public is kept far away from the discussion.

    Maybe not to this extent, but everything is like this.

    It’s Father’s Day, and everybody’s wounded.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I don’t have that warped picture of Obamaphones, speak for yourself.

    • keranih says:

      This makes it nearly impossible to debate it on the merits, unless you’re among telecom industry wonks and the public is kept far away from the discussion.

      I’m not even sure then, because a great deal of the telecom support for the policy rests on the income stream from signing people up for phones (and continuing to bill them for overages above that provided by the Lifeline program.)

      (There are *so many* ways in which the “improve communication abilities of impoverished people” intent of that program has been lost. It’s truely a camel(*) of a mess.)

      (*) “A camel is a horse designed by a committee” – indicating just how ugly and unpleasant are the products of group work.

    • gbdub says:

      I always thought the “Obamaphone” meme came out of a video of a black woman saying she was voting for Obama because she needed a new phone / he’d pay her rent / some other ridiculous thing. (Could be misremembering here, long time ago and fuzzy – and obviously not endorsing the “find a random saying something rodiculous, discredit whole movement” style of argumentation)

      In other words, I’ve always encountered “Obamaphone” in the context of mocking naive Obama supporters who expected to get free stuff, not in the context of believing there was a literal Obama policy of handing out smartphones to specifically black people. Though maybe it took on that form outside my usual circles.

      • keranih says:

        “Obamaphone” was circulating among the AA working poor/welfare class of my town in the early-ish days of the Obama presidency. The phrase was used in marketing “free” phones and services to that community.

        (I’ve seen the video clip you reference, and know of/met several people who approximated that person IRL, but I don’t think the clip has ever been forwarded in charity. At any rate, the phrase pre-dates the video.)

        • gbdub says:

          To be clear, I agree the video was not treated charitably.

          Are there then 3 versions of the “Obamaphone” meme?
          1) the version assuming a fake policy used to mock irrational “yay free stuff” opinions of Obama voters
          2) the version used to attack a supposedly real Obama policy for giving out freebies to his base
          3) the version used to actually market a realgovernment program to some of its intended beneficiaries

          • FacelessCraven says:

            There are actually four parties to the Obamaphone issue:

            1) poor people who are happy to get free phones

            2) A government program that predates Obama by decades

            3) Private for-profit companies making their money serving as middlemen between 1 and 2

            4) People grumbling about bread and circuses.

            I have no idea where the “Obamaphone” meme itself came from; when EK and I got into a big debate over it, neither of us were able to track it down to a first use. My best guess is that it either started with the users or with the middlemen, and then was picked up by the grumblers. EK seemed to think it started with the grumblers, was picked up by the middlemen, and then adopted by the users.

          • keranih says:

            poor people who are happy to get free phones

            I don’t think the qualifier is needed.

            (I don’t know who started it either, but my money is on the middlemen->users—–>grumblers, given what I saw back then. I will add that regulatory capture is such that the division between “commercial middlemen” (to include non-profits who were getting grants for signing up people) and “administrators of a government program” is pretty damn porous from I stood.)

    • Brad says:

      Worse still, the largest USF fund doesn’t pay for phones service for poor urban people, it massively subsidizes rural telephony.

  29. tk17studios says:

    This is awesome, and I’ll be referencing it a lot.

    For anybody who’s interested in this whole sphere, there’s a non-profit org that I’m a part of called CFAR that runs retreat workshops that include significant training and theory in improving this kind of discourse. Our technique for accomplishing exactly this is called Double Crux, and it’s explained here for free (though the workshops, which cost money, are better for actually training it).

    (I just emailed this post to the participants at the ongoing workshop, from which I am typing this reply.)

    I’ve also got a former colleague who’s looking to snowball this sort of thing in public discourse and the world at large, and she’s been saying stuff that rhymes with this over the past couple of years and is now working on a new organization to make it happen. https://juliagalef.com/update-project/

    Hooray for continental drift in the Overton window (in the right direction).

    • gbdub says:

      I read about Double Crux when Scott linked it awhile back, and I really like it as an ideal. It would seem to fit nicely with the sort of antagonistic cooperation Scott talks about.

      On the other hand, I’m pessimistic about how many of the loudest real world arguments actually have a factual/rationally resolvable “crux”. For example, in the abortion debate, the “crux” is probably something like “when does a fetus obtain human rights, and when, if ever, do those rights start to outweigh those of the pregnant woman?” If everyone agreed on the answer to that question, there’d be no abortion debate. But there’s no perfectly rational way to resolve that question! Science and facts can inform our opinions on the matter, but ultimately it’s going to come down to personal values. Now, I think a debate that recognized that “nobody here hates babies or women, we just disagree about how to deal with that” would be much more amicable and productive. But it wouldn’t really resolve the crux.

      I think the people lamenting a “post truth society” tend to overestimate the degree to which those who disagree with them must either be ignorant of or consciously rejecting facts. It’s entirely possible to admit that a fact exists, but consider it unimportant (or weigh other facts more heavily). But most of the most contentious debates seem to be of that sort, otherwise there wouldn’t be such a split in the first place – there are plenty of smart people on both sides!

      • tk17studios says:

        Yes to basically all of the above, with one surprising exception, which is that far more disagreements than expected do, in fact, turn out to hinge on cruxes. Like, I would have predicted, ahead of time, that a crux would be findable in ~10% of cases, and our experience has led us to think it’s more like 40-60%.

        • tk17studios says:

          Additionally, there’s a thing that happens when double crux is done well, which is that the argument proceeds past (e.g.) “when does a fetus obtain human rights,” and gets to a place where both parties find what they really disagree about. For instance, even though this still isn’t ‘resolved’ in the traditional sense of ‘argument over,’ progress has been made if both sides have ended up agreeing with the statement:

          “Okay, so, there’s this tricky thing regarding souls and whether or not they exist and when they come into the picture if they do exist, but we both agree that if souls are a thing, then a fetus should obtain human rights as soon as it has a soul, which is probably conception, and also we both agree that if souls aren’t actually a thing, which is at least possible, then human rights accrue either at the point when the fetus can legitimately be said to feel things adult humans would recognize as pain, or at the moment when the fetus is viable given current technology, whichever comes first, and there’s a ton of work to be done to pin down the actual truth in any of those three situations, and we currently disagree in our predictions, but at least we know we’re on the same team once the data comes in, because we share an understanding of the causality and how it matters.”

          In my experience, double crux often ends with that sort of convergence—it’s not that the people involved have settled the question so much as they’ve fleshed out a decision tree that they both agree upon.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @tk17studios:

            but we both agree that if souls are a thing

            First we are going need to to find the crux for the definition of soul …

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Hasn’t CFAR pivoted to being about AI, or something?

      Edit: Aha, I wasn’t misremembering:

      http://lesswrong.com/lw/o9h/further_discussion_of_cfars_focus_on_ai_safety/

      • tk17studios says:

        Our broader strategy is now AI-centric (i.e. new areas of research and new programs under development tend to be geared toward people fighting in that particular fight). But we remain an org whose guiding star is rationality, and our introductory workshops aren’t changing at all in the foreseeable future. They’re still heavily centered on individual agency and decision-making, with a strong dose of “how to do discourse right.”

  30. deconstructionapplied says:

    Scott, this is a great article. I have one quibble. You should read a book of essays by Martin Luther King, Jr. His writing is very logical, and his arguments are more along the lines of ““fascists kill people, killing people is wrong, therefore fascism is wrong,” which is a perfectly valid form of argument.

    For example, from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. “An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.”

    • tk17studios says:

      I think there’s a key point where you’re talking past each other, where your point that “logical arguments by MLKJ exist” is not actually in conflict with his point that “MLKJ made lots of rhetorically strong, non-logical arguments.”

      There’s also a chance that he was actually talking about Martin Luther King (since there’s no “Jr” in the text), and so you’re talking about different people.

  31. mnnn says:

    Missing closing quotation mark on “Purely Logical Debate,

  32. HeelBearCub says:

    I am surprised that we are this far down, and, as near as can tell, no one has mentioned one of the huge issues with adversarial collaboration and why this doesn’t happen more often.

    It requires, as Scott points out, good faith. But Scott also just assumes it can be readily offered and available.

    The plain fact of the matter is that you can’t assume good faith on the part of an adversary, and if one offers to collaborate with you, you are right to be even more suspicious of their protestations of good faith. So, even two parties perfectly willing to engage in “adversarial collaboration” will have a tough time actually coming to an agreement to do so. Or, if not, they will far to frequently find out that only one of the parties was actually operating in good faith.

    There aren’t easy answers to this.

  33. The Nybbler says:

    Incidentally, “GUIDED BY THE BEAUTY OF OUR WEAPONS” is a fine Culture ship name.

    • Nornagest says:

      It would have to be one of those mildly psychopathic *OUs, though.

      • hlynkacg says:

        On the contrary I think it would be the most terrifyingly sane GOU of the bunch. The one that understands exactly why it exists, and is totally ok with that.

  34. neaanopri says:

    This post seems like it’s convincing evidence for the idea of a “spirit of the times”, since I have been thinking about many of these ideas recently as well. Of course, Scott is a more (talented/experienced) writer so he said it better than I could.

    I didn’t notice before Scott pointed it out how little Democrats tried to debate this election cycle. I noticed one roadblock to it: the argument for “how would a Clinton presidency be different from an Obama presidency”. It’s basically _the_ central question that needs to be answered to keep a party in power, which I think everybody could agree on. And the Democrats never seemed to address it!

    Maybe the argument for it was found difficult and not tried: it seems, as far as I can tell, to basically just have boiled down to “we will keep the Executive branch functioning the way it has been functioning, and veto any crazy things the Republicans do”.

    This argument was found difficult and not tried: Clinton could have either made the argument in favor of boring continuity, which is a weak one, or attempted to propose a signature piece of legislation and use that proposal as a campaign prop. For example, a strategy of “A Vote for Hillary Clinton is a Vote for Universal Healthcare” may have worked, because it answers the question of “why vote?”. But proposing legislation is hard and takes effort, and if somebody or some institution is convinced that they will win anyways, as Clinton was (because how could anyone vote for Trump?), then it appears unnecessary. Debating was found difficult and not tried.

    • grendelkhan says:

      I don’t see why it’s more important for the current candidate to run against the outgoing President than against their opponent. Especially given that the center-left’s position is generally that things aren’t so bad, and as long as we can keep from really screwing everything up by flipping the table, we’ll probably be okay.

      I agree that there was a horrible failure to debate the actual issues, to the point where people didn’t even know where the candidates stood on them, or what they were proposing, despite there being plenty of whitepapers and such available from one of the candidates, at least. I don’t know how to fix that; I’m guessing that it’s a lot less fun to talk about policy than it is to engage in the endless battle of good-and-evil.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        despite there being plenty of whitepapers and such available from one of the candidates, at least.

        I think everyone knows what Trump was for, though: BUILD WALL DEPORT ILLEGALS BAN MUSLIMS BOMB ISIS BEAT CHYNA. Trump started with only one policy on his website (immigration) and then slowly added topics as the campaign progressed. I think he ended up with seven or something by the time of the election, presented vaguely in order of importance.

        Clinton dumped her entire platform from the start. I think there 32 topics? Alphabetized, so starting with “Addiction Treatment” or something like that. Who’s going to read all that? What was theme of the campaign? Who knows. It was basically “not Trump” and “is a woman.”

        • grendelkhan says:

          It’s difficult not to quote Idiocracy in response to that.

          There are indeed a lot of issues there, grouped into six categories, alphabetically, starting with “a fair tax system”. I go to a candidate’s page to see what they’re going to do about an issue I care about, so that’s useful to me. (Honestly, I just went to ISideWith and only bothered with her campaign site after the election.) I guess I’m not exactly typical.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Conrad Honcho:

            I think everyone knows what Trump was for, though: BUILD WALL DEPORT ILLEGALS BAN MUSLIMS

            grendelkhan

            It’s difficult not to quote Idiocracy in response to that

            I find it amazing that “it’s just like Idiocracy” is the response to “stop importing millions of low IQ voters”.

          • grendelkhan says:

            reasoned argumentation, I was responding to the “Who’s going to read all that?” bit, i.e., if you can’t fit the entire campaign into a single angry grunt, you’ve declared yourself the party of effete intellectuals.

            (I remain unconvinced that the horde of Borderers that swung the last election are primarily concerned that dusky foreigners of inferior stock will dilute the intellectual heights which they’re so proud to have ascended.)

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            I was responding to the “Who’s going to read all that?” bit, i.e., if you can’t fit the entire campaign into a single angry grunt, you’ve declared yourself the party of effete intellectuals.

            Still doesn’t work.

            The answer to “who’s going to read all that?” is “white people”. One candidate’s platform was “import as many non-white people as possible” – and it wasn’t the “build a wall” candidate.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Lurk moar, or troll harder Conrad.

    • Deiseach says:

      I noticed one roadblock to it: the argument for “how would a Clinton presidency be different from an Obama presidency”.

      My impression was that they were very much coasting on (or attempting to coast on) whatever general feeling of goodwill there was about Obama, so the answer to that was them trying as hard as they could to convey that “We’ll be a continuation of Obama’s policies” – that is, we won’t rock the boat, things will continue as they have been doing, them that’s doing well will continue to do well.

      And as you say, that made potential voters go “So what is unique or different about Hillary that she’ll bring to the job?” and the answer to that was “First woman president!” and “She’s with you if you’re with her!” and “Lots of experience in power and public service!” which, frankly, simply sounded like “more of the same old same old”.

      And for those who – for whatever reasons – were not doing well under Obama, that was a big reason to vote for someone different.

      Trump’s message may have been terrible, but it was simple and clear. (And really, people who were producing posters and having thrills run up their legs about “Hope and Change” don’t get to mock “Make America Great Again”). Hillary’s message was “What do you want me to be about? Because I can produce reams of wonkery about whatever that might be” and that was neither simple nor clear.

  35. liquidpotato says:

    I am delurking to make a comment on this and I am uncertain as to whether this is meaningful action or not because I don’t speak your language, Scott and the people of SSC. But nothing is gained without a first step so I’m going to give this a shot.

    First of all, this is a really long-winded way of saying one can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, it feels like. I know it looses a lot of the nuances you feel important to make. The people you call fact-immune troglodytes are likely to slap this with a tl:dr. As you yourself writes, a proper debate can happen only when two parties enter into it willingly. I can’t see how the fact-immune troglodytes will be motivated to engage when the language you speak is not theirs. But this is a side point.

    I’m going to borrow some language from the control theory post from a while ago. I’m going to ask what if, in terms of leverage, facts and truth* are way down the list in the system, and the proper leverage point is somewhere else? What if, I ask myself, the proper leverage is something like trustworthiness instead?

    My reasoning is that even if someone debating or persuading me has all the right facts and I have all the wrong ones, if I cannot trust that the person is authentic with me, I’m going to ignore everything he or she says because I cannot trust the person’s agenda. Even if I make the effort to look up the smart phone, I am still going to tell myself ‘He/She might be right, but I don’t know what the angle is.’ (said angle might be to make me buy something I don’t want, or get a gotcha moment at my expense or some other thing)

    I think what I want to say is that collectively, the fact-dispensing elite seems to have completely lost the trust of the fact-immune troglodytes. Whether we want to pin the blame on the media or whatever, seems to me to be quite beside the point because we either fix this trust issue or not, and moaning about the why is an exercise in futility.

    The proper leverage point might not even be trustworthiness obviously. That’s just my take. For what it’s worth, I think Harford’s take is even lower on the totem pole than facts and truth. Nathan Robinson’s take is better, but then I definitely don’t trust that guy because his agenda is clear as day, and the way he writes is odious to me and drips with condescension.

    Anyway, just my two cents.

    *I find that, throughout this post, there is an implicit assumption that facts and truth are on the side of ‘Good’. Like a very memorable line from an unmemorable SSC commenter that ‘Reality has a well-known left-wing bias’. I’m a huge fan of Sir David Attenborough’s Story of Life. Having been fascinated with natural history for a long time, I really find it hard to think that reality, fact, or truth care very much for what fact-dispensing elites or fact-immune troglodytes think.

    • apprenticebard says:

      I thought “fact-immune troglodytes” was sarcasm, and I didn’t think the post was aimed at them (nobody considers themselves a fact-immune troglodyte, and Scott seems to be questioning whether such totally fact-impervious people exist at all). Rather, it’s aimed at people who are tempted to characterize their opponents as such. The idea is that people aren’t immune to facts, even if facts are not the most effective weapons in the short term. And I think honey vs. vinegar does miss a lot of the important points–it’s possible to be superficially nice to people without making a genuine effort to understand their views or meet them with honest and charitable debate. If I had to summarize the post in a sentence, it’d be more like, “Debates employing facts and logic are a weapon that works better for people who are right than for people who are wrong, so the more we get people to rely on logical debates when selecting their beliefs, the more people will tend to adopt beliefs that are right.” And therefore we should try to create environments that encourage logical debate.

      Also didn’t get the sense that Scott assumes that facts will back up what he currently believes to be “good”, but rather that he wants his beliefs about good and evil to be based on facts, because he thinks that truth in and of itself is good. Reminds me of that Lincoln quote–“I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” Truth, by definition, is always on the side of the right, so we should aspire to be on the side of truth, even if truth turns not to be on the side we would have otherwise selected.

      Other people have talked about the limits of this (like if you and your opponent have fundamentally different and incompatible values), but it still seems like a noble sentiment to me, and I’m sure most people would agree that it’s better to believe things that are true than things that are false.

      Your point about trustworthiness makes some sense, though (I don’t think it’d make sense to reject facts based on the idea that they might lead somewhere you don’t like, but if I don’t trust the source, then I shouldn’t trust any “facts” that come from it without further confirmation). How do you think people should go about proving themselves trustworthy, other than the ideas Scott already outlined above?

      • liquidpotato says:

        I initially wrote this reply on my phone but it died on me, so I’m going off my memory on this.

        ‘…Truth, by definition, is always on the side of the right, so we should aspire to be on the side of truth…’

        Although this was really just a side point for me, I invite you to run a little thought experiment with me. The quote above, as well as the summary sentence you gave implies that there is some inherent righteousness in Truth.* I am questioning that. So perhaps we can play with this scenario a little bit.

        I can’t verify what follows, but I was told by a healthcare professional, that in the event that a child or baby is found to be NOT biologically related to a man who is named as the father, and if the man did not know, the doctors and nurses will lie by omission (or perhaps lie outright unless cornered by a demand for blood test, I did not ask for a clarification as I was flabbergasted) and let the man continue thinking that he is the father.

        The reasoning apparently being the hospitals felt that if the man knew the truth, it is very likely that he would no longer care for the child, and that the child’s rights outweigh that of the man.

        Assuming this is a real thing, personally I can’t see a ‘Right’ answer to this. I can in fact push for stronger arguments from the utilitarian/logical perspective, that lying or not being truthful is the far better option. To whom would telling the truth serve in this regard? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

        As for how else people can go about proving themselves trustworthy, I’ve always felt that winning trust is about actions and behaviours. Years ago, in my first workplace, my then HOD decided to make a power-grab. Solidifying his position would have meant getting rid of a lot of the posts in the department and seeding it with his people. He was putting some of us on watch-lists, ready to get rid of us at the slightest. My then supervisor stood up for us at great cost to himself to argue for our case where it became too egregious. That won a lot of respect and trust with us, even if they mattered very little in the grand scheme of things.

        Scott builds trust over the years with the actions he takes on this blog. Banning people who crosses the boundaries he sets forth, reinstating them if there’s a good call for it (I’m thinking of Deiseach’s case here specifically). Picking a best comment each week shows that he actually does read the comments and not just superficially. I even recall a case where he tried to set up a charity fund to get someone out of Russia.

        Trump probably built a lot of trust too with his travel-ban. I might get a lot of flames for this but I feel this needs to be pointed out. The people that elected him did so on a few grounds and the extreme vetting thing is one of them. Within a few weeks of assuming office, he fulfilled one of his campaign promises. The actual effectiveness of the ban, or whether it was well-implemented probably mattered a lot less to his supporters than that it was one of the first visible things he did.

        Debates and collaborating is all well and good, but I think it’s our behaviour and our actions while debating and collaborating that builds trust.

        *My take on the meaning of your words. If I’ve misinterpreted, I apologise and you can ignore this paragraph altogether.

        • carvenvisage says:

          As your story demonstrates, people can’t keep their mouths shut. Whether it’s a good practice if cut off from all knowledge isn’t relevant, because people will leak it, and that is damaging on a vast scale. So the answer is that it’s just wrong. All it does is redistribute and multiply potential harm to one child (raised by state, possibly) to definite harm to all families (damage to confidence in faithfulness), and to trust in general (betraying role as trusted arbiter of precisely such uncertainties).

          If you want to do something uber-utilitarian that relies on it being secret, you have to actually keep it a secret and never say a goddamn word. -Never ever ever ever ever, ever ever. Not on your goddamn deathbed. not in the goddamn afterlife.

          This doesn’t scale so well.

          • liquidpotato says:

            I’m not sure if I understand. Can you rephrase that in simpler terms? I’m not entirely of this tribe so perhaps I missed your meaning. You seem to be saying that the leak of one case will damage all trust in all medical institution.

            I’m not sure how that is relevant, because I can’t see your scenario ever happening as you describe it. Au contraire I think it scales remarkably well. I’m looking at the Catholic Church as an example. Loss of trust in institutions seems to me to be an erosive process. It’d take a lot of consistent betrayal of trust over an extended period of time before it happens.

          • liquidpotato says:

            I am unable to edit my post for some reason, so I am making a second reply. I should have taken more time to think through and phrase my thoughts.

            What I meant to say is that it doesn’t necessarily follow that because of a leak, the consequences must definitely be that it ‘redistribute and multiply potential harm to one child (raised by state, possibly) to definite harm to all families (damage to confidence in faithfulness)’ because for all we know, it might be that it redistributes potential harm to…..potential harm, if you take my meaning.

            In any case, I find that I would much rather not quibble over exact specifics of a person’s reasoning because it often feels like grabbing the tail end of a wriggling snake. The leverage point is not here. It is enough for me that you declared what you felt. I disagree because of reasons stated above, but also respect your reasoning. I thank you for sharing.

            All of this on the premise that I understood what you wrote in the first place of course.

          • Aapje says:

            @liquidpotato

            Loss of trust in institutions seems to me to be an erosive process. It’d take a lot of consistent betrayal of trust over an extended period of time before it happens.

            Yeah, but the opposite is also true. It takes a lot of consistent trustworthy behavior before trust is regained.

            My completely anecdotal and subjective perception is that trust is increasingly being lost by the lower classes, men and white people. Although, not entirely subjective, I guess, given Trump, Wilders, Brexit, etc.

          • I’m not sure if I understand. Can you rephrase that in simpler terms?

            I think part of carvenvisage’s point is that you just demonstrated that people can’t keep their mouths shut, first by the fact that you were told of the policy and second by yourself telling us. If we take it a given that information about such a policy will leak, one result of the policy is that suspicious husbands will remain suspicious after being told the child is theirs, even if it really is.

            If the doctor thinks it is important that the child be reared as it deserves, he could tell the truth and offer to adopt the child. It’s hard to see much justification for committing fraud in order to trick someone else into bearing a burden that you think should be born when he has no more obligation to bear it than you do.

        • Aapje says:

          @liquidpotato

          In the past and in certain non-Western cultures today, it was/is normal to lie to patients with incurable illnesses and pretend that they could still be cured. More recently, our culture decided that this paternalistic attitude is more damaging than telling the truth.

          The attitude is also rather ugly in that it assumes the worst in people. To go back to the paternity issue, many men do in fact knowingly raise children that are not theirs. However, by not giving them a choice you deny them the ability to exercise their own judgement. Instead, society makes is a judgement that they would probably make the choice wrongly, which is very insulting (and even dehumanizing).

          You also have to keep in mind that such behavior inherently feeds distrust. I’ve heard quite a few cases where people in relationships were lied to by their partner and they were willing to forgive the fact that they were lied to about, but they could not get over getting lied to, as it eroded the trust that they would not be lied to about major things in the future.

          Ultimately you have to decide whether you want to live in a society that is built on trust, shared norms and treating people like adults; or a society that is built on deception and paternalism. The latter society inherently results in people using poor heuristics to try to figure out the truth, which far more frequently fail than giving them direct access to the truth. So you are trading knowingly bad behavior for mistakes due to poor information. Is that an improvement?

          Finally, there is also the issue that hiding information for one party makes it easier for other parties to abuse this party. For example, a woman can more easily deceive a man when society conspires to keep the truth from men. In fact, the US currently even allows this kafkaesk case. Apparently, an unlucky man who never touched a woman can be forced to pay her thousands of dollars if she falsely names him as the father, with no recourse if the state can’t find him in time.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “If the state can’t find him in time” meaning “if the state fraudulently claims to have found him but does not actually find him”. It doesn’t sound like this is a case of the system itself being broken by design so much as corruption within the system not being properly addressed.

          • Aapje says:

            You are right, I failed to read with care.

          • Jiro says:

            A system designed in such a way that corruption happens to be easy is still a system that’s broken by design. If the system didn’t have such arbitrary time limits in the first place, government corruption would not have been as harmful.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You need an arbitrary time limit. If you want the state to exercise coercive power over its citizens you can’t just let them ignore the state’s demands forever. The problem is that the state did not notify the man of its demands, due to the corruption of one of its agents, so it incorrectly treated him as ignoring them. But I don’t think you can run a coercive state if you don’t have some way of saying “okay, you refused to respond to our demands, but we’re enforcing them anyhow”.

          • liquidpotato says:

            @Aapje

            This is long past the sell-by date for this thread, but I feel better late than never. I don’t write often, and so my writing speed is not yet at the point that I can keep up with the blog.

            I feel compelled to make a reply at least to this as I feel that this is a wonderful way to write a reply. It first starts off with a meta-level (I hope I’m using this word correctly) premise, before moving back into my specific example, and then pulling out again to make a higher-level argument about the kind of society that we want to live in by painting a picture of it, before throwing the question back to me.

            I feel that an argument like this is more compelling because it moves the focus past the specific details. I’ve been lurking in many rationalist forums (or at least they describe themselves as such) for years, and I’ve noticed a pattern that consistently happens, where there’s a tendency to take 1 part of the person’s discussion (and this paternity discussion is an example of one), and the subsequent laser-focus turns the discussion into a spiral of laser-focus on details, and the broader theme just sort of disappeared.

            When things go well, it leads to many interesting sidetracks. When things don’t, it usually devolves into a sort of kiting/straffing name-calling, because usually such forums have rules about ad hominem arguments, so the name-calling has to be subtle.

            Either way, consensus on the issue then becomes an emotional one. If we had good feels on the discussion, then agreeability on the issue becomes higher. If bad feels result, then you are my Worst Enemy Forever, and agreeability on the issue becomes lower.

  36. Conrad Honcho says:

    “All this adds up to a depressing picture for those of us who aren’t ready to live in a post-truth world.”

    Can someone please tell me when “truth world” was? The term “post-truth” reveals a sad lack of self-awareness. The left spends decades no-platforming anyone to the right of the love child of Jane Fonda and Joseph Stalin, cursing them for being the worst -ists practicing the worst -isms, nothing more than pure soulless evil wrapped in human flesh, and the right gets sick of it and throws some frog memes back in their faces and *now* we’re in “post-truth” and it’s all hopeless for “reasonable debate.” That may be true, but I don’t think it’s because of the reasons Harford thinks it is.

    • lvlln says:

      The left spends decades no-platforming anyone to the right of the love child of Jane Fonda and Joseph Stalin, cursing them for being the worst -ists practicing the worst -isms, nothing more than pure soulless evil wrapped in human flesh

      I mean, some on the left has done that for decades, maybe, but I don’t think that’s been common behavior on the left for decades. Even today, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize that as common in “the left,” though it’s becoming disturbingly more common than it was before.

      It’s perhaps fair to say that we’ve never really had a “truth world,” so “post-truth world” is a misleading term, but I do think there’s some support to the idea that it’s been getting worse in recent years.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I mean, some on the left has done that for decades, maybe, but I don’t think that’s been common behavior on the left for decades. Even today, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize that as common in “the left,” though it’s becoming disturbingly more common than it was before.

        When was the last time evil right wing nazis shouted down a left wing speaker at a US campus?

        Yes, it’s not the entire left, it’s what some are calling the “regressive left,” but very few people are speaking out against them in any meaningful way or trying to put any sort of restrictions on them. Call it “lefty privilege,” but you can go to any campus and say anything you want without fear of physical harm from evil right wing nazis. Spew all the racial hatred you want so long as it’s against whites. Spew gender hatred so long as it’s against men. Religious hatred is great (only against Christians, natch). No one is going to lay a finger on you.

        But be a gay conservative who is wary of muslim immigration because muslims in large numbers have a tendency to throw gays off buildings…even just want to hear this conservative speak and you’re getting beat with a flag pole, concussed, maced, the building smashed up and things set on fire.

        “Post-truth” is lefty privilege speak. “Ugh, can’t we get back to reasonable debate about whether Republicans are more stupid or more evil?”

  37. sclmlw says:

    I’d re-frame this whole article in a different way: The problem isn’t that the other side is impervious to the facts. It’s that nobody is honestly collaborating with their ideological opposition to produce solid evidence of whether or not their solutions are correct in the first place.

    I’d vote for any politician willing to subject their policy proposals to objective criteria for success. For example, let’s say Republicans want to pass a school choice law. Fine. But in order to gain my support, it will have to have the following provisions:
    1. The law will apply to only 50% of school districts when the law passes.
    2. Participating districts will be randomly selected.
    3. After a reasonable amount of time (say 5-7 years) we will determine which of the two groups fared better on outcomes we actually care about. For example, what’s the poverty rate of graduating students in districts that allow versus restrict school choice?
    4. Opposing claims are also tested. For example, are the remaining inner-city public schools disproportionately composed of failing students? Do they perform poorer because of the loss of students who moved to other schools?
    5. The law provides that if the stated outcomes are realized (with a threshold level of improvement set in the law itself) and the opposing outcomes are not realized (at a defined threshold level) the program will be expanded – perhaps to 60% of students – and another analysis set for 5-7 years hence. Meanwhile, if the opposite is realized the program will be contracted – perhaps to 40% of students – with a follow-up analysis scheduled.

    The problem with the way we legislate today, we never test the hypotheses underlying ideological positions, and so never gain ground to resolve the debate. Meanwhile, under the scheme above we can actually address whether school choice works well, doesn’t really do much, is a resounding success, or is a colossal failure. If it works, great, let’s do more of it. If it doesn’t we can move forward together on solutions that actually work. Interminable debates where nobody is convinced after implementation because there is no counterfactual (or rather the imaginary counterfactual can be anything the opposing side wishes) do nobody any good, and we hand the same debate to the next generation.

    Case in point, the Stimulus bill. Individuals (including noted economists) on the Left who supported the measure prior to its passing generally continue to believe it saved the US economy from certain disaster (the imaginary counterfactual), while individuals (including noted economists) on the Right who opposed the measure prior to its passing generally continue to believe it hurt the US economy, possibly by prolonging the recession and preventing a robust recovery (the other imaginary counterfactual). But who cares whether either of these two points is right? The real failing of the law is that we spent a hundreds of billions of dollars and we still do not know whether it worked or not! If it worked, we could all (or most of us) agree to do it again. If it failed, we could agree to abandon the approach. If [insert nuanced result here] we could agree to [insert modified approach here]. But instead the only legacy we leave our children is a failure to ever learn from our failures or our successes.

    • grendelkhan says:

      You’re thinking of evidence-based policy (much like evidence-based medicine, it prompts the question of just what everyone else has been basing their policy or medicine on); you can see some findings here from the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, now part of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. It looks faintly GiveWell-ish, which is a very good sign.

    • There’s a lot of experimentation going on in policy, because there are a lot of different countries doing different things. It’s not ideal, mainly because you are not seeign one variable adjusted at a time, but it’s there and it’s free.

  38. evangambit says:

    “You believe your mind is a truth-sensing instrument that does at least a little bit better than chance. You have to believe that, or else what’s the point?”

    Someone may have already mentioned this, but it’s cool and related enough to post again if they did:

    A problem is “weakly learnable” if there exists a polynomial-time algorithm that achieves epsilon-better-than-chance error. It is “strongly learnable” if there exists a polynomial-time algorithm that achieves low error with high confidence.

    What’s interesting is that a (large) group of “weak learners” (learners who do only epsilon better than chance)
    can be aggregated into a strong learner! In other words, if you consider every human to have some independent information about a (classification or regression) problem, then a model that simply aggregates them can perform extremely well (though with “only” 7 billion humans, there is naturally a limit on how small epsilon can be!).

  39. sclmlw says:

    My wife and I have friends on both Left and Right with whom we disagree on social media. I noticed she has a hard time persuading people, as they often employ defensive tactics in response to her when she cites examples, studies, and statistics. Meanwhile, I’ve had a lot of success bringing people of the opposite opinion much closer to my point of view (not just small nudges, even if they’re still not complete conversions). We compared our two methods, and noted a formula for ensuring you will have more debate success:

    1. Begin by understanding the problem the other person perceives, and address that first. If Trump supporters haven’t seen their wages go up in a decade or so, or if they lost their jobs and can’t find work, you’ll get nowhere explaining US national character or citing statistics. First you need to take their concern seriously, and discuss what can reasonably be done to address their real concern (employment and pay). Otherwise they can’t agree with you because agreeing would mean abandoning their underlying concern. Give them a better – proven! – solution first. Then talk about how the other policy doesn’t actually solve the problem.

    2. Speak their language. If you’re on the Right, and want to convince an opponent that school choice is a good thing, you’ll never do it by talking about efficiency and spending. Many on the Left are willing to accept some inefficiency if it means providing for the poor and underprivileged. To communicate effectively, you need to speak the language of the Left to make your arguments. So instead of saying, “We’re spending more and more on education in the inner-city with no improvement!” (a conservative economic argument about spending and waste) you should say, “If we keep trying the same incremental improvements that have failed inner-city children for decades we’re saying we don’t care what happens to them. Most black parents, when polled, are in favor of school choice. Most rich inner-city parents get to choose to send their children to private schools. How is it fair that poor kids don’t get the same opportunities because they were born poor? Are rich white parents afraid that poor black kids will share the same classrooms, so they prefer the segregated system we have today?” Notice that instead of making arguments about efficacy and efficiency, I re-framed the arguments in terms of fairness and equality? When debating my friends on the Right, I try not to make any fairness arguments, but talk more about traditional values, efficiency, and efficacy. For example, “Conservatives are shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to future Hispanic voters. These voters tend to agree more closely with the Right on traditional values, but are put off by a party that appears to claim they don’t want them. The Left is inviting a whole generation of voters who were born South of the Wall to join their cause. But these future voters (and likely most of them or their children will be future voters) could just as easily be helping the Right defend traditional values, if only they would let them. Hispanic immigrants have often demonstrated their ability to work as hard as any natural-born US citizen. A smart approach would be to use this influx of future voters to bolster conservative causes.”

    TL;DR – Winning someone to your side of an issue requires that you do more than just have the right facts on your side and argue your points effectively. It requires that you address the OUTCOMES they care about, and show how your approach will lead them to those outcomes better than their preferred alternative.

    • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

      Agree. As I point out above, the issue isn’t “truth”, but rather interests and trust. People who see their interests as opposed to yours, and don’t trust you to take their interests into account, have no reason to credit your arguments or even your factual claims, since they expect you to try to deceive them if you can.

  40. Chevron says:

    Couple writing mistakes:

    repeated words at “, then they then they grudgingly say you might have a point ”

    and it’s “National Institutes of Health” not “National Institute of Health”.

    Great piece otherwise, wish I had more to contribute.

  41. HaakonBirkeland says:

    Amongst other things I’ve worked as a professional musician. Early in my musical career I played in indie and punk rock bands while living in Auckland, New Zealand and New York City. Loosely associated and mixed in with these music scenes were students or graduates of fine arts programs. I dated a succession of women with this kind of training, which in the early 2000s consisted heavily of what is generally known as postmodern art theory, Baudrillard, Foucault, Derrida, and their manifestations in modern art museums. It is safe to say that the visual and musical artists I were associating with at the time were solidly positioned in the left-hand side of the aisle.

    These artists were being actively trained in anti-narrative devices. They were also being trained to distinctly create art for a small and insular elite. Either through needing an art history masters degree to even parse the art in question or having the disposable income to buy these rarified art objects, this was not art created for the masses.

    At the same time the punk and indie rock musicians were fighting against the political mainstream. The music being made was not meant to appeal to the general public, rather a small group of link-minded insiders. Testing a narrative against the marketplace and hoping for broad consumer appeal was simple written off as “selling out”. The music was not being written to persuade or entice people with different view points rather only written and performed to energize the existing base. That is to say, no conservative Christians ever went to a punk rock show and then left a changed person.

    From my perspective the artists of the left purposefully and completely abandoned persuasive narrative. It doesn’t seem like it took much work for someone else to come along and give people, not a great story, but just any old story that considered their perspectives.

    The irony is that artists on the left tend to have much more raw talent than those that would adhere to strict conservatism. Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and a slew of other country musicians that have traditionally been associated with a conservative fan base and in fact quite liberal and tend to appeal to individuals across the political spectrum. The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, the ultimate lefty hippies of the 60s, have a huge conservative following. The irony with both the Grateful Dead and Dylan is that they are in fact rather conservative, drawing from roots music of the past and actively writing for and about middle-America.

    Great artists transcend these petty political boundaries precisely because they ignore them and write narratives that appeal to universal elements of the human condition. In a market-based society like our own, with legally enforced copyrights, they can also “sell out” quite easily if the can successfully appeal to a broad audience.

    The universals of the human condition are about qualified emotions, not about quantified studies from social science and economic departments. This takes emotional appeal, the use of classical narrative devices, and most importantly, compassion and empathy for mankind. If only this generation of artists could leave behind the self-righteousness and stop from taking the fatal step of trying to come up with a political solution and trying to wield their creations as blunt-force instruments. Show, don’t tell.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Interesting post. Do you know of any newer musicians doing this sort of pushing from the inside?

  42. shakeddown says:

    A piece of data in favour of this: The ratio between republicans and democrats who want to compromise is roughly constant (see here and here, though I couldn’t find a graph for the second question over time. I had a better study at one point but can’t find it now.)

    I mean, the immediate takeaway from that is “republicans are 80% more partisan” (which I feel is obvious – is that just because I live in a bubble, or did everyone expect that?) But the more interesting takeaway is that this 80% figure is pretty constant over time – so the idea that if you start trying to have reasonable debate there’s an equivalent number of people on the other side who’ll start doing the same holds up.

    (Also, minor errata – convincing 2% of the voters, assuming you mean an evenly distributed 2%, would have changed only three of the last five elections, not the last four. In 2012 Obama beat Romney by 5% in Colorado, which was the decisive state).

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      A piece of data in favour of this: The ratio between republicans and democrats who want to compromise is sroughly constant

      ‘Want to’ may have been constant. Actions are were not.

      • shakeddown says:

        Which part of that shows actions were assymetric? Democrats consistently try to compromise more than republicans, but I can’t figure the ratio of people wanting to compromise from those graphs.

        (Also, my point was about voters – actual congressmen are subject to more complicated pressures and may act more confusingly, but the article’s about debate between voters).

        • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

          I understood the data to be not about symmetry in actions or ratio of compromisers, but showing change over time, i.e, not being constant.

          You are right about the congressmen-voter difference, though, I should have seen that.

          • Matt M says:

            Even speaking to Congressmen specifically, I feel like this data is noisy because of the modern prevalence of statistics that track how Congressmen vote, and the total # of bills that aren’t important in any way and can serve to game the statistics.

            So basically, if the appearance of being “independent” is going to be important to you, you can vote against your party in the “flags for orphans” bill that’s going to pass by several hundred votes no matter what, just to game the statistics. Same thing with voting for or against a popular or unpopular president, or an issue that you know certain interest groups will track (gun control, taxes, whatever).

            Basically, some 90% of votes are probably effectively meaningless to most people (either the issue is a minor issue, or the outcome of the vote is not really disputed, or both), therefore, data about what happens in all votes is 90% meaningless.

          • LCL says:

            A large proportion of role call votes are political theater these days. Their entire purpose is to maneuver representatives into casting votes that will sound bad when described in future attack ads. Or, conversely, to allow representatives to cast votes that will sound good when described in their own ads.

            Treating role call votes a a measure of substantive policy position is noisy at best.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Depends on what you mean by “compromise.” “Compromise” is supposed to mean you each get something you want. But look at an issue like guns. The Democrat version of “compromise” amounts to “we want to take all your guns, but we’ll compromise and only take some of your guns…and then we’ll be back next year with new legislation to take more of those.”

  43. Nornagest says:

    Given all of this, I reject the argument that Purely Logical Debate has been tried and found wanting. Like GK Chesterton, I think it has been found difficult and left untried.

    I’m tempted to agree, but on the other hand I hear about some nerd’s plan to carve out a space for logical debate every couple of weeks. Ninety-eight times out of a hundred this comes to nothing. The other two times it produces a space that ends up converging on an essentially orthodox party line, occasionally with a few people from the other side kept on as court eunuchs. (Polifact is a good example — I think its founders were quite serious about nonpartisan fact-checking, and then it went on to become evidently partisan anyway.)

    This isn’t “tried and found wanting”, but it isn’t “found difficult and left untried” either.

    • Matt M says:

      It’s probably worth noting that, (to the best of my knowledge/speculation), Scott did not start SSC with the intention of it being the last bastion of logical debate online. Nor has he gone out and initiated some fancy marketing campaign promoting it as such.

      • danarmak says:

        I wonder if when he started it, he thought there were many bastions and this was just a tiny new outpost and there was no way all the other ones would be conquered and he would be left the last one standing, swelled by a mighty army of refugees?

        Because I’m pretty sure he didn’t start out thinking he was all alone in the world and founding a new outpost of light in a sea of darkness that was all alone from the first.

        This is somewhat tongue in cheek, of course, but I do wonder how much Scott anticipated his blog becoming such a big and important meeting place for so many different people – even as a forum (in OTs) separate from his actual posts.

        • grendelkhan says:

          I wonder if when he started it, he thought there were many bastions and this was just a tiny new outpost and there was no way all the other ones would be conquered and he would be left the last one standing, swelled by a mighty army of refugees?

          There’s a strangely strong analogy to be made here with Yudkowsky’s “Double Illusion of Transparency”. Scott goes out there thinking that everyone’s interested in figuring out the truth, separating heat from light and all that, and that he and his garden aren’t particularly exceptional. And then it turns out that it’s a remarkably exceptional place.

      • suntzuanime says:

        If you read the mission statement, it’s not too far off, actually.

        • Matt M says:

          I guess my general point is that putting up a sign saying “LOGICAL, INTELLECTUAL, NON-PARTISAN DEBATE HAPPENS HERE” is probably going to attract the exact sort of people you don’t want to attract – trolls who are convinced ideological bias against them is everywhere (and are overly eager to prove that your site is no exception), or trolls who believe that seizing control of a “neutral” venue is the best way to convince others of the superiority of their beliefs (would you look at this – a totally neutral non-partisan intellectual site agrees that building the wall will be highly effective!). You are essentially identifying as a battleground, then acting surprised when the hostile armies show up.

          I would imagine that a fear of this sort of thing is precisely why Scott doesn’t much care for, say, Ann Coulter approvingly tweeting out his posts. It’s almost guaranteed to attract the exact sort of elements most of us would prefer not to have around here (and I don’t mean “conservatives,” I mean, “people with really strong opinions about stuff Ann Coulter talks about”)

          • Nornagest says:

            That happens, but it doesn’t explain Polifact (presuming I’m right about it in the ancestor). Polifact is a closed system — it can attract commentary from an infinite number of partisan hacks without doing a thing to change its output. But it’s still got a very clear slant to it, despite its mission statement.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, my personal opinion would be that their mission statement was a lie that was never intended to be followed to the letter, but I’m probably biased here. It was a marketing gimmick. It attracts the (large!) audience of “people who want to see their political opinions confirmed as factually true statements by a venue that is treated as objective and non-biased”

    • There’s also a sorry history of websites intended to use Web2.0 to Solve Philosophy. Arbital is about number six.

  44. Izaak says:

    Question for conservatives on this blog; what conservative news sources should I consume? What are the good ones? In particular, I’m looking for websites that publish mostly-text articles that cover current events from a conservative viewpoint. I’m quite liberal, but I don’t want to be in a “bubble”, so I want to expand my news sources.

    • av says:

      I consume very few “conservative” sources because I don’t like listening to people I agree with that often. I mostly listen to progressives or apolitical commentary. But the one that stands out for me as a good place to listen to conservative commentary is Bill Whittle’s channel on youtube, which I watch because I like Mr Whittle a lot and his co-commentators on some content represent different right wing positions on things so it isn’t just an echo chamber.

    • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

      Not sure about “news sources”, as most I could suggest are blogs/aggregators/opinion sites which are usually secondary to “news” per se, but if you want, try these:

      https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/
      http://www.powerlineblog.com/
      http://hotair.com/
      http://www.americanthinker.com/
      http://legalinsurrection.com/

      Then you could just go to the blogroll/favorites links on those if you want to discover more.

      • gbdub says:

        Instapundit has gone substantially downhill since Glenn made people other than himself permanent regular contributors. Other than Austin Bay, who does some cool mil-blogging. It’s still worth reading, but pay attention to the bylines (an I found SSC via an Insty link, so it’s got that going for it)

        Hot Air is mostly, well, hot air.

        Reason and the Cato Institute (libertarian, and funded by the eeeeevil Koch brothers no less), National Review, and The Hill are pretty decent for news from a conservative perspective.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          the hill is kind of on the nuts of Chelsea Clinton currently which is an immense no-no from me

          should be for everyone else too TBH

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I’d also recommend http://www.the-american-interest.com/ as one of the most sober-toned conservative sites, mostly on foreign affairs.

      https://www.michaelyon-online.com/ has some of the best embedded journalism I’d ever read, but the downside is that you pretty much get whatever Yon is embedded in, which lately tends to be Thailand. Very military-minded, and also mostly about foreign affairs, but at ground level.

    • cassander says:

      I second the recommendation for instapundit. Good aggregator, my go-to recommendation for people who want to step into the red-o-sphere.

    • keranih says:

      In case you’re looking for my opinion…because I don’t have go-to sites in lay media – I tend to graze at the edges of a number of places, but try to wear anti bs glasses and to question nearly everything with a “so, if I was ‘the bad guy’ in this article, what would I be objecting to” and to wonder what quotes/perspective is being left out. Things like dates, numbers, rates vs whole numbers, and degree of effect jump out at me.

      I find that it was easiest to start “interrogating” articles from the loon fringe furthest from me, and then start working my way back, to where I get cranky even at people who are promoting a stance I support if they exaggerate a claim, fail to acknowledge drawbacks, or excessively lamblast detractors.

      Be careful with this, or you’ll find yourself considered obnoxious and disliked by all parties.

      (My background isn’t broad enough to literally read everything with even shallow comprehension, so a lot of policy details go over my head. And I have some fairly large blind spots where I do not care to entertain alternate povs. But I think that a person could start anywhere on the political spectrum and come to a useful place (even if not in agreement with me) if they tried this over some years.)

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        [I] try to wear anti bs glasses and to question nearly everything with a “so, if I was ‘the bad guy’ in this article, what would I be objecting to” and to wonder what quotes/perspective is being left out.

        This is a drum I frequently bang as well. As I put it: it’s not so much what media says that’s false, as what it leaves out that’s true. Most of what you’ll hear or read from any news source (with an audience of, let’s say, at least one million) is either true or has a reasonable true interpretation. But that’s a subset of everything it could report, and the deductive closure of all the news on any given subject frequently paints a very muddy picture that you can’t reliably base policy on.

        Given this, my incentive to find conservative sources isn’t because they’ll give me the truth, but rather they’ll give me the truth that non-conservative sources leave out. Obviously, consulting nothing but conservative sources would produce the same bias problem.

        • As I put it: it’s not so much what media says that’s false, as what it leaves out that’s true.

          Yes. As I’ve mentioned before, what I think of as my loss of innocence was the discovery that academics I liked were willing to deliberately omit what was probably the most important single fact they were writing about–because it pointed in the wrong direction.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Technically not answering your question, but for the libertarian perspective, http://reason.com/ is very good.

      It’s mostly opinion commentary on recent news, not attempts at news reporting itself, but I assume that what people mean by “conservative/liberal/libertarian news source”.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Ace of Spades is my id, but Thomas H. Crown is my spirit animal.

      Instapundit, which others have recommended, is a good one. It’s largely a link feed, and very valuable to have on your list because the primary thing bubbles do is ignore/downplay certain stories. Get yourself a good liberal and conservative link feed and then be amazed at how much they ignore.

      Plus, he’ll let you know when it turns out that the hate crime everyone was up in arms about last week turns out to be fake.

      I want to plug Ace of Spades, but with the caveat that you will need a strong stomach. I think he is on the level of SSC when it comes to insight porn*, but without any of the commitment to niceness or charity. Often he’s crass just for the fun of it.

      * Comparable on an insights/week basis, not an insights/post basis. Also, don’t read the comments.

  45. Marklouis says:

    I think the problem starts even before the “facts” and I rarely make it to that part of the discussion. I find that people on opposite sides often assume different utility functions…neither is right/wrong and the basic disconnect is rarely addressed.

    Consider:
    -Free trade may “grow the pie” but also significantly alter the distribution. What are we solving for? No one seems to know or even talk about it.
    -Cultural openness may bring new ideas but at the cost of destroying some long-held traditions. What are we solving for?

    In the majority of difficult issues i find the “facts” to be of little help. We are arguing over philosophical preferences, most of which are neither right or wrong. Tell me your utility function and i’ll tell you the “answer.”

    • In the majority of difficult issues i find the “facts” to be of little help. We are arguing over philosophical preferences, most of which are neither right or wrong. Tell me your utility function and i’ll tell you the “answer.”

      I don’t think that is correct, although it is certainly a common belief. Let me try listing issues on which I think that people who agreed with me on the consequences of alternative policies would agree, at least roughly, with my conclusion, across a wide range of utility functions.

      Minimum wage. [prices low skill and entering workers out of the market, contributing to their long term unemployment and dependency]

      Free trade. [Makes some Americans somewhat worse off, most Americans a good deal better off, no particular pattern as to whether gainers and losers are rich or poor, good people or bad people]

      Restrictions on gun ownership. [Makes people more dependent on protection from the police, hence more willing to give the police power. Has little effect on the murder rate, probably increases the rate of other crimes.]

      Less restrictive immigration laws. [Makes some Americans worse off, more Americans better off, many immigrants much better off]

      Lower taxes and regulation. [Makes almost all Americans better off in the long run, a minority worse off in the short run]

      Easing or abolition of FDA restrictions on medical drugs. [Greatly increases the rate of progress in medicine, sharply reduces medical costs, some increase in bad side effect problems but on net a sizable decrease in mortality]

      My point isn’t that my factual view is true, although of course I think it is. It’s that if everyone agreed with it, there would be a large shift in policy, despite differing utility functions.

      A meta point. I suspect the view that policy differences are mostly based on different objectives is in part a result of people not making a serious attempt to understand the other side’s factual beliefs, hence concluding that the only reason they could be in favor of X is that they like the bad consequences I know X would bring.

      • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

        In most and possibly all of these cases, there is an interest group that benefits significantly from the policy you oppose. If that interest group has many allies, then there may be quite a few people–possibly even a majority–whose partisan preference is for the policy you oppose. (Trading off of benefits among allied interest groups is a common aspect of politics.) Most of those people probably believe that the facts support them, but their preference comes first, not their view of the facts. To persuade them of your view of the facts, you would probably have to persuade them to abandon their own or their allies’ material interests. Shouting at them that they have the facts wrong isn’t likely to accomplish that.

      • Jiro says:

        issues on which I think that people who agreed with me on the consequences of alternative policies would agree, at least roughly, with my conclusion, across a wide range of utility functions.

        Only because the clause “many immigrants much better off” is doing no work there. Surely you are aware that most people don’t value the welfare of fellow citizens and prospective immigrants equally.

        Also, I’m not sure I actually have a nontrivial utility function, since I oppose murder offsets.

        • random832 says:

          Not equally is not the same as not at all… and the country is geographically and culturally large enough that some ‘fellow citizens’ are as likely to be in any given person’s far group as the immigrants.

          • suntzuanime says:

            When you’re in a hole, stop digging, right? As nice as it might be to deport the Californians, our inability to do so doesn’t mean we should import more people as alien as them.

      • soreff says:

        My point isn’t that my factual view is true, although of course I think it is. It’s that if everyone agreed with it, there would be a large shift in policy, despite differing utility functions.

        I think that several of the examples that you give are close to the point where
        the factual questions and the differences in utility functions interact.

        I do agree that e.g. for

        Free trade. [Makes some Americans somewhat worse off, most Americans a good deal better off, no particular pattern as to whether gainers and losers are rich or poor, good people or bad people]

        If it is indeed true that exactly most Americans benefit,
        truly >50%, then most public policy utility functions would favor it.
        If, however, it were uncertain whether we’d get e.g.
        scenario 1:
        25% benefit by $4X
        75% lose by $X
        (which, admittedly, is contrary to your hypothetical)
        or
        scenario 2:
        75% benefit by $X
        25% lose by $X
        then whether the utility function
        adds up the benefits, irrespective of who gets them (u1)
        or instead
        looks at the effects on the median person affected (u2)
        matters. u1 favors both scenarios but u2 only favors scenario 2.

        • If it is indeed true that exactly most Americans benefit,
          truly >50%

          Some people use “most” to mean a majority, but I use it to mean a large majority: >>50%.

          • soreff says:

            Ok, so if you are right then scenario 1 is strongly ruled out,
            not just might-or-might-not-be-excluded-within-the-margin-of-error,
            and under scenario 2 both utility functions give the same answer.
            Point conceded.

  46. P. George Stewart says:

    Trouble is, because of rational ignorance, few people are going to bother investing time in properly debating politics at the national level. It’s only going to engage those who are interested in politics for its own sake.

    So with politics (again, at the large scale state level), people go on charisma and the general “feel” of the person. Trump supporters think he’s basically a good guy, and Clinton vile; vice-versa for the Dems.

    IOW, you’ll only get people interested in rational debate on subjects that they find intrinsically interesting, or that affect them in a way they can have some influence on. You might get it at a local political level, where one’s vote has proportionately more weight, and it’s possible to know local politicos’ asses (becuase, e.g., they went to a local school and run a local business everyone frequents, they’re a known quantity), but at the national political level where one’s vote is a drop in the ocean, never. It’s all rhetoric, smoke, mirrors, back room wheeler-dealering and teeth whitening.

    • Rational ignorance has a solution which is to outsource consideration of how policies will affect you (ie your SE bloc) to journalists).

    • soreff says:

      Trump supporters think he’s basically a good guy, and Clinton vile; vice-versa for the Dems.

      I favor Dave Barry’s view: 🙂

      CNN told us over and over that Donald Trump was a colossally ignorant, narcissistic, out-of-control sex-predator buffoon; Fox News countered that Hillary Clinton was a greedy, corrupt, coldly calculating liar of massive ambition and minimal accomplishment. In our hearts we knew the awful truth: They were both right.

      • cassander says:

        “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed, and are right…The United States has never developed an aristocracy really disinterested or an intelligentsia really intelligent. Its history is simply a record of vacillations between two gangs of frauds.”

        – The Sage of Baltimore

  47. jbradfield says:

    This is great and inspiring.

    However, there are two questions that people are conflating:

    1) How do we convince others, or more charitably how do we create a culture of collaborative tuth-seeking?
    2) How do we win elections (or prevent people we really don’t like from winning elections)?

    Very loosely these can be defined as (1) Winning the Culture War and (2) Winning the Political War.

    Your essay addresses (1) and I think it’s spot on.

    However, there are several times that you drift into addressing (2). Partly that’s because the articles you cite also conflate the two questions.

    You can win the political war without achieving a decisive victory in cultural conflicts.

    In fact, that’s precisely what the GOP has accomplished – achieving political dominance in the federal government and a large majority of state governments without really making inroads in convincing a substantive majority of their ideas. In fact, by several measures, the majority not only oppose Republican policies, but also Republican candidates (e.g. the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election).

    If we’re talking about political victories then I think the right approach is to dispense with any pretense of trying to convince Trump voters. The goal is not to convince ardent supporters of your opposition. Instead, you have two goals: pull out your supporters and convince swing voters.

    That’s a far more tractable problem than trying to convince passionate Trump supporters. You’ve reduced the problem from trying to convince the most rabid Breitbart readers that they’re wrong to just trying to convince some guy in Michigan who voted for Obama twice and then voted for Trump. The latter is a lot easier to do.

    Of course, most of those articles about debating Trump supporters aren’t even about “how do we win?” they’re mostly just ways of insulting the other side and reinforcing tribal identities.

  48. Matt M says:

    I’d just like to re-emphasize (from the perspective of someone who regularly listened to Glenn Beck throughout the Obama presidency), that from 2008 – 2016, one of the right’s primary criticisms of the left was: “These people are wholly guided by emotions and feelings and don’t care at all about facts and logic.”

    So at the end of the day, this really isn’t a right/left dynamic, it’s a winner/loser dynamic. The loser always justifies losing by claiming that truth and logic and rationality were on their side, and the enemy just had a more slickly produced documentary which convinced hordes of mindless idiots.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      Haven’t both the right and left always accused the other side of being driven by emotions, regardless of who’s winning or losing?

      I mean, pretty much everyone on either side of any debate considers themselves to be on the side of facts and logic and their opponents to be blinded by feelings (or bias, or privilege, or unthinking allegiance to authority, etc). Everyone sees themselves as being one of the few conscious humans in a world of sheeple.

  49. Deiseach says:

    He thinks maybe we can inspire scientific curiosity by linking scientific truths to human interest stories, by weaving compelling narratives, and by finding “a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science”.

    First, I am absolutely delighted that this is titled using the lyrics of a Leonard Cohen song 🙂

    Second, good luck with scientific curiosity, Mr Harford. My dad and I used to sit down and watch the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan back when it was first broadcast. We both enjoyed it immensely (we also used to watch things like James Burke’s Connections). Sagan is often invoked as a secular saint of atheism, showing how you don’t need religion to have the “sense of wonder”. deGrasse Tyson’s inferior remake of Cosmos (though I suppose I should, in this context, rather call it Seth MacFarlane’s remake) was even heavier on the “science good and right, religion wrong and bad” angle.

    Well, Carl Sagan didn’t convert either my father or myself to atheism or free-thinking or “you don’t need religion for the sensawunda and awe at our place in the cosmos”; he still went to say the rosary at a local Marian shrine and I’m still a bad Catholic.

    This kind of naive “only throw enough education and consciousness raising, delivered by a calmly authoritative expert, at the plebs and some of it will stick!” approach is doomed to failure. You might (but I’m not guaranteeing it) have a better chance with “I’m going to talk with you, not at you”.

    • av says:

      You might have a better chance with “I’m going to talk with you, not at you”.

      I agree with this, if only we could ever get to this point in a statistically significant way. It’s actually getting the “with” part down that is very difficult, for they begin the talking by playing the role of the fire hose overpressured with facts and put you in the role of irate protester. Open wide, dummy.

      I never hid my support of Trump from coworkers, and not once did they ever have a conversation with me in which I played any role other than a foil to jokes they heard from John Oliver. Please note: I work with actual honest-to-god scientists, Masters and PhD. Once I made a comment that maybe if we wanted wages to rise we should limit immigration so that labor scarcity drove wages up. This, of course, didn’t become a discussion on what to do about stagnating wages, whether my suggestion made sense, or even if it did make sense whether there were reasonable alternatives. I was told that when I build a wall they’ll make a killing selling ladders. Open wide, dummy.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      deGrasse Tyson’s inferior remake of Cosmos (though I suppose I should, in this context, rather call it Seth MacFarlane’s remake) was even heavier on the “science good and right, religion wrong and bad” angle.

      It’s been a while since I saw it, but I remember the first episode of the new Cosmos containing this long, animated historical segment about a scientist being imprisoned and tortured and finally killed by Evil Religious Zealots. It felt, ironically, like a story about a religious martyr being persecuted and killed by evil heathens.

      I’m an atheist, but that kind of thing always annoys me. I felt like I was being pandered to. I mean, sure, awe at the beauty and complexity of the universe is great, but the whole point of science is that it’s an objective method of inquiry, so it shouldn’t need a hamfisted narrative about good and evil to support it.

      (I feel like I’ve probably complained about the new Cosmos here before so apologies if I’m repeating myself.)

    • carvenvisage says:

      “only throw enough education and consciousness raising, delivered by a calmly authoritative expert, at the plebs and some of it will stick!”

      lol yes. what is with this.

  50. xXxanonxXx says:

    I’m anon from the last quote, and I had the blog in mind on election night as well, making me squirm once more as it became increasingly clear Trump was going to win. So, for what it’s worth, I felt really bad about everything (well not everything, Ana Kasparian’s “I’m better than you!” meltdown was straight up delicious).

    SSC isn’t the only place I see sane discussions on culture war topics, but it’s one of the few. What is absolutely toxic to communities like this is members who have clearly committed to ideological total war, the true believers. An atheist/skeptic FB group I used to frequent was essentially ruined when one member (the founder of Being Liberal, actually) just made it so intolerable with constant accusations of crypto-fascism/nazism/misogyny etc… that other main contributors left. That experience and others makes me very keen on the idea of making other media hubs more SSC-esque. Especially the ones that are more digestible and therefore more popular. I frequently link people here. When I ambush them later for their thoughts the most common answer is, “well it was… ah, it was very long… “

  51. Alex Zavoluk says:

    “I’m not against winning by coincidence. If I stumbled across Stalin and I happened to have a gun, I would shoot him without worrying about how it’s “only by coincidence” that he didn’t have the gun instead of me. You should use your symmetric weapons if for no reason other than that the other side’s going to use theirs and so you’ll have a disadvantage if you don’t. But you shouldn’t confuse it with a long-term solution.”

    Isn’t this precisely the argument you rejected here?

    The only difference is that Stalin is different from “people who disagree with you on the internet,” is that the point you were trying to make?

  52. Progressive Reformation says:

    Do you think these principles can be applied to online discussions? I’m especially curious if there’s a good way to optimize the design of comment threads to promote discussion over take-that lines.

    Most threads (Disqus-style, etc.) seem to do poorly on this measure because there’s an immediate audience (so you want to score points) and the way comments are displayed (lots of different threads at once, rapidly moving discussion, etc.) force you to make short, snappy comments rather than reasoned arguments.

    But other sites, like Medium, come closer to allowing real discussions because of the way comments are displayed (though I don’t like that site because they give authors tools to effectively ban all dissent in the comments, which authors use all the time, and also their “Editors’ Picks” section is, um, somewhat biased politically).

    I’m currently thinking about how the SSC comment threads fit this description.

    • soreff says:

      I really like the “adversarial collaboration” paradigm that Scott cites in section III.

      I don’t see an easy way to modify general threads to support that,
      but I could see a fairly easy way to do this between two participants:
      (part of the interface stolen from Code Collaborator):

      Say we had two participants, A and B, and we have a 3 column format,
      with column 1 originally entirely from participant A,
      column 3 originally entirely from participant B.
      And participant A can mark anything from participant B as “agreed”,
      at which point it slides into the middle column 2 (and vice versa).

      My guess is that columns 1 and 3 should be editable by A and B
      as they see each other’s points, but the agreed column should
      probably be (semi?) frozen…

  53. Don_Flamingo says:

    Nice documentary! But I think the whole volcano/kitchen-sink/hurricane-metaphor doesn’t work all that well. Too convoluted. Best edit that. Try for more viscerally appealing images, like kittens. Everyone wants to be on the side of kittens.

  54. psmith says:

    If you genuinely believe that facts and logic don’t work on people, you shouldn’t be writing articles with potential solutions.

    Well, yes, I’m not doing that and on a certain level that’s the reason why not. Except when somebody pays me to, in which case my reason for doing it is to make a buck.

  55. Richard Kennaway says:

    Re the parable of Sally, have you read “The Yellow Pill”, an SF story from 1958 by Rog Phillips? https://www.lexal.net/scifi/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/phillips/index.html. (The page is formatted weirdly, you may have to copy the text out of it to read it.)

  56. Doug S. says:

    If people aren’t resistant to facts, how do you explain the popularity of every religion you don’t believe in?

  57. Doug S. says:

    That Gandhi quote doesn’t mean much if you think *you yourself* are bad in the way you’re objecting to. “Of course people cheat, just like me – you’d have to be a damn fool not to take every advantage you can get, even those that are against the rules.”

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, I had the same thought. What sort of horrible person would think so highly of themselves that they would find that persuasive?

      • The original Mr. X says:

        My first reaction to the Gandhi lines was “Yes — that’s just what I’m talking about!”

  58. Inty says:

    I think part of the reason this is often not employed is because marginal utility favours resources going towards symmetrical weapons. I.e., ‘Yes, we *could* use reason and debate to persuade them, but we’d have to take away from our propaganda budget to do it, and that’s more effective’. The only way to make it work is to coordinate with the other side to do it, but then you’ve got a Prisoner’s Dilemma, and you’ll always have people on your side shouting to defect. If this is the case, and one side is more likely to unilaterally invest in asymmetrical weapons than the other, then you’ll likely have individuals on that one side saying we should stop investing in these and go back to symmetrical weapons, because at least then it’ll be 50:50 rather than the other side having an advantage. I am worried that this may indeed be what’s happening.

    • I.e., ‘Yes, we *could* use reason and debate to persuade them, but we’d have to take away from our propaganda budget to do it, and that’s more effective’.

      You are imagining each side as something like a corporation, not a population. I am not interested in writing propaganda designed to convince irrational people, so my time, energy and money are not part of the propaganda budget for my side however defined. They are available for versions of Scott’s project.

      The mistake I believe you are making explains a good deal of the infighting within movements. If we think of the movement having a single pool of resources, then when you argue for what I consider the wrong approach you are trying to divert resources away from my right approach, and of course I want to stop you. If we think of the movement as a lot of individuals, each with his own resources that will get spent on activities he approves of/is good at, then convincing you that my approach works and you don’t means you spend your time playing WoW or chasing women instead of working for our common cause.

      • Inty says:

        Sorry, I may have over-sold my confidence in this being how things are. I’m not saying it’s definitely like that, just that I can imagine it being like that. Though I will say that in some cases I do think it works more like a corporation than a population, because that group’s resources may be bottlenecked at some point- for example, if the group is a political party with broadly-similar but not identical beliefs, they’ll get a certain number of BBC ads (at least in the UK). And it need not be the case that every single resource a side has be possible to mobilise for every activity (be it propaganda or rational argument), only that the marginal resources can be moved this way, which is a weaker claim and in my opinion a more plausible concern.

  59. FeepingCreature says:

    I’ve been internally calling this a “Sword of Truth”. Like, something is a Sword of Truth if it works for people who are right but doesn’t work (as well) for people who are wrong. If I could ask people to consider one thing of their methods, it would be “is this method a Sword of Truth? If you wield it, do you win because you are right? Or is your being right incidental?”

    • grendelkhan says:

      It seems like it would be extraordinarily hard not to fool yourself about that sort of thing, but incredibly valuable as a social good to arm as many people as possible with such rhetorical weapons. That somehow wouldn’t be slightly corrupted or subverted or made more convenient, thus destroying their good.

  60. MartMart says:

    While I have enormous respect for Scott, I’m afraid this is little more than a beautiful dream.
    If I understood his point correctly is seems to be that by engaging people in a true argument, people can be slowly shifted to the side of truth and facts, and slowly, over time, the side of truth and facts will become more powerful that the side of hate and ignorance.
    But this assumes a certain inoculation affect, that once people switch to the side of truth, they will remain there, and so the slow process will deliver returns eventually.
    It’s no secret that our political landscape connects unrelated issues. So ME and YOU can enter an argument on issue A, and I can slowly, in good faith be converted to the side of truth on issue A. But tomorrow, issue B is all the rage, issue A is unimportant, and I will go along with irrational forces that appeal to me on issue B, to side with team hate and ignorance despite knowing that they were/are wrong on issue A, because issue A isn’t all that important right now (Haven’t we all been willing to support sides that we thought were wrong on some issue that we felt wasn’t all that important?).
    I might even abandon my support for team truth and beauty all together, because issue B is so important and I really don’t want to appear as one of the people who may not be on the right side of it by talking about issue A in front of my peers.
    My being convinced by the side of truth on issue A will not necessarily accomplish anything other than my switching on issue A. It will not necessarily get me to see the proper way of discovering the truth and the importance of rejecting falsehoods everywhere.
    There are time where the proper argument is impossible. Suppose I show up at your doorstep with an armed squad of goons, with the intention of executing your family, because doing so will lead to some greater good. I have what I feel is a strong argument to why this is the case, and I am perfectly willing and eager to engage you in a collaborative search for truth, believing that the truth is that your loved ones have to die. Maybe I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but I somehow doubt that you will be. Incidentally, this is not too far from how someone related to an undocumented immigrant will view a debate on why we mustn’t have an amnesty. I’m sure there are other examples as well, but one thing a proper argument certainly requires is a degree of detachment, the ability of participants to change their minds without it representing some sort of personal threat. Which is necessarily not going to be the case, because if it was we would be confining ourselves to only debating those issues that can’t possibly threaten anyone no matter what the outcome.

    I guess my overall point is that memetic infections laugh at your inoculation thru better reasoning campaign. It may work here and there on specific memes, but it’s not going to eliminate the spread of false ideas, in the same way that inoculation may wipe out some diseases, but it’s not going to give us a world free of diseases (a note about that comparison: I have no medical knowledge. I may be wrong entirely there)

    • carvenvisage says:

      Maybe I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but I somehow doubt that you will be

      This scenario would entail that everything I know about my loved ones is wrong. If you could convince me that they are aliens who ate and replaced my family, I might eventually be convinced. Of course this is outlandish, but so is your scenario. Of course you can’t talk someone into agreeing to the slaughter of people they loves more than themself (terminally!), and who it is their duty and honor to protect. But this has no bearing on truly well intentioned genuine persuasion more generally.

      • MartMart says:

        Ok, suppose you married an illegal alien. Had some kids together, and generally have a decent life, aside from the whole being afraid of your spouse being one day deported and your family torn apart.
        Now suppose a nativist would like to enter an argument about the merits of deporting all illegal aliens, including your spouse. Let’s suppose that this nativist has some degree of influence (doesn’t have to be much, just enough that their opinion matters). Perhaps they are a fairly ordinary person who is asking you for a reason why they shouldn’t report your spouse for deportation.
        Is that a far fetched scenario? Are you really going to be in a position to be convinced?

        • carvenvisage says:

          How do we get from ‘alien who literally ate and replaced my family’ to ‘illegal alien’? This is what I was responding to-

          There are time where the proper argument is impossible. Suppose I show up at your doorstep with an armed squad of goons, with the intention of executing your family, because doing so will lead to some greater good.

          You implied that because people won’t be argued into letting their family be executed, that their bottom line is already written, or something, and so they’re not really rational.

          But actually the bottom line was written by you, in the very unlikely and specific hypothetical. It’s not a thought experiment at all, it’s a just so story/stacked deck situation.

           

          The point I was making was that even in this contrived scenario, your idea still doesn’t apply. If you have a good reason to kill someone’s wife and children (how ridiculous this is!), and you also need their permission (!), then yes you do need to try and convince them.

          If my alleged wife and child are aliens who ate my family, and I can somehow stop you getting them, you will definitely have to come at me in a sensitive and intelligent way, not by being self indulgent or lazy in how you make your case. Which is Scott’s point. It shines through even in this case.

           

          The basic reason that even this scenario fails, is that “rational” doesn’t mean that if you can’t find a hole in the argument, that it’s watertight and hence that you have to do whatever the argument says.

          (like a lunatic who thinks it’s a good idea to obey the voices in their head because they can’t outargue them.)

           

          If your formal logic and general understanding/judgement are in conflict, you have to weight them against the other, obviously. You have to determine which or both or neither is mistaken. It’s not “well lol okay I guess I’ll go join ISIS seeing as you put it that way. Gee the west really is decadent how didn’t I see it”.

          And In this case ‘don’t murder your wife and child, whom you love’ far outweighs almost all possible considerations, to the point that there’s no point in being ‘open minded’ about it, and anything which could convince you is going to be an incredible shock. More specifically, it is going to have to convince you that your wife and child are really, really, not who you thought they were.

          In short, of course there are times when the proper argument is impossible. ‘Rape that cat’ is never going to be the proper ethical course of action. ‘Sentence your family whom you love to death’ is the same kind of action.

          _

          Ok, suppose you married an illegal alien…

          okay, so in this scenario I must believe that being an illegal alien is fine, strongly enough to get married to someone with that status.

          -either because I’ve thought things through a lot, or because I am simply going with how I feel. That’s a very important stipulation, and pretty much determines my hypothetical response from the start, as it maps out what kind of person I’m supposed to be.

          Now suppose a nativist would like to enter an argument about the merits of deporting all illegal aliens

          Yes my bottom line is probably written already, because I very specifically tied myself and my duties to it years ago. Not because of any general failure of the nature of rationality, but because I already either deeply considered, or failed to consider, what it means, and because I took on the duties of one spouse to another. (to cherish and to protect etc.)

          Perhaps they are a fairly ordinary person who is asking you for a reason why they shouldn’t report your spouse for deportation.

          If I’m not retarded, I will engage with this person as honestly as I can, so that they have a good reason to listen to what I say.

          The only thing that matters is my chance to persuade them, not their chance to persuade me: I can’t stop the spouse from being deported by willing it, only by persuading this citizen who has taken the time to hear arguments against their default action.

          So If I really want my wife to stay in the country, I will unwrite the bottom line I wrote all those decades ago, so this person has the best reason to trust my arguments are honest, and to view us (partner and myself) as harmless and hopefully decent people.

          So again, even in this case, the answer is still yes you have to be rational and honest, (and polite and considerate) if you want to convince people.

           

          • lvlln says:

            In short, of course there are times when the proper argument is impossible. ‘Rape that cat’ is never going to be the proper ethical course of action.

            A cat is fine too.

    • Tracy W says:

      There are time where the proper argument is impossible. Suppose I show up at your doorstep with an armed squad of goons, with the intention of executing your family, because doing so will lead to some greater good. I have what I feel is a strong argument to why this is the case, and I am perfectly willing and eager to engage you in a collaborative search for truth, believing that the truth is that your loved ones have to die.

      Under this scenario I would much rather that you showed up willing and eager to engage in a collaborative search for truth than if you showed up determined to skip the debate and go straight to the executing.

      . I’m sure there are other examples as well, but one thing a proper argument certainly requires is a degree of detachment, the ability of participants to change their minds without it representing some sort of personal threat

      Perhaps. But what does this have to do with your example? If you show up at my door prepared to execute my family and I persuade you by proper argument to leave without doing so, you are never personally threatened by the argument and by the argument I remove the personal threat to myself.

      You’re muddling up two situations here. Under the scenario you state, by threatening my family you are giving me a strong reason to engage in a proper argument in the first place. Your argument that people can only engage in proper argument if they’re free to change their minds without it representing a personal threat would be if you showed up, demanded I debate you, and then said that it I conceded any points you’d shoot my family. Obviously if you want a proper debate you shouldn’t punish people for changing their minds.

      So i think your example implies the reverse of what you argue.

  61. It still sounds like you are trying to deceive people. That is, you are saying, “Don’t you think you are right? If so, then shouldn’t you want to use arguments that will show the real truth, since you are right?”

    To a first approximation, people do not want to use arguments that show the real truth, because they know they are not right. Especially when you are talking about politics, as you mainly are here. There is an anecdote in Robin Hanson’s book “Elephant in the Brain” where his co-author talks about his method of “rational” voting which he stopped using after a single trial. Why? Because it didn’t feel good. Since he was trying to evaluate the candidates rationally, that meant that he was open to voting for either side, if it was better. Which means that he was betraying his side just by being opening to voting for the other in principle.

    The same thing is true in general. It is obviously false that a single political party or other such group is right about everything. So if you are open to following the arguments wherever they lead, you are betraying every community you belong to. So no one wants to do that.

    • thepenforests says:

      Okay, but then the question is: once you notice this behaviour in yourself, do you approve of it?

      Like, this community is selected for being unusually willing to follow arguments through to their conclusion, and base their beliefs on those arguments. But everyone does that to some degree, and no one likes completely ignoring good arguments. I mean, yes, sure, people don’t like betraying their community based on arguments. But people also don’t like being hypocritical, and people also profess to base their beliefs on sound reasoning and good arguments. So if people have it thrown in their face that they are really truly ignoring good arguments in order to maintain their position…well, I don’t think that will sit well with them. They’ll want to resolve the contradiction. And yes, sometimes they’ll resolve it in the direction of ignoring the truth and sticking with the community. But make it plain enough what the truth entails, and I think they’ll come around more often than not (if for no other reason than they expect everyone else to come around, and they wouldn’t want to be left behind, because the community does at least still profess to care about the truth).

      The ratchet of truth is a noisy, slow, error-prone instrument. But I think it exists.

      • Not also that there is a good deal of wiggle room within a community. If you are a conservative who gets persuaded that the arguments against free trade are wrong, you have the option of shifting to the pro-free trade side of the conservative movement. You can still, if you want, be a Trump supporter, on the grounds that he is right on most things and the other side isn’t really for free trade either. Similarly if you are on the left and decide that a higher minimum wage isn’t so great an idea after all.

        And if enough people within a community shift in one direction or another, the community can gradually shift. My impression is that free trade went from being a Democratic position to being a Republican position and now back the other way.

        • Brad says:

          It is an interesting question why there is wiggle room on some issues and not others. While free trade shifted as you said, at all points in time (at least in the last 40 years) it was within the window for both major coalitions.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The ratchet of truth is a noisy, slow, error-prone instrument. But I think it exists.

        Sure, we can get closer to “Truth” but I don’t think that’ll end political debates. Didn’t Hume already settle this? Can’t derive an ought from an is?

        • Whether that implies continued debates depends on how much disagreement comes from different oughts. In my view, people tend to overestimate it, due to assuming that others must agree with their views about what policies have what consequences.

        • carvenvisage says:

          No he didn’t because you don’t just start with the is, you also start with other people’ s preexisting or natural values, which are often not that mysterious.

          You can’t technically fundamentally derive ‘don’t torture a random person for no reason’ without reference to any values or preferences, but we don’t need to because we share basic preferences like not wanting to suffer or be destroyed pointlessly.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No he didn’t because you don’t just start with the is, you also start with other people’ s preexisting or natural values, which are often not that mysterious.

            I think you’re agreeing with me. Settling the “is” doesn’t inform you about the “ought” as that’s determined by values. So we’re still going to be arguing over the ought, and the ought is the real crux of politics.

            People pick their ought based on their own interests and values, and then back them up with facts. They choose the facts that support their ought and, if they’re being intellectually honest, address the contrary facts in a way that still leaves them with their desired ought.

            I’m a right winger, so let me know if my own bias is creeping in here, but I think it’s primarily the left who thinks we’re still arguing about facts. For instance, the insistence on fact-checking, or complaints that the right “doesn’t listen to facts” or is “immune to facts.” No, we are generally aware of the facts. We know the approximate likelihood of a given illegal Mexican immigrant being a rapist. But our value system says that no people living outside the law should be allowed in the country, so they have to go back.

            So when we say “deport all illegals” that’s an “ought,” with one of many reasons being “some are rapists,” the leftist is appalled at our ignorance of the statistics surrounding illegal Mexican rape. They then explain the statistics, which we already pretty well knew, and we still don’t change our minds. We are now “immune to facts.” No, it’s that we were never talking about facts to begin with. We’re talking about the “ought,” and the “ises” are barely relevant.

            So we will have our mutually beneficial cooperative debate into the statistics of illegal Mexican rape, the left winger and the right winger will come to a mutually agreed upon statistic on the exact prevalence of illegal Mexican rape, and the left winger will say “and therefore open borders” and the right winger will say “you have to go back.”

          • random832 says:

            So when we say “deport all illegals” that’s an “ought,” with one of many reasons being “some are rapists,” the leftist is appalled at our ignorance of the statistics surrounding illegal Mexican rape.

            Whereas actually, what, you’re lying about that being one of the reasons?

            I mean, even the real reasons seem to be often based on bad “facts” like the lump of labor fallacy. And using a whole bunch of arguments that are neither based on good facts nor are your genuine reasons reads almost like a self-aware attempt to prevent people from addressing the bad facts that your genuine reasons are based on, by making them waste time arguing about rape statistics instead.

            Claiming that some particular set of facts (whether it’s “a statistically significant number are rapists” or “they took our jobs”) supports your ‘ought’ is fundamentally dishonest even if those facts are true if the ‘ought’ is actually a terminal value and thus needs no support.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @random832
            Yes, the “ought” is “people should not be in the country without following the same rules as everyone else.” Among the reasons this is a reasonable value is “because some will commit crimes like rape that wouldn’t happen if they weren’t here.” Arguing over the exact rape rates is pointless, but this seems to be the focus from the left, that the right is misinformed as the rape rates. Same thing with “you’re less likely to be killed by a terrorist than a car accident” or whatever. Don’t care. A single attack that could have been stopped by not allowing practitioners of a foreign xenocidal religion into our country is too many. That’s a value judgment, but the left wants to argue facts. I can completely agree with the low likelihood of getting killed by Muslim terrorists and still say “no Muslim immigration.”

            by making them waste time arguing about rape statistics instead.

            No, I think this is the point right here. The right does not want to waste time arguing about rape statistics. The left thinks the rape statistics are important, and is wasting their time arguing about them. The right doesn’t want to argue about rape statistics and just wants to deport illegals.

            So again, this goes back to my original point: the left thinks we’re arguing about facts, when the right is arguing about goals and values. The left seems to think if they prove facts it will change goals or values, but it won’t. The facts agree with either value system (low rape rate supports open borders; non-zero rape rate supports BUILD WALL). But the left thinks since the facts agree with their value system that means their value system is metaphysically correct, and therefore the right is either stupid or evil.

          • random832 says:

            A single attack that could have been stopped by not allowing practitioners of a foreign xenocidal religion into our country is too many.

            And once again you’ve smuggled in “facts” in support of what you want to do (in this case, that Islam is a ‘foreign xenocidal religion’ and, I suppose, that Christianity is not) that you will immediately abandon if anyone argues against them.

            It is fundamentally intellectually dishonest, if the real reason you want some group of people kept out is because you hate them and want them to have worse lives, to argue for keeping them out on any other basis, even if that basis does happen to by coincidence be true.

            Either keeping them out is a terminal value or it is not. You can’t have it both ways. But wanting to hurt a group of people as a terminal value (rather than as a side effect of an attempt to accomplish some more noble goal) is an evil position, so people who have it try as hard as they can to pretend that they do not, resulting in their argument being built on a foundation of lies.

            And even if those aren’t your real terminal values (which implies, like it or not, that there is some set of facts that, if true, could convince you to stop deporting people), dealing with it enough times from enough people leads to being tired of the “is that your true rejection” game.

            The right doesn’t want to argue about rape statistics and just wants to deport illegals.

            This is vacuous. The whole argument is about why they want to deport people. If you’re not claiming that the right holds a hateful set of terminal values, you could just as well say “The left doesn’t want to argue about rape statistics and just wants to open the borders”, and it’d be just as true and just as meaningless.

            As for your “nonzero” argument… A nonzero number of men are rapists. Do you support putting all men in prison preemptively (or deporting them all from the United States, regardless of their citizenship)? If not, why not? “Non-zero supports BUILD WALL” is an isolated demand for rigor.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Arguing over the exact rape rates is pointless

            I’m not comfortable with that claim. Deportation opponents may have a point in this case.

            Consider the fact that enforcing deportation has a cost. Suppose it costs $1M to detect illegals and deport them. Suppose also that there’s a 100% prevention rate – every single illegal who would have committed a rape is detected before they actually do. Suppose further that the damage from one rape is assessed at $1M. That means that if even one of those illegals is an aspiring rapist, then your initiative has paid for itself.

            Now suppose it costs a more plausible $100M to detect and deport illegals, and only five of them are aspiring rapists, as indicated by current crime data (sans deportation initiative). Now you’ve spent $100M to prevent only $5M in damage.

            If you’re uncomfortable with setting a monetary cost on a sexual assault, you can get around that by considering other ways in which you could prevent rape, such as a crackdown on human trafficking or stricter rules on college fraternities. If one of those costs less to implement, the natural question is going to be why you’re choosing to prevent fewer rapes with the money you have to spend.

            All of these depend on the amount of money spent, and the actual rape rates among the cohorts in question. And if you go the route of “a single attack is too many”, it starts to sound like the “if it saves even one life” argument that gun rights advocates routinely point out as fallacious.

            All values arguments end up as allocation arguments, since enforcing values necessarily requires resources. And all allocation arguments end up as values arguments, since where you prefer to allocate will depend on what you value most. Most deportation / wall opponents probably are making less valid arguments than this, but this argument still exists. Arguing over rape rates is necessary if you value everything you claim you do.

          • random832 says:

            Arguing over rape rates is necessary if you value everything you claim you do.

            But he basically said he doesn’t. “The right […] just wants to deport illegals.” – this is very close to openly admitting that everything else they claim to value (in terms of things that may or may not justify deportations, at least) is a lie.

          • Aapje says:

            Isn’t this debate really about whether you see migrants as beneficial in the first place? If you don’t see the benefits, then any minor downside is sufficient to tip the balance to ‘keep them out.’

            If you see great value in them, then you are probably willing to accept some downsides.

          • So we’re still going to be arguing over the ought, and the ought is the real crux of politics.

            Whether that is true depends on how large differences in beliefs about “is’s” are. I don’t think I have ever met a socialist who was in favor of the results I would expect socialism to produce–and what results it produces is an “is” question. I don’t think I would favor laissez-faire capitalism if I agreed with the socialist about what results it would bring, again an “is” question.

            I’m a right winger, so let me know if my own bias is creeping in here, but I think it’s primarily the left who thinks we’re still arguing about facts.

            I’m a libertarian–I don’t know if you classify that as left or right–and I think the important arguments are about facts.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            But he basically said he doesn’t [claim to want to prevent rapes]. “The right […] just wants to deport illegals.” – this is very close to openly admitting that everything else they claim to value (in terms of things that may or may not justify deportations, at least) is a lie.

            That’s not the reading I see. He pretty clearly implies that the right just wants to deport illegals on the premise that it prevents rapes. Or to put it another way: he claims that since rape is wrong, the right concludes that any activity that prevents it is justified. If he meant that the right wants to deport illegals, reason be damned, he wouldn’t have spent all that time setting up the context first.

            And even if that were a lie, well, so what? By that reasoning, everyone lies, and so we should oppose everyone.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Yes, the “ought” is “people should not be in the country without following the same rules as everyone else.”

            I think that “ought” can be argued against. Do you think people have a duty to obey unjust laws? Were abolitionists morally required to turn in slaves under the fugitive slave laws? Were blacks morally required to obey Jim Crow laws? Are modern drivers morally required to obey the speed limit?

            If you feel that it is just to disobey any of the above laws, then it’s established that just because a law exists doesn’t mean it ought to obeyed. You then need some other argument for why immigration laws should be obeyed other than that “it’s the law”.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @random382

            It is fundamentally intellectually dishonest, if the real reason you want some group of people kept out is because you hate them and want them to have worse lives

            Now who’s sneaking in facts? No, we want them gone because they make the lives of people who already live here worse. I do care about those people (they’re my countrymen). I have locks on my doors at home not because I hate the people outside but because I love the people inside. I don’t care how nice some stranger is, how unlikely it is a given stranger will be a rapist, they may not just wander into my house without permission.

            I say “get out.” You say “why?” I say (among many other reasons) “might be a rapist.” You start arguing about probabilities of the person being a rapist. But I don’t care about the probabilities of the person being a rapist, they still have to get out of my house.

            Now if you would just let them keep wandering in to your house, and when someone inevitably rapes your family, shrug and say “well, them’s the breaks, can’t stop ’em all” then who’s the evil one here?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @IrishDude

            If you feel that it is just to disobey any of the above laws, then it’s established that just because a law exists doesn’t mean it ought to obeyed. You then need some other argument for why immigration laws should be obeyed other than that “it’s the law”.

            Well, first you’d need to make a coherent argument that immigration laws are unjust. This will be rather difficult in a world of nations that all enforce their borders. Enforcing border laws is pretty much the oldest duty of governments. The first government was probably two cavemen standing at the entrance to the cave saying “okay, if anyone tries to come into the cave who isn’t one of us, hit him with this rock.” I’m going to leave that to you to argue why you’re morally superior to every nation on earth and every nation that has ever existed.

            Second, there’s a difference between a person’s choice to obey or disobey a law that is unjust in their view and the government deciding not to enforce a law because…why exactly? And who’s the one deciding here? Is it the border patrol agent, his boss, the Attorney General, the President? Who gets to make the moral stand here in defiance of the laws passed by the representatives of the people?

            Remember, my demand is for my government to enforce the immigration laws. It would be nice if the illegals would obey the laws, but if they don’t because they believe them to be “unjust,” that doesn’t mean my government should not enforce the laws.

            You seem to want civil disobedience without the consequences.

            Yes, during the civil rights era blacks disobeyed unjust laws about sitting at lunch counters. The law was still enforced though. They got run off or fined or put in jail, and people saw the injustice and changed the law. That’s how civil disobedience changes hearts and minds: by exposing people to the consequences of the unjust law.

            If you want border patrol agents to oppose “unjust immigration laws” then fine, they should publicly state they believe the laws to be unjust, they will not enforce them, and then resign. And if they don’t resign they should be fired. If enough people think this is a bad outcome they’ll vote to change the law. But you don’t get the Virtue Points without expending the Sacrifice Points.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I’m a libertarian–I don’t know if you classify that as left or right–and I think the important arguments are about facts.

            Tell me your goal and I’ll tell you what facts you think it’s important to argue about.

          • random832 says:

            Now who’s sneaking in facts?

            As you’re the one who says facts don’t matter, there’s nothing wrong with me making a fact-based argument. And in this case the fact I’m talking about is precisely that you have made your repeated statement that facts don’t matter.

            No, we want them gone because they make the lives of people who already live here worse.

            No, that is not why you want them gone. This is proven by the fact that you are unwilling to discuss whether it is actually true, and will not change your position if it is shown to be false. This is what not caring about facts means. If you’re uncomfortable with that, then change your position.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Well, first you’d need to make a coherent argument that immigration laws are unjust. This will be rather difficult in a world of nations that all enforce their borders. Enforcing border laws is pretty much the oldest duty of governments. The first government was probably two cavemen standing at the entrance to the cave saying “okay, if anyone tries to come into the cave who isn’t one of us, hit him with this rock.” I’m going to leave that to you to argue why you’re morally superior to every nation on earth and every nation that has ever existed.

            I interpret your argument as “X has existed for a long time, therefore X is just”. Am I interpreting you wrong? If not, then to disprove that argument I’ll just note that slavery existed for millenia but was also unjust.

            Second, there’s a difference between a person’s choice to obey or disobey a law that is unjust in their view and the government deciding not to enforce a law because…why exactly? And who’s the one deciding here? Is it the border patrol agent, his boss, the Attorney General, the President? Who gets to make the moral stand here in defiance of the laws passed by the representatives of the people?

            Is your argument that agents of the state ought to enforce unjust laws? Police in the civil rights era ought to have kicked blacks out of businesses? Police in the slavery era ought to have enforced the fugitive slave laws? German police ought to have enforced anti-jewish laws in pre-WW2 Germany, including confiscation of their property?

            You seem to want civil disobedience without the consequences.

            I think there is no duty to obey unjust laws and that people that enforce unjust laws are acting wrongly. The moral culpability for consequences that come from resisting enforcement of unjust laws, like capturing fugitive slaves or taking the property of Jews, belongs to those making the unjust laws and those doing the enforcement, not those resisting.

          • random832 says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            That’s not the reading I see. He pretty clearly implies that the right just wants to deport illegals on the premise that it prevents rapes.

            The first half of the very same sentence I quoted, the part that I elided with “[…]”, was precisely about not caring about whether it prevents rapes and not wanting to hear if it doesn’t. This is absolute evidence that he doesn’t actually care about that premise (or at least that he doesn’t consider the right as a whole to care about it), and I think it is a reasonable basis to infer that they also don’t really care about any other premise they might argue regarding any supposed benefits deportations will have.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @random832

            The first half of the very same sentence I quoted, the part that I elided with “[…]”, was precisely about not caring about whether it prevents rapes and not wanting to hear if it doesn’t.

            Okay, let me clarify. Yes, if you can show that there are no rapes from illegal immigrants, I would be interested in knowing that. But since that’s not the case, arguing over the exact probability of an illegal immigrant being a rapist is pointless. I get no value by having illegal immigrants here, plus rape. Ergo, arguing over the facts of illegal immigrant rape is pointless. We’re going to agree on a number and I’m going to say “too high” and you’re going to say “not too high.” These are value judgments. That’s where the real argument is. But when Trump said Mexico is sending rapists the left got really mad because he was implying the number of rapists was higher than it is, and that if they “fact check” just how many Mexican rapists there are and it’s lower than what they think Trump implied then that will…do something to win the argument with Trump supporters. Nope. Trump’s not wrong, there are rapists, we don’t want ’em, the exact numbers don’t really matter that much.

            Do you understand what I’m saying yet? The left is arguing against goals with facts. That doesn’t work. If you want to win you need to change (or accomplish) goals.

            Also, Trump’s not wrong. 80% of central American women and girls are raped crossing into the US, so somebody’s doing the raping.

            —–
            ETA: By the way, for anyone who’s against border enforcement, did that 80% raped fact change your mind that gee, maybe we should stop illegal border crossing because rapes?

            Probably not. You will dismiss it, ignore it, or use it to argue for completely open borders because that’s your goal. For whatever reason…cheap tomatoes, future socialist voters, sticking it to whitey, the dopamine reward of virtue signalling, whatever it is. Facts matter, but they don’t really matter. You can use those things to support anything even remotely true. Where we get into trouble is when people think that since the facts support their goals, that makes their goal true. No, because the facts support lots of different goals.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @IrishDude

            I interpret your argument as “X has existed for a long time, therefore X is just”. Am I interpreting you wrong? If not, then to disprove that argument I’ll just note that slavery existed for millenia but was also unjust.

            So you’re saying “X existed for a long time, X was unjust, Y has existed for a long time, therefore Y is unjust.” You’re the one arguing illegal immigration laws are in the class of unjust laws that should be ignored. You need to make that case.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Me: I interpret your argument as “X has existed for a long time, therefore X is just”. Am I interpreting you wrong? If not, then to disprove that argument I’ll just note that slavery existed for millenia but was also unjust.

            You: So you’re saying “X existed for a long time, X was unjust, Y has existed for a long time, therefore Y is unjust.”

            No, that’s not what I’m saying. You seemed to be saying that because nations have been doing X for a long time, X is just. Disproving that line of argument is not equivalent to saying “Y has existed for a long time, therefore Y is unjust”.

            You’re the one arguing illegal immigration laws are in the class of unjust laws that should be ignored. You need to make that case.

            I haven’t yet argued that illegal immigration laws are unjust. I’ve argued against your specific claim that “people should not be in the country without following the same rules as everyone else.” My claim is that just because something is the law does not mean people ought to follow it; specifically, I think there is no obligation to obey unjust laws. Do agree with me? If you do, then in a subsequent post I’ll make my case for why I think immigration laws are unjust. If you don’t, then I think it would be more productive to continue to talk about whether laws should be followed just because they’re decreed by a state.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @comrad honcho no I wasn’t agreeing I was saying that is-ought is not a big deal at all. It’s already an “is” that we have shared values. We don’t have bridge the gap, we got lucky and started out on the side of the bridge where everyone already wants mostly the same things.

          • carvenvisage says:

            (edit timeout)

            *fundamentally, that is. And reconciling those is mostly ‘an engineering problem’. Or maybe that’s overstating it, but it’s definitely certainly not a project to derive meaning from nothing.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @IrishDude

            I’ve argued against your specific claim that “people should not be in the country without following the same rules as everyone else.” My claim is that just because something is the law does not mean people ought to follow it; specifically, I think there is no obligation to obey unjust laws. Do agree with me? If you do, then in a subsequent post I’ll make my case for why I think immigration laws are unjust. If you don’t, then I think it would be more productive to continue to talk about whether laws should be followed just because they’re decreed by a state.

            Do you think we should make a distinction between a person subject to a law choosing to disobey it, and an officer of the government refusing to enact/enforce a law?

            For a person subject to the law, I don’t disagree. However as I said for it to count as “civil disobedience” you need to do so as part of political action to get the law changed. If you’re a cancer patient who thinks drug laws are unjust because of medical uses, fine, grow your own weed on your own property, smoke it on the court house steps and let everyone see you arrested for this act. If it’s shocking enough to conscience maybe they’ll vote to change the law. But you don’t get to buy street drugs supplied by a cartel to get high for fun and when you get busted claim you’re Dr. King.

            As for a government official refusing to enforce an unjust law, that’s tricky territory as well. If the executive can simply choose to ignore enforcing some laws this is how we wind up in a nation of men instead of laws. The executive chooses to enforce the laws that harm his political enemies while magnanimously setting aside laws that hurt his political allies. There better be a really, really good reason for it or else you’re turning our game of government that rewards cooperation into one that rewards defection.

          • Enforcing border laws is pretty much the oldest duty of governments. The first government was probably two cavemen standing at the entrance to the cave saying “okay, if anyone tries to come into the cave who isn’t one of us, hit him with this rock.”

            That’s enforcing private property, not government border laws.

            I don’t know if ancient governments made any serious attempt to control who came across their borders. Do you? As late as the 19th century, Russia was the only European country that required passports. In the 18th century, as Orwell points out somewhere, it wasn’t unheard of for a traveler to be wandering around a country his own country happened to be at war with.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Do you think we should make a distinction between a person subject to a law choosing to disobey it, and an officer of the government refusing to enact/enforce a law?

            I think it’s wrong to enforce an unjust law. If you act unjustly towards another person, it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re an agent of the state or not, or a group of politicians told you to do it or not. Treating other people unjustly is wrong. Do you disagree?

            For a person subject to the law, I don’t disagree. However as I said for it to count as “civil disobedience” you need to do so as part of political action to get the law changed. If you’re a cancer patient who thinks drug laws are unjust because of medical uses, fine, grow your own weed on your own property, smoke it on the court house steps and let everyone see you arrested for this act. If it’s shocking enough to conscience maybe they’ll vote to change the law. But you don’t get to buy street drugs supplied by a cartel to get high for fun and when you get busted claim you’re Dr. King.

            I think people should feel no obligation to obey unjust laws, and I see no problem with people being civil disobedient about it or keeping it on the down low. Anyone in the Underground Railroad that spirited away slaves and ignored fugitive slave laws was acting justly, even if they tried to keep their actions secret, and any officer of the law that arrested or prosecuted them was acting unjustly.

            You don’t get to claim you’re Dr. King if you’re busted smoking weed in your house, but any person that locks you in a cage for ingesting a substance that the state doesn’t approve of is still acting wrongly.

            Getting back to the specific immigration law issue, my thought is that I have no right to tell my neighbors or shopkeepers who they’re allowed to invite onto their private property. I don’t get veto power over who my neighbor sells their house to either. If no individual has the right to decide who is and isn’t allowed on other’s property, then they can’t delegate this power to others, including state agents. I think I do have some right to not have my neighbor or their guests harm me, but that applies whether the guests are from across town or across the globe and so isn’t specific to immigrants.

          • Blue Tribe Dissident says:

            That’s enforcing private property, not government border laws.

            In this scenario where there are only two citizens of the “government” and they are its decision-makers and its army/police, plus they are the co-owners of the cave in question, how could you distinguish between private property lines and government borders?

            This scenario is, of course, a bit cartoonish, but I don’t think it is deeply counterfactual, unless one of these premises is false: a) early humans were territorial, at least sometimes; b) for a hunter-gatherer band, there’s no meaningful distinction between government property and collective private property.

    • caethan says:

      See, what I find weird is that being willing to vote for both sides is much more effective at getting your way than committing to vote for a particular party.

      The best way to control elections is to get a bloc. Find a substantial number of people who mostly agree with you and get them to coordinate – agree to vote for the candidate that you decide is best. Go to said candidates and say “I have a group totaling 1% of the electorate that will vote for who I tell them is best. What can each of you offer us?” Then vote for the candidate with the best package. Crazy effective, at least until your neighbors get too pissed off at you for your disproportionate political influence. My ancestors were doing this back in Missouri and Illinois until they got driven out by gun wielding mobs.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      It is obviously false that a single political party or other such group is right about everything.

      I am:
      – Pro Guns
      – Pro Choice
      – Anti Religion
      – Pro mandatory vaccination
      – Pro public healthcare
      – Anti public primary school
      – Pro Nuclear
      – Anti Coal
      – Pro Fracking
      – Pro gay marriage
      – Against tax and spend
      – Pro assisted suicide

      You can probably keep going down the list and I’ll fall on alternating sides of the American right/left divide.

      I also live in a country with proportional representation and a political party that agrees with me on just about everything. I truly believe the disease that causes all the symptoms we’re talking about here is the two-party system, since civilised debate seems much more common this side of the pond.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I truly believe the disease that causes all the symptoms we’re talking about here is the two-party system

        I kind of agree with you, but I am also starting to think that a two-party system is inevitable. Even in parliamentary democracies, multiple parties tend to form coalitions across the conservative/liberal divide, forming what is essentially an ad-hoc two-party system in the end…

        • homunq says:

          Parliamentary coalitions are kinda like US parties, if you squint reaaaally hard. But from there to “the two-party system is inevitable is a huge leap.

          Different voting methods can encourage more or fewer parties, and more or less coalition-building in either an intra- or inter-party sense. They can also affect internal party cohesion/discipline. All of this is true entirely independently of whether a system has a prime minister, a strong president, or some combination of the two.

          Most English-speaking countries mostly use the worst possible voting rules. Things like 3-2-1 voting and proportional representation would massively reduce the pointless inertia and destructive zero-sum incentives built into the two-party system (and that goes, to varying degrees, for US, UK, Canada, India, …).

        • Aapje says:

          @Bugmaster

          I’m a bit confused by what you are saying.

          Parliamentary democracies obviously have a coalition and the opposition, which you can define as two blocks, more or less. However, it is very different from the two blocks that you have in a 2 party system. For example, the parties that form the coalition are in competition with each other. The same for the opposition. The parties that make up the coalition are dynamic, which IMO makes a huge difference and can break through stalemates.

          For example, in the past my country had a big Christian Democrat party, who would always govern for some decades, but sometimes with the left and sometimes with the right. This created diversity. At one point the two other big parties excluded the Christian Democrats and then were able to push through some legislation that the Christian Democrats had always blocked (like on euthanasia).

          By contrast, in the US you seem to have eternal stalemates, where it is often the legislature that forces breakthroughs (like on abortion and gay marriage). I consider this quite undemocratic and believe that it creates bad incentives (like packing the supreme court with activists & not compromising, but holding out for a total win).

          • Nornagest says:

            The legislative-stalemate-with-judiciary-movement paradigm is way too new to be called eternal — it could be said to be holding from GWB’s second term at the very earliest, and I can’t even see traces of it earlier than 1994.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Coalitions are more stable in a first past the post system that has direct election of the chief executive.

            But they can change over time.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            Fair enough, it was a hyperbole.

            But look at abortion, up to 1973 there was a gradual move to allow abortion by changing law on the state level. Then Roe vs Wade happened and this gradual process was circumvented.

            The script flipped immediately and conservatives started trying to reign abortion in again and campaign on getting rid of Roe vs Wade. Meanwhile, in my country, there was a fairly gradual process where the most popular middle ground was found. In so far that people are still fighting, it is about details like the length of the waiting period and such. But even the staunch opponents know that their only option is to get a majority of votes and that they are currently on the wrong side of that equation.

            My perception from across the pond is that quite a few Christian conservatives believe that banning abortion entirely is viable enough to base their vote on.

  62. roystgnr says:

    Good epistemology is an asymmetric weapon, and is also at least a somewhat powerful weapon, so (as long as good epistemology isn’t counterbalanced by some similarly powerful opposingly asymmetric weapon) we expect truth to win out in the end.

    But… does anti-epistemology count as that opposition?

    It’s asymmetrically applicable because anyone genuinely seeking truth can’t appeal to it, and it’s an effective weapon wherever such people are (even locally) in a minority, which is to say everywhere. If it was in many ways even more effective than good epistemology, then we’d end up in a world where a majority of people see faith as a virtue and apostasy as a sin, where completely free speech would be uncommon enough to be disproportionately beset by scoundrels, and where rationalist bloggers might have to hide from Google searches lest their employers stumble in and speculate about the hidden motivations of anyone who tries to do a really good job arguing with Horrible People.

  63. Eponymous says:

    Well, you’ve quite convinced me. But I do have two minor quibbles.

    First, I think you drastically overstate how bad things are at the individual level. Most people agree about most things most of the time (e.g. the basic facts of the world they operate in). Where we’re wrong about things that directly affect us we’re mostly glad to be corrected, and accept corrections on approximately good epistemic grounds. We broadly agree that people who don’t do these things are being irrational, and may in fact be insane.

    Is there room for promoting rationality at the scale of everyday life that affects people? Yes. But I don’t think it’s mainly about resolving disagreements.

    The areas of persistent disagreement are mainly about large theories that don’t affect us directly, but are nevertheless a key part of our identity. Religion, politics, and other big theories about history and reality are good examples. But part of the reason these persist is because they *don’t* affect us much directly, but instead mainly affect us through identity: tribal affiliation, sense of purpose, etc. If being wrong about these matters had a direct perceivable effect on us, we would both have the evidence and the incentive to determine what is right.

    Of course, while these questions don’t affect us directly (at least in the short run), they matter a lot at the level of society. So the real question isn’t how to get individual people to be persuaded one way or another; it’s how to persuade society, i.e. the system as a whole.

    The leads to my second quibble. I think you’re somewhat mischaracterizing the nature of political debate in the US. I don’t see the two parties as engaging in a dispute about the truth of some proposition (or set of propositions). I see them as two components in an adversarial political process. They are locked in perpetual argument *by design*. They *are* cooperating, they just are doing so by participating within an adversarial political system with certain rules.

    One consequence of this is that whatever steps we take to improve the quality of debate (raise the sanity waterline or whatever) won’t bring one side of the other to “victory”. It will merely shift the grounds of the debate. Many points of contention between the parties have been resolved over the years, and the parties merely shifted their positions to accommodate the changes in opinion.

    It’s true that at the level of individual argument and persuasion we often argue about a given proposition, and try to “win” this argument for “our” side. But I think it’s much more helpful to frame this as improving the overall performance of our political system, rather than asking how to resolve disagreements between two parties about what is true.

    (As an aside, much political disagreement is about which interest group wins out, rather than about the truth of a particular proposition. This is rarely admitted for obvious reasons.)

  64. Jobining says:

    Regarding scale, the article puts forward the idea that big-fish media personalities can scale the therapy/friendly debate dynamic. But does the evidence show that *reading* friendly debate and/or adversarial collaboration is convincing, or is it just *participating* in it that is convincing?

  65. danarmak says:

    > antifascists didn’t come to outnumber fascists by winning some kind of primordial fistfight between the two sides.

    I’m amazed you would say this. The primordial fistfight was called World War Two.

    > They came to outnumber fascists because people rejected fascism on the merits.

    No, they came to outnumber fascists by conquering, killing/ethnically cleansing, and massively reeducating the Fascist states.

    Imagine a counterfactual world (which was still quite possible in 1940) where Japan and Germany didn’t declare war on the US, and instead led the world war against the Soviet Communists – who everyone (UK, US, Japan, etc) agreed were everyone’s biggest enemies. Then “fascism” would today be a word with with good, mainstream affect, including in the US. The smear everyone would use when they meant “non-democratic” or “non-free” or “my political outgroup” would probably be not Fascists but Communists.

    > “fascists kill people, killing people is wrong, therefore fascism is wrong” is a sort of folk logical conclusion which is both correct and compelling.

    Most political ideologies can be said to kill people. Nazism killed more than most (although still less than either Soviet Communism or Maoist Communism, not to mention all kinds of monarchy). But other Fascist states didn’t kill particularly large amounts. And the US has fought in big wars with many (foreign) casualties pretty much non-stop since WW2. “Democrats kill people, killing people is wrong, therefore American Democracy is wrong” is probably something a lot of people in non-Democratic countries around the world think.

    I’m not trying to say that some ideologies or systems of government are or aren’t worse than others. I’m just pointing out that people can and do reason about any and all ideologies like that. You pointed out “fascism” because it’s a standard outgroup, but it’s not actually special in any relevant way. If modern Americans weren’t conditioned to hate “fascists” they would hate some other label instead.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      First we take Berlin, then we take Manhattan.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Nazism killed more than most (although still less than either Soviet Communism or Maoist Communism, not to mention all kinds of monarchy).

      Really? I’ve never seen any evidence to that effect, unless perhaps you think that everybody who was killed under a monarchical government for whatever reason counts as “being killed by monarchy”.

      • random832 says:

        Have you read the anti-reactionary FAQ? Leopold in the Congo alone comes close enough that the question of which killed more is within the error bars.

        And quibbling over “whatever reason” opens the other numbers up (well, communism anyway) to be reduced likewise. The reasons are made up, the real reason is either the rulers’ whims or to preserve their power.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Saying “X political system killed Y number of people” is usually taken to imply that they were killed to maintain the ideology’s dominance or because the ideology demanded it in some way. In Leopold’s case, I’ve never seen any evidence that he killed those people because otherwise the Congo would turn republican or because there’s something inherent to monarchies that make them set up rapacious dystopian colonial empires.

          • random832 says:

            because there’s something inherent to monarchies that make them set up rapacious dystopian colonial empires.

            I mean, the inherent thing is that if the king happens to be the kind of person who feels like setting up a rapacious dystopian colonial empire there’s not much stopping him.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Only if you assume monarchy = royal absolutism, which in Europe was only really the case from about 1600-1900, and even there not universally (Britain, for example, never had a truly absolute monarch a la Louis XIV). Feudal and constitutional monarchs generally had quite a lot of constraints on what they were able to do, which is why feudal monarchs were generally keen to become absolute monarchs if they could.

        • Nornagest says:

          Leopold in the Congo alone comes close enough that the question of which killed more is within the error bars.

          This is technically true, but the error bars are very wide and the overlap is small. The highest credible death toll I’ve seen for the Congo Free State is about 15 million (and the lowest is about 3); the lowest for the various Communist democides comes to about 15 in total (and the highest is about 100).

          An obstacle here is that the casualties of the Congo Free State, while very hard to estimate accurately, at least have an unambiguous cause; whereas if you want to come up with an estimate for communism’s casualties, you need to figure out e.g. just how manmade all its numerous famines were.

          • random832 says:

            I was unclear, but actually meant to compare it Nazism, whose numbers are smaller than Communism mostly because (if it’s regarded as distinct from other forms of fascism) it’s only happened once. Of course, that effect also happens to inflate Monarchy’s numbers vs those of 20th century ideologies, since it’s existed in many places for most of the history of human civilization.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, you could make a better case for that. Even the Nazis have some of the same problems, though; in particular it’s hard in places to disentangle war casualties with casualties of genocide, especially of ethnic Slavs on the Eastern Front.

          • danarmak says:

            The Congo is just one example. Imagine the numbers if you tried to sum all wars waged by hereditary monarchies and empires! And plenty of those wars happened in some part due to ideology, e.g. the Hundred Years War being because the English kings considered themselves the rightful heirs to the French throne.

          • The neo-monarchists want monarchs with power.

        • John Schilling says:

          Have you read the anti-reactionary FAQ? Leopold in the Congo alone comes close enough that the question of which killed more is within the error bars.

          We need an example other than the Congo here, because the Congo Free State was the private property of a guy who happened to be monarch in his day job. Well, more than “happened to be”, he used his stature as a monarch to convince people to let him have the Congo and all of its people as private property, which he then administered as something akin to the CEO of a science-fiction corporate dystopia.

          If you insist on counting it as a monarchy, I won’t stop you, but it’s a sufficiently non-central example that I’ll ask you to look for more supporting evidence that monarchies as a class are prone to mass murder. Or, for that matter, corporations as a class.

          • Evan Þ says:

            What’s the difference between an absolute monarchy of the type some Death Eaters want, and a private fiefdom of the type King Leopold had, other than what the monarch freely decides to do?

    • Matt M says:

      I intended to make this point as well.

      Anti-fascists, as they exist today, do not exist in large numbers because a lot of people oppose the political and economic policies attributed to fascism. No, they exist because they think that anyone who disagrees with them is probably only a few weeks away from rounding up the Jews. And they intend to defeat those people by the same means they defeated the people who actually did round up the Jews (spoilers: it wasn’t debate).

      Communists out-murdered fascists by at least an order of magnitude. Do “anti-communists” outnumber communists in the west? I know we routinely disagree on what makes someone legitimately communist, but I think by most reasonable definitions, this would be false. There are probably more people who are explicitly sympathetic to communism in modern western countries than there are people who are explicitly antagonistic of it. Certainly true at universities, media outlets, and other supposed bastions of logic and reason and intellect.

      • danarmak says:

        I agree, except that anti-fascism (modern or otherwise) was never about preventing Jews from being rounded up and killed. That’s probably far down the list of motivations of anyone afraid of modern neo-Nazis. Except for actual Jews, of course.

      • thehousecarpenter says:

        There are probably more people who are explicitly sympathetic to communism in modern western countries than there are people who are explicitly antagonistic of it. Certainly true at universities, media outlets, and other supposed bastions of logic and reason and intellect.

        I think this is probably false (even at universities and media outlets), although I don’t have a great deal of confidence. If there’s data on this it’d be interesting to see.

    • suntzuanime says:

      No, they came to outnumber fascists by conquering, killing/ethnically cleansing, and massively reeducating the Fascist states.

      Antifascists outnumbered fascists to begin with, and that’s why they won WW2. A history of WW2 in which the Axis coalition is anything like the size of the Allied coalition probably goes quite badly for us.

      • John Schilling says:

        That was a combination of anti-fascists and facists-meh-live-and-let-live-but-conquering-Europe-WTF?s.

  66. Nathan Taylor (praxtime) says:

    I was surprised you didn’t discuss the in group/out group cognition angle in this post (maybe that’s for another time). I’d associate this argument: Dan Kahan (cultural cognition), Jonanthan Haidt (righteous mind), Arnold Kling (3 axis model) and Bryan Caplan (ideological turing test). The idea here is human cognition is tuned to automatically see all arguements as being about coalition politics. Who gains status? Who is over/under rated? Which group is bad? Which is good?

    In this model, the key to talking across groups is speaking with respect for other views and realizing other groups have different sacred values (Haidt), being able to restate other groups views in a convincing fashion to show understanding to open door to real conversation (Caplan), understanding different common frames of other groups (Kling), and trying to avoid tripping the group identity aspect of common arguments so as to allow discussion of facts (Kahan). Kahan is also of course good on debunking the knowledge deficit view, where the lack of knowing facts is why people disagree.

    Scott, the reason I bring this up is precisely because you put so much effort into precisely these kinds of things. And this is one of the best aspects of your blog. It’s just a real pleasure to read your writing exactly for this reason, it’s a model of how to do it. You nearly always concede or highlight key points of a view you disagree with prior to arguing against it. Or show aspects of key understanding of other sides before disagreeing. Exactly the kind of thing people like Haidt, Caplan, Kling suggest.

    My main point here is while I agree with your post about asymmetry of logical argument and facts. And it’s a good post on that topic. I think the main thrust of this problem, and of how you write, is better understood in light of the how to bridge across groups. Arnold Kling mentions on his blog he has a new version of his 3 axis model book coming out. And the old version spent a lot of time on breaking writing down into a) closing/opening minds on your side, b) closing/opening minds on the other side. And pointing out much writing is about closing minds on your side. Basically arguing those people are really really bad. When his new book comes out, I’d be super happy if you’d review in. Especially in light of the topic of this post.

    Regards,
    Nathan

    • Michael Pershan says:

      I take Kahan to be saying something slightly different than “people perceive all arguments to be about coalition politics.”

      I take him to be saying that, very often, core cultural commitments are prior to anything else in a person’s understanding of an issue or argument. I also take him to be saying that some issues have tragically become entangled in cultural commitments, even though they need not have been.

      And, finally, I take him to be saying that you can avoid igniting someone’s cultural resistance by understanding their cultural commitments. There’s no reason why Zika has to be a polarizing issue, but you sure can make it one if you entangle it with culturally polarizing issues.

      Part of what I think is valuable about this post is Scott is trying to help people come to see rationality, openness to error, kindness in debate AS A CORE CULTURAL COMMITMENT. Which is I think what needs to happen — we all need to see it as part of our identities to be honest, humble, curious, etc.

  67. Quixote says:

    I think that much of this post somewhat misses the main point. There is a reason the article you cited started with tobacco companies. In that case there was an agreement on fact. The doctors and medical establishment knew smoking caused lung cancer. The tobacco execs, lawyers, advisors etc. were intelligent diligent people, they read the doctor’s study and they also knew smoking caused cancer.

    However, this fact, which everyone agreed on, would be decidedly inconvenient to the tobacco companies and would be financially detrimental if it became common knowledge. So they launched an effective and organize campaign of confusion and disinformation. The funded positions conditional on putting out research in their interests. They donated large sums of money to politicians conditional on voting in their interests and suppressing information. This was so successful that in the mid 90s, nearly 40 years after the case was unambiguously closed on the factual issue, senators were still saying on the senate floor that it was ambiguous.

    The cigarette case is normal. It is not atypical. The typical case of disagreement about facts in policy spheres is where there is a clear expert consensus, all informed parties know the actual answer, and the actual answer would be financially detrimental to at least one entity that is capable of deploying significant resources to prevent the expert consensus becoming common knowledge. This whole post misses that core issue. The other side isn’t going to help you promote logical argument because they also think they are right. The other side doesn’t think they are right, not the people at the top. The other side thinks they are profitable.

    • needtobecomestronger says:

      Agreed. But the solution, I think, is for the reasonable parties to agree on the facts and present a counter-movement to fight against this trend. This is why I am somewhat weary of those on the left like Scott who constantly talk of trying to understand the other party’s point – what we need is not more understanding for evil, but for the ones who are good to be willing to take up arms against them. All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good folks to do nothing, and all that…

      (That the counter-movement should not descend into faith-based ideology and become crusaders who destroy the very fact-based insititutions they are supposed to represent goes without saying)

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @Quixote – “The typical case of disagreement about facts in policy spheres is where there is a clear expert consensus, all informed parties know the actual answer, and the actual answer would be financially detrimental to at least one entity that is capable of deploying significant resources to prevent the expert consensus becoming common knowledge.”

      Two of the biggest policy questions currently going are Racism and Sexism, yes? I would be interested in hearing the expert-consensus “correct answers” to those problems, for starters.

      • 1soru1 says:

        > Two of the biggest policy questions currently going are Racism and Sexism, yes?

        No, not really. Neither is a policy question, neither is a disagreement about facts.

        They are more free-standing narratives that can touch on many different policy questions. And when you do look at those individual questions, you find the gun industry lobby, the prison lobby, the entertainment media lobby, individual billionaires, advocacy non-profits, and so on doing a lot of the work of supplying the information people make judgments about.

        For the industry lobbies, that information differs from the expert consensus when and where there is money to be made. Other funding sources have different biases, but I think characterizing the ‘typical’ case as being profit-driven is probably sound.

  68. antimule says:

    I have a lot darker take: what if most people disagree because they have different INTERESTS but they camouflage that as differences in OPINIONS?

    If someone has very different goals than you, there’s no point in persuading them. He might actually agree on all the facts but still not alter behavior. Say, a polygamous fundamentalist might be aware that women would want more rights, but he also wants to keep owning his wives that he got in arranged marriages. So it is not in his interest to ever change his mind.

    Someone who cannot afford surgery wants to stay alive. Libertarian wants to pay less in taxes. Neither care whether universal healthcare is more or less efficient than current system, they just say it to camouflage conflict of interest.

    There’s a theory by Chris Ladd (former GOP operative) that the real reason why people in the South were always opposed to welfare state was not because they are pro “freedom”. It is because they were enjoying a “shadow welfare state” where all best jobs were always reserved for whites, even those with poor education. You don’t need welfare when you have a guarantee to be a firefighter or an assembly worker. Now that this informal safety net is dead, their only hope is that Trump might recreate it. No idea if that theory is true, but it views racism as ultimately rational.

    So, what if people know what is in their best interest and are good at working towards it, but their interests are clashing all the time, so what we see as different opinions is just one giant conflict of interest?

    I really, really hope that I am wrong about this.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      This seems obviously correct, yes.

      But why the gloomy attitude? Surely it’s better to acknowledge this and set about the business of engaging in all the positive-sum interactions we can get our hands on (and no doubt there are many), each in the pursuit of their (now-publicly-acknowledged) goals?

      Edit: Better, I mean, than the current pretense; and also, the described state of affairs (even pre-public-acknowledgment) seems better than the “different opinions” one, because in the latter, people honestly disagree, which means you actually have to figure out how to convince them, whereas in the former, people dishonestly disagree, so no convincing is required.

    • needtobecomestronger says:

      I share your fear and hope in equal measure.

      But I don’t think you’re wrong. Based on my many varied experiences debating people, it does seem to me that it’s pretty much always preferences that determine people’s decisions, not beliefs. i.e. the old lady who loves her healing crystals is not going to give them up no matter how much evidence there is that they do not work.

      However, there is a bright spot! In my personal experience, I have always been swayed not by persuasion or insults, but by being introduced to new facts. As a result, nowadays I always try not to convince people they are wrong, but instead say “hey, you might not know this, but I recently read that…” this allows them to reinterpret the new facts according to their own worldview, which still helps in its own way.

      While that old lady still holds on to her healing crystals, she now agrees that it’s mainly because of her own preferences, and I can have good discussions with her on other topics. All is not hopeless.

    • onyomi says:

      Bryan Caplan makes a pretty good case that people mostly vote not out of self-interest, but to signal virtue and tribal affiliation. (Link not working for some reason; google “Bryan Caplan SIVH”).

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I really, really hope that I am wrong about this.

      Well, you’re right in that yes, people have different interests. Where you’re wrong is when you automatically assume those interests are evil. Your interests good. Your political opponents’ interest evil. You seem to think the white working class guy is secretly plotting to keep the black man down. All the working class white guy wants to to is go to his factory job, come home to his quiet neighborhood, raise his family and go to Church on Sunday and generally be left alone. The political class in Washington (both parties) have decided instead they’d like to move his factory to China and import a Somali ghetto into the next neighborhood over. This is not in his interest.

      Offering him “facts” like that he could at 50 years old retrain to become a computer programmer or how low the probability is that his daughter will be raped by the Somalis is unlikely to change his mind that none of these changes are particularly good for him.

      So, here’s the dark take that I really, really hope I’m wrong about: that you have different interests than our working class white guy. That you’re getting a higher rate of return on your 401(k) because that factory moved, and cheaper electronic toys, and you’re eventually getting more Democrat votes from those Somali ghetto dwellers so you can raise taxes to get more free government services, and so you can pass more laws regulating that white guy’s behavior to criminalize him for hate speech when he objects to the Somalian ghetto or maybe doesn’t want men in dresses in the bathroom with his daughter. But you don’t have these interests, right?

      • 1soru1 says:

        As a quick reality-based reminder, the working class, white or not, mostly votes Democrat, because their interests are associated with unions, minimum wage, subsidized or free health care, Wall street regulation, etc.

        Republican voters are the ones whose financial interests are in getting returns on 401(k)’s and other assets, which means lower wages and regulations, and so higher profits that keep those funds solvent. This is most of the middle class, and all retirees.

        The key change at the last election is that a group of retirees and near-retirees started voting for their rational self-interest instead of working class identity. One reason for that is because the Democrats (unwisely, as it turned out) stopped stressing that identity in their messaging, instead preferring to target Republicans with ‘Trump bad’.

        Which mostly failed because they already knew that; 21% of those who voted for him rated Trump as ‘honest and trustworthy’, which seems surprisingly high. But also knew what their self-interest was, and judged even a bad Republican president would still stop spending their money on things that did them no good.

        If you want facts that change people views, you have to use facts that actually address those views.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I feel like there’s some equivovcation going on here between “working class” as in the class of people who work a regular job, and “working class” as in poor. Which version are you using here? I’m pretty sure a lot of the former (including the union types) have been voting Republican the last couple of cycles.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Lower class = ‘living off benefits’, working class = ‘living off wages’, upper class = ‘living off assets’, middle class = ‘living off wages supported by assets’. Middle class is by far the most common in America (64% home ownership rate), so much of the political struggle is getting the middle class to identify with one side or other of their split interests.

            I can’t find a cross-tab, but working a regular job more or less implies being under 65 (often younger for manual occupations who tend to ‘retire into disability’ rather than reach pension age). So when you look at the figures for Dem support in those under 65, and of low and medium income, it’s hard to find a plausible set of numbers where a majority of people working class in that sense vote Republican.

            If you look specifically at union members (which is not a great proxy for being working class, as being in a union tends to increase your wages above the minimum necessary to live, making you economically middle class over time) then according to Nate Silver 64% voted Democrat.

            Many retirees (and more or less all benefit recipients) are poor, but they are still people who _pay_ wages rather then _receive_ them. So, to a first approximation, their interests are the same as a billionaire like Trump. So in the absence of an identity-based message that included them, they went with that.

            And of course, a somewhat lesser number voted Republican primarily because of identity-based message (to nationality, religion, etc) that did include them; those are the group that can genuinely be called ‘voting against their own interests’. But there is no evidence that group was of any substantial size.

          • Brad says:

            In your scheme is someone that’s retired and living on a mix of social security (benefits) and savings (assets) lower class or upper class?

          • 1soru1 says:

            I guess you could call that the alt-middle class, a different hybrid than the usual wage/asset one. Their political identity would be up for grabs between those who promised to defend wealth (from taxation), and those who promised higher benefits (funded by taxation).

            As noone is doing much of the latter in modern politics, I’d predict they would default to voting Republican. A lot would depend on fairly fuzzy accounting questions as to what exactly is a personally-owned asset versus a tax-funded entitlement; some kind of case can be made for Social Security being either.

          • cassander says:

            @1soru1

            upper class = ‘living off assets’,

            What share of the population do you think this is? Don’t look it up, just mentally eye-ball it.

            Alright, according to the CBO, the top 1% gets ~1/3 of their income from capital sources, meaning the people that actually live on their assets is a small fraction of the 1%. I don’t think this definition of upper class is meaningful.

            those are the group that can genuinely be called ‘voting against their own interests’.

            No, they can’t. Let’s say you’re a member of this group. You didn’t go to college, so you don’t benefit from the massive subsidies to higher education. You make enough money that you don’t benefit from the means tested welfare state and enough to start paying significant taxes. Your income is also strongly linked to your age, so if you don’t make that much money yet, you likely will soon. You are far more likely to work in the sort of brown industries that the democrats actively brag about trying to regulate out of existence. So in what way is voting for the democrats in your interests? They want to tax you, give the money to someone else, then make your job illegal.

            There is a reason whites with no college degree are the most republican demographic in the country, and it isn’t mass delusion, it’s hard economic reality. The republicans don’t offer them much, but they at least aren’t actively and publically plotting against them.

          • gbdub says:

            Social Security is an odd duck, in that it’s a government benefit, but one proportional (up to a certain level) to what you “paid into” the system.

            So I think most middle class wage earners view it (with some justification) as more like “legally mandated savings” than “welfare”. They might intellectually prefer a world without it, but having already spent their career paying for it, they want what they are owed.

          • Brad says:

            Oh please. The connection between what you put in and what you get is tenuous and contingent.

            We know how to create a vested property right — that’s what federal employee retirees have. They are owed something, social security beneficiaries are not.

            Social security is not in any way, shape, or form a mandatory savings program. That many people delude themselves into thinking it is so they can feel better about being all against government programs except for the ones that benefit them personally does not transform the nature of the program.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Brad:
            I agree that SS is mandated “care” for the elderly. It substitutes for children having to take in their parents. Mostly the current workers pay for the current elderly.

            But let’s not pretend the government doesn’t intentionally build support for the idea that people are paying in to SS for themselves. The send you a yearly “account” statement after all. Your benefits are determined by your income, to a certain extent. Their as SS Trust Fund on the books.

            SS is a hybrid program that retains strong support because everyone knows that they are supposed to draw benefits back out of it when they get to retirement. I think that is an essential feature of the program. If benefits were means tested, for instance, they would be far more efficient, and much less supported.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Right, social security isn’t a mandated savings program… but to a voter who isn’t up in economics, and who’s seen that line item on their paycheck for years, it sure feels like one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Evan Þ:
            Well, I don’t think anyone thinks of Medicare or Medicaid as “savings” programs, so I don’t think it’s the line item that’s really relevant.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Medicare is a savings program to pay for your healthcare when you’re retired, right? Or maybe it’s a mandatory insurance program to pay for poor people’s healthcare… After all, the tax’s in box 2 of your W-2, not in box 4 or 6.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Evan Þ:
            I don’t think the average person pays attention to what box it is in …

          • Brad says:

            @Evan Þ
            It’s a very convenient ignorance that allows them to maintain they are rugged individualists that never got nothin from nobody while drawing on the two largest government social welfare programs.

            @HeelBearCub
            I’m aware there’s a “noble lie” theory out there that says we should keep quiet about the rampant hypocrisy surrounding social security, medicare, and social security disability for some greater good, but I reject it.

          • gbdub says:

            And I’m aware there’s a smug lie certain left-wingers tell themselves that allows them to label any conservative that cashes a social security check a “hypocrite!” and then tell themselves they’ve sufficiently argued away any opposition to SS in its current form.

            But I reject it. If you force me to buy something I don’t want, I’m not a hypocrite for demanding you give it to me after I paid for it.

            Mafioso: Nice place you got here, would be a shame if something happened to it…
            Shop owner: Fine, here’s $500, leave me alone.
            Mafioso: Nice doing business, see you next week. Exit Mafioso
            Shop owner: Man, this protection racket sucks. I sure wish someone would get rid of the mob.
            Brad: I couldn’t help but overhearing you’re against protection rackets… yet I see your store isn’t ransacked and your kneecaps are unbroken!
            Shop owner: Well I would hope so! I pay those parasites every week.
            Brad: So you admit you benefit from the very system you criticize! What a hypocrite!

            To the extent that “Social Security / Medicare is a special fund you pay into while working and draw from when you’re retired or disabled” is a myth, it’s one actively pushed by the Democrats as well (does the term “lockbox” ring a bell?). HeelBearCub already mentioned the “account statement” you get yearly.

            So you seem to be making an isolated demand for voter rigor: Republicans are hypocrites for believing what they were told about Social Security / Medicare, but there’s nothing wrong with Democrats motivated by “free” health care.

          • Brad says:

            I’ll go further and say, I don’t like Social Security as a program. It’s a regressive program whose poverty alleviation properties are incidental and too small to justify such a gigantic program.

            If you think I’m calling out Republican hypocrisy in order to defend SS in its current form, you are missing my point.

            But I reject it. If you force me to buy something I don’t want, I’m not a hypocrite for demanding you give it to me after I paid for it.

            You aren’t being forced to buy anything. You are forced to pay the FICA tax just like every other tax. You are entitled to nothing in return, just like every other tax.

            To the extent that “Social Security / Medicare is a special fund you pay into while working and draw from when you’re retired or disabled” is a myth, it’s one actively pushed by the Democrats as well (does the term “lockbox” ring a bell?). HeelBearCub already mentioned the “account statement” you get yearly.

            And? I am not a spokesman for the Democratic Party. The post you are responding to condemns their tactic of lying about the nature of Social Security.

            In any event, I don’t see how any of this is a defense on the merits. Even if those “other people” are confused, well here were aren’t. So what’s y’alls excuse?

            So you seem to be making an isolated demand for voter rigor: Republicans are hypocrites for believing what they were told about Social Security / Medicare, but there’s nothing wrong with Democrats motivated by “free” health care.

            “They were told” is awfully passive voice. Unless the red tribe is getting all its information from Al Gore, there has to be something more to this “were told”. Who is doing this telling?

            As I said, it is an awfully convenient ignorance, and one that seems impervious to being corrected. That suggests to me someone that is fooling himself rather than being fooled by someone else.

            I have no idea what you are on about with regard to “free healthcare”, where I’ve said anything about healthcare or how any of what I’ve written amounts to an isolated demand for rigor.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            Quit with the mafia comparisons. It really is in poor form.

          • gbdub says:

            @hellbearcub – “quit with” seems to imply I make a habit of Mafia comparisons. Perhaps I’ve made such in the past, but offhand I can’t remember them.

            I thought I was entitled to a bit of lightly snarky argumentum ad absurdum in response to a comment that rather brusquely accused me (and you incidentally) of perpetuating a “noble lie” and quite broad-brush and uncharitably applied the label of hypocrisy to a significant segment of the electorate.

          • IrishDude says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Quit with the mafia comparisons. It really is in poor form.

            Comparisons between governments and protection rackets isn’t that tenuous. Both make you an offer you can’t refuse.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            I think IrishDude just proved my point.

            Libertarians love to compare government with any and all taking by force.

            Perhaps I jumped on you for simply adding the last straw to the camel’s back (and even a lighter straw than usual) but I don’t think it’s unlikely that the well you are drawing from is the same one.

            Now that my metaphors are thoroughly mixed …

          • gbdub says:

            @Brad – while I don’t believe you’ve provided sufficiently compelling arguments to justify this, I’ll ignore for the moment that SS is listed as a specific line item, is legally tied to the magnitude of your earned income (both the tax and the benefit), and has been consistently discussed by politicians of both major parties as a special government program with its own special budget.

            Even conceding that, calling it just another tax that feeds into the general treasury … so what? Having been taxed at a level that supposedly pays for a benefit that I’d rather not pay for, I’m not a hypocrite to accept that benefit once I become eligible for it (or to oppose cutting it just before I become eligible for it).

            And I certainly don’t see why supporting SS makes you a hypocrite for opposing other benefit programs. It’s unclear to me why supporting benefits for old/disabled people at their current levels necessitates supporting benefits for able bodied poor people at their current levels (or higher).

            If it’s bad form to oppose paying for a policy you don’t think you’ll ever need, it is no more so than supporting a tax on a bracket you’ll never reach, or supporting increased benefits for yourself that others will pay for in general. In other words, so common that it hardly seems worth singling out.

            “You’re a hypocrite if you oppose benefit X but accept your SS check” is no more compelling than “you’re a hypocrite if you support higher taxes but don’t voluntarily write checks to the IRS”.

            For what it’s worth, I also think SS in its current form is highly regressive and oppose it on those grounds. I also accept that any benefit I get from SS is probably going to be substantially less than I’d receive if I could just direct the SS tax into an index fund.

            But if you think that means I’ll happily accept a cut to my benefit level after years of paying for it for the old bastards that didn’t make it sustainable for me, well, I’m not a saint.

          • gbdub says:

            @HeelBearCub – Actually I don’t think that most government programs are a protection racket. Unlike a protection racket, it’s not the government that causes the harm that SS protects you from. -1 gbdubBuck to IrishDude, if it helps.

            And I’m not a “taxation is theft!” hard-libertarian (I mean, it IS an involuntary taking, and I wish more leftists would be cognizant of how many of the “rights” they demand require taking things from other people at threat of legal penalty, more so that they respect the gravity of that than anything else).

            I merely am saying that the logic that makes accepting your SS check hypocrisy is the same logic that makes accepting the “protection” you pay for hypocrisy – just because I didn’t want to pay you doesn’t mean you don’t owe me if I do.

            I actually hesitated to include the example precisely because I figured I’d be accused of drawing an equivalence between SS and the mafia, but every other example I could think of seemed less serious than SS, which would make for a poor reductio. I just thought it would be Brad (whose first words to me in this thread were “Oh please.”) rather than you doing the accusing.

          • Brad says:

            @gbdub
            One could conceivably distinguish between social security but not other social welfare programs in some reasonable fashion and so support the former but not the other — but not by denying that social security is a social welfare program and claiming that recipients are rugged individualist who never got nothing from nobody.

            This whole conversation started when you objected to my characterizing social security recipients as ‘living off benefits”. They are. Regardless if they don’t wish to see themselves that way. Regardless if they claim they would prefer to live in a world where social security had never been put in place. Regardless even if they vote for politicians that want to cut social security. The facts are still the facts.

          • gbdub says:

            Please point to where I (or anyone in this thread) claimed that SS recipients are “rugged individualists who never got nothing from nobody”.

            I’m merely arguing that viewing “accepting the benefits of a system you spent your whole working life paying for, and if you’re lucky your take-outs will approach your contributions plus interest” is going to be viewed differently than “accepting benefits from a system you never contributed to”, and this isn’t totally irrational.

            There’s a reason I called it an “odd duck” and not “a totally not-benefit that doesn’t preclude rugged individualist status”. In fact, you’ll note that I referred to it specifically as a “government benefit” in the very post you “oh pleased”!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            Look, I understand that rhetoric easily becomes heated, but all I was saying is the comparison you made is fuel for that fire and it’s better to find a different way to express your point if you want to actually converse.

            Consider the post we are in.

            As to the point Brad is trying to make, which I think you will actually acknowledge, SS only feels different, rather than actually being different.

            And I think the difference is that people feel they deserve SS benefits. And that some other people don’t deserve the government benefits that they get.

            If we look at the actually history of SS, it was always a program where the current workers payed for the current elderly. It’s structured as a program that benefits society at large, because we prefer that the elderly not be mandated to work for their daily bread.

            There are some requirements around the program, but many programs have requirements. The earning people do of SS benefits is a societal compact, rather than earning by careful accumulation of wages.

            And when the time comes, revenues will be raised to pay for expenditures of SS that rise above the current supply.

          • IrishDude says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Libertarians love to compare government with any and all taking by force.

            I’m curious what you think is the defining characteristic(s) of government that makes it different from other entities.

            For the record, I don’t think every taking by force is morally the same.

            @gbdub

            -1 gbdubBuck to IrishDude

            : (

          • Unlike a protection racket, it’s not the government that causes the harm that SS protects you from.

            If you don’t pay your Social Security tax the government will eventually cause you harm. So paying it is protecting you both from government harm and from other harms.

            I don’t know about generic protection rackets, but the same thing is true of the Sicilian Mafia, which is the classical example of such a system. A large part of what they are selling is protection from other people. Hence the title of Gambetta’s book on them.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Republican voters are the ones whose financial interests are in getting returns on 401(k)’s and other assets, which means lower wages and regulations, and so higher profits that keep those funds solvent.

          We’re talking about Trump voters here and you’re describing Paul Ryan voters.

  69. RealTrueNews says:

    I had numerous interactions that fit the 5-criteria above. They were carried out between myself and Trump-voting relatives / friends on IM (no points scoring). In every case the interactions had the same pattern:

    1. Trump-voter explains his/her grievance / reasoning.
    2. I tell them they believe something about it which is not true.
    3. After much discussion, they admit it is not true–to their satisfaction.
    4. They do not change their minds.

    There were other cases where the debates happened in more public fora. In these cases there certainly was some point-scoring, I would say. In every case I was involved with (I got brought into political arguments as someone who understood the fake-news phenomena early on) the person would reference fake-news articles and would refuse to acknowledge they were fake / fabricated.

    From this I conclude: (a) while voting for Trump may, for some people, be a ‘logical choice’ (i.e. I distrust Hillary so much I am willing to take a gigantic risk), or an ideological maxim (SCOTUS judges), for a great many people it was, in fact, driven by a view of reality that was objectively not real.

    The response to the person discovering they were wrong was that while specific facts, stories, etc. could be shown to be fake, they could’t *all* be shown to be fake and the person felt their world-view was still basically correct so there was no need to change it.

    It is well worth remembering that this goes hand-in-hand with the marketing messages that were used in the past 8-years to target conservatives (but not liberals). From conservative personalities hawking gold-certificates, to pricey pop-up ads pushing overpriced freeze-dried food to prepare for the Obama-Apocalypse, conservatives have been relentlessly targeted by end-times media. The belief that “bias I don’t agree with in news” means “the news is a lie” is both a sort of immunological disease against fake-news (I can’t debunk it with mainstream sources) and a sort of software exploit that makes people susceptible to this (mis)information.

    I think Trump’s coalition is a result of this trend.

    • Jiro says:

      From this I conclude: (a) while voting for Trump may, for some people, be a ‘logical choice’ (i.e. I distrust Hillary so much I am willing to take a gigantic risk), or an ideological maxim (SCOTUS judges), for a great many people it was, in fact, driven by a view of reality that was objectively not real.

      Your conclusion is completely trivial and useless. It’s not surprising that a lot of people voted for Trump for stupid reasons. That’s because it’s not surprising that a lot of people vote for candidates for stupid reasons, period.

      (If you’re trying to imply that Trump voters disproportionately voted for stupid reasons, your evidence doesn’t support that.)

      • RealTrueNews says:

        I wrote a response but it didn’t post.

        The reasons Trump voters used were not “stupid”–they were factually untrue–and the voters in question could be *shown* that their reasons were untrue–to their satisfaction (“yes, you proved I fell again and again for fake news”)–and would *still* not change their minds.

        That wasn’t the case for Hillary or, say, Gary Johnson voters. Sorry.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Yes, and the reason African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats is because they have thoroughly reviewed the evidence for anthropogenic global warming and have concluded the Democrats have the most sensible policy for addressing the challenges posed by climate change.

      It has nothing at all to do with messages like Biden telling blacks that “Republicans want to put them back in chains.”

      • RealTrueNews says:

        1. The difference between Trump voters and others is that when shown their reasoning was false–to their satisfaction–they didn’t change their votes.

        2. African Americans (and most everyone else) aren’t voting on climate change.

        3. The put-them-back-in-chains line was a Joe Biden laugh-line. The people he was speaking to knew it wasn’t serious / literal.

        • Jiro says:

          That kind of joke is an exaggeration of something the speaker actually believes, so it still counts.

          • RealTrueNews says:

            The problem is that the “it’s an exaggeration so it counts” is automatically setting up a strawman–we just don’t know which one.

            Once you get into nuance, the whole position collapses. Does Biden believe that Republicans are more racist than Democrats? Maybe. Does he think that African Americans would do worse under GOP policies? Probably. Etc.

            Depending on what degree we think Biden feels about these positions, they may be perfectly reasonable.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          1. The difference between Trump voters and others is that when shown their reasoning was false–to their satisfaction–they didn’t change their votes.

          Unless you can demonstrate a different vote will better accomplish their goals they’re not changing their vote. People voted for Trump because BUILD WALL DEPORT ILLEGALS BAN MUSLIMS BEAT CHYNA. They want those things, and likely have half a dozen reasons why these are good ideas and in their interests. Knocking down one of the reasons or demonstrating they had a false idea about Clinton doesn’t change votes.

          2. African Americans (and most everyone else) aren’t voting on climate change.

          That’s what I said. The game you’re playing is “my side are reasoned intellectuals and the other side is emotionally manipulated twits.” No, it’s pretty much twits all the way down. And especially so with the left, which would have zero power in the US without the overwhelming support of the least educated, least informed, and lowest average IQ explicitly race-based voting block. Blacks don’t even agree with the ideological left in theory on half of their platform, as they’re often socially conservative. Gay rights, trans rights, sexism, are not issues blacks care about, and when individual blacks express an opinion on these issues, it is often not at all a politically correct one. See polls on support for gay marriage by race.

          During the primary season it was funny watching Bernie supporting redditors dreaming up plans to get the black vote away from Clinton. I could just picture 19 year old white hipster kids canvasing the ghettos to explain why blacks should vote to give them free college. Yeah, they don’t care about your ideology. At all.

          3. The put-them-back-in-chains line was a Joe Biden laugh-line. The people he was speaking to knew it wasn’t serious / literal.

          Haha but serious. That is some sweet, sweet race baiting. The Democrats would be nowhere without this kind of stuff.

  70. onyomi says:

    I listed “In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization” as my all-time favorite SSC post in the recent survey and am happy to see Scott make this new and insightful point in a similar vein. I had been hoping (and on some level am still hoping) to see him condemn the tactics of the Berkeley and Middlebury protesters in more unambiguous terms, but I get that he’s here sort of talking to a hypothetical Tim Hartford-type person and trying to convince that audience.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I feel like at this point condemning the Berkeley protesters would be about as relevant as condemning Hitler. Lots of people have already done so competently, and the people who aren’t on board yet probably aren’t going to read this blog.

      • ChetC3 says:

        So not only are you pro-Berkeley protesters, now you’re coming out as pro-Hitler!?

      • onyomi says:

        Really? Maybe my social media feed is full of radical left wing academics, but I saw a surprising amount of excuse-making, including calls to do the same thing to Charles Murray at his next venue (citing, of course, the SPLC, who assures us he is a white nationalist). And while it’s not your target demographic, exactly, I’m pretty sure some left-wing academics do read this blog, or, at least, stumble across it when it gets linked by Vox.

        Related note: I think I have a new reason to hate the SPLC even more than I already did: not only are they spearheading the “everyone is a white supremacist Nazi movement,” I feel like they also spearheaded the genre of “making lists of evil people so you can dismiss anything you might hear from them out of hand,” which seems to be growing in popularity lately.

        • Gazeboist says:

          I feel like at some point their list was actually just neonazi organizations and the like, and it has since been corrupted. I mean, people believe they’re a credible organization; that belief has to come from *somewhere*. That impression might just be because my perspective has changed, though.

          edit:

          I’m reminded of stories my parents told me about their parents’ moments of disillusionment with various companies once known for producing high-quality products, and of arguments about Apple I’ve had with people who use Apple laptops from circa 2011; that sort of thing seems relevant here.

          • onyomi says:

            I can’t claim to be familiar with the SPLC of 30 or 40 years ago, so it’s possible they started out at a time when KKK-like groups were a real threat and have since become ridiculous due to inability to declare victory.

            I would say, however, that there is also a definite creep of the mainstreamish view with respect to race and identity issues such that what would have been a fringe, radical position in the 60s and 70s is now a left-of-center but still acceptable, even fashionable opinion today. The fashionable progressive opinion on race today feels closer to me to Malcolm X than MLK Jr.

            I’m not sure if the SPLC was always closer to Malcolm X, but, if not, they’ve certainly moved, along with the mainstream, very strongly in that direction.

            On the one hand this mainstream movement is good in the sense that, if, during the 60s, the conservatives were anti-MLK and the liberals pro-MLK (and the radical conservatives KKK and the radical liberals Malcolm X), then that means today the conservatives are basically where MLK Jr was, and what used to be a mainstreamish conservative opinion on race is now considered a radically reactionary opinion on race.

            The problem, of course, is the need for the left to distinguish itself from the right. If the right accepts the MLK position, then the left must necessarily move to the Malcolm X position to continue to signal right-thinking. But if the MLK position was the correct one (as I think it is), then that means it is inherently difficult to just stick to the truth once you arrive there, because once you succeed in convincing all the rubes that 2+2=4, you have to start saying 2+2=5 to prove how much smarter you are then them.

          • Gazeboist says:

            What do you mean by “the Malcolm X position”? My feeling is that the excesses of the SJ left are more of a 90s phenomenon than anything older, and I don’t think other views fall into the “acceptable, even fashionable” cluster you describe.

            As to the Overton window discussion, I think it’s more of a scale problem than a positioning problem. This is the sort of issue the left has always had – it’s really good at generating national movements and popular pressure, but absolutely sucks at just convincing individual people that it’s correct, and it often fails to pick good targets anyway. You can see this all over the place; one example that comes to mind is that Vox article on epipen pricing. Right basic idea (epipens are priced above their value to the point of extortion, which causes demonstrable harm to people who need them), totally wrongheaded solution (price controls).

            Where this loops back around to race is that the big obvious “hit it with a hammer and it goes away” racial issues are mostly resolved, but subtler ones remain, and most people working on them can’t seem to come up with an appropriately subtle solution. Which results in them targeting too many people or using disproportionate sanctions, which gives us the situation we have today.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi and others

            I agree with Gazeboist: what would you characterize the “Malcolm X position” as? Are you just thinking of him as “MLK but more extreme”? Because that’s not really getting the right read on his position (positions, given they changed over time).

            I would say that there are people (primarily white left-wingers, some leftists, some liberals, but mostly liberal/leftist hybrids with all the flaws of both and the advantages of neither) whose understanding of race and identity issues looks like how the Weather leadership and other white radicals in the 70s saw things: they idolized Black Power types as “real revolutionaries”, without really understanding what groups like the Panthers were doing or why; they thought of themselves as the natural leadership of a coalition of the fringes (despite they themselves being mostly well-off college-educated types); they thought of themselves as the “good white people” as opposed to the majority of whites. Your average university-educated white guy writing an article for some clickbait listicle site with a title like “7 reasons why white guys suck” probably has a similar view of the world.

          • onyomi says:

            Perhaps playing too fast and loose with the actual philosophies of the men involved, I was using MLK as a metonym for the “equality” position on race and Malcolm X as a metonym for the “oppressed, morally good ingroup vs. oppressive, morally bad outgroup” view on race.

            One of MLK’s most famous lines: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” explicitly calls for color-blind ethical evaluation. It’s not “I dream my children will one day get special preferences to balance out the injustices and lack of opportunities their parents suffered.”

            Malcolm X, on the other hand, had a much dimmer view of the possibility of whites and blacks living together harmoniously in a “color blind” way, I believe. He was a black nationalist, a “pan-Africanist,” and also decried non-violence as foolish. Of course he also claimed to only want equality, as e. g. BLM claims to only want equality and radical feminists claim to only want equality, but the worldview of such philosophies is such that “equality” cannot be achieved with actual equal treatment due to past injustice. In practice, it ends up being either an ethnic separatist movement or a call for the hated oppressor and noble oppressed to switch places.

            And this is where SJW etc. has gone so terribly wrong. They were fighting for equality, but due to a radical revolutionary philosophy and associated inability to declare victory, have overshot the mark and ended up right back in “good vs evil” territory.

          • onyomi says:

            @Dndnrsn

            They thought of themselves as the “good white people” as opposed to the majority of whites.

            This is interesting because I think it implies that, for such people (and I think it’s a lot of white people, maybe even most in the US), non-whites are actually still a fargroup. Their outgroup isn’t non-whites, it’s unenlightened whites.

            I also wonder if there isn’t some causation here with the fact that the lily white parts of the US often have more of these radically anti-racist whites. If you are a white person in Mississippi, most likely your ingroup is white people from Mississippi, your outgroup is black people from Mississippi, and your fargroup is people from New York and Los Angeles. If you’re in Vermont, however…

          • Brad says:

            Vermont, sure, but it’s a tiny place. The heart of that kind of thing are the cities of the west coast. NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and D.C. all have sizable African-American populations.

            And even on the west coast, LA doesn’t quite fit the mold.

          • keranih says:

            How much interaction is there between the uppercrust Caucasian population and the African American population in those cities?

            (Speaking as someone from the South, the pacific NW is crazy pale. That’s deceptive because of the Asian population, which means that the Caucasian urban percentage isn’t any higher than it is in the rest of the country, but still, the fraction of AA in that part of the country is super low except in areas with high military populations.)

          • 1soru1 says:

            mostly liberal/leftist hybrids with all the flaws of both and the advantages of neither

            I think there is a specific failure mode where plain liberals think politics is all about rational persuasion and legal rights, and plain leftists believe there is a way of organizing the economy which is radically better than the current arrangement.

            So that type of hybrids believe there is a way to get society to be radically better by simple persuasion and court cases. It just requires persuading very very hard (to the point of bullying) and/or passing more and more laws (to the point of outlawing things many people want to do).

            Relatedly, their is an old Trotskyite semi-joke that Stalin was like a liberal, except smarter. He too thought he could solve an economic problem through the court system. But at least he was smart enough to realize that would require lowering the costs of trials and punishment so that they could be applied to an economically significant proportion of the populace. Hence the show trials and gulags.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi:

            I think you’re kind of flattening MLK and Malcolm X out when you use them as shorthand for modern tendencies. I also think we differ a fair bit on what we see as the problems with the modern left.

            “Days of Rage” is worth reading because it puts a lot of stuff in perspective. The Weather Underground has a lot of similarities to people one finds today: not particularly oppressed (or oppressed at all) themselves, well-heeled, well-educated, speaking for others (who are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves).

            @Brad:

            Even within a very cosmopolitan city, is there that much actual personal engagement with people outside one’s bubble? Even in a city that is very ethnically diverse you will see a lot of self-segregation, first and foremost by class. So it’s very likely you could see members of a certain group as the fargroup even if you see them on the street, ride the bus with them, take classes with them, etc.

            @1soru1:

            I see it the opposite way. You have people with the righteous intolerance of the radicals, but the changes they want to make are not radical, are basically futzing with the system in a way that is very liberal. They don’t have what I think are the positives of liberals – support for personal freedoms first and foremost, but then again, I am a liberal – but neither do they have what I suppose are the positives of leftists – if you really think society is evil and blowing it up is best, then just go ahead and blow it up. You end up with people seeking incremental and often ornamental change and shouting down (or worse) everyone who disagrees with them.

          • wintermute92 says:

            I had a really strong impression that the SPLC was great even a decade ago. Like, on par with the ACLU. They might only call out the right, but if they said “X is a hate group”, you could pretty much write off X without losing anything.

            Over the last ~year at least, that confidence has completely collapsed. Calling Murray a “white nationalist”, if they did, is similarly bizarre. He’s a lot of things, but that one is a hell of a reach. Maajid Nawaz was my breaking point though – his listing as an extremist walks the line between “wildly biased” and “literally incapable of checking facts”. I’m not sure what happened, or if its always been this way and I never knew, but recent events have certainly soured my good opinion.

          • Brad says:

            @keranih

            How much interaction is there between the uppercrust Caucasian population and the African American population in those cities?

            @dndnrsn

            Even within a very cosmopolitan city, is there that much actual personal engagement with people outside one’s bubble? Even in a city that is very ethnically diverse you will see a lot of self-segregation, first and foremost by class. So it’s very likely you could see members of a certain group as the fargroup even if you see them on the street, ride the bus with them, take classes with them, etc

            These objections apply equally to Jackson and Biloxi as to NYC and Chicago.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @wintermute92:

            There’s been criticism of the SPLC for both sides for a while now – at least since the 90s, I think – on the grounds that its finances are kinda sketchy. Dees has been compared to a televangelist.

            @Brad:

            Your point is correct, but I don’t know that either city could be considered diverse in the same way as NYC or Chicago. Jackson (which went D and is just under 80% black, just under 20% non-Hispanic white) and Biloxi (just under 70% non-Hispanic white, just under 20% black). In comparison, Chicago is about a third each black, non-Hispanic white, and Hispanic, with the remainder mostly Asians. NYC is split unevenly between those four groups, by and large.

            The general point that people tend to “stick to their own” even when there are a sizeable number of people not “their own” around is definitely true, though.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Scott, how does the existence of left-wing rioters (who beat their political opponents in the street) or de-platform protesters (who scream over dissenters so they cannot speak…see Jordan Peterson at McMaster last week) factor into your call for honest political debate?

        “We’re going to have an honest political debate. On an unrelated note my masked political allies are waiting outside to beat with you with flagpoles, mace you, run you out of town, and then harass your employer to fire you. Now, I certainly don’t condone or participate in this behavior but it’s understandable because you’re so evil.”

        • AnonYEmous says:

          aren’t you unfairly attributing that motive to him specifically, as well as what seemed like me in that comment thread above

          can you substantiate on this motive, or is it simply attributed because you think everyone is like that, or everyone in a certain position is like that

          ???

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          If I were a betting man, I’d probably say he’s against them. Just a wild hunch.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I know Scott is. I’m saying as long as the mob is waiting outside the invitation to cooperative debate is kind of pointless. Like a white man in the 50s inviting a black man to come down to the town hall for a friendly debate on civil rights issues while the Klan waits outside, and the cops are on order to stand down in case of trouble because you’ve gotta give these klan boys some “space to burn” since it’s understandable they might get a little riled up by our black man’s controversial ideas. Now our white man in this story is not at all part of the Klan and finds their actions very distasteful and unproductive. Sure is a shame our black man refuses the polite invitation. Guess he’s immune to facts and reason, huh?

        • Gazeboist says:

          They are the people to whom he is calling.

        • gbdub says:

          I am quite confident that Scott’s position on Berkeley protesters’ behavior is “against”, and if he feels like he has nothing unique to say on the matter I respect that.

          Frankly I’d say this essay accomplishes much the same thing, but in a more meta sense that will remain more relevant when the current outrage du jour is long past.

        • Gazeboist says:

          How do you get that from this essay? He’s arguing *against* the people you claim he’s afraid to argue with. The “reason not riots” call *is going strictly to Scott’s left*. The essay has a note at the top saying he’s talking about Trump supporters as though they’re not there. How could he possibly be aiming his call to get rid of the mobs at them?

          ed – I guess the condemnation of rioters and people in favor of anti-Trump riots wasn’t explicit, but I’m really confused as to what else Scott might have been talking about when he was discussing violence as a means of making people agree.

        • reasoned argumentation says:

          I guess the condemnation of rioters and people in favor of anti-Trump riots wasn’t explicit, but I’m really confused as to what else Scott might have been talking about when he was discussing violence as a means of making people agree.

          That’s because you’re not in the mindset of leftists – who sincerely believe that their side isn’t engaging in violence when they riot because someone threatened to give a speech on their campus.

          Scott stating “the rioting in Berkeley and Middlebury were exactly that type of violence” is explicit. Condemning violence in general leaves room for everyone to believe that Scott is winking at the left – as he likely is.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Left wing violence is speech. Right wing speech is violence.

    • liskantope says:

      I also listed “In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization” as my all-time favorite SSC post in some recent SSC survey (not sure if it was the most recent one), and that was the first post I thought of when reading this post. I believe it deserves a position as a classic along side “In Favor of Niceness” as well as others (“I Can Tolerate Anyone But the Outgroup”, etc.)

      Honestly this post touches on so many things that I’m deeply concerned with on all levels that in theory I’d hope to have something intelligent to add in the comments. But it hits the nail on the head so well IMO that I really can’t think of anything to contribute or to argue with in direct response to it.

  71. Michael Pershan says:

    I think the role of entertainment in convincing people is largely misunderstood. It’s not a distraction from the truth. It’s a way to keep the reader/viewer’s attention long enough for them to KEEP READING.

    I don’t want to be the guy who says what the world’s number one problem is. How am I supposed to know? But if I were that sort of guy, I’d say the number one problem with debate on the internet is attention. You can give the most logically coherent arguments on twitter, but (as a lot of people note) it’s just so easy for other people not to pay attention to you. Ditto with Facebook. Ditto with youtube, even compared to something like TV (where at least you’re stuck with whatever happens to be playing at 5:30 PM ET).

    The solution: entertainment.

    To entertain someone is, I’d say, to capture their attention. And so by being witty or funny or sad or whatever you’re able to keep people with you long enough to hear your argument.

    Of course, it’s a balance. Most nights I think someone like John Oliver overuses entertainment and it obscures the logic.

    But this is something I think SSC does particularly well.

    George Saunders has this little essay about Barthelme where he compares writing to one of those Hot Wheels tracks that zooms you up every time you pass the start. The writing gives you a little shock of entertainment, and that’s enough to keep you going, waiting for the next jolt.

    Entertainment is what makes long-form argument possible.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      And if you ask a right-winger they’ll tell you this is already what’s going on. That Hollywood is propaganda. However, not “long form argument” propaganda, but emotional appeal brainwashing.

  72. Incurian says:

    If I stumbled across Stalin and I happened to have a gun, I would shoot him without worrying about how it’s “only by coincidence” that he didn’t have the gun instead of me. You should use your symmetric weapons if for no reason other than that the other side’s going to use theirs and so you’ll have a disadvantage if you don’t. But you shouldn’t confuse it with a long-term solution.

    I read this and thought, “This could probably use a caveat or two.”

    • Stezinec says:

      Me too, it seems like a very visceral example. At the same time, it’s still a hypothetical to illustrate a principle, so hopefully people are charitable enough to take it as such.

  73. Phil says:

    very occasionally, after weeks of therapy, I realize that frick, everyone really does hate my patient

    [double-checks name at top of post]

    insofar as violence is asymmetric, it’s because it parasitizes on logic which allows the good guys to be more convincing and so field a bigger army.

    Huh. I shall have to think about this, which is to say that it challenges (but does not as yet overthrow) a deeply-held assumption. (Which is what we’re talking about, so that’s nice.) I don’t know how far this generalises – I mean, the workers of the world aren’t the majority because their cause is just, rather the other way round. But it’s a good point.

  74. needtobecomestronger says:

    Hi Scott, this is a great post, and very necessary I think. I was especialy glad to see you acknowledge the need to use symmetric weapons if the other side will use them also – I’ve been pondering the need to write a post to convince you of the follies of pacifism in discourse, but it seems that’s not necessary.

    The main issue in this is post which I think you didn’t adress is a large, unspoken left-wing assumption: That the people on the left and right are not the same, because they steadily self-selected according to tribal identity. It seems to me that over time scientists and journalists have become more and more likely to identify as left-wing, making it more and more fruitless for the right to engage in logical debate as they can’t win those votes anyway.

    Basically, everything went wrong when the left accused the republicans of being the stupid party and the right embaced this by pure necessity – or maybe everything was already lost by the time republicans sought out the support of evangelicans and denied the reality of evolution, I don’t know. But however the timeline went, I think the unspoken fear of liberals is that everyone willing to listen to reason has already joined the left. Basically, liberals took one look at Trump and said “anyone who would consider voting for this person is already lost”. And can you really blame them?

    I fear that the current situation has stopped being a discussion between two civilised sides, and has instead descended into a true war between good and evil. You are absolutely right when you press the need for civil discourse and the need for humility and doubt, but I think that is mainly a lesson the left needs to learn when it comes to resolving their internal disputes, i.e. Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters failing to put aside their differences and present a united front against America’s true enemy.

    What people forget is that democracy was not originally voted into being – it was a decree from powerful and intelligent leaders at the top, and when fascists and other hateful people opposed the very idea of civilisation itself, democracy was preserved because powerful champions fought for their ideas and won. More than the rise of Trump itself, I worry about the failure of reasonable to put up an effective opposition to his worst ideas. It seems like a generation of peace has weakened us, and caused us to forget the need to fight for what is right…

    Just my thoughts, and worries. If anyone can convince me I’m wrong, it would probably improve my quality of life by a lot. : )

    -Sophronius

    • reasoned argumentation says:

      Basically, everything went wrong when the left accused the republicans of being the stupid party and the right embaced this by pure necessity – or maybe everything was already lost by the time republicans sought out the support of evangelicans and denied the reality of evolution, I don’t know.

      Evangelicals say they deny evolution but they accept that antibiotic resistance exists.

      Progressives say they believe in evolution but they believe it stops at the neck.

      • needtobecomestronger says:

        Depends on how you define ‘progressive’. Contrary to what the alt-right claims, I know of plenty liberal-minded people who don’t believe anyone who does research on race should be shot on sight. Of course, most of them are older and don’t use twitter.

        I approve of the resistance to SJ mind-killing nonsense, but I think that a big chunk of the movement has devolved into ‘paint anyone who disagrees with us as an SJW and let’s basically just act like SJWs in every way while claiming the moral high ground’.

        • reasoned argumentation says:

          Contrary to what the alt-right claims, I know of plenty liberal-minded people who don’t believe anyone who does research on race should be shot on sight.

          Then I assume those people will be taking some kind of action about Middlebury College students rioting to prevent Charles Murray from giving an unrelated talk and assaulting the professor who interviewed him from a secure bunker when he couldn’t give his talk.

          Progressives who admit that evolution is real are awfully quiet.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            Then I assume those people will be taking some kind of action about Middlebury College students

            Sure, in the exact same way they take action on everything else: By muttering to themselves and their friends that ‘somebody ought to do something about that’. Maybe write an angry letter to someplace.

            I’m sorry, these are liberals we’re talking about. What were you expecting, a pre-emptive nuclear strike? : P

            (You are totally right to criticize the media for not speaking out if that’s what you mean, but that’s a different matter. The NYT for example also didn’t speak out against torture and even helped Bush by calling it ‘enhanced interrogation’ when Republicans had all the power. They are less ‘liberal’ and more ‘whichever side is winning’.)

            Progressives who admit that evolution is real are awfully quiet.

            Oh come on, you’re blatantly conflating race realism with evolution denial here, which is totally dishonest. I’ll grant you that I have more sympathy for your point of view than most (my uncle was banned from teaching biological differences at university even though it was his job as a doctor), but even so the two are not at all the same thing.

            I once had a SJW tell me that not identifying as a feminist is the same as denying evolution. Surely you don’t want to descend to their level?

          • ChetC3 says:

            > Then I assume those people will be taking some kind of action about Middlebury College students rioting to prevent Charles Murray from giving an unrelated talk and assaulting the professor who interviewed him from a secure bunker when he couldn’t give his talk.

            Why would you assume that? There’s a vast gulf separating “I don’t believe anyone who does research on race should be shot on sight” from spending one’s sweat and tears to ensure every random jerk gets to make their scheduled speech. I’d think the sensible assumption would be that they wouldn’t know/care enough to do anything about it.

          • Mary says:

            If their belief in evolution results merely in refraining from action, the Left will be run by evolutionary deniers.

          • ChetC3 says:

            > If their belief in evolution results merely in refraining from action, the Left will be run by evolutionary deniers.

            Like most people, believing in something doesn’t mean they automatically prioritize its defense over everything else in their lives. I believe the moon landings happened. I’ve never felt compelled to seek out moon landing deniers to oppose, yet for all I know, innocent moon landing believers like me could be getting unjustly dis-invited from speeches every day.

      • Salem says:

        Right, it’s the old question of whether you prefer someone who claims to believe in polygamy but doesn’t practice it, or someone who practices it but claims not to believe in it.

        • Mary says:

          I’d think I’d be more interested in whether they acted as if they believed in dealings with me. For instance, polygamy in the US and the UK is no longer resource constrained; instead of only the rich affording more than one wife, the man marries all these women and has them go on welfare. That has obvious impacts for everyone else.

    • keranih says:

      If anyone can prove me wrong

      Just an observation, but in your post here you’ve a) written off me & my side as illogical AND evil and b) cast you and your side as the good guys.

      This makes it hard to convince me to put in the not-inconsiderable effort it is going to take to convince you that abandoning democracy (and by extension, debate and rational argument) in favor of rule by righteousness is a bad idea. I’d just as soon ignore you and let you go on being wrong and making poor choices.

      • needtobecomestronger says:

        I should probably have added a caveat: “Obviously people who frequent SSC are not representative of Trump voters and may be totally reasonable, and even outside SSC there are of course always exceptions.”

        However, reading the rest of your post I’m not sure where you’re getting the impression from that I’m against democracy and rational argument. It sounds to me that you’re not arguing in good faith but just want to assume that I’m evil for disagreeing with you, in which case I agree that debate would not be fruitful.

        Edit: I suppose you might have been upset at my dismissing evangelicals or my critique of SJWs instead – either way, the conclusion remains the same. If it helps, both SJs and trump voters have dismissed me in the past as a priori impossible to reason with because I’m ‘on the other side’, despite my pledge to always consider other viewpoints even if the other person will not consider mine.

        • keranih says:

          It sounds to me that you’re not arguing in good faith but just want to assume that I’m evil for disagreeing with you, in which case I agree that debate would not be fruitful.

          For a few hours you did have me wondering if I was failing to be charitable enough in my reading of your stance re: people who voted for Trump/otherwise disagreed with you, but then (below) you cleared that up for me, which I do appreciate.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            I still have no idea what you’re talking about. If you go to the trouble of writing a post telling me you disagree with me, wouldn’t it make sense to tell me what you disagree with? All I’m getting so far is that you think (or pretend to think) that I’m against democracy and rationality because… what? Because I said it was okay to make emotional arguments if the other side does it first? That liberals don’t have to bend over backwards to try and sympathize with people who clearly hate them? That you have to fight for concepts like free speech and democracy, REGARDLESS of whether the attacks come from the left or from the right?

            I see this a lot, a bunch of “Oh you’re impossible to reason with!” followed by a quick exit and no explanation whatsoever. It seems to be based on nothing except the idea that “Oh shit this liberal might have a point, better insult him and run so it doesn’t look like his views are uncontested”. Charitable indeed.

          • keranih says:

            You have repeatedly doubled down on the assertion that “people who voted for Trump have a mental defect.” That’s not arguing in good faith.

            You have said repeatedly that the proper place for rational (rather than emotional) debate is between the various sides of the left, and you have characterized the right as various shades of evil. (That is not extending charity.)

            You have engaged in elevated hyperbole against conservatives/rightwingers, *and* you’ve casually dismissed the opinions and values of people less intelligent than the usual run of SSC.

            If you are trying to shrug out of emotional argument and put on a coat of rationality, you’re not doing a very good job of it. And as I got my ass banned last time I engaged at length with your ilk, I’m not conversing further until you get better at it.

            (Or until I get better at holding my tongue, and who knows, maybe the horse will learn to sing.)

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            “Mental defect” is not something which I would say. What I have said is that I think anyone with common sense should instantly be able to see that Trump is not qualified to be president. I feel that this is affirmed by the fact that everyone in the rational!sphere, as well as every single person I respected before this whole political mess started shares my view on Trump.

            Now, I happen to think that *most* people lack common sense, especially where it concerns politics. So this is not to say that “Left is smart, right is dumb!” Rather, I’m saying that “people with common sense reject Trump, but not everyone who rejects Trump has common sense.” And certainly there are plenty of bad/stupid people on the left, as I have affirmed with my rejection of SJWs.

            I have not said that people on the right in general are evil. What I would say is that the current administration and many of their supporters are evil, because they show absolutely zero indication of caring about regular people. I feel this is an important distinction.

            I have also said that I seriously consider any and all viewpoints different from mine, because I view myself as rationalist and it’s more productive to focus on learning something yourself than trying to convince others.

            I will not apologize for clearly stating my views, even if you think the views I outline are reprehensible. I do not expect you to apologize for your views either, because we are both free to think and believe as we do. However, if you do want to be curious and learn from others as I do, then I think you would do better not to refer to those who disagree with you as “your ilk”.

          • keranih says:

            I feel that this is affirmed by the fact that everyone in the rational!sphere, as well as every single person I respected before this whole political mess started shares my view on Trump.

            Honey, seriously, you need to get out more. Also, quit talking about the rational!sphere whilst using absolutes.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I do feel that anyone who listens to him talk and does not go “wow this person should not be president” is probably lacking a vital trait.

            “Mental defect” is not something which I would say.

            Well, it’s not word-for-word, I guess.

    • MartMart says:

      I’m afraid there is a central, and false idea there that there are intelligent educated people who seek truth, and stupid people who fall for fallacies. But I’m pretty sure that is not the case. Educated experts tend to be no smarter outside of their field then non experts, and are just as likely to fall for fallacies. That at least suggests that some evolution denying evangelicals will be educated, intelligent and correct about subject that have nothing to do with evolution. That some Trump supporters who may be vile nativists are none the less brilliant engineers, and that some Clinton supporters may be 100% correct on say race relations are hopelessly wrong on infrastructure spending.

      • needtobecomestronger says:

        I’m afraid there is a central, and false idea there that there are intelligent educated people who seek truth, and stupid people who fall for fallacies.

        I thought the preliminary conclusion was that these people do, in fact, exist. I certainly would count myself more rational than most, though it’s less due to intelligence than intellectual curiosity and training I suppose.

        I certainly agree that there’s many Trump supports who are not stupid, but I do feel that anyone who listens to him talk and does not go “wow this person should not be president” is probably lacking a vital trait.

        • Jiro says:

          I certainly agree that there’s many Trump supports who are not stupid, but I do feel that anyone who listens to him talk and does not go “wow this person should not be president” is probably lacking a vital trait.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulverism

          Also, you’ve just given an example of the very thing Scott is talking about. “They only believe it because there’s something missing psychologically” is pretty similar to “they only believe it because they are immune to facts”.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            Yes, because that was the one part of Scott’s post I disagreed with, and so I laid out my reasoning. Also, I can’t help but notice the irony in the fact that you respond to my post by assuming I’m wrong and linking to the wiki page on Bulverism to explain my error.

        • MartMart says:

          I see people who appear to think that Trump speech is a matter of style and that the BS isn’t meant to be taken seriously. The figure that the style in unconventional, but having an unconventional style is not a disqualifier. To them, people who feel that it is disqualifying are simply saying that they are upset that he is does not like one of them.

          Honestly, I could be sympathetic to that view, if Trump really just said things for the sake of saying them, instead of then going out and trying to actually do them.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            Oh, I’m not saying that the way he speaks disqualifies him – I’m saying that the fact that he speaks without thinking should instantly disqualify him. He just seems to say whatever sounds good to him at the time. And he gets his facts from whatever he saw on Fox news recently. Anyone who is not bothered by THAT is probably not someone we can reach.

          • Matt M says:

            the fact that he just speaks without thinking

            This is your opinion, not an objective fact.

            The notion that “thinking carefully before speaking” should be a very highly prioritized value on Presidential qualification is also, in fact, a subjective opinion.

        • Mary says:

          I certainly agree that there’s many Clinton supports who are not stupid, but I do feel that anyone who listens to her talk and does not go “wow this person should not be president” is probably lacking a vital trait.

          You forget that those were the practical choices that were offered. It’s true that in poll, SMOD (Sweet Meteor of Death) polled in the double digits, and among independents, Clinton, Trump and SMOD polled in a dead heat, but in fact, voting for SMOD was a protest vote. Those who didn’t want Clinton voted for Trump by default.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            I’m not forgetting that – I can understand perfectly well why anyone would look at Clinton going “mwahahaha, I am going to make this election between me and Trump so people will have no choice but to vote for me!” and go “Yeah, uh, I don’t think so.” What I cannot forgive so easily is people on the right making excuses for the blatant evil perpetrated by the current administration, purely out of spite for the other side.

            And I’ll be honest, despite my best attempts I still don’t understand the sheer intensity of hate people felt over her. I mean, every time I ask people just come up with scandals that never happened, so… do they just come up with lies to justify their hate, or are they genuinely deceived?

            Also, not voting at all would have been a reasonable option. Or voting for third party, even.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @needtobecomestronger
            I still don’t understand the sheer intensity of hate people felt over her.

            There was intense hate for Bill Clinton, JFK, and FDR.

            I mean, every time I ask people just come up with scandals that never happened, so… do they just come up with lies to justify their hate, or are they genuinely deceived?

            The deceived and the deceivers may be different people. And some deceivers’ motives may not be political; tabloids and such are always inventing scandals about famous people.

          • hlynkacg says:

            What I cannot forgive so easily is people on the right making excuses for the blatant evil perpetrated by the current administration

            I think there is a large component of “turn-about is fair play” involved. I’ve personally found it equal parts amusing and irritating to watch certain people spontaneously rediscover the value of “checks and balances”.

          • cassander says:

            @needtobecomestronger

            Perhaps I can explain. Or at least say why I loathe her. It’s very similar to why I loathe Ezra Klein.

            Clinton is all the worst of blue tribe, impeccably credentialed, demonstrably inept, with a long career of failing upwards. She was put in charge of healthcare reform, and screwed it up. She did nothing in the senate for 8 years. As secretary of state, in her sole real achievement in public office, she destroyed libya to absolutely no good purpose. In sum, her record in public affairs ranges from “disaster” to “non-entity”. Despite this, she has the gall to campaign on competence, as if she were some sort of hyper-competent bureaucratic wizard, to get the president to call her the most experienced person ever to run for office. Really? More experienced than Eisenhower? Than all the state governors?

            Clinton is the purest example yet of one of blue tribe’s worse tendencies, the instinct to ascribe competence to those with the right credentials and speech patterns regardless of their actual success or failure. I respect competence, I think it’s important. Not having it is bad. Campaigning on it despite your demonstrated total lack of it is worse, because it forces a huge section of the country to play along with the lie, and a smaller, but still substantial, chunk to believe it. It makes worse a problem present in all politics, particularly american politics, of no one ever admitting their fuckups in a serious way as long as the matter is remotely debatable. It redefines competence downard, lowers the bar for everyone, makes society worse.

            I loathe that we live in a world where clinton is considered smart and rick perry, the second longest serving governor in the US, who almost singlehandedly transformed texas from a weak governor state into a strong governor state, is considered dumb because he’s a republican from texas.

            Now, is that world Clinton’s fault? No, of course not. But her election would have driven that world forward, made it more powerful. And for that I loathe her.

            What I cannot forgive so easily is people on the right making excuses for the blatant evil perpetrated by the current administration, purely out of spite for the other side.

            I’m curious what you think the current administration has done that counts as “blatant evil”, or which was done purely out of spite.

          • I mean, every time I ask people just come up with scandals that never happened

            I don’t hate Hilary–or like her. But are you familiar with the cattle futures story from early on in her and Bill’s career, and if so do you have any explanation other than that she was funneling a bribe to her husband? It happened, and I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            @Cassander: Interesting, thanks for elucidating. It does sound to me like a general hate of career politicians plays a big part in it – as though the hate for politicians like her has been building up like steam in a kettle, and then she came along and lifted the lit.

            Of course, the part where you claim that Perry is smarter than Clinton is absolutely baffling to me. The man openly declared that “Yeah, I thought this job was dumb and pointless but then someone told me I’d be responsible for the nukes so that’s cool.” I mean, how dumb and irresponsible can you be?

            And that’s basically my impression of the whole Republican party – this callowness where they just destroy existing institutions without blinking, destroy livelihoods without flinching… look, I can get why a big L libertarian might genuinely believe that ending Obama care is necessary, even if the replacement is terrible. But any decent human being would at least hesitate before doing so, and consider the possibility of being wrong. The same way a soldier is expected to kill people, but never to enjoy it.

            But all of this does highlight to me the feeling that I already had, that Trump supporters just don’t have the same instant gut reaction of “holy crap this is bad” to what I see as incompetence or evil, and instead have the same gut reaction to someone displaying a sense of superiority or arrogance.

            @DavidFriedman: I don’t know the details of that one, but every other time I checked a story like this there wasn’t much to it. Like the time she was repeatedly accused of taking bribes from the Saudi’s, except none of it ended up in her hands. If this really is such a big story, why have I only heard it mentioned in passing?

            I don’t want to judge too quickly here, but a big difference between the Left and the Right is that there are liberals like Scott who work 24/7 to try and prove their own side wrong almost to a fault, so I feel pretty comfortable relying on them to tell me if there is any substance to claims like this.

            But okay, I do think you’re intellectual honest and the claim does seem somewhat in-character, so let’s say you’re right. It’s still the case that the strategy for attacking Clinton has been to throw a thousand accusations at her and see what sticks – this is no different to me than testing a thousand food stuffs for causing cancer and then reporting on the one positive finding. If you dug through my entire life, I’m sure you could find something wrong I did at one point, too. That still makes it absolutely baffling to me why so many declare that she is “evil” and that Trump is the “only acceptable candidate”.

            (For the record, I acknowledge that the same tactics have been used on Trump and I despise them. I think it was incredibly stupid of the left to accuse him of non-issues like using naughty words or having “small hands” when there were so many real scandals they could have focused on instead.

          • cassander says:

            @needtobecomestronger says:

            Interesting, thanks for elucidating. It does sound to me like a general hate of career politicians plays a big part in it – as though the hate for politicians like her has been building up like steam in a kettle, and then she came along and lifted the lit.

            That is not true in my particular case, but I do think it is true of dislike for her generally. I’m an odd duck in my non-disdain for career politicians, at least for those that are actually good at the job.

            Of course, the part where you claim that Perry is smarter than Clinton is absolutely baffling to me. The man openly declared that “Yeah, I thought this job was dumb and pointless but then someone told me I’d be responsible for the nukes so that’s cool.” I mean, how dumb and irresponsible can you be?

            My claim is not that rick perry is a genius, just that he’s obviously not stupid. I know that the DoE should actually be called the department of nukes and a few other things, but I doubt that one in 100 voters does. Did you know it before the the controversy over his comments erupted? He scored points bashing it in the same most republicans do, then was offered a job he decided wanted. Stupidity is not needed to explain his actions, the desire to get out of his previous statements is sufficient. The reflexive blue tribe impulse to declare their enemies stupid is one of their least desirable traits, and it blinds them to actual stupidity in their own ranks.

            And for the record, I don’t think hillary is stupid, but I do think she is a lot less clever than she thinks she is. IT was often, and I think not entirely inaccurately, said of GWB that he was born on third and thought he hit a home run. I think it is even more true of hillary that she married a guy rounding second, and has forgotten he’s the one that hit the ball.

            And that’s basically my impression of the whole Republican party – this callowness where they just destroy existing institutions without blinking, destroy livelihoods without flinching

            What institutions have they destroyed recently? when was the last time a government agency anywhere was abolished? The left loves to exaggerate what republicans actually do .

            look, I can get why a big L libertarian might genuinely believe that ending Obama care is necessary, even if the replacement is terrible. But any decent human being would at least hesitate before doing so, and consider the possibility of being wrong. The same way a soldier is expected to kill people, but never to enjoy it.

            Have you considered the possibility that you’re wrong? That the ACA spends tens of billions of dollars a year and doesn’t actually help all that many people? Let’s put aside the various lies that were used to pass it, a plurality of people who are newly insured under the ACA are people that were eligible for medicaid pre-ACA expansion who signed up for a program they didn’t currently need (and could have signed up for at any time if they did) in order to avoid paying the fine. How on earth is that “helping people?” Have you considered that it’s expected that we’ll have to tax people, but you should never enjoy it?

            But all of this does highlight to me the feeling that I already had, that Trump supporters just don’t have the same instant gut reaction of “holy crap this is bad” to what I see as incompetence or evil, and instead have the same gut reaction to someone displaying a sense of superiority or arrogance.

            I see plenty of incompetence and evil coming from the blue side of the aisle. I suggest that the difference is not that the right is indifferent to them, but that we have different criteria for evaluating them. I am perfectly fine with the competent being arrogant. I am arrogant about the areas I consider myself competent. But if Robert Gates wants to tell me I’m an idiot, I will sit there and take it because he has earned that right by demonstrating his competence in the real world. I won’t take it from someone who has not, and I think the blue tribe assumption of the intellectual superiority of anyone who mouths blue tribe pieties is downright dangerous.

            Like the time she was repeatedly accused of taking bribes from the Saudi’s, except none of it ended up in her hands.

            No, it ended up in the hands of a foundation that she (and her husband) has complete control over. That’s totally different…..

            If this really is such a big story, why have I only heard it mentioned in passing?

            It was a much bigger story in the early 90s. Before my time, actually.

            I don’t want to judge too quickly here, but a big difference between the Left and the Right is that there are liberals like Scott who work 24/7 to try and prove their own side wrong almost to a fault, so I feel pretty comfortable relying on them to tell me if there is any substance to claims like this.

            Oh, please.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            Re cattle futures…

            David Friedman said:
            It happened, and I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming.

            Nope. But let’s not get into those weeds right now.

          • I don’t know the details of that one, but every other time I checked a story like this there wasn’t much to it. Like the time she was repeatedly accused of taking bribes from the Saudi’s, except none of it ended up in her hands. If this really is such a big story, why have I only heard it mentioned in passing?

            It happened a very long time ago, back when Bill was governor–I think starting just before he was elected. It was discovered only when Bill was president and their tax records were made public, by which time it was not exactly hot news.

            Nobody was ever convicted of anything, so you have to actually pay attention to the publicly available evidence to distinguish that case from others that are much less clear.

            Like the time she was repeatedly accused of taking bribes from the Saudi’s, except none of it ended up in her hands.

            If I am correctly identifying that case, the money ended up in a foundation that she and her husband control. They don’t need money to buy food with, they need money to run a political machine with, and that doesn’t require that it sit in their private bank account.

            Whether the Clinton Foundation really was a way of converting bribes to politically useful expenditures is one of the things people disagree about, and I don’t know an easy way of checking–the fact that contributions seem to have sharply dropped off after the election at least suggests that it might have been. But it isn’t as simple as “the charge was obviously wrong because the money wasn’t paid to her.”

            On ending Obamacare:

            But any decent human being would at least hesitate before doing so, and consider the possibility of being wrong.

            How about before instituting Obamacare at risk of destroying the existing system of medical insurance? As any economist could explain, requiring insurance companies to consistently overcharge one group of people (young and healthy) and undercharge another (old and unhealthy) creates adverse selection–the classical article on the subject (“The Market for Lemons”) was written by the husband of the current Fed chair. The people who created Obamacare knew that, hence the mandate to force some people to buy insurance that wasn’t worth buying. A little arithmetic would show that the penalty in the mandate wasn’t enough to actually do the job. So they passed it anyway, and one of those responsible was imprudent enough to admit in public that they had deliberately misrepresented what they were doing, taking advantage of the stupidity of the voters.

            But it’s only the Republicans who you think are irresponsible?

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Let’s stipulate that this really is a Manichaean struggle of good against evil. Given that the recent high-profile examples of people starting riots over people they disagree with coming to town, whipping up national campaigns to fire people whose views they dislike, and so on, have mostly if not entirely come from the left, I think it’s, uh, non-obvious that the left are the good guys in this conflict.

      • needtobecomestronger says:

        I think it is very obvious that ‘good’ should not be defined as being a specific political team like “the greens” because that’s a recipe for disaster. I also think it’s clear that genuine “classical liberals” who actually believe in liberal values like free speech such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and so on have pretty much won the intellectual debate and today’s resistance is coming mostly from authoritarians (yes, on the left as well as on the right) who disagree with the very basic premise that we should do things that are good for the country or humanity as a whole.

        Would you agree with me that both the SJWs you mention as well as e.g. people from the Wall Street Journal who target PewDiePie or those on the alt-right who proudly proclaim that they like to ‘feast on liberal tears’ are not, in fact, on the side of good?

        Edit: Actually, while I’m at it, I’ll give you a more clear example of what I mean by ‘evil’. There is a politician in my country who is denounced by the left as Fascist in the same vein as Trump, but nevermind his policies – I want you to take a look at his tactics:
        1) His party consists of only one official member – himself. This gives him total power over all decisions, which is how he likes it.
        2) All of his funding comes from foreign nations.
        3) He has tried to implement American practices like Filibustering, gerrymandering, and generally wants to be able to control how people can vote.
        4) A majority of his party are violent criminals and rapists who have been convicted at one point or another.

        Without even looking at which policies he is actually proposing, would you agree with me that this person is EVIL, that this is not someone we must reach out to and try to understand (give him a hug maybe?) but an enemy who must be defeated?

        Those of you on the right keep telling me that the world is full of evil and that opening the borders would be an act of incredible folly. I listen to you and agree. You tell me people on the left who wish to shut down free speech are dangerous and must be opposed – I listen to you and agree. Surely it’s not so hard to admit that this danger can also come from your side of the political spectrum?

        • Jiro says:

          Without even looking at which policies he is actually proposing, would you agree with me that this person is EVIL, that this is not someone we must reach out to and try to understand (give him a hug maybe?) but an enemy who must be defeated?

          No, I won’t agree. The things you just said about this guy sound very similar to things said about other politicians–which usually turn out not to be literally true. I’d need independent evidence that such things are true, and even then I’d give his supporters a chance to explain if there’s some context I didn’t think of which may make it okay.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            I’ll admit I could have gotten details wrong on some of these points, but would you agree that IF everything I said is true and I’m not being dishonest somehow, THEN this person is an enemy that must be fought? Not that everything he says must be rejected, but that he must be opposed as a politician? I mean, just the fact that most of his party are criminals would be enough, surely?

            If you’re not willing to agree to that, if you would say “well maybe they’re criminals and rapists with a point and all you evil leftists are just oppressing them”, then I have to conclude that you’re just being a blind partisan.

          • Jiro says:

            Your description is already inconsistent (most of his party are criminals, but he’s the only member of his party?), but even ignoring that, the answer is still “no” because there are other ways you can be wrong that are not dishonesty.

            In order for me to think he’s evil, I’d have to be convinced that everything you said is true without any mitigating factors. And getting me to agree on “there are no mitigating factors” is basically getting me to already agree that he’s evil.

          • lvlln says:

            I mean, just the fact that most of his party are criminals would be enough, surely?

            This is an odd statement to me. Certainly, the majority of someone’s party being violent criminals and rapists would make me more skeptical of that party, but without actually knowing the reason/mechanism by which that party managed to become majority violent criminals/rapists (I could imagine non-evil reasons for this), I wouldn’t automatically rule them as evil and must be absolutely politically opposed.

            Other details actually seem to make stronger cases for objecting to him, i.e. autocrat tendencies, supporting gerrymandering and getting most of their funding from foreign nations. But even for those, I wouldn’t automatically jump to “evil and must be rejected politically.” Just make me more skeptical and be extra vigilant when analyzing his policies.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            Okay, I’m sorry you guys, but I cannot let this go. I get why you might be skeptical of sweeping political claims in this day and age, especially ones that seem to urge you to rush to a hasty condemnation, but imagine this was not a political matter. Imagine your daughter came home and said this:

            Daughter: “Dad, I got a new boyfriend!”
            You: “What’s he like?”
            Daughter: “Well, he’s a violent criminal, convicted rapist, and wants to have total power over everyone!”
            You: “Hmmm, I better meet him in person and get all the details before I decide what I think of him.”

            I mean, HOW IS THAT NOT A DEAL BREAKER???

            Heck, this might be the one area where a knee-jerk reaction might actually be appropriate. Preferably in the boyfriend’s groin.

          • Matt M says:

            1. Even if true, it seems unlikely that the daughter would highlight those qualities when introducing the boyfriend. She’d probably say, “He has a steady job, and his own place, and I really like him a lot!” and leave out the violent criminal stuff.

            2. Violent criminal rapists attract willing mates all the time, so it’s obviously NOT a dealbreaker, for many.

          • lvlln says:

            Daughter: “Dad, I got a new boyfriend!”
            You: “What’s he like?”
            Daughter: “Well, he’s a violent criminal, convicted rapist, and wants to have total power over everyone!”
            You: “Hmmm, I better meet him in person and get all the details before I decide what I think of him.”

            This is an absolutely terrible analogy for a couple reasons.

            First, you’re conflating members of the party with the leader of the party. If most of the boyfriend’s friends were violent criminals and rapists, that would be a better analogy. And indeed, I can imagine perfectly decent people making friends with violent criminals and rapists. Wanting to have total power over everyone also seems to be a poor analog for having total power over all decisions within his own party. Which is disturbing enough, certainly, but it’s one thing to say that’s bad; it’s another to say that’s EVIL. Plus, considering this is her boyfriend whom I’m assuming she chose without coercion, her offering such obviously negative information about him to me would prompt me to want to know more about why she chose him at all.

            Second, the characteristics one desires in one’s daughter’s boyfriend tend to be very different from those one desires in one’s political leaders. I probably wouldn’t want my daughter to go out with a man who was a violent criminal and rapist – or even a man who mainly befriended violent criminals and rapists – since I would perceive that as increasing risk to harm to her and to myself. But when it comes to a political leader, the way they affect my life and lives of others is through the policies they implement. If it’s evident that their policies are influenced in negative ways by the violent criminals and rapists who support them, that would be one thing. But that’s not a conclusion I get to jump to.

            Heck, this might be the one area where a knee-jerk reaction might actually be appropriate. Preferably in the boyfriend’s groin.

            Ironically, I find this attitude to be as close to evil as anything you’ve stated. Assuming that boyfriend was punished by the legal system for his crimes, the idea that he should be subject to any more suffering is a truly hateful one. Even if he hadn’t been caught and punished, anyone who would enact vigilante justice in the way they see fit is someone I’d be legit terrified of. After all, that would be committing a violent crime, displaying a desire to have unwarranted total control over a system… Certainly, I wouldn’t want someone like Rodrigo Duterte to be my president.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          When you talked about the left needing to put aside its internal disputes and unite against the true enemy, I assumed you were saying that the left was the good guys and the right were the baddies. If that’s not what you were actually saying, I’m happy to retract my objection.

        • Sandy says:

          Without even looking at which policies he is actually proposing, would you agree with me that this person is EVIL, that this is not someone we must reach out to and try to understand (give him a hug maybe?) but an enemy who must be defeated?

          I’m guessing this is Geert Wilders, and last I checked he has the second-highest number of seats in the Dutch parliament. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself how it is this odious man with a party that has such sketchy funding and poor organization has managed to win more seats than any leftist party in the Netherlands? Clearly his message resonates with a lot of people. You say that his tactics are abhorrent, but who will pick up his message without him? Without Wilders, why wouldn’t other major parties go back to business as usual even if the stakes were much higher than such an approach could afford?

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            The whole idea behind ‘populism’ being bad (as opposed to being a baseless insult hurled at whoever is popular) is that there is a giant red button that politicians can press labeled “Instant power. Price: Your soul”, and that the sole purpose of the guardians of democracy is that people DON’T PRESS THAT BUTTON.

            Basically, defecting in prisoner dilemmas gives you more utility if you don’t care about the other guy. Yeah. Also, a mugger could probably beat you in a fight and take your stuff. That does absolutely nothing to prove him right about anything. There is more to life than “winning” on paper.

            Yes, somewhere in there the guy has a point about breaking certain taboos. Whatever. Those taboos have been pretty thoroughly broken by now, and whatever point he had has been absorbed by the other parties. There’s plenty of politicians to choose from who are not actively working to destroy democracy itself.

          • Nornagest says:

            The whole point of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is that you have an incentive to cooperate with the other guy even if you don’t have any particular reason to care about him, because he has the same payoff matrix you do. If you reliably gain more utility if you don’t care about the other guy, then that’s not a prisoner’s dilemma, it’s a dictator game.

            (On the more positive side of things, though, a lot of things that mistakenly get called PDs are actually stag hunts.)

          • The whole idea behind ‘populism’ being bad (as opposed to being a baseless insult hurled at whoever is popular) is that there is a giant red button that politicians can press labeled “Instant power. Price: Your soul”, and that the sole purpose of the guardians of democracy is that people DON’T PRESS THAT BUTTON.

            So, are Overton windows a Good Thing?

        • Nornagest says:

          I want you to take a look at his tactics […] Without even looking at which policies he is actually proposing, would you agree with me that this person is EVIL, […] an enemy who must be defeated?

          Point 1 is hard for me to evaluate without knowing anything about how party interacts with the mechanics of elections. It could be anything from totally inconsequential to a fairly scary power grab, although I can only imagine the latter happening under a fairly weird system by my lights.

          Point 3 could be entirely benign depending on details (though an American would say that, wouldn’t he?). There’s a good argument for the filibuster, at least; gerrymandering is less defensible but it’s actually quite hard to come up with a districting system that’s both good at being representative and resistant to abuse.

          Points 2 and 4 are genuinely worrying if taken at face value, but it’s very hard for me to take them at face value — a party made up mostly of violent criminals, for example, would be too small to be influential unless the country’s peopled mostly by criminals anyway, and in that case, why not represent them?

          tl;dr evil if true, but probably not true.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            Blargh, okay, I did a fact check. I wasn’t going to bother because nobody seemed to think that the facts were consequential, but since you seem to care I guess it would be embarrassing if I were righteously indignant and also wrong.

            Point 1: This is legit as far as I can tell, but I should add the caveat that the man is severely restrained in what he can do under the law, and in order to become a true dictator he would have to win a true majority in a country with dozens of parties since none of the others are willing to work with him. Still he was the largest party at one point, so I think it’s fair to call this genuinely scary.

            Point 2 and 3: He definitely argued for the filibuster but I’m not sure about the gerrymandering thing now. Still, I think the idea of just blocking the other side entirely is horrible partisan politics and you can keep it in America from whence it spawned, thank you very much (Also your extremists are directly funding him as a proxy Trump with which to influence our politics, so double screw you guys on that one)

            Point 4: Okay, it looks like “only” 20% of his party who were actually elected to government have a criminal record (I think the 50% is still correct for his party as a whole, but not sure now) but that’s still huge for a civilized country in which most politicians are actually decent human beings (a crazy notion, I know)

            So okay, I might have oversold my initial argument a bit. But I think the facts still make him overwhelmingly obviously a bad actor, and the fact that so many people can’t tell or don’t care bothers me immensely.

          • Jiro says:

            So okay, I might have oversold my initial argument a bit.

            I pointed out that people say such things about politicians all the time and they aren’t true. You’ve now revealed that they aren’t true about this one either.

            Color me unsurprised.

          • On the subject of overselling …

            One of your claims was that all of his funding was from foreign nations. Judging by a little googling, nobody has offered evidence or even claims that Wilders didn’t get any money from domestic supporters, only that he did get substantial amounts from private American sources.

            Much of that money was to fund his legal defense, which is not the same thing as funding his political party. If you are told “there is a politician whose opponents have been fighting him by getting him accused of crimes, he was acquitted, and foreign supporters helped pay for his defense,” would that make you more likely to reject him or his opponents?

            Also, I’m puzzled about your 50%, or even 20%, of his party being criminals. He is, by your account, the only member of his party, so it sounds as though that’s a claim about his supporters. But he has the second largest number of seats (admittedly in a system with a lot of parties), which suggests a lot of people voted for him, and I wouldn’t have thought there were that many violent criminals in the Netherlands.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            @Jiro: No, it’s not that the claims are ‘not true’, I have nuanced them by taking the effort to prove myself wrong, and found that for example most of the criminals in his party I mentioned didn’t actually make it into elected government. The reason I wasn’t going to bother originally was because I knew that those on the far right would just take any amount of nuance as ‘proof’ that really the fact that his party is filled with criminals doesn’t matter.

            I specifically asked: “IF I remember these facts correctly, WOULD that be a deal breaker?” And the answer was “Nope, I’d just conclude they are liberal lies because it doesn’t suit my narrative.”

            @David Friedman

            Okay, a bit more nuance then: He refuses to disclose his finances, he cannot get government funding because he does not comply with the rules (see the one person party bit below), and we KNOW that he gets large donations from countries like the US. Some of that was indeed for his legal defense, which I guess is fine since free speech laws are kinda BS. If it sounded like he was personally hired by Vladimir Putin or something, then that was certainly not my intention.

            (I do find it funny that these ‘record level donations’ amount to 100K or less – I imagine that would be totally irrelevant to a US politician, but politicians in our tiny little country just don’t get those amounts. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our politicians are generally decent and honest people.)

            The part of him being the only ‘official’ member of his party is not contradictory at all – it’s equivalent to the law where legally a company counts as a person, but in reality a company is not a human being.

            According to the law, a political party must have 2 founders and at least 1 member. In his case, the founders are he himself and his organisation (which is also named after him, incidentally), and the only registered member is he himself, again. In reality he has a group of people that work with him exactly like a party, but they have no legal power to influence decisions. He still appoints members from this party to the government as normal, so it’s a political party in that sense. Of the people he has actually appointed to government, about 20% are convicted criminals – the rest of his ‘party’ has a much higher percentage IF I remember correctly.

            Those are just the facts as I understand them – there is no attempt at dishonesty here. From my point of view, this just looks really really bad. But okay, this is SSC, so I guess it would be unreasonable to demand from people that they just use common sense.

          • Jiro says:

            The reason I wasn’t going to bother originally was because I knew that those on the far right would just take any amount of nuance as ‘proof’ that really the fact that his party is filled with criminals doesn’t matter.

            “Sorry about that 100%, I really meant 20%” isn’t nuance. Leaving out the fact that the foreign money paid for his legal defense isn’t nuance either.

            I specifically asked: “IF I remember these facts correctly, WOULD that be a deal breaker?” And the answer was “Nope, I’d just conclude they are liberal lies because it doesn’t suit my narrative

            The “hypothetical” was a non-hypothetical claim about the real world with the word “if” stuck on the front. And you only asked it because you believed it to be a non-hypothetical claim about the real world.

            And it turned out to be liberal lies (excuse me, nuance) after all.

            The part of him being the only ‘official’ member of his party is not contradictory at all

            Pointing out that he’s the only official member of his party is meant to imply that he’s a dictator, not that there’s some sort of legal technicality that he’s violating. So his party members can’t legally influence his decisions–that’s meaningless. Do you think that if someone working under Hillary Clinton didn’t like something she was doing, they could use the law against her?

          • But okay, this is SSC, so I guess it would be unreasonable to demand from people that they just use common sense.

            It is unreasonable to expect on SSC that people take your account for gospel, especially after you have conceded that parts of it were not true.

            You have gone from

            2) All of his funding comes from foreign nations.

            to

            He refuses to disclose his finances, he cannot get government funding because he does not comply with the rules (see the one person party bit below), and we KNOW that he gets large donations from countries like the US.

            So all you know is that he didn’t get funding from the government of the Netherlands. He didn’t get funding from the government of the U.S. either. You don’t seem to have any evidence that he didn’t get private contributions from people in his country, which is what you were claiming.

            and from

            4) A majority of his party are violent criminals and rapists who have been convicted at one point or another.

            to

            Okay, it looks like “only” 20% of his party who were actually elected to government have a criminal record

            Followed by

            I think the 50% is still correct for his party as a whole, but not sure now

            Which I don’t see how you could know, since “his party as a whole” presumably means people who voted for him–you have already conceded that it isn’t the official party members (one) or the people actually elected to government (I assume on his party ticket).

            Wilders might be a terrible person–I don’t have any reliable information. But you have demonstrated here that you are a wildly inaccurate source of information, say things with confidence that, when challenged, turn out not to be true.

            And you take people not accepting your account as a lack of common sense? Surely it’s the opposite.

          • Aapje says:

            @needtobecomestronger

            He refuses to disclose his finances, he cannot get government funding because he does not comply with the rules (see the one person party bit below)

            This is false. Dutch subsidies to political parties are only partially based on the number of members. Wilders actually gets between 1.5 and 2 million euros a year in subsidies*. He would simply get more if his party had more voting members.

            * Part of it is variable and depends on the activities of the party.

        • carvenvisage says:

          if those claims are true, (well, specifically the last one) then sure they’re probably EVIL. (caps not used in jest)

          (Perhaps with an exception for ‘violent criminal’ if they were saving someone’s life or killing a rapist or something, and got unjustly convicted.)

        • Blue Tribe Dissident says:

          Did we ever get a source for the claim that even 20% of PVV legislators are convicted criminals? Did they commit real crimes or political speechcrimes? Why would Wilders recruit murderers and rapists for his party? If you’re accusing someone of doing something that sounds bad but you can’t figure out why they would want to do that anyway, then, rule of thumb, you’re probably wrong.

          • carvenvisage says:

            why would the nazis want to take over the world? That’s crazy, no way.

            Alternate rule of thumb: when accusing people of things, details matter.

          • Aapje says:

            @Blue Tribe Dissident

            There was a survey of all members of the House of Representatives in 2010. 149 out of the 150 representatives participated. 1 PVV representative, who was fired from the police for getting a false confession and then refusing to take the testimony of the actual perpetrator who wanted to confess, refused to participate.

            Out of those 149 representatives, 8 people reported convictions, 5 of whom from the PVV. The PVV had 24 seats at the time, so 5/24 = 20.8%. Then again, you might want to use 5/23 given the one refusal or 6/24 if you assume that a refusal to participate means guilt.

            The severity of some of the convictions of PVV representaties is debatable, though:

            Jhim van Bemmel was convicted (fine) for falsifying documents.

            Joram van Klaveren was convicted for refusing to take a sobriety test and lost his driving license for some time + was fined.

            Eric Lucassen was convicted (1 week military detention + fine) for unethical sex with his subordinates. This was probably similar to how a teacher can be convicted for sex with a student. He was also fined for ‘absent without leave’ and for harassment, also while he was in the military.

            Marcial Hernandez was convicted for speeding.

            Raymond de Roon was convicted for speeding, but he claims that an unknown party drove with his car.

            Of the 3 non-PVV representatives who reported a conviction, 2 were guilty of DUI and 1 for not having a train ticket.

            Source (obviously in Dutch)

          • Blue Tribe Dissident says:

            Thanks, Aapje, that’s very helpful (esp. since I don’t read Dutch)

            So, it appears we’ve moved gradually from OP’s scenario where >50% are violent criminals and rapists, to the reality where 20% of a small sample are potpourri non-violent criminals.

          • What I am curious about is the effect on Needtobecomestronger of discovering that every fact he remembered, with the exception of Wilders’ party having only one member, was false. Does he conclude that he has been relying on sources of information he should not rely on? That his procedures for forming a picture of reality are flawed?

            Or does he conclude that he is being nit-picked to death, the essential point being that Wilders is a bad guy and the details supporting that point being secondary?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Basically, liberals took one look at Trump and said “anyone who would consider voting for this person is already lost”. And can you really blame them?

      Uh, yes?

      • needtobecomestronger says:

        Okay, fine, you can blame them, but can you really not see where they’re coming from?

        (Based on my experience of SSC, I feel distinctly worried that you’re going to reply that “no, it’s impossible to understand the point of view of liberals because they’re all baby eating monsters”. :s )

        • Randy M says:

          Has this site fallen so far from its roots that we no longer empathize with baby eaters?

          • Deiseach says:

            At this point, I genuinely can’t remember if I’m lumped in with the baby eaters or not 🙂

            Am I a Trump supporter? I probably wouldn’t have voted for him if I had a vote in an American election. That being said, I can understand why people voted for him, and it’s not all down to “racist sexist homophobic xenophobic gun-clutching knuckle-dragging ultra-nationalist Fundamentalist Christian white supremacists”.

            Would I have voted for Hillary? Not in the span of time until the heat-death of the universe. This was not – sorry, fight fans! – down to sexism; we’ve had two women presidents of Ireland and I even voted for one of them! (I didn’t vote for our First Female President because I didn’t agree with her politics).

            So which does that make me, again?

          • Randy M says:

            I was referring to EY’s story “three worlds collide” which was big on Less Wrong at one point and featured literal alien baby eaters that humanity had to deal with.

          • Nornagest says:

            So which does that make me, again?

            Judging from those lists of undesirables political affiliations that’ve been getting passed around lately, you seem to be an honorary American-style conservative no matter how often anyone says that European political divisions don’t really map that cleanly onto American partisanship.

            Sorry about that.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Hey, I’ve read Three Worlds Collide, I’m perfectly willing to try to understand the point of view of baby eating monsters :9

          I can see where they’re coming from, but it’s not a good place. It’s a place of uncritically accepting a false media narrative at best, and a place of classist prejudice at worst.

          Hell, even Clinton was willing to admit that as many as half of Trump voters might be redeemable.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            Okay, you know what, I agree with you. Thinking that she would win the presidency by default was incredibly arrogant and stupid of her. Heck, people like Obama and Bill Clinton *told* her that she needed to campaign in the Rust belt, and she just went “nah, I got this.”

            And her campaign staff actually wanted to prop Trump up in the first place just to make her look good, which is damn near unforgivable (to be added to an already long list).

            But damn it, I can understand the frustration, that sense of “I’m up against the most blatantly unqualified candidate in all of history, and people just make up fake BS about me so they can vote for him anyways.” You can only listen to so many conspiracy stories about how Obama is a secret Muslim or Clinton is ‘Killary Killington the Butcher of Benghazi’ before you throw up your hands and say “Whatever, arguing with these people is hopeless, surely the rest of America can see them for what they are, right? Right?”

          • gbdub says:

            Your mistake is not in believing that Trump voters believe falsehoods, it’s in believing that Hillary voters don’t. Trust me, there are plenty of dumb Hillary supporters that voted for her for stupid, irrational reasons. Very few people, even smart ones, actually vote on a purely rational basis.

            I mean, we’re in the midst of a freak out wherein hacking John Podesta’s email has turned into OMG TRUMP IS LITERALLY PUTIN’S HAND SELECTED PUPPET! Never mind that just a few years ago “The 80’s called, they want their foreign policy back” and the Russians were meddling in favor of left-wing causes too (like anti-fracking).

            Trump voters are hardly the only people vulnerable to a sufficiently ego-satisfying conspiracy theory.

    • Basically, everything went wrong when the left accused the republicans of being the stupid party

      I think that actually starts in Britain with the Tories. Orwell takes it as the long time conventional view c. 1940.

      But however the timeline went, I think the unspoken fear of liberals is that everyone willing to listen to reason has already joined the left. Basically, liberals took one look at Trump and said “anyone who would consider voting for this person is already lost”. And can you really blame them?

      Yes. They should at least have looked at Hillary and considered why people might consider voting against her.

      I probably have a biased view since I’m an academic and the people on the right I encounter may be well above average. Also my right is more libertarians than traditionalists. But I have seen far more irrationality on the left, most strikingly when visiting elite liberal arts schools my kids were looking at, than on the right.

      The asymmetry I see, more likely to involve Federalist Society members than Trump enthusiasts, is that people on the right are more familiar with the arguments for the other side than people on the left. Not surprising, since that is the orthodoxy they are rejecting.

      • needtobecomestronger says:

        I agree with everything in your post, and that makes me happy.

        But, as much as I can sympathize with those who reject the ‘regressive’ left and want to vote right-wing out of spite, I can’t help but feel contempt for those who support Trump for just that reason. I see people on the left try to reach out to Trump voters all the time, and sometimes this works, such as when Bernie went to the Rust Belt, but most arguments I see on the internet go more like this:

        Liberal: Tell me why you voted Trump.
        Alt-right: LIBERAL TEARS SUSTAIN ME
        Liberal: And how does that make you feel?
        Alt-right: I SHALL FEAST ON YOUR FLESH
        Liberal: It sounds like someone is being a big old grouchy-pants!

        It reminds me of the scene in Godzilla and other horror movie where the naive hero goes “Maybe the monster is not evil! Maybe it just wants a hug!” And it makes me feel a sort of despair when people like Scott do this, and I just want to grab him by the shoulders and shout: “Listen to me! The monster does not want a hug, it wants to wear your skull as a hat!”

        But it seems there’s not much chance of me convincing anyone of that, and so it seems the alt-right will continue to win the internet battle, and Trump will get re-elected. :/

        • suntzuanime says:

          But I do want a hug.

          EDIT: Man, remember the good old days when putting parentheses around someone’s name was a way to give them a hug over the internet, rather than an accusation that they were a Jew? We should go back to that system.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            *Hug*

          • Nornagest says:

            (((Hug)))?

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m probably not the person they want to hug, but I promise a hug to any would-be Trump supporter who tells me that they would be less likely to support Trump if they got more hugs. I’ll even take their word for it, no matter how many people end up deceptively exploiting me for free hugs as a result.

          • keranih says:

            @Protagoras

            I’ll have you know that I am a principled woman and I would not stoop to trading my support of a politician for a hug.

            (Not even support so tepid as mine for Trump or hugs so awesome as that of the SSC commentariant.)

            However, I am open to discussions about beer.

          • Blue Tribe Dissident says:

            suntzuanime: Hey, I’m an alt-right, and I want to give the Jews a hug! j/k I wouldn’t self-describe as such largely because I lack their radical anti-Semitism. But I do think this is an adorable idea. From now on, whenever I see somebody write (((Mayer Rothschild))) or (((Murray Rothbard))) or (((The Khazar Khaganate))), I’ll imagine that it means I should picture that person giving Rothschild or Rothbard or a Khazar a hug.

            P.S. I wouldn’t normally self-describe as alt right, but I did for SSC survey. Would’ve been better if the wording on that question was different. It’s as if “Communist” were the only far-left option listed.

            needtobecomestronger: Seriously, you think the liberal comes across as more likeable in this exchange? Well, to each his or her own. This may seem trivial, but I’d suggest it’s actually crucial to the alt right’s appeal. What I see here is Liberal being a little cluelessly over-touchy-feely, and Alt-Right having a good time goofing around with xyr about it.

            Protagoras: I want hugs, too, but I can’t imagine why anyone would think hugs = disavow Trumpism. I’m certain the +feels derived from successfully getting a hug would inspire me to spread the good news of right-wing politics with even more vim then before.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            But what about the rest of us? if ‘()’ means ‘is Jewish’, shall ‘[]’ mean ‘is a Square’ and ‘{}’ mean ‘is complicated’?

          • Sivaas says:

            [ ]: The person is in a group with no one else in it

            { }: The person is logically isolated from others.

            🙁

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I tried to do three angle brackets but it got interpreted as a Hebrew Torah Markup Language tag.

          • Blue Tribe Dissident says:

            / / the person is more on the emic side

            [ ] the person is more on the etic side

            this person is strictly orthographic. Approach with caution!

          • Brad says:

            @Blue Tribe Dissident

            needtobecomestronger: Seriously, you think the liberal comes across as more likeable in this exchange? Well, to each his or her own. This may seem trivial, but I’d suggest it’s actually crucial to the alt right’s appeal. What I see here is Liberal being a little cluelessly over-touchy-feely, and Alt-Right having a good time goofing around with xyr about it.

            When alt right types are having fun, no one else is. And they don’t care. Just like griefers in MMOs, or forum trolls, or what have you.

            I know we aren’t supposed to use psychiatric or quasi-psychiatric terms as insults, but that personality trait is what the word sociopath was coined for. Nothing else quite fits.

          • Blue Tribe Dissident says:

            Any kind of disruptive, caustic comments fall on a spectrum between the purely toxic on one side and enlightening, incisive wit on the other. If you treat it as categorically bad, you would also prove that Christopher Hitchens and H. L. Mencken were sociopaths. If your claim is that alt-right internet discourse is weighted a bit too heavily toward the obnoxious, you’ll get no argument from me.

        • Sandy says:

          I see people on the left try to reach out to Trump voters all the time

          I’m not convinced that these are what you’d call leading or influential voices on the left. Bernie was a fairly marginal figure before the 2016 election cycle, and those Trump voters he went after weren’t Trump voters at the time — a lot of them were Obama voters.

          You can find just as many influential voices in the liberal media and Democratic think-tanks going “Fuck these rednecks, let’s cut off federal aid if they hate the gubmint so much, let them overdose to death and hack up their black lungs, they deserve what they get for denying our Queen her throne”. Not exactly those words, but the general gist.

          And I should say that these are mostly liberals making these arguments; to their credit, most leftists are appalled at the idea of punishing poor people who don’t vote for you.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            To be fair, I mostly try to stay away from ‘news’ that’s made of finely distilled hate nowadays. It’s possible that this colors my view of the left somewhat more favorably.

            However, I watch a lot of political analysis on youtube, and man. When I compare people like Kyle kulinski to Louder with Crowder, it’s just painful. On the left you have a guy who bends over backwards to criticize his own side and consider the other point of view, and on the right you have a guy who just yells a lot and calls all liberals evil idiots, and he gets far more views.

            And Kyle’s call to vote for Hillary was basically “meh, she’s slightly less bad I guess, so you should maybe hold your nose and vote for her, but I won’t blame you if you don’t.” I mean, *of course* you’re going to lose the election that way!

            Yes, I recognize what you’re saying about toxic voices on the left, and it does bother me. Heck, I know people in real life who seem convinced I’m some alt-right radical, and it’s frustrating. But what frustrates me even more is when establishment people like Obama go “ha ha, silly kids think everything’s a war, I’m sure everything will be fine” even as more and more people get their views from sources like Alex Jones. Obama doesn’t get it. Clinton doesn’t get it. All of civilization is at stake, and they just don’t get it…

          • Sandy says:

            However, I watch a lot of political analysis on youtube, and man. When I compare people like Kyle kulinski to Louder with Crowder, it’s just painful. On the left you have a guy who bends over backwards to criticize his own side and consider the other point of view, and on the right you have a guy who just yells a lot and calls all liberals evil idiots, and he gets far more views.

            I don’t watch any political analysis on YouTube, I’ve never watched Kulinski or Crowder, but I’ve heard of The Young Turks, and they seem to do this same thing on YouTube from the liberal/progressive perspective. There was a clip right on Election Night when Ana Kasparian raged out and said something like “If you voted for Trump, you’re a fucking idiot and I don’t care why you did it. I have zero respect for you.”

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            However, I watch a lot of political analysis on youtube

            On purpose? This seems like a classic “Doc, it hurts when I do this” situation.

          • Deiseach says:

            I hadn’t heard of Ana Kasparian before this and had to Google her, and does anyone else find it a bit odd that someone of proud Armenian descent is also part of a show called The Young Turks?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Yes, but as an ignorant bigot you should expect to know about history than your typical economist 😉

          • gbdub says:

            To be fair, I mostly try to stay away from ‘news’ that’s made of finely distilled hate nowadays. It’s possible that this colors my view of the left somewhat more favorably.

            So you intentionally avoid the nasty parts of the left and then conclude the remainder seems nicer than the right with all the warts left in? I’m really struggling here to read that more charitably than an admission of cherry-picking.

          • @Deiseach:

            Possibly because she knows that “young Turks,” despite the historical origin of the term, has nothing to do with Turks in its modern usage?

        • The Nybbler says:

          I don’t see so much “Tell me why you voted Trump.” as “YOU HORRIBLE MONSTERS? HOW COULD YOU VOTE FOR THAT ORANGE MENACE WHO IS GOING TO KICK ALL MY MUSLIM FRIENDS OUT OF THE COUNTRY, OPPRESS ME FOR BEING GAY, AND KILL MY TRANS FRIENDS? I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU COULD SINK SO LOW!” Which elicits exactly the response you describe.

          • grendelkhan says:

            I’d like to share an exchange I had just after the election last year; it’s between me and a Facebook friend whose politics are very different from mine. He was celebrating the results, with a county-level election result map captioned “can you hear us now?”.

            Him: Our system is designed on an electoral college and campaigns are structured to take advantage of the system in place. The picture is not about voting popularity so much as demonstrating the results of the election. And the results are that Trump won. And America has heard us now, to be cheeky.

            Me: Maybe I shouldn’t be raining on your parade. Your team won, in an amazing upset. If it were my team, I’d be over the moon.

            But I don’t know *what* exactly I’m hearing. Rural voters want jobs? No more Clintons? No women in the White House? White nationalism is the wave of the future? We hate gun control? No more immigrants, i.e., scary scary brown brown? No more immigrants, i.e., preserve the Enlightenment? Screw your “global warming” hoax? Suck it, SJWs?

            I’ve seen people on my side blame most of the above options, and people on your side claim most of them too. I don’t know what to think. I suppose it’ll become clearer.

            Him: Donald Trump is many things to many people. On the issues, Trump represents job opportunities, better trade, denying globalism, a rejection of Obamacare, gun rights, thwarting illegal immigration, and many other issues to varying degrees of passion to so many people. But, I know for certain, to every single Donald Trump supporter, he represents a cultural fuck you to the politically-correct, bullying left-wing social justice warriors. Trump is a fuck you to PC-culture. Many of us Americans are tied sick and tired of it. And, most importantly, he is not Hillary Clinton. For what it’s worth, I believe Bernie Sanders would have won the general election against Trump.

            Since then, it’s occurred to me just how rare it is to be able to simply ask a question like that. And maybe we would indeed all be better off if we did more of that sort of thing. I admit; I’m usually not like that–I was making an unusual effort to be polite. Maybe I should do that more often.

        • Gazeboist says:

          It reminds me of the scene in Godzilla and other horror movie where the naive hero goes “Maybe the monster is not evil! Maybe it just wants a hug!” And it makes me feel a sort of despair when people like Scott do this, and I just want to grab him by the shoulders and shout: “Listen to me! The monster does not want a hug, it wants to wear your skull as a hat!”

          Most giant monster movies treat the monster as more of a natural disaster than a villain. Like, the Cloverfield monster is an infant looking for its parent, Godzilla is a regular lizard under the effects of 60s-comic-book radiation, King Kong is a wild animal that was recently captured and then escaped…

          Even the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are dangerous animals, not evil murderers. If a bear mauls a hiker, do you think the bear is evil? And this is without even getting into the question of whether the hiker was in fact a poacher trying to capture the bears cubs, or something like that.

          (edit: a note to Trump supporters and conservatives more generally, I don’t want to compare you to animals or natural disasters or whatever, just make the relatively narrow point that *even if this guy thinks you’re wrong* claiming that you’re evil is a pretty significant claim. Frankly I’m kind of surprised I have to argue that point; I thought most people here had moved past “my enemies are evil” as a default explanation for anything.)

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            Don’t conflate everyone on the right or even all Trump supporters with the extremist examples I mentioned. Of course this is politics, so I guess I should have realized that nuance is impossible. Still.

            I’ve written a post on the SSC reddit where I explain more clearly what I think the problem is – i.e. liberals trying to engage the worst people and ideas on the right instead of trying to understand the moderates. You can find it in the culture war thread when it goes up today. I don’t think my stance is extreme at all.

          • Gazeboist says:

            You didn’t give any examples. You parroted some 4chan memes and name-checked “the alt-right”, a “movement” diverse enough to include zionists and neonazis.

            As far as nuance … I am in fact criticizing you for a total failure of nuance. So, to be clear: your initial post and everything I’ve read from you after it has been pretty much devoid of nuance except where your opponents have forced it on you. I am willing to entertain the idea that you are arguing in good faith, but it is not the only possibility, and if you are you are doing an absolutely awful job of it. Stop making my side (ish) look bad.

            edit –

            Some clarity is in order. It is a failure of nuance to call people, rather than actions, evil. It is a failure of nuance to call any action with small-but-complex effects evil, even if the effects are net negative for the world. Statements of this form are counterproductive for almost any goal you might have, because they *create new enemies*. This isn’t even “you catch more flies with honey”, this is “watch where you swing that hydrochloric acid.” Narrowing down your target group to people not present *does not help* because, guess what, some people will object to attacks on third parties.

          • needtobecomestronger says:

            Scott’s original post is about the “other side” not being uniquely immune to reason. I agreed in general terms, but specified that this does not hold up for everyone, because both political camps self-sorted in such a way that anti-intellectualism features more predominantly in the Trump camp.

            Of course you don’t have to agree with me on this, but it’s not a rational discussion if it’s considered acceptable for someone to say A but not -A because that’s considered too rude. It has to be possible to argue for either side, or else the original claim carries zero information value.

            I’ll agree that my comparison of the alt-right with Godzilla was not productive. It was not meant in a serious way and was more an expression of frustration / morose sense of humour, but it was still somewhat petty and childish.

  75. gedymin says:

    Nice sounding a priori argument about the power of debating due to the asymmetry, yet where is the scientific evidence that debate is indeed the best method? 😉

    Seriously though, an engaging and reasoned debate is obviously better than at least some of the alternatives, such as fallacious and insulting one. What worries me is that many platforms such as Twitter seem to be particularly ill suited for Scott’s kind of debates, and instead are encouraging the format of emotional sound-bites and insults.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I’ll put myself out there as someone who was persuaded by polite and reasoned political debate over Twitter. It encourages concise points, but that only means emotional soundbites and insults in the context of a discussion that has already broken down.

  76. quarint says:

    This cherry picking of Trump supporters’ praise to your anti-Trump post is ridiculous.
    It is completely anecdotal, braggy, and ignores that your pro-Trump audience is probably about as different from the average Trump supporter as your general audience is from the average person, so, very very different. Kinda weird to read this written by someone who spends that much time debunking fallacious arguments.
    I’m disappointed.

    • Mediocrates says:

      This seems to be directly addressed in the essay, as Scott’s arguing that a dedication to Truth gives, at best, an ever-so-slight advantage to the forces of Cosmic Justice. Marginally swaying the tiny fraction of your ideological opponents inclined to reasoned debate (since only a tiny fraction of anyone, throughout the whole grim history of the species, has ever been so inclined) is exactly how that tiny wisp of an advantage shows up in the real world. Reasoned debaters may always be light years away from the average person, but if you’re on the side of Truth, they’re all you have to work with kind of by definition.

      And I disagree that it’s “braggy” to showcase those comments. They’re offered as evidence against the explicit claim by the articles (and the intuitions of a good chunk of the country) that Trump supporters are impervious to argument. Moreover, it’s not like Scott listed any slam-dunk, road-to-Damascus style conversions, just a lot of “hmm I’ll need to think about this” or “my confidence level has slightly decreased”, which isn’t how you’d expect someone to paint themselves as a brilliant, Ciceronian rhetorician.

  77. Mark says:

    I’m normally incapable of deciding between competing object level claims. Where people making these claims don’t have a proven track record of correctness, or can’t demonstrate the reasons for their claim with an extremely simple model, the rule of thumb I normally use is that certainty indicates wrongness.

    The good guy super-weapon isn’t rationality, it’s tone. That was the reason why I kinda liked Trump – you can’t take him seriously. There is no danger of people convincing themselves that they are the super-right holders of the one true truth, while they are following Trump. “We don’t know what’s going on, so let’s slow down immigration until we’ve worked it out” vs. “we know exactly what is going to happen and it’ll be great and we know it so hard that anyone who doesn’t know it must be evil”.

    No brainer.
    If Clinton had made more of her real policies, like, “Immigration seems to be going well for us, so let’s gradually expand it, and if it turns bad we can reverse it” rather than “Ooooooh! You can’t say that!” maybe she’d have been more attractive as a candidate.

    But anyway, it’s the ability to discuss and a lack of certainty that’s important, not the quality of the logical argumentation.

    • Mark says:

      Though, I don’t think debates have to be all pissy-pants, wishy washy “hmmm… that’s an interesting perspective”.

      The important thing is that the framework you’re operating within allows for a large possibility that you are wrong. Humility.

      Problem is how to signal humility without getting beaten up by object-level persuasion weapons. Answer – object level arrogance, combined with meta-humility.
      What does that look like?
      Humour.

      That’s why Trump needed to win. More humour.

  78. MawBTS says:

    I think that in many ways (and to varying degrees) candidates don’t want rational voters.

    Well, obviously votes are votes and they want enough of them to win the election, but as supporters, irrational people kick the shit out of rational people. Who’s a more valuable supporter for a Democrat? A guy who’s going to tick the blue candidate every time, or an independent who’s going to run into the GOP’s arms the second you do something he doesn’t like?

    A political party is like an army, and voters are your footsoldiers. No general want rational footsoldiers. Your army will pull up tents and disappear into the hills the second you start losing the war.

    Does this distort political discourse? I think that it must. I also think a lot of political rhetoric about “connecting with the common man” is a polite way of saying “dumb it down, we need more tribalistic idiots on our side.”

    Obviously we can and should talk about this with more nuance (rational supporters are more likely to make persuasive arguments and convince still more people to join your side), but at the end of the day, the basic building block of a mandate is the army of idiots. See: virtually any US presidential election. The old-school socialists were smart. They haven’t put a presidential candidate past a single percentage point in eighty years. The modern-day libertarians are smart. Gary Johnson got 3% of the vote.

    Cyril Kornbluth wrote a novel called Not This August about a communist takeover of the United States. In an early scene, a character is established as a traitor, working to destabilize the US from within. Of course, as soon as the communists succeed in their goal, this character is hunted down and shot. They didn’t want someone smart enough to commit treason in their new utopia. What if he became disillusioned, and turned against his masters? They wanted dumb corn-fed Americans, people who have never given their political ideology a moment’s thought. Those were the true heroes of the state!

    • roystgnr says:

      Of course, as soon as the communists succeed in their goal, this character is hunted down and shot. They didn’t want someone smart enough to commit treason in their new utopia.

      You didn’t need to cite fictional evidence for that, just a biography of Robespierre, Trotsky, Röhm, Biao…

    • Tracy W says:

      Well, obviously votes are votes and they want enough of them to win the election, but as supporters, irrational people kick the shit out of rational people.

      But if your irrational voters are kicking the shit out of rational voters, then why would the rational voters vote for you? Or Indeed, any undecided non-suicidal irrational voters?

      I read Tony Blair’s autobiography once, to pick a man who had repeated electoral success, and it seemed clear that a serious concern of his was making it clear that New Labour was open to all, not just hard lefties. On the other side, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party, when confronted with Michael Foote’s Labour Party putting out a far left wing manifesto, bought it up and distributed it wholesale. And guess who won that election?

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        In both cases, it sounds to me like the rational one won… Blair concluded that Brits wanted to cooperate on certain things more than they wanted to go their own way, catered to that, and won. (9/11 no doubt had something to do with his later victories.) Thatcher concluded that Brits rejected the far left in her time, catered to that, and won.

        In general, this might not always be the case. Rationality doesn’t always beat irrationality on the timescale of an election campaign. Sometimes the bad guys get elected. But you won’t always know who the bad guys are in any election. In fact, it seems to be pretty easy to be irrational and think you’re rational – think back to any election in which opposing sides both claim to be the sensible one, and appear to believe it. (Confounded by the fact that in many elections, the reason is applied toward winning, not toward serving the electorate.)

        In yet other cases, opposing sides claim to be rational, appear to believe it, and to the average voter, they each appear to have a case that hangs together. I tend to chalk this up to a lack of resolution of facts – if the economy really hinges more on steel production, then I should vote for Purple, but if it hinges more instead on wheat, I should vote for Green… both sides really ARE rational, but you just don’t know who has the better facts. Or they really aren’t, because Green turned out to be hiding something and nobody knew until 20 years later. Or…

  79. conorfriedersdorf says:

    I’ve been trying to do this at The Atlantic. I’m fairly certain the ensuing debates meet all of the rules presented.

    This 22-year-old Trump supporter I corresponded with later told me he voted for Hillary Clinton: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/a-dialogue-with-a-22-year-old-donald-trump-supporter/484232/

    Here I am debating a Yale student protester about race and free speech there: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/yale-silliman-race/475152/

    Here’s a conversation with a Black Lives Matter supporter about a controversial protest: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/a-dialogue-about-black-lives-matter-and-bernie-sanders/401960/

    And here’s David Frum and I arguing about immigration: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/debating-immigration-policy-at-a-populist-moment/518916/

    I’ve found these exchanges very useful, and readers seem to like them, based on both feedback and traffic. At the same time, they are very time consuming, partly because going back and forth takes longer than writing an article, but mostly because it’s really hard to find good conversation partners, especially when the threshold isn’t just *someone I want to persuade,* but *someone I want to persuade who isn’t just a straw man, and can write engagingly enough that lots of people will read them.*

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve enjoyed your articles in the Atlantic and agree that you’re doing it right.

      • dank says:

        Before Andrew Sullivan ended it, his Daily Dish blog was one of the best places on the internet to get real debate that searched for truth. It was where I first started reading Conor’s work.

        Props to both of you for carving out this small subspace on the internet for a higher level of discourse.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Seconding Scott’s sentiment, just so it’s not just one good blogger lauding it. Your columns back in early 2016(?) about what motivated Trump voters, in which you set out by flat out asking, and then attempting to summarize the replies, was a go-to for me; I ended up sharing it with several friends and acquaintances.

      I see such articles as exceptionally rare among mainstream journalists, even those writing columns for mostly online media, and they make me think I should make more time to search for and share content like that.

  80. At a slight tangent, one thing that may help people treat their ideological opponents as reasonable is recognizing how much of what they thenselves believe is, in a very real sense, believed on faith.

    Orwell, talking about religious belief in England, asks how many people believe in Heaven the way they believe in Australia. Part of the force of that question is the fact that everyone who believes in Heaven believes in it due to faith and almost everyone who believes in Australia–everyone who hasn’t been there–believes in it due to faith as well. A very large fraction of what each of us believes is based on second hand information from people we trust.

    The person who believes in evolution should realize that the reason he believes in it, if not for him than for most of his fellow believers, isn’t evidence and logic, it’s faith that the sources of information he trusts are trustworthy. That makes it easier to see that someone else who also doesn’t have evidence and logic on which to base his belief but believes evolution is false because that’s what the sources of information he trusts tell him need not be crazy or stupid or irrational. Trusting the wrong sources of information feels a lot less irrational than believing obviously false things.

    • Jiro says:

      I think this is equivocation on th term “faith”.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        How so?

        • Jiro says:

          “People believe in heaven out of faith” means more than just “people believe in heaven without seeing it personally”. It’s very different from “people believe in Australia out of faith”.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It means that they believe in Heaven because an authority they trust has told them it exists. How is that different from my believing in Australia because an authority I trust (e.g., my atlas) tells me that Australia exists?

          • Randy M says:

            Well, it is different. I know someone who has been to australia, but I never have. However, that person could describe the process to me, and I could verify their assertion of its existence. So the chain leading back to an eye-witness is short. The evidence is also broad, as many maps show this purported place, there are mentions of it in books, etc. (We’ll leave google earth out of it for the sake of the argument). It would take a considerable conspiracy or a large number of gullible people to prove that.

            To believe in Heaven one needs to take the word of someone who is taking the word of someone on back through a great many links in the chain. Supporting evidence exists in the form of abstract arguments and subjective evaluations of probabilities.

            Both claims are faith, sure, but at different places on a spectrum.

    • onyomi says:

      This makes me think of that older post on Jackdaws Love my Big Sphinx of Quartz which I’m having trouble finding at the moment named something like “in favor of evidence resistance.”

      I think the basic argument was “no, people aren’t stupid not to instantly change their position when you present them with better facts because how do they know your facts are really better than their preferred fact provider, especially when something feels intuitively wrong about the conclusion your facts are suggesting? People are right not to throw away their intuitions and personal experience in the face of contrary ‘facts,’ because it’s so easy to find e. g. statistics to support any crazy position.”

      That is, because so much of what we “know,” we know not because we ourselves possess the relevant expertise to evaluate its truth value, but rather because we trust our ability to evaluate who does (and their ability to evaluate people who do on related topics, and those peoples’ ability…), the project of changing someone’s mind inevitably involves not simply presenting him with “better” facts, or even just better arguments (though it may be easier in an a priori realm), but in getting him to rethink whole chunks of his worldview which led him to trust particular authorities and sources and lines of argumentation in the first place.

      That is, if I want to convince you were wrong about the extent of the habit of the Eurasian jackdaw, then probably all I need is to link you to some biology paper. But if, in reading the paper, you realize that the claims therein, if true, would undermine the whole theory of evolution, then you’d be right not to just accept them, even if you know jack shit about jackdaws.

      The problem is that so much of the parts of politics, economics, history, and philosophy people care about are like this–not just object-level questions, but bricks in giant edifices (which are probably too big to begin with).

      • John Nerst says:

        This makes me think of that older post on Jackdaws Love my Big Sphinx of Quartz which I’m having trouble finding at the moment named something like “in favor of evidence resistance.”

        I think the basic argument was “no, people aren’t stupid not to instantly change their position when you present them with better facts because how do they know your facts are really better than their preferred fact provider, especially when something feels intuitively wrong about the conclusion your facts are suggesting?

        This isn’t what you were referring to, but I wrote about exactly this a month ago:

        You can’t just throw disconnected evidence at people and expect it to stick. Everything around the targeted conviction supporting it must be addressed as well. And maybe a few layers of recursion on that — meaning if you want to challenge an opinion, you’ll need to challenge the whole cluster of mutually reinforcing opinions it’s part of. You’re going up against not just me, but all of my friends.

        I think confirmation bias is partly built on this: we don’t so much undervalue evidence against our beliefs as we overvalue evidence for them; we rightly see the weakness of contradictory evidence because it stands alone. On the other hand, we’re more likely to trust that random stranger if it’s someone our friends all seem to like.

        Speaking partially in response to a lot of articles about biases and evidence resistance followed by other articles criticizing them: does anyone else wonder if the mutation rate and generation churn in the memetic environment is increasing? The cultural environment, the meaning of words and expressions etc. seems like it’s changning on a weekly basis, and public debate has changed as much in the last year as it did in whole decades before? Am I being ignorant or is there a real shift?

        Where could this lead us in the long run? Will we eventually adapt and develop cultural defenses against clickbait, outrage culture and uncharitable narratives the way we have cultural defenses against pyramid schemes and timeshare salesmen?

        • liskantope says:

          It makes sense to me that this rate of flux would increase rapidly in this age of the internet and social media, as memes can spread far more quickly. And I’m already seeing signs of what I hope will evolve into cultural defenses against clickbait, outrage culture, and uncharitable narratives (although in the case of the latter, I honestly don’t see much improvement; on the other hand, I’m not sure uncharitable narratives have increased that much in recent years — uncharitability seems to be a problem as old as time).

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I think the basic argument was “no, people aren’t stupid not to instantly change their position when you present them with better facts because how do they know your facts are really better than their preferred fact provider, especially when something feels intuitively wrong about the conclusion your facts are suggesting? People are right not to throw away their intuitions and personal experience in the face of contrary ‘facts,’ because it’s so easy to find e. g. statistics to support any crazy position.”

        In a similar vein, I’ve often encountered arguments which seemed a bit “off” in ways I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and it took lots of thought to locate what the flaw actually was. Even in arguments which don’t seem obviously wrong, I usually like to rattle them around in my mind for a bit before accepting them, to enable me to examine them from different angles, look for any fallacies, and so on.

      • onyomi says:

        I would add, however, that I think it is worthwhile to try to keep one’s politico-socio-economic Jenga castles as small as possible without sacrificing the ability to synthesize.

  81. John Nerst says:

    THANK YOU.

    I’ve been obsessed with this lately. People arguing that others are oh-so horribly biased while they themselves have no reason to doubt their own beliefs has become so common it makes me feel I’m taking crazy pills. It’s great that we’re becoming more aware of biases and reasoning failures, but there is something tragic and comical at once about insisting that it’s only the other side that suffers from this.

    Being “fact resistant” (or “evidence resistant” as I prefer since “fact resistant” begs the question) is perfectly normal human behavior. We reject things when we find them unconvincing, and there are many reasons to find things unconvincing. Readers of this blog know how difficult science can be to get right and how the implications of a study isn’t always very strong evidence.

    People “backfiring” when faced with evidence against their position is often held up as the height of irrationality, but it’s often a reasonable response. If you see weak arguments or weak evidence for something, you’ll form the fairly justified belief that the argument for this position is weak. Quoting myself instead of re-writing:

    People didn’t just not change their minds, but in many cases dug in their heels and became even more convinced they were right. Why would this happen? Doubling down in the face of a social threat is probably a partial explanation, but I wonder if there isn’t something else too.

    I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve become more convinced I was right after hearing arguments against my position. It’s simple: in a real-life argument your opponent will use an argument they find strong — implying all other arguments for their position is weaker. If what they say is especially unconvincing we have a rational reason to assume their whole case is weak. Specifically, if their supposedly strongest argument is even weaker than we expected we can increase confidence in our own position. If you were faced with the evidence in the death penalty example in a real argument, then ”Are you kidding? That’s the best you’ve got? Even I thought you had more than that!” would not be an unreasonable reaction.

    I’ve read arguments that eyes are too complicated to evolve and that the moon landing didn’t happen because there are no stars in the sky on pictures taken on the moon. Having such champions does not make a case look good. Christians bringing up First cause, Pascal’s Wager or something as ridiculous as Anselm’s argument has much the same effect.

    I don’t know how long it will take for people to realize that trying to badger people into agreeing with them by using “gotcha” trick questions, snide remarks or weapons-grade uncharitability, never, ever works. How come we keep doing this considering all the clear evidence available that it doesn’t work at all? Are we… evidence resistant? Do we go with our gut rather than empirical experience? Seemingly, and this is a case when “gut” fails spectacularly.

    Or maybe it’s because this type or rhetoric has other purposes than convincing the other side. It could be aimed at your own ranks, preventing defections, or at a neutral audience that doesn’t perceive and notice uncharitability on a direct, emotional level the way people do when it’s directed at them. But if that’s the case we have a massive problem with either ignorance or dishonesty, where people believe or pretend to believe that this kind of rhetoric should work to convince opponents, and the only reason it doesn’t is because they’re deficient.

    I guess part of the reason is that we underestimate the amount of ambiguity and subjectivity in things we think are about factual disagreement. Quoting again:

    Few (important) disagreements are about concrete and verifiable facts, because people tend to disagree about those in non-complicated ways and they’re easily resolved. The implication behind phrases like ”f*** n***”, ”post-truth society” and ”fact-resistance” is that people have simply stopped changing their minds when faced with overwhelming evidence. That might be partially true — I don’t know if people are psychologically different on this point than they used to be — but not the whole story. Pretending that disagreements are typically about simple facts is self-serving, thickheaded and counterproductive.

    It’s counterproductive because if you want to make someone change their mind through sheer force of argument there must be no way for them to think that you’re wrong. It’s entirely possible to stay committed to a claim only a little bit true, since you can perfectly legitimately disagree with anyone who dismisses it completely. Do not give anyone a reason to dismiss you, such as (1) pretending you’re 100% right when you’re not, or (2) pretend someone else is 100% wrong when they aren’t.

    Solution 1: Make sure your opponent is completely and verifiably wrong. This is much harder that it appears, because being 99% wrong is not enough.

    Solution 2: Make an effort to understand what they mean and acknowledge their damn point. Understand (and empathize with) why it makes sense to them, preferably without condescension. Then help them understand yours.

    You won’t get anyone to just abandon a belief, especially not in front on someone else. But you can get them to entertain another belief, which might eventually take over and change their mind. Not by being a dick, though. You don’t let people put things inside you if you don’t like them.

    The attitude that “other people are totally wrong and they should just lie down and give in” is massively damaging in every case that isn’t 100% bulletproof. And there is a common problem (recently discussed in the “Seeing Like a State” review) with experts being overconfident and arrogant. Expert knowledge and the conventional wisdom (hard sciences mostly excluded) is less than certain and much of it nowhere near as well-supported as commonly believed. This gives people a reason to reject them. Reacting to that by going “but my side really IS completely correct!” isn’t helping.

    • Salem says:

      Or maybe it’s because this type or rhetoric has other purposes than convincing the other side.

      Now you’re getting somewhere.

      • John Nerst says:

        Right. But do you think this shock and surprise at how people aren’t convinced is all theater? There are other purposes but we don’t seem to be aware of that.

        • Salem says:

          Yes, it’s performative. As someone wiser than me said:

          “I don’t understand how anyone could [believe that.]” It’s such an interesting statement, because it has three layers of meaning.

          The first layer is the literal meaning of the words: I lack the knowledge and understanding to figure this out. But the second, intended meaning is the opposite: I am such a superior moral being that I cannot even imagine the cognitive errors or moral turpitude that could lead someone to such obviously wrong conclusions. And yet, the third, true meaning is actually more like the first: I lack the empathy, moral imagination or analytical skills to attempt even a basic understanding of the people who disagree with me.

          • John Nerst says:

            Yes, the “I cant understand…” schtick is tiring and obnoxious. But I still don’t buy that all of this is 100% theater. Not on purpose.

          • liskantope says:

            I get really annoyed at that use of “I don’t understand”. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what all the motives are behind this rhetorical device or exactly why I hate it so much. All I know is that my kneejerk reaction is always “Then try to understand! You don’t have to agree or approve, not if you see a flaw in your opponent’s reasoning or motives, but at least try to get as full an understanding as possible of your opponent’s reasoning. Inasmuch as your opponent is wrong, better understanding will lead to greater strength in defeating them.”

            I suspect the primary motive on the part of the one saying “I don’t understand” stems from an idea (not entirely wrong) that understanding leads one closer to agreeing, and that some views are so obviously despicable that being as far away from agreement with them is something to be proud of. In my opinion, this is a fallacious attitude, related to the notion that greater empathy with another person necessarily leads to approval of them or even a higher degree of sympathy with them.

            I was happy to see this addressed (on a much more impersonal level) in Yudkowsky’s essay “Think Like Reality”.

          • Mary says:

            I remember twice hearing someone say she didn’t understand something other people did, offering an explanation, and getting back a burst of furious indignation and abuse which, in both cases, could be boiled down to a substance that things she thought dangerous were real, things they thought dangerous were imaginary, without a hint of awareness that they didn’t filter their beliefs according to what she believed.

    • Jiro says:

      Specifically, if their supposedly strongest argument is even weaker than we expected we can increase confidence in our own position.

      https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/17/the-toxoplasma-of-rage/

      Where Scott sort of agrees with you, but also sort of disagrees. Specifically, he agrees that there are reasons why people on the left make bad arguments, but he disagrees that one should then reduce one’s confidence in the left being correct.

      • John Nerst says:

        I doubt this transfers to on-going arguments. The toxoplasma effect is useful for agenda-setting, i.e when you want to increase the amount of talking about something (typically, talking more about X will favor your side). I’m not so sure there is incentive to use weak arguments when we’re already talking about something.

        • Jordan D. says: