SSC Survey Data On Models Of Political Conflict

There were a lot of good comments on yesterday’s conflict vs. mistake post. Some were very appropriate challenges: for example, doesn’t public choice theory itself assume conflict between special interests? And didn’t Marxism start off with a dry incentive-based explanation for why capitalists have to do what they do and how the incentive landscape needs to change? I want to explore these questions further – but first, some data from the SSC survey showing that the distinction does capture something real and important.

No questions really matched the conflict/mistake theory distinction, but one of the closest was POLITICAL DISAGREEMENT I: “Which of these plays a bigger role in explaining why some people are wrong about politics – intellectual failure, or moral failure?” This isn’t quite the way I would frame it now – but it’ll do for our purposes.

About 80% of blog readers selected intellectual failure, compared to only 60% of Mechanical Turk users. I have some reservations about the accuracy of the Turk survey, but this matches my predictions. I would expect SSC readers to be selected for mistake theory more than for any particular political position.

Percent Of People, By Political Affilitation, Who Think Intellectual Failure Explains Bad Politics
Alt-right: 65%
Conservative: 72%
Liberal: 81%
Libertarian: 87%
Marxist: 62%
Neoreactionary: 77%
Social democratic: 74%

Marxists were most likely to believe their opponents were guilty of moral failure, and libertarians most likely to believe intellectual failure, with everyone else somewhere in between. There was much less distinction between right and left compared to internal division between different subgroups of rightists and leftists.

There were a few other questions that I thought might tap into the same underlying attitude:

Which of these best describes your opinion of people with different political beliefs than you, but still within the normal range? EG Democrats if you are a Republican, Tories if you are Labour, etc.

0. They might be right about some things, I can’t be sure of my position.
1. They seem pretty wrong, but they make understandable mistakes and are probably mostly decent people
2. They seem pretty wrong, and their mistakes seem incomprehensible, but some of them might be okay, I guess
3. Inexcusably stupid or downright evil

Which of these best describes your opinion of extremists with different political beliefs than you, outside the normal range? E.g. fascists, Stalinists, etc.

0. They might be right about some things, I can’t be sure of my position.
1. They seem pretty wrong, but they make understandable mistakes and are probably mostly decent people
2. They seem pretty wrong, and their mistakes seem incomprehensible, but some of them might be okay, I guess
3. Inexcusably stupid or downright evil

The current economic and political system…

0. Is a good start that needs to be fine-tuned
1. Is fundamentally bad and needs to be destroyed

Aside from these sorts of questions, there were also two categorization questions that I thought might get at the same underlying attitude. These asked respondents to choose between two categorization systems for three ambiguous situations. One system categorized them based on what principle was applied, the other based on which side won. These were:

Consider three situations.

A) Nazis beat up some minorities.
B) Nazis hold a peaceful demonstration, nobody stops them, it goes well, and they get a lot of publicity.
C) Some concerned citizens beat up the Nazis.

Of these three possibilities, which two seem most similar?

0. A and C, because people resort to violence.
1. A and B, because the Nazis win.

Consider three situations.

A) In a country where homosexuality is illegal, a government clerk participates in civil disobedience and marries gay people anyway.
B) In a country where homosexuality is legal, a government clerk follows the law and marries gay people.
C) In a country where homosexuality is legal, a government clerk participates in civil disobedience and refuses to marry gay people.

Of these three possibilities, which two seem most similar?

0. A and C, because people are participating in civil disobedience.
1. A and B, because gay people get to marry.

I assigned numbers to all of these such that lower numbers represented mistake-theory answers and higher ones represented conflict-theory answers. Correlations were generally positive and significant, but unremarkable:

(for a sense of how high to expect correlations to be – the one between feminism and support for gay marriage was 0.45, between life satisfaction and social skills was 0.3, and between reported IQ and financial success, 0.15)

Perhaps this is bad and wrong of me, but I combined all of them into one measure of average tendency to give the conflict-theory rather than mistake-theory answer to these questions, ranging from 0 (most mistake theorist) to 1 (most conflict theorist). The ranking by political affiliation is pretty much the same as before:

Combined Conflict Theory Measure By Political Affiliation, Ad Hoc Measurement
Alt-right: 0.43
Conservative: 0.30
Liberal: 0.26
Libertarian: 0.27
Marxist: 0.54
Neoreactionary: 0.34
Social democratic: 0.35

A different method of combining them without the two categorization questions (which I worried might have been contaminated by object-level political ideology) was broadly similar.

I also tried a factor analysis (which I am very bad at, don’t trust me here) and got two factors, one of which looked like conflict theoriness, and the other of which looked like a categorization factor determining how people answered the last two category-related questions. The ranking by political affiliation for the conflict theoriness factor was:

Combined Conflict Theory Measure By Political Affiliation, Factor Analysis Measurement
Alt-right: 0.45
Conservative: 0.05
Liberal: -0.12
Libertarian: -0.07
Marxist: 0.30
Neoreactionary: 0.04
Social democratic: 0.15

Although Marxists and alt-righters have switched places, overall this seems like the same general picture.

Some other demographic variables that did or didn’t affect level of conflict theorist responses (similar whether I used the hacked-together average or the factor analysis results, all significant at such low p-values that I really don’t want to get into more fights in the comments over significance thresholds, replicate it yourself if you don’t believe me):

1. Autism did not affect any of these questions at all, totally contrary to my pre-registered predictions.

2. People in worse financial situations were very slightly more conflict theorist , r = 0.06.

3. Respondents who thought they were more moral people were more conflict theorist, r = 0.12.

4. More neurotic and extraverted people were slightly more conflict theorist (r = 0.10); no other Big Five traits really mattered.

5. No race or gender seemed much more conflict theorist than any other, but sample sizes were low.

Overall this broadly confirmed my original suspicion that Marxists and the alt-right differ from liberals on some dimension of conflict vs. mistake theory, but it didn’t shed a lot of light into the exact structure of the difference or what other factors might go into it.

If you want to double-check these results or analyze them further, you can download the data as .xlsx or .csv. Some people have complained of weird problems in the csv format and I recommend the xlsx if at all possible. I have removed the data of a few people who did not want their answers to be public, so you may not get exactly the same numbers I did, but they should be pretty close.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

238 Responses to SSC Survey Data On Models Of Political Conflict

  1. amoeba says:

    Components are principal, not principle. Also, if you are doing PCA, it’s better not to call it factor analysis, and if you *are* doing factor analysis then it’s better not to call factors “principal components”.

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    With the exception of the “the system” question, I think the questions you picked are good ones that get at this distinction that you’re talking about.

    The thing that I want to stress here is that — well, you say now you would have phrased the initial question differently but… “mistake theory” and “conflict theory” aren’t really different theories, as such. There isn’t one fundamental difference between them that everything else flows from, or if there is it’s not mistake vs conflict. The phenomenon you call “conflict theory” is not just the logical implication of thinking that disagreements are due to conflicts rather than mistakes; it has plenty of features beyond that. (After all — many disagreements are due to conflicts rather than mistakes, but due to its other features conflict theory is still not a correct way to think about such cases!) And so I think it’s worth pointing out that these really are clusters of distinct features, not things with one key difference that everything else flows from, and it would be a mistake to confuse these labels for definitions.

    So even if it’s not how you’d phrase it now, I think these questions (with the one exception I mentioned above) are fine.

    (Edit: Really though, I’d say basically the larger phenomenon that mistake theory is a part of is, well, liberalism, and the larger phenomenon conflict theory is a part of is, well, illiberalism. Like, liberals (under which I’m putting “Liberal” and “Libertarian”) falling under mistake theory, while leftists (“Marxist”) and traditionalists/authoritarians (“Alt-Right”) fall under conflict theory, is not a surprise. And I guess it makes sense that “Conservative” and “Social Democratic”, being a mix of these things and liberalism, fall inbetween. As for the Death Eaters grouping with these rather than with the Marxists or the Alt-Right… this seems weird at first until you remember that as Ozy likes to point out they’re basically “Satanist progressives”; sure they say illiberal things but they can rarely bring themselves to actually act illiberal. So I won’t say I’m wholly unsurprised by this, I had to think a minute or two to come up with that explanation, but I think it does basically make sense.)

    (Edit again: I also want to mention my standard spiel about how the one-dimensional political spectrum is a bad model, how liberalism is not centrism and should not be in the center, etc., but I’ll skip actually including it here as that’s getting a bit far afield, this is long enough as it is, and also I need to go to sleep.)

    • Creutzer says:

      As for the Death Eaters grouping with these rather than with the Marxists or the Alt-Right… this seems weird at first until you remember that as Ozy likes to point out they’re basically “Satanist progressives”; sure they say illiberal things but they can rarely bring themselves to actually act illiberal. So I won’t say I’m wholly unsurprised by this, I had to think a minute or two to come up with that explanation, but I think it does basically make sense.)

      The way I see it, Death Eaters should obviously register on the mistake-theory side because their whole thing is thinking about systems of government that fulfil particular criteria. “Incentives” is a super-important word for them.

      • Yakimi says:

        What difference is there in believing that humans have to be motivated by incentives and believing that humans are inevitably motivated by self-interest?

        M*ldb*g is extremely cynical in claiming to expose how the facets of a certain ideology serve primarily to enhance the domestic and geopolitical dominance of the caste which espouses it and advocates for their retirement from all positions of political and intellectual influence. Not what I would consider a mistake theorist.

        • 天可汗 says:

          The caste conflict thesis obviously marks MM out as a conflict theorist, yes — the problem is that MM’s read-old-books talk equally obviously marks him out as a mistake theorist. Which is a sign that maybe our conceptual butcher’s knife isn’t quite as sharp as Cook Ting’s. What gives?

          Well, MM’s conflicts, like the Second War of Secession, were morally neutral. Brahmins aren’t immoral; they’re just not prone to dissent, and happen to find themselves under a regime in which the official belief is X rather than Y. If they had instead been born in a regime in which the official belief was Y, they would believe Y; and if our regime stops believing X and instead decides to believe Y, they’ll believe Y and forget that they ever believed X, or at least feel suitably embarrassed about it.

          The same holds for most of the Outer Right’s conflict theories. Take American Nations: Puritans aren’t immoral — they’re just Puritans. Maybe it’s in some sense wrong that Puritans go around telling Borderers what to do, but this is an artifact of the unfortunate fact that Puritans and Borderers find themselves in the same country, and the proper solution is for one of them to secede, rather than for one of them to rise up and exterminate the other.

          Leftists seem to be entirely incapable of this way of thinking. There can be no morally neutral conflicts, except for insignificant ones — clashes between Papuan tribes or something. There’s always a side that dances on the puppet-strings of Angra Mainyu, which of course is Avestan for “white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy”. But I don’t think this is a trait of leftist doctrine — Marx was by modern standards no anticapitalist — so much as a personality trait that happens to be appealed to mostly by the left: I can tell the difference between ex-leftist and ex-libertarian rightists by the extent to which they show that cast of mind.

        • Viliam says:

          What difference is there in believing that humans have to be motivated by incentives and believing that humans are inevitably motivated by self-interest?

          If you put it like this, there isn’t any.

          But connotationally, when people talk about “incentives”, they hint at “you just need to fix (break) some parts of the system, and you will find people behaving much better (worse) than they are now”. And when people talk about “self-interest”, they hint at “humans will continue to hurt each other no matter what happens, because deep inside they are more or less sociopaths”.

          Perhaps it’s the act of tabooing “self-interest” into “optimal behavior under given circumstances” that makes the difference between seeing “self-interest” as an inevitable eternal destructive force of nature, and realizing that when “circumstances” change then what counts as “optimal behavior” also changes, i.e. we can engineer better human behavior but we have to do it indirectly.

  3. dansimonicouldbewrong says:

    I believe I already made this complaint in response to the survey, but the characterization of “conflict theory” in both the survey and the previous post assumes a moral cast to it that’s entirely unnecessary, and in my view quite stilted. One might believe (as I do, and as I kind of hope Scott did, as well) that politics is inherently and inevitably about conflict between competing coalitions of interest groups, without necessarily assigning righteousness to one such coalition and evil to the other. Rather, I would argue that it is in the nature of people to strive for their own political self-interest, and to ally politically with others that share their interests, and that any political system that neglects this fundamental fact of human nature is as foolish as an economic system that neglects the natural proclivity of humans to strive for their own economic self-interest. And just as capitalism can acknowledge and build on economic self-interestedness without passing moral judgment on it, politics–specifically, democracy–can acknowledge and build on political self-interestedness without taking sides.

    Ironically, democracy is rarely credited for this achievement. Instead, it is either celebrated or criticized for giving either too much or too little power to one or another specific coalition, by unabashed partisans of one of those coalitions. It is as if capitalism were only ever analyzed by Marxists and aristocrats, with nobody thinking to defend its merits in neutral terms, as a system in which political coalitions can make positive-sum political “transactions” out of purely self-interested motives, creating more-or-less good governance out of competitive selfishness.

    • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

      I agree with you. I also was annoyed by the lack of the option «B and C» in the A-B-C questions — I would pick it; were you?

      And in general, people who support the parent comment and/or wanted «B and C» — are you «(x)or» or are we «and»?

      • peterispaikens says:

        I don’t really understand what would be the unifying factor for B and C answers in the Nazi and Marriage questions. For example, in the Marriage question the common thing seems to be “the situation happens in a country where x is legal”, but that’s not saying anything about your opinion about *the actions of that clerk*, which is the key issue.

        If you’d carefully write that option, what exactly it’d say in the form of “B and C, because […]” for those two questions?

        • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

          I have written it in the previous complaints-about-survey thread.

          Carefully… well, sorry. But anyway.

          The unifying thing between B and C in the Nazi case is that people who tried to be complete bystanders of the entire process have generally succeeded. Or, in a contraposition, no large direct consequences for people who didn’t actively try to participate.

          The unifying thing about B and C in the marriage question is the actual medium-term outcome. Illegal refusal of marriage paperwork by a single clerk (it is not presented as town policy) is very annoying but it is most likely possible to get another clerk to do the paperwork; obviously illegal marriage certificate in A is most likely void for any practical purpose.

          • Deiseach says:

            The unifying thing between B and C in the Nazi case is that people who tried to be complete bystanders of the entire process have generally succeeded.

            So what about A, where Nazis beat up (some) minorities? Isn’t that where bystanders are also by-standing? They’re not intervening to beat up the Nazis who are beating up the minorities or otherwise protesting.

            I can understand (a) the similarity is some people used politically-motivated violence against other people (A and C, my choice), (b) the Nazis win! (A and B – I mean, thinking about it, I can see where you get that) but not (c) whether Nazis don’t beat up people or get beaten up is the same thing (B and C)? Because the people who don’t want to beat up anyone stayed standing aloof? Or the people who don’t want to “punch a Nazi”, I guess, is the rationale there.

            But simply because nobody togged out in head-to-toe black and went around swinging a bike lock at the Nazi march does not mean there were no other protests or legal challenges or the likes. So I really don’t get the “B and C are the similar ones” logic there, where B is “nobody punches a Nazi” and C is “several somebodies punched Nazis”.

            Indeed, by the wording of the example, it’s not “some or a few”, it’s “concerned citizens” which could mean everybody in the town went out to beat up the Nazis so there weren’t any “people who tried to be complete bystanders” not protesting or not punching Nazis.

            Same with the gay marriage one – B and C there is “one person obeyed the law” and “one person disobeyed the law”, what’s the similarity? That there is a law making gay marriage legal in both cases? EDIT: Okay, re-read your answer, I see what you mean, but in real life plainly the people taking the Kim Davis case were alleging “No, we can’t get another clerk to sign our paperwork” (part of the problem seems to have been the rule or law that only the County Clerk could sign off on marriage licences, it couldn’t be carried out by a deputy, and she was the County Clerk for that particular county).

          • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

            @ Deiseach

            > So what about A, where Nazis beat up (some) minorities?

            The minorities would prefer to be unaffected bystanders. The outcome was different.

            > people taking the Kim Davis case

            > it couldn’t be carried out by a deputy

            The idea that it is OK to have a single point of failure is a big problem per se.

            The fact that getting a certificate in an adjacent country was a realistic option was the foundation of Kim Davis defense.

            Note that the current situation that the courts recognise as acceptable is «Kim Davis stays in office and still refuses to sign the documents she theoretically should sign, but the deputies have been explicitly given the authority to sign the documents in question» — I agree that it would be better if this would happen from the very beginning without the effort of the lawsuit, and I agree that courts were doing a useful thing in ensuring this happens.

            But having to get the documents done in an adjacent county is (in my opinion) much closer to «legal and normal» than to «you get the document but it is obviously illegal and therefore void»

          • quaelegit says:

            @Deiseach — in the Nazi example, I think what 6jfvkd8lu7cc is pointing out is that in Case A, minorities are getting beaten up. Nazis chose to be Nazis and hold public demonstrations/beat up people, and Nazi-punchers chose to beat up Nazis, but the minority victims didn’t chose to be minorities (at least, I’m assuming he’s talking about racial/ethnic minorities that are visually discernible as is usually discussed in the US). I suppose this relies on that assumption of what “minority” group the Nazis are targeting, but this question is about our intuitions and assumptions. Plus, that’s kind of the historical Nazi MO…

            So in both b&c people who don’t want to get involved in public political action can stay out of what’s happening.

            I don’t see why “concerned citizens” would imply the whole town? In most places (at least in the US) the vast majority of citizens don’t get concerned about protests and don’t do anything about them (hmm, maybe not “vast majority” if grumbling on the internet counts as “doing something”). You’re assumption that “concerned citizens” mean there aren’t any complete bystanders seems like more of a stretch to me than (my guess of) 6jfvkd8lu7cc’s assumption about the minorities being targeted in Case A.

          • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

            Technically, I only assume that the minority isn’t defined by doing in public something intended to be noticed, neither by criminal activity. A religious minority would fit if they don’t do public animal sacrifices. Better to avoid private sacrifices of someone else’s animals, too.

            I would even recognise pediactric medical staff as a professional minority in case some beings fail to realise how «paediatric» and «paedophilic» are different words; even though profession is very much a personal choice.

          • Deiseach says:

            Technically, I only assume that the minority isn’t defined by doing in public something intended to be noticed, neither by criminal activity.

            Okay, I think I understand a little better. So for you the point of similarity is “the Nazi demonstration is meant to be a public and visible action, the ‘punch a Nazi’ stuff is meant to be a public and visible action”.

            A and C, on the other hand, have the “criminal activity” similarity – it’s illegal for the Nazis to beat up the minorities, it’s illegal for the concerned citizens to beat up the Nazis, so I will presume you are not saying it should be B and C instead of A and C but that it can be A and C and B and C, there isn’t one answer to the question?

          • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

            «Criminal» is an instrumental notion. If «Nazi» means people who are actually closer to Nazi than to Fascists, they should be working on legitimizing at least some kinds of unprovoked violence. So violence against them is still criminal and bad but violence against those who do not call for violence is worse enough that B-C is a much much closer pair than mere A-C.

            (If Nazis and Antifa happenned to throw each other a challenge and then the willing members from both sides would fight in some place chosen for lack of annoying civilians and annoying police, that would of course be even much better than C; probably still technically criminal but oh well)

        • Loris says:

          Peter, I would say B and C because Nazis being non-violent, and B and C, because homosexuality is legal.
          But this option is essentially differentiating the base state rather than the event itself.

          There’s an inherent disparity in these questions because one of the four theoretical events isn’t listed. It’s clearer in the second question, where it would be:
          D) In a country where homosexuality is illegal, a government clerk follows the law and refuses to marry gay people.

          Then we’d have six potential pairs of things to say were most similar and it would all break down.
          So you could argue that there are three pairs of pairs as options, i.e.

          0 people break the law(A+C), or not (B+D)
          1 gay people get to marry (A+B), or not (C+D)
          2 it’s legal for gay people to marry (B+C) or not (A+D)

          Now, the thing is, for the sake of this question Scott doesn’t care if you care whether gay people get to marry, anyone who answers that (which I suspect would be the majority) wouldn’t be supplying useful data. Worse than that, it could (would be expected to) bias the result.

          So that’s why there’s no third option in the A-B-C questions.

          I think it might make sense to use less emotive examples in this style of question.

        • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

          Also, the question as I remember was about comparing the situations. I probably agree that the the question about the clerk’s actions in a situation where these actions would actually stick would likely be better; on the other hand, there still would be a risk of the third side being better match.

          By the way, in Russian news right now we can see an instance of A: someone, mistakenly or not, put the marriage records into the internal passports of two Russian gay men seeking to recognise their marriage performed in Denmark (for a man-and-woman marriage performed abroad that would be a standard procedure). Currently expected outcome: the passports are rendered invalid and will need to be reissued (without the marriage record, of course), the clerk and the immediate supervisor will probably be fired.

          This is a bit worse than I would expect — I would expect just disciplinary actions and demotion but not firing against the clerk and the clerk’s supervisor for a single incident. Especially given that the law as written might be reasonably interpreted as directing the clerk to recognise the foreign marriage in this case (different-sex condition is written in a part of law that is applied during the registration of marriage but technically not for recognition of foreign marriage).

        • Placid Platypus says:

          At least for the Nazi one, I would say B & C are the most similar because those are the ones where the Nazis win. When they beat up minorities they’re just being Nazis, and reminding everybody why everyone hates Nazis. But if they protest peacefully and especially if they get attacked by violent thugs it makes them look a lot more reasonable.

    • quanta413 says:


    • dlr says:

      This seems like a key insight. Certainly one that I’ve never heard before.

      Seems like people who believe in ‘conflict theory’ can be or ought to be broken up into two groups :
      1) people that believe government is mostly about conflict theory but believe that the people with competing interests are both moral and that working to satisfy both as far as possible (through, say, log rolling, etc) is a good idea, and
      2) people that believe government is mostly about conflict theory but ARE ON ONE SIDE, and believe the other side is immoral : ‘we are good, they are evil’. This seems to be partly human nature (tribalism), and to be tapping into an entirely different space.

      I think it is a big mistake to group together these two kinds of people. Both groups are ‘conflict theorists’ but the first group is approaching the problem as an intellectual exercise, ie, the same way that ‘mistake theorists’ are. They want to maximize the utility of all the participants. The second group seem to be appealing to emotion, and to be tapping into emotion, not reason. They don’t want to maximize the utility of all the participants, they want to maximize the utility only of the people on their side : they want their side to win. And persuasion and appeals to emotion and violence, etc, are all just tools in their tool kits.

      So, I would group ‘intellectual’ [ie, non-partisan] conflict theorists together with ‘mistake theorists’ because they have the same ultimate goal : maximizing the utility of all the participants in the polity.

      And I would put the ‘tribalist’ conflict theorists off in a whole different category. It’s just not useful to try to group them with the ‘non-partisan’ conflict theorists and try to generalize about them.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I guess I would classify myself as one in your model but I don’t think it fully embeds what I believe. Both Hitler and Stalin had their differences mainly in values rather than facts and were trying to carry out those values. Does that make them both “moral”? Should someone try to find a middle ground between those two values? No, I think they are both bad. But at the same time, how do I know my own values are any good? I think the main problem with the conflict theorists that Scott talks about is that not only do they think differences come down to values, but also that their side is definitely right and anyone who disagrees is evil. But isn’t that exactly what someone who had the wrong beliefs would believe?

        When differences come down to facts, we should debate those and try to find the truth. I think global warming is a good example of this. Sure, the disagreement originates from differences in values. However if we all agreed that global warming was real, caused by humans and the only way to avoid catastrophe was through government action, then I doubt you would face much opposition to government action. And if we all agreed it wasn’t true, then there would be little support.

        When it comes to differences in values, we should try see if we can agree on some higher level values and come to a compromise on that. But what do you do if you can’t agree on those higher level values? I have no idea. On the one hand, I understand not wanting to compromise with evil. But also, you don’t know that they’re evil. Either way you have to live with them somehow. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for war, a la The Protestant Reformation. If you really think the issue is worth millions of people dead then by all means but if you’re wrong…

        • Deiseach says:

          Both Hitler and Stalin had their differences mainly in values rather than facts and were trying to carry out those values.

          Hitler (whatever about Stalin) was claiming to base his actions upon facts – that the observable facts and the science backing them up ‘proved’ certain categories of persons were sub-human and inferior, indeed even dangerous, and should not be permitted to harm the majority population; in the hardest choice, they should be killed to prevent this.

          That’s part of the whole hammering on about eugenics here (and I’m particularly looking at the shower who go “Isn’t it a shame the Nazis gave eugenics such a bad name, otherwise we’d have a real tool to work with today” – no, it had a stinking name from the start, the technocrats deciding what policies they’d love to impose on the rest of humanity); the Nazis in power didn’t immediately start with the Jews, they started off with the disabled, and used the eugenics arguments and science backing those that were common across Europe and America of the day to demonstrate that the ‘lives unworthy of living’ were a burden to themselves, their families, and the state. Nearly every public intellectual, including Margaret Sanger the Patron Saint of Getting Healthcare For Women*, agreed that the quality of babies the poor and lower classes were having was so bad, it was keeping the poor and minorities in poverty and dragging them down, and this was a cost in human capital and human happiness and the future fate of the nation that could no longer be borne.

          You get people used to having the crips and retards put down humanely for the sake of the state and the people, you make it easier to get people going along to putting down other ‘lives not worth living’.

          *The third group [of society] are those irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequences of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped.
          Speech quoted in “Birth Control: What It Is, How It Works, What It Will Do.” The Proceedings of the First American Birth Control Conference. Held at the Hotel Plaza, New York City, November 11-12, 1921. Published by the Birth Control Review, Gothic Press, pages 172 and 174.

          Birth control is not contraception indiscriminately and thoughtlessly practiced. It means the release and cultivation of the better racial elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extirpation of defective stocks— those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization.
          “Apostle of Birth Control Sees Cause Gaining Here”, The New York Times, 1923-04-08, p. XII.

      • Andrew Cady says:

        Being “on a side” isn’t the same thing as believing all morality is on your side. There was a famous debate between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault where Chomsky was like “socialism is about justice, the working class must have socialism because it is right and just that they have it” and Foucault was like “justice is just whatever the powerful decide to call justice, and socialism is about the working class taking power for the sake of having power — and there is nothing wrong with this, we want power because power is good to have.”

    • cmurdock says:

      I think I saw other people making this same point in the previous thread, and was the case then I still think it’s mistaken, for a few reasons:

      One, it re-frames the question into one that isn’t very useful or discriminating. Perhaps I lack imagination, but I can’t imagine anybody not realizing that different groups of people have different interests, that they’re likely to act in order to further those interests, and that when multiple groups get together this results in conflict. If you are going to define a “conflict theorist” as anyone who understands this, then you’re essentially saying that everybody is a conflict theorist and that mistake theorists don’t exist (which might conceivably be true, but isn’t what I believe you were intending to say).

      Two, it takes a too literal interpretation of the label “conflict theorist” and misses what I believe was the point Scott was getting at. There is a difference between believing “politics comprises multiple competing interest groups” on one hand, and believing “politics comprises multiple competing interest groups, one of whom is us, and we must triumph” on the other– one is descriptive, the other is prescriptive. If the former is sufficient to define one as a conflict theorist, then as I’ve said, it means everyone is a conflict theorist; otherwise, it is vague and obvious enough that it can describe both conflict and mistake theorists, and so is not a useful criterion. The latter by contrast actually describes a motivation people have for acting the way they do.

      Third, it ignores the type specimen Scott gave in his previous post. How exactly does one get from the rather clear observation that different groups have competing interests, to the Baffler article saying public choice theory is racist? Whatever model (true or not) that Scott was positing as an explanation for articles such as these, it clearly wasn’t the one you’re espousing.

      • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

        Regarding point one, it appears that Scott really does believe that many or even most political conflicts are a matter of one side or the other believing false things or using faulty reasoning to reach a policy preference that’s against the common interests of all, not just in favor of their own interests. At least that’s my interpretation of his term, “mistake theory”. Do you have an alternative one that fits Scott’s description?

        Regarding point two, I completely agree with your distinction–it seems the only difference is that you’d label people like me, who neutrally acknowledge competition among self-interested groups for political advantage, “mistake theorists”, and assert that the ones I claim Scott describes as such (see my paragraph above) simply don’t exist. If I’m incorrect, and Scott really meant the term “mistake theorist” to apply to people like me, then I’m fine with accepting that label. But I fear that we’d still need a label for people who adhere to what I assume, perhaps incorrectly, to be Scott’s version of mistake theory–that is, morally absolutist partisanship.

        Regarding point three, isn’t that specimen just an example of the second type of conflict theorist you describe in point two? Presumably the Baffler author equates “disagrees with me” with “is evil/racist/Nazi/everything else bad”, and also happens to disagree with advocates of public choice theory. I certainly don’t deny that such conflict theorists exist–only that there’s another type as well, which is less partisan and morally dogmatic about their political views.

  4. Deej says:

    Honourable mention for Chris Dillow of Stumbling and Mumbling – a very thoughtful marxist. He would respond to the conflict v mistake approach by saying it’s very definitely both. For example, he believes that good implementation is more important than the choice between public and private provision, but a Marxist, he also believes strongly in class interest. There are other thoughtful Marxists out there.

    To me it seems so obviously true that it’s both that it’s almost not worth discussing (and yet here I am :-)). Experts can tell you what different policies are likely to do, but it’s very rare that one policy will be obviously best for everyone and different groups try to get the options that suit them, so conflict is inevitable… but we can minimise this and avoid mistakes that are worse for everyone through expert advice… so, yeah… both… see here for some good examples of this

    • tmk17 says:

      It’s true that thoughtful Marxists also consider implementation, but I still feel like there is a worthwhile distinction here between the approach they take and the approach that, say, libertarians take. I think it really is a very different way of thinking about the problem. You mention how there are different groups that will have different ideas on what the best policy is. (My idea of) a libertarian wouldn’t ever want this conflict to become relevant. She would think there should be meta rules in place that let the system come to a good conclusion even if every single member of the government is corrupt which she would see as the default case. She would never consider which concrete policies individual groups might be favoring.

      A Marxist will likely think about classes foremost and go from there. A different starting point usually leads to different conclusion.

      • Deej says:

        Agree there are useful distinctions to be made between how Marxists and Libertarians think. I’m not sure the one you make is entirely right, at least for thoughtful people on both sides. I’d put it more like this: Libertarians believe that outcomes resulting from a system that allows genuine free choice are in some sense just per se. Marxists would look at the outcome and reach a view onwhether it was just. Marxists would also query whether such a system is possible – they’d say that my free choices can restrict the choices available to you.

        I’d also say that both emphasise freedom and individual liberty, but libertarians think this is achievable if we just did capitalism right. Whereas Marxists like Dillow believe “Crony capitalism is the only feasible capitalism.”

        • Jack Lecter says:

          Libertarians believe that outcomes resulting from a system that allows genuine free choice are in some sense just per se

          True for Principled libertarians, less true for Pragmatic libertarians.

          But it’s actually a little more complicated than this. Speaking for myself, I think I’d say something like: human value is complex, but a lot of people seem to hold noncoercion per se as one of their terminal values. Noncoercion is also an instrumental value, as individuals often have information about their own preferences that central planners lack. Consequently, our utility function should carry a penalty term* for the use of coercion. For Pragmatics, this doesn’t preclude using force if EVC checks out, but we’re probably less likely to think it does than democrats are.

          Unfortunately, (imo) a lot of people will only apply a penalty term to coercion when they sympathize with the people being coerced- fargroup members may be treated as having less or no moral worth, and a lot of people will actually seek out opportunities to use the government to crush and humiliate outgroup members.

          I’ll admit I probably have some deontic reverence for freedom that goes beyond valuing it for happiness’ sake, even though I don’t consider myself part of the Principled camp. At the same time, I suspect there’s some of this feeling even among nonlibertarians- even taking into account the different ways groups define ‘freedom’.


          *The optimal size of the penalty term constitutes a nontrivial question, one which may map pretty well to the distinction between Principled and Pragmatic libertarians.

          For mysel

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I think a lot of libertarians aren’t good about thinking about implementation, either. They think rights exist, and if you just get most government out of the way, those rights will be protected.

        • ragnarrahl says:

          It’s more “closer to being protected.” Govermment is a great dragon, if you chain it to the ground, your sheep are not suddenly immortal, but a lot fewer get carried off and eaten.

          On the other hand, if you mean the sort that want to slay the dragon, I agree. There’s all these dragon eggs lying around and their only natural predator is an adult dragon. (Dragons are kind of a fucked up species).

          • yodelyak says:

            Hm. That’s a funny metaphor for libertarians… Every libertarian is an unhatched dragon-egg, hoping the adult dragon will drop dead. Libertarians as would-be governments, not just would-be government killers. On the one hand, it equates governments with dragons (a fucked up species) which concedes the usual libertarian argument about all governance being violence, but on the flip side, it re-centers the argument back on the “except for all the others” point about democracy being the worst form of government. Kind of fun.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          I think this maybe goes to positive and negative rights.

          My personal fantasy is to turn the government into a sort of clockwork machine that performs certain functions mechanically but doesn’t really exercise discretion or relate to people on an interpersonal level. (These functions include things like social safety nets- I’m a left libertarian, after all.). Currently, discretion serves a vital role in compensating for poorly-engineered or harmful facets of the system- poorly-drafted or ill-thought-out laws, etc- and makes it less important to address these facets directly.

          I hope to someday set up a structure which allows automated government processes to run smoothly, but keeps government agents from being able to coordinate well enough to violate people’s rights.

          If I knew how to implement this by myself, I would have already done so- but I don’t think it’s fair to say I haven’t given a lot of thought to the details of implementation. I think this is technically doable, in that it doesn’t seem actually impossible to create a stable version of the system I’d want given enough power. Tech has the potential to make a lot of this easier, even if we never make the really big dramatic shifts futurists talk about. I also think it’s possible to make our current society more like my goal in a lot of little ways, some (but not all) of which would be improvements even taken in isolation.

          I don’t know if that’s the kind of ‘thinking about implementation’ you were thinking of, but I’d be happy to provide more specific proposals if it would help. Later, though- I need to sleep now.

          • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

            I think that a government should be capable of stopping direct fraud, and maybe even capable of coordinating the disclosure rules for avoiding semi-accidental semi-deliberate lying in contract/promise/advertisement. I have a vague feeling that judging whether an instance of fraud worth stopping by force is happenning requires discretion, and delegating it to people guaranteed to be unable of coordinating (trial by jury with proper selection procedures?), you end up with the same phrases getting different interpretations in different trials.

            The same for self-defense…

          • Deej says:

            It’s impossible to write laws that don’t require discretion to implement.

          • Deiseach says:

            My personal fantasy is to turn the government into a sort of clockwork machine that performs certain functions mechanically but doesn’t really exercise discretion or relate to people on an interpersonal level.

            As someone with a tangential link to precisely this via working in local government, I fervently hope for the opposite. It’s only the interpersonal level, where the clerk or deciding officer on the ground sees the facts of the individual case and tries to find a loophole or bend the rules to let someone deserving get what they need, instead of mechanically applying “sorry, the rules say you need ten days and you only have nine and three-quarters”.

            You do not want a clockwork apparatus, believe me!

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s only the interpersonal level, where the clerk or deciding officer on the ground sees the facts of the individual case and tries to find a loophole or bend the rules to let someone deserving get what they need, instead of mechanically applying “sorry, the rules say you need ten days and you only have nine and three-quarters”.

            You do not want a clockwork apparatus, believe me!

            I might. Those who can get clerks to find loopholes and bend rules benefit from this, but those of us who are naturally unsympathetic receive the full force of the rules, and occasionally more when the rules get bent the other way. Can’t stand Malcom Gladwell in general, but the story he gives in _Outliers_ of Oppenheimer, who gets away with attempted murder, and Langan, who loses a scholarship because of a flat tire, applies.

  5. JulieK says:

    I think an important distinction between the Conflict approach and the Mistake approach is that in Conflict, the two sides have different objectives, while in Mistake, they agree on the objective, but disagree how to achieve it. For instance, two executives from a corporation both want to maximize profits, but one thinks it will help to pay workers as little as possible, while the other thinks that by paying higher salaries, they will get more qualified workers and ultimately increase profits.
    On the other hand, an executive and an employee have different objectives from the question of salary- one wants to increase profits, one wants to increase his own income.

    The issue of objectives is distinct from whether one thinks the other side is stupid or evil.

    • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

      >The issue of objectives is distinct from whether one thinks the other side is stupid or evil.

      This can’t be emphasized enough – the majority of comments in the other thread seemed to miss the entire point of conflict theory a bit.

    • Deiseach says:

      The issue of objectives is distinct from whether one thinks the other side is stupid or evil.

      Or you can judge the objective to be evil/stupid/wrong, but think the other side (or a lot of them) are pushing for it out of genuine, if mistaken, belief that this is a good/smart/right thing to do, want or achieve.

      People pushing for free trade globalism really do think a rising tide lifts all boats and by measurable improvements in the economy this means that everything is going well; that this in practice may mean “the economy of New York is booming, the economy of Rustbelt Town is hit even worse” is not as immediately apparent to them as to the person who lost their job when the last major employer moved out of Rustbelt Town and the work has dried up. At most, the idea is “but new industries will move in/move to where the work is, there’s plenty of jobs in New York!” They’re not moustache-twirling robber barons evicting widows into the snow on Christmas Eve for not paying their rent. And by the same token, the people protesting over “but what about protecting American industries?” are not loom-smashing Luddites who want to grab and mooch the wealth of the creative and entrepreneurial class because they’re too lazy/stupid to make their own millions themselves.

      • Weevilbits says:

        While I think that trade in particular is an area where there’s a lot of experience explanatory power behind mistake theory I think there’s also a lot of room for what Scott called in the last post “hard” conflict theory.

        Like I think there are people that imagine an ideal world as one where most people come to big cities and participate in a dynamic cosmoploitan economy and a lot of people who imagine an ideal world where most people stay where they’re born close to extended family and love a life centered around parish and community. It’s not a matter of one side being evil or even necessarily of a conflict of bald material interest but it’s also not something that’s going to get resolved by more data or better reasoned arguments.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          This sound like an archipelago thing, really.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, I think that’s the problem. The huge imbalance I see in my own country is that yes, the economy is improving, but that means in practice all the jobs are in Dublin. Not everybody in the rest of the country can move to Dublin! And because it’s “if you want a job, move to Dublin”, this is putting huge pressure on the housing market and rents are going crazy and meanwhile, the rest of the country is limping along far behind investment in infrastructure etc. because all the big companies providing the new jobs are in Dublin so all the improvements and investment go to Dublin.

          That kind of lop-sidedness benefits nobody, even if on the national balance sheet it looks like “well, GDP is going up, this means everyone in the country should be getting an equal slice of the cake!”

      • Lambert says:

        I think they are very much loom-smashing Luddites. It’s just that history remembers Ned Ludd and his followers incredibly unfavourably.

  6. Vincent Soderberg says:

    Hi! Long time lurker, first time poster.

    I read the “survive vs thrive” post recently, and you thought that one thing that were puzzling was the education issue – i.e., why are leftist for state interventions in education while the right want it to be free, privatized? I thought this were very puzzling too until I watched a pragerU video complaining about college “brainwashing students”. It hit me then, (to continue the zombie apocalypse metaphor), that if there are zombies and potential enemies everywhere, then you REALLY don’t want to have your options limited, and having your kids spend a huge amount of time under some stranger teaching them would be really risky- what if the stranger has opposite values, and tries to convert your kid to their tribe? Especially if it’s some big empire, then that empire could get more soldier and exhert influence on you and your kid. If you are 100% free to choose schools for your kids, then you can always get them out of there if you happen to not like the tribes school. Given that universities are usually liberal/leftist, this would explain the rights distaste for most universities: They are essentially handing over their kid and truck ton of money to some tribe that has different values then them.

    The left then would like government intervention in education for much the same reason as the future utopia likes job regulation: Theres enough to go around, so its more important to have kids fulfill their potential and study whatever they want. However, since education costs a lot, this means that if young people have to pay for the whole thing themselves, they might not fulfill their passion/interest whatever. Since there is a lot of resources, the state should therefore focus on enabling young people to go to college, and at the same time make sure to teach good values.

    Political polarizing makes the conflict larger, and both sides want to signal that they are “true right” or “true left”. Thus the current situation.

    Thoughts? (I bet I got a lot wrong and that someone already has suggested this)

    • colomon says:

      You speak as if they were worried about some hypothetical, when it’s almost certain that for a sizeable portion of the American population, the public schools will likely be teaching kids their parents’ most deeply held beliefs are wrong. Creationism vs evolution is one obvious example.

      • Vincent Soderberg says:

        Oh yeah! thats true!

        I forgot since i live in sweden, and in sweden belief in creationism is extremely rare. Most christians believe in evolution in sweden (a quick google search shows me that 68% of people in sweden believe in evolution- ie dont believe in creationism

        Any other examples of stuff american public schools teaching things that conflict the religious right in usa?

        • quaelegit says:

          Sex ed — huge perennial fights over abstinence only vs. not-abstinence only and how required it should be.

          On the open thread recently there was someone saying that local school(s?) Seattle were giving extra credit for making protest signs or going to public protest that supported “left” (or hmm maybe “blue tribe” in SSC parlance) causes. Deiseach speculated that credit would not be given for doing this for “right” supported protests/causes but neither she nor I live there so can’t comment on how likely this guess is.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          68%? That’s way lower than I expected. Creationism manages to still be more popular than I thought.

          • quaelegit says:

            Yeah and according to Gallup last year 57% of Americans believe in evolution (er, specifically human evolution). Not that different in absolute terms.

          • Vincent Soderberg says:

            Well, this is anecdotal evidence, but as far as i can tell the ones that do believe in creationism are less confident in it being absolute then creationists in USA. Ergos, i fell like a strong creationist in sweden is a lukewarm one in the USA.

            however, Maybe im wrong and i just don’t hear them because it’s considered socially unpopular, and strongly discouraged in the media, thus creationists not getting much positive media attention?

          • John Schilling says:

            As always, note that many people interpret “do you believe in evolution?” as “are you an atheist?”, and outright atheism is rare. Meanwhile, lots of people believe in both creationism and evolution, with the latter being a tool of the former.

            The US seems to come in at 20-25% Young Earth Creationist/Adam and Eve types, and the rest believing that human bodies evolved from primates on a very old planet in an even older universe formed by a Big Bang (that may have been precipitated by some deity saying “let there be light!”). Would be interesting to know what the corresponding value is in Sweden, but you have to be very careful and sometimes tricky in how you ask the questions.

    • Garrett says:

      That might be an overarching theme. However, there might be some other points to consider, too. Namely, without “school choice”, parents don’t have a good way to address education failings short of moving. This is separate from the specific curriculum and more on overall classroom achievement, etc. For example, I had a high school teacher who chose to not show up to class 2/3 of the days. Not calling in sick – he was in the school, just not in the classroom (working on materials for a private business he ran). So there are lots of ways for schools to be bad which aren’t culture-warish. But without competition between the schools you don’t have any real leverage. And it’s made worse if the teachers are unionized with a strong contract.

      On the flip-side, how much opposition to do you see from eg. PragerU to colleges for “useful” degrees, like engineering, nursing, etc? I suspect that there’s less opposition to attendance if it’s for a specific purpose where the quality of education can be related to something like licensure passage.

      • Vincent Soderberg says:

        worth mentioning: sweden actually has one of the most privatized education systems in the world, more then the usa if i remember correctly. I think it was called “fria skolvalet/Free school choice”

        It’s super hard to figure out whether it works or not, so basically everyone on the right in sweden (alliansen) loves it and promotes it for being about freedom, while everyone on the left hates it and say it exarbates inequality by making schools hunt for already high performing kids.

        I used to be really interested in the debate a few years ago, but noticed that nobody really listened to the other side, and since i got stressed by it i stopped following it. I don’t think anything happened with it though. ANy attempts by social democrats to de-privatize it got stopped and the majority likes the freedom or something.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Mostly what it does is waste the money of the right wing segment of the population.

          Bunch of research that unless you are in a truely terrible school district, private schools do no better than public ones, controlling for the social economic status of the parents of the students. .. And if you can afford a private school you do not live in a terrible school district.

          Ergo, if you actually care for the education of your kids, you should send them to the public school you already paid for via taxes and spend the money on tutors instead. Because one-on-one tutors *are* better than any school.

  7. Deiseach says:

    Which of these best describes your opinion of people with different political beliefs than you, but still within the normal range? EG Democrats if you are a Republican, Tories if you are Labour, etc.
    3. Inexcusably stupid or downright evil

    I have had to struggle really, really, really hard to overcome this knee-jerk reaction and not to assign “they’re wicked and dumb, pure and simple!” to opposition on my point of view on matters, especially ones that involve morals (the “that’s not a moral question, that’s culture wars” – as in some dismissal in the comments here about trump-voting Republicans/Evangelicals have dropped abortion as a moral cause for success on pushing other culture wars topics, which is an attitude that makes me grind my teeth and have to remember “No, this is an opinion, this is how it appears to someone for whom this is not indeed a moral question, this is how it looks to them as an outsider, this is perfectly legit for them to hold and phrase it like this”).

    Ironically, if you like, it’s religion that has made me work on this – the last couple of popes banging on about loving your enemy and forgiveness and the rest of it – to get from “this is a moral question, this act is wrong and this one is right, anyone holding the other view must be doing so out of perversity, ignorance, or wickedness” to “no, you can’t even say that they’re immoral, it’s that they have a different interpretation of Christian doctrine (if they’re Christian-tradition religious) or they don’t think of it in those terms (if other or not religious at all), they do have morals and consciences, it’s that they differ in what their conclusion of the right thing is”.

    It’s really tempting to say “I’m on the side of what is right, true and good, so the people disagreeing with me are immoral, bad and wicked”. It’s really hard to squash that impulse. Benedict and Francis are kicking my ass on the moral judgement part and Scott is kicking my ass on the “this is what is going on here, this is why we call for the Principle of Charity, this is another way of looking at the matter” philosophical disagreement part.

    • mdet says:

      Abortion / Fetal personhood is the only issue I can think of where one side being right necessarily means the other side is doing something horrendous. On all other issues, I can see the merits of various arguments. Did you have any other issues in mind, or just abortion?

      • Deiseach says:

        I picked abortion because it’s the issue currently live in my own country. I didn’t want to specifically single out anything else because that has the potential to get into culture wars territory and then we’re all arguing over our pet positions and not the original topic.

        I do think it’s possible for someone holding position A (where that might be anything, even “dogs are not slaves or pets, even companion animals is a denigratory term, they’re sapient non-humans and should be given equal rights in law”) fervently believes and is convinced it’s a moral issue and person holding position B is going “Dude, we’re talking about pets, not people, I don’t care if you want to believe Bowser is a person, you do you, but don’t try to pass a law to make me bring Rex down to the polling booth to mark his vote by paw!” since to them this is merely fact-based and nothing to do with morality or values. Person A will think that this is the equivalent of B being a Southern slave-holder during the Civil War and everyone holding position B merely wants to perpetrate a system of slavery because they get ‘unconditional love’ and psychological benefit from their slave animals.

        If animals do have equal moral worth to humans then it is “the other side is doing something horrendous”. That’s where the whole argument takes off.

      • Null42 says:

        I can’t comment on Catholic doctrine, but reading the papers the last few weeks some people seem to think standard PIV sex is horrible.

        To take a less extreme example, plenty of people on the far left think racist, etc. speech is a form of violence and Ben Shapiro is committing mass violence against minorities by speaking. Similarly, plenty of people on the far right think Ben Shapiro and lots of his relatives on the left are engaged in genocide against the white race.

  8. Vincent Soderberg says:

    Another comment! thoughts about this post and the survey results:

    1. Autism did not affect any of these questions at all, totally contrary to my pre-registered predictions.

    What were Scotts reregistered predictions? I can’t find them.

    Other then that: Maybe autism affects ideology and religious in a way that makes autistic people more likely to be consistent in their ideology, but not more extreme? And that this consistency across the political spectrum makes the total difference just seem to amount to nothing?

    3. Respondents who thought they were more moral people were more conflict theorist, r = 0.12.

    makes sense. If a problem is seen as a disease rather then war, then you aren’t very different from the other people trying to solve it, thus you are not extraordinarily moral.

    But if a person has a conflict view of the world, then the problem is that other people have different passions/are morally wrong, which means that you are more moral then the average person.

    4. More neurotic and extraverted people were slightly more conflict theorist (r = 0.10); no other Big Five traits really mattered.

    really? I would expect personality traits to have a much bigger impact. Wouldn’t openess and agreeableness correlate especially with believing that mistake accounts for the problems in the world? In the sense that if you believe differences and problems causes are because of wrong morals, that you would be less willing to explore others perspectives and learn from them, and to agree with them?

  9. John Nerst says:

    I had great trouble with those Political Disagreement questions. It just seems that dividing such fundamental disagreements into a “facts” part and a “values” part doesn’t capture how such convictions actually work.

    My model of people who disagree with me politically isn’t that they believe falsehoods, nor that they have bad values. Rather, I think I reject their whole world-model as being wrongheaded, or more commonly, dangerously incomplete. That isn’t a falsehood, exactly, since which world model is “correct” isn’t simply a matter of fact – different models work well for different things and people use different models when they have different experiences of how things work and different values they want to express.

    Religion works well for expressing some kinds of values, neoclassical economic theory works well for others; social justice theory for a third set and traditional socialism for a fourth. These ideologies are built up from supposed facts and theories but carry with them certain assumptions about what things are important, central and “counts” (by making them hard or easy to express using its terms), rendering them an intractable mix of facts and values.

    Who I would consider my “political opponents” are those who don’t see things this way, who see the world through one lens only and believe this precludes anything seemingly contradictory from having any validity. As I see it, this is both an intellectual failure (to understand maps and territory) and a moral failure (to make an effort to understand and empathize with others). But they aren’t separate, just two ways to describe the same kind of “failure”. I doubt it would be very enlightening to try to tease them apart.

    At first I projected this on your mistake vs. conflict axis but now I’m not sure it’s the same. Maybe what they have in common is the belief or disbelief that people have some innate ability to “sense goodness” and choose a side.

    If it’s true, then we know what’s good and people who stand in the way of it are bad and what’s needed is passion and social organization in order to implement good policies, and if the system rewards bad behavior then it’s likely bad and should be replaced with a system based on good behavior.

    If it’s false, then we should be very suspicious about assuming that good intentions leads to good results, that passion for what one believes in is not an unalloyed good, and that people can reasonably disagree without anyone being bad.

    • Deiseach says:

      Rather, I think I reject their whole world-model as being wrongheaded, or more commonly, dangerously incomplete.

      But isn’t “wrong-headed” and “dangerously incomplete” simply another way of saying “they haven’t all the facts, if they did then they’d see my opinion is the right one”? If you don’t have all the facts, or have wrong ones, then you are in error and it is intellectual failure. (If you have the correct facts but refuse to accept or apply them, then it’s moral failure).

      • John Nerst says:

        Well, no, because ideologies are made largely of narratives, not plain facts. Each fact-like statement models the world in particular ways, it uses certain concepts and not others, makes some abstractions, simplifications and generalizations and not others, and makes some judgements and not others. And individual beliefs aren’t separate, they are arranged in systems, and there is a significant degree of subjectivity in the nature of these systems since the choices add up. Abstractions of abstractions representing choices on choices on choices.

        That’s not to say there aren’t any facts, but ideologies are quite unlike bags of assorted factual beliefs about concrete reality.

        • romeostevens says:

          Yes, an ideology is more like a prioritization/weighting schema for facts.

          I’d call the other part perverse monism. The attempt to corral reality into a favored domain where you know you have the comparative advantage.

          • Aapje says:

            Yes, an ideology is more like a prioritization/weighting schema for facts.

            A lot of ideologies are not actually consistent, though.

            When they weigh very similar facts differently based on which group the fact is about, it’s prioritization of groups, not prioritization of concerns.

        • Deiseach says:

          Then your “my world-model versus theirs, and theirs is wrong-headed” view is simply another ideology, and what is to say you are not the wrong-headed one?

          • John Nerst says:

            While we often act here like object level and meta level are the same, I don’t think that’s the case. Saying that it’s inconsistent to hold “there are many valid models” and thereby rejecting “there is only one valid model” as a model is little more than wordplay, imo.

          • John Nerst says:

            Note that I certainly don’t suggest that all models are equally valid.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The problem is there an infinite number of facts. What matters are which facts are relevant to you.

        The example I always fall back on is the difference in news coverage. On the same day, an unarmed black man is shot by a police officer and a pretty white girl is raped and murdered by an illegal Mexican. Brietbart runs WAR IN EUROPE sized headlines all day about the rape and on immigration while CNN does 24/7 coverage of the shooting and on police brutality.

        Your chances of being a victim of illegal immigrant crime are extremely low. Your chances of being unjustly shot by police are extremely low. Yet each side of the ideological spectrum is extremely bothered by one of these events and nonplussed by the other.

        Which side is missing “the facts?” Which outfit is running “propaganda,” and which is running “important news?”

        We disagree far less on “the facts” than we disagree on which facts are important. Which facts are important are determined by our values and our goals. You don’t really change somebody’s values and goals just by showing them different sets of facts.

        • Deiseach says:

          But in that example you can say, to use John Nerst’s terminology, both sides are wrong-headed.

          That then leaves us with a third, outside, ideal impartial observer who can make a judgement that there is a more correct way to tackle the subject, which is to cover both stories in a calmer manner and add in the caveat about the total chances of being shot/raped are lower than you think.

          The third-party observer is acting under the mistake theory hypothesis; Breitbart versus CNN are running on conflict theory (“this story proves OUR SIDE is right about the dangers of THEIR SIDE!”)

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        Well, no, because ideologies are made largely of narratives, not plain facts.

        Yup. To use the abortion example, I’d say both sides are working from a very similar set of facts. They might quibble about the details, but neither side is likely to change their mind based on the revelation of some new piece of information; it’s not often that a diehard pro-life or pro-choice individual shifts positions because they realized they were mistaken about some particular statistic or scientific study (which is not to say it never happens). What differs is a deep intuitive sense of what a person is, how rights work, and various other abstract concepts. Which is why arguments about it tend to go in endless circles.

    • Nornagest says:

      My model of people who disagree with me politically isn’t that they believe falsehoods, nor that they have bad values. Rather, I think I reject their whole world-model as being wrongheaded, or more commonly, dangerously incomplete.

      “Wrongheaded” and “dangerous” are pretty vague words for the amount of work they’re doing here.

  10. 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

    Hypotheses are in December 25 post: posted soon after survey announcement

  11. Thegnskald says:

    Okay. Again, no.

    You can literally explain the results as all an outcome of the first question – seeing policy as a matter of morality versus a matter of effectiveness.

    Somebody who sees policy as a moral issue is going to see bad policy as a moral issue.

    This doesn’t imply, however, that somebody who thinks it is a moral issue thinks it is a war between good and evil. It is possible to be incorrect about morals – supposing certain versions of mainstream Christianity are 100% correct, I am literally wrong about the morality of abortion.

    I don’t think they are, but that is pretty much a given, since I hold the positions I do.

    Likewise, maybe I am wrong about identity politics – maybe there is some moral principle about group versus individual justice I just don’t grok. Again, I don’t think I am, but if I did, I would be in the wrong on the matter.

    I actually had a lot of trouble with that question, because I disagreed with its central presumption that I am correct. My opponents might be right, either intellectually or morally. I have certainly changed political beliefs before, and there are some political questions I just don’t know the answer to.

    Again, this is a very seductive line of reasoning – my opponents won’t change their minds anyways, because of a flaw in their personality, so it isn’t on me if my arguments don’t sway them.

    And in particular response to this post – you presumably came to the conclusion that your readers were more mistake-oriented after reading the survey. The survey is not valid evidence to support your conclusion. And while the clustering might provide evidence, it doesn’t necessarily say what you think it says – in order to support the conclusion, you would have to be able to rule out people treating moral issues in policy as deserving a different kind of response than intellectual issues. Which is to say, find a set of positions which correspond to moral failures for your mistake-oriented people, and observe whether they are inclined to respond as if it were a mistake rather than a moral issue – that is, rule out the possibility that “mistake” and “conflict” as modes of thinking are the result of fighting injustice as opposed to fighting badly thought out policy, as opposed to default personalities.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I’ll try an informal experiment. Hey, self-described Mistake people:

      I am now the ruler of the world. I am instituting a eugenics program – all men and all women are going to be given temporary sterilization, whatever is the most up to date version, from ages 8-25. At 25, everybody is subject to a battery of tests, including a physical test, an attractiveness test, and different intellectual tests; the bottom 80% of men overall will be castrated, the bottom 20% of women will be given hysterectomies, and the remaining 20% of men will each be assigned four wives. Their job is strictly procreative, and they will be supported by the other half of society, who will have no welfare or safety net, and be taxed at 70% of income, as well as serving compulsory military service. Any man who doesn’t have a child a year will be castrated and moved to the productive sector, and woman who doesn’t have a child at least every four years likewise. The descendants of all men and women who die before reaching at least average age will be treated as automatically failing their tests; their genetics do not support longevity.

      Is this approach to social policy an intellectual or moral failure, and is the correct response to argue policy with me, or to fight me with every fiber of your moral being?

      • Deiseach says:

        The descendants of all men and women who die before reaching at least average age will be treated as automatically failing their tests; their genetics do not support longevity.

        It seems to me that you would have a problem working that out; so your hypothetical polygynous family will start reproducing at age 25 and average age of life expectancy is – what? let’s assume 72 years as a ‘split the difference’ figure.

        So that means men can reproduce up to damn near their deathbed, women to menopause which is in their late 40s-50s.

        That means for women, their (first born) descendants would be hitting the “your duty to reproduce now” age of 25 when mom is hitting menopause. How can you tell if the descendants will be worth permitting to reproduce dependent on their parents’ longevity? When do you make the cut-off point? Sure, someone who drops dead at 30, you can say “okay, your descendants are for the chop as reproductive failures”, but what about someone who doesn’t die until they hit 50? 60? 71 and three-quarters? If you wait till mom/dad pops their clogs at age 51, the Juniors will have started having babies already.

        Even without discussing your morals, this is a poorly-thought out system 🙂

        • Thegnskald says:

          It gets worse, since the system should eventually select menopause out. (Those who can have children later will. They don’t want to be put into the sustenance-existence productivity group.)

          But good record keeping is going to be a necessity. And yeah, that means a single man who dies at age 55 will have ~50 descendants needing to be weeded out; if 80 is the average, a man who dies at 79 will have hundreds.

          Really good record keeping. It is a good thing we have computers. We’ll need to microchip everyone at birth, of course.

          • Joeboy says:

            How do you feel about the idea of offering some sort of material challenge to the plan? Is the best thing to just explain clearly why you think it’s a bad plan and then move on?

            It’s unclear to me how much Scott’s “conflict vs mistake theory” is about the response and how much is just about the mental model, but Thegnskald is asking about the response.

            Edit: Ah, you are in fact Thegnskald, so I probably shouldn’t be chiding you for misunderstanding Thegnskald’s question. This was a mistake.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Lol. Howdy!

            It isn’t just the response, although I must admire Deiseach’s commitment to trying to respond in a mistake-theorist approach.

            It is about challenging the assumption that mistake theory can even be divorced from conflict theory. We can only pretend there is a difference when the things we are considering are roughly confluent with our values.

            It is easy to pretend to be Rational (as opposed to rational) when everybody is playing along with the pretense that we have a shared set of values. Take away the shared set of values, and it becomes painfully apparent that there isn’t a hard line between the two modes of thought.

            Deiseach routinely deals with people with radically different values; she is accustomed to trying to put herself in a position of arguing against a framework from a perspective she doesn’t share.

            Bluntly, half my mission here is to try to rip up the papering-over of different values American society has engaged in for the last century. For example, the thread I wrote describing the different ways the word “freedom” is used. We all believe in freedom, but we can’t agree about what it actually means. This papering-over has produced a dynamic where everybody is convinced everybody else is lying about their values, because they are talking about different values without realizing it. So there is a lot of defecting-against-defectors going on, in which nobody originally defected, they just acted on a different understanding of what the common social agreement is.

            (My other purpose being to provide an alternative to the Marvel-franchise version of Trendy Leftism, in which correct political beliefs are identified and collected like those stupid plastic not-bobble-heads that are so popular in consumerist nerd culture right now. Pop something.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, but you’re still shoving everyone into the “25 is the cut-off point where you either are in the compulsory reproduction basket or the worker ant basket”, so you will either have to do all your record-keeping and weeding out before you implement The Great Plan, or during the implementation, and you can’t be quite sure that you’re weeding out all the short-lifers or not weeding out some of the long-lifers; yes, Sally’s father died at age fifty – but Sally’s mother lived to be ninety. Does Sally’s baby have a chance of living to be seventy? You’ll never know if you aborted Sally’s first pregnancy and sterilised her as the daughter of a short-lifer, especially as half the genes of that baby came from Tom both of whose parents lived to be eighty-seven.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Deiseach –

            You’re right that the first couple of generations will have pretty lossy data. That’s okay; the goal is long-term improvement.

            And our primary goal isn’t to retain as many good genes as possible, it’s to create selection pressure against bad ones. We aren’t as concerned with the fact that the mother had good genetics, as we are with the fact that the father had bad. Likewise for grandparents.

            And our cause of death of concern is all-inclusive; if the father dies in a parachuting accident, we want those genes gone, too. Accidental death is still death, and we want to select against the sort of impulsivity that leads to accidental death.

            If it seems like we are removing more people from the reproductive population than is strictly necessary, you are right. We want strong selection pressure.

          • Aapje says:


            Do you really want to select out risk-taking?

      • Creutzer says:

        The correct response is to make sure you won’t become ruler of the world. Of which there is no danger anyway.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Sounds like conflict theory to me; keep me out of power because my plans, although perfectly Rational, are antithetical to your values.

          • Aftagley says:

            @Thegnskalg: Your plans only count as rational if you think for some reason that eugenics at the expense of overall happiness of the species is rational. If you don’t hold that view, or don’t trust that your system would ever be free of bias, or value freedom more than trying to perfect humanity, then your position is irrational.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Why would I care about the happiness of a bunch of genetically flawed meatbags? This would be like asking our tree-swinging ancestors what their opinions on whether or not intelligence is a good thing to select for.

            Maybe after a few dozen generations we’ll get some people whose opinions merit listening to. Right now we are just talking about a barely uplifted species of ape.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why would I care about the happiness of a bunch of genetically flawed meatbags?

            This has been a party political broadcast on behalf of The Struldbrug Party 🙂

          • Mary says:

            Why would I care about the happiness of a bunch of genetically flawed meatbags?

            Why would we care about the happiness of one member of a group of genetically flawed meatbags?

            It would take several generations to get a you whose opinons merit listening to.

            Thus your views are inherently irrational, since they contradict themselves.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Mary –

            Who said anything about my happiness?

            I am not optimizing the world for me. I’d have little more place in that world than you would.

          • Mary says:

            Call it little more or not, it’s a place. It’s the position of Supreme Dictator of the World, pushing other people around like chess pieces. Some of us would call that a lot more.

            The contempt for [the rest of] humanity you express strongly indicates that this would make you happy.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Mary –

            My last comment appears to have been eaten, but the gist of it is that you appear to be taking my arguments seriously.

            They’re not meant that way.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        @Thegnskald: Honestly, the attractiveness test seems a little useless given the rest of your plan.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Part of making the plan work is to make people desire to stick with it. Leveraging the halo effect requires that the most likely objectors will be taken less seriously. More, most objection will probably fade over time, so keeping pictures around over the early opponents will get them taken less seriously, as well.

          And also, it would produce tangible and visible progress that ordinary people will be able to look back and see.

          Of course the attractiveness test itself should probably be a state secret for maximal effectiveness. I might have to round up everyone who read this to make sure things progress according to plan.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            Good bloody answer. Wasn’t expecting that.

          • Thegnskald says:

            That wasn’t my real reason.

            My real reason for including it is that it made the whole plan feel slightly more evil.

            That was my rationalization after the fact when challenged.

            Which should suggest part of the reason I tend to be dismissive of argument as a mode of arriving at truth.

        • quaelegit says:

          So is intelligence (and every other measurement except fertility and perhaps health). (I think) He’s setting up a system to move the population closer to “perfect humans*” according to predefined characteristics regardless of how those characteristics influence the system.

          (*I’m strongly reminded of the gold people in Gardians of the Galaxy, probably just because my sister got me to watch that recently.)

      • Adam says:

        Intellectual and moral failure are not mutually exclusive.

        More to the point, mistake vs conflict does not prescribe a fixed approach to all problems. It is specifically about the current state of political affairs. One can say that Hitler was morally repugnant while still being a mistake theorist in American politics.

        I also struggled with that question, by the way. I think that it is possible for two equally intelligent, equally moral people to have differing opinions about the ideal role of government. Ultimately, I decided on “moral” as a proxy for differing ideologies and/or utility functions, even though I would identify as a mistake theorist.

        • mdet says:

          Seconding this.

          If it’s the year 1840, and I am a slave in the American South, I think the Conflict view is entirely appropriate. It really is an all or nothing, existential conflict.

          But if it’s 2018 and the issue is police brutality, there is no “pro-police brutality” side. Everyone agrees in principle that law enforcement should respect people’s liberties and refrain from excessive force, regardless of race of class. The real question is what, if any, policies are needed to reduce incidents of misconduct and abuse, what resources are needed to implement these policies, and what the trade offs may be. Treating this as a Conflict issue would be needlessly escalating.

          I think there are very few issues in the 21st century US that are enough of an existential, all or nothing disagreement to warrant a Conflict view. Encouraging people to adopt Mistake view would greatly improve public discourse.

          I do also think people seem inclined to prefer one over the other though, so maybe I need to keep thinking this through.

          Edit: Nornagest reconciles this below. Even Mistake viewpoint can allow for self-defense when one is being threatened with imminent physical violence

          • Doctor Mist says:

            there is no “pro-police brutality” side. Everyone agrees in principle that law enforcement should respect people’s liberties and refrain from excessive force

            But isn’t your claim itself an example of a mistake-theory viewpoint? If P is the proposition that “law enforcement should respect people’s liberties etc.”, I’m willing to posit at least for the sake of argument that everybody believes P, but I’m pretty sure that there are lots of people who believe P but do not agree that everybody believes P. If I’m right, I also don’t believe those people can be convinced by evidence.

          • mdet says:

            I’m having a bit of trouble parsing what you mean, but what I was trying to say is that “Let’s do some studies and then hold a slave vs slaveowner debate team regarding whether chattel slavery is a good idea” was NOT a viable option in 1840, but “Let’s do some studies and have a debate over whether civil asset forfeiture is a good idea” is a very viable option in 2018. And I say this to agree with Nornagest that everyone’s going to view a gun to their head or a whip at their back as a conflict, and that this doesn’t contradict preferring Mistake view generally

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            I disagree – I think you have to apply an at least partially conflict-theoretic model to understand the issue of police brutality in America.

            Concern about police brutality (specifically, concern about police brutality against black people) is a really strong blue-tribe signal, and as a result a lot of the red tribe will actively seek out excuses to oppose any measure with the stated goal of reducing police brutality (C.F. Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio).

            So while it may be sort of true that there isn’t a pro-police-brutality side, there’s absolutely an anti-anti-police-brutality side, and if you want to understand where it comes from and work out strategies to reduce it, you need to factor in active red-tribe tribal hostility, not just honest mistakes and differences of opinion about what will and won’t work.

          • mdet says:

            I agree with you that a lot of Red Tribe people are functionally anti-anti-police brutality. But that’s exactly the reason I say Mistake approach works here.

            I personally think abuse & misconduct by law enforcement is a significant problem, at least in some places, and that it is sometimes but not always explicitly racially motivated. But I think Black Lives Matter’s biggest failing is that it’s much easier to oppose a protest than it is to oppose a specific policy. I know several Red Tribe people who will personally complain about how civil forfeiture is ridiculous, and how the police will set up speed traps and use ticket quotas and such in a deliberate attempt to extort revenue (BLM: “If that’s what they can get away with in a neighborhood of well-off, well connected, perhaps-coincidentally-White people, what do you think they can get away with in a neighborhood of poor, not-well-connected, perhaps-coincidentally-Black people?”). And yet they vigorously oppose BLM because BLM is Blue Tribe aligned they don’t like people stirring up protests and social unrest. If BLM had set up a Mistake Theory style policy debate where they proposed policies that would make it harder for law enforcement to seize personal property and ramp up ticketing for revenue, then these Red Tribe people I know would’ve been forced to either acknowledge their agreement or bend over backwards to explain why they oppose something only when liberals say it.

            The Black Lives Matter controversies depended so much on Conflict Theory mode that I don’t think most Red Tribe people even had policy-level arguments prepared, and in at least the cases that I know, explicitly agreed with the policy-level arguments.

          • Nornagest says:

            Is civil asset forfeiture even on BLM’s radar? The only people I ever hear complaining about it are libertarians, though not always right-libertarians.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            You would think it would be, since a fair number of the cases seem to match a fact pattern of:

            -Racial Minority is stopped, and a search of their vehicle reveals a large sum of money.

            -There is no actual evidence of criminal activity beyond the oddity of a large sum of money, so the money is seized and a CAF case started.

            -Police attitude is basically that no one has legitimate reasons to be carrying thousands of dollars in cash in their car if they’re not up to SOMETHING shady.

            I suspect it is, but it is generally lumped in under the mantle of “racist policing”, not “bad policy.” which gets right back to the framing issue. The problem isn’t the bad laws or the incentives created by the combination of CAF laws and seizures being used to fund departments! The problem is that the police departments are full of bad people who are out to hurt us, and quibbling about this or that incentive or law is missing the forest for the trees!

          • mdet says:

            Black Lives Matter’s position was usually weak-manned as “Racist cops are always shooting innocent Black people”, but most BLM supporters / activists that I’ve heard from actually focus on the fact that police use things like stop & frisk, civil forfeiture, and ticketing for low-level municipal violations to extort money from poor people, which builds an adversarial relationship between civilians and the police, and it’s usually when the fed-up citizens refused to be harassed that the cops escalate to physical violence & shootings.

            Even as a Black person, I agree that BLM overstated the role that race plays (significant, but not the whole story). And I think BLM did next to nothing to dispel that weak-manned perception of them.

          • VolumeWarrior says:

            ^See Motte and Bailey

            BLM does not want to become embroiled in statistical discrimination or discussion of P(crime|race)

          • mdet says:

            @VolumeWarrior Men are many times more likely to commit sexual assault than women, and yet I think much of the readership here will agree with me when I say that this does not come close to a justification for abandoning the presumption of innocence, or harassing men as sexual predators generally.

            But let’s get back to Conflict vs Mistake Theory

          • VolumeWarrior says:

            I think you’d have to be on several levels of PC wokeness to suggest that law enforcement treat men and women as equally likely to commit crimes. Such an approach necessarily leads to more crime, or at least squandered resources.

            But obviously you can do this and treat people as innocent until proven guilty. Case in point – police probably already “unfairly” target men for crimes, and yet men in general don’t walk around feeling like their rights are violated.

          • JPNunez says:

            I am not so sure there is no “pro police brutality” side in america.

            There is a lot of people who are just fine with the way police behave right now.

          • mdet says:

            @VolumeWarrior I am entirely fine with a higher police presence in high crime neighborhoods. What I’m talking about is stories like Miami Gardens, where an investigation revealed that, in a city of 110,000 people, police made an average of 20,000 stops & searches per year that didn’t lead to arrests, including many thousands of children under 10 and elderly people. The investigation also found that the police department was receiving federal grants to fund “overtime details to support the zero tolerance policy program”, and emails from the police captain encouraging officers to stop, search, and arrest as many people as possible in order to keep the federal dollars coming. A local shop owner even set up security cameras, not to catch shop owners, but to record dozens of instances of police harassing and assaulting his employees and customers.

            It is also true that this city has a high crime rate, which would justify a high police presence to keep residents safe (but wouldn’t justify randomly arresting people to bring in more funding). And cases this bad may be outliers, although I’ve read about several other places that sound like they have similar issues, as well as places that overcame these problems. From where I’m standing, it’s seems less like BLM talks about police abuse to dodge discussions about Black neighborhoods’ high crime rates than it does that their opponents bring up high crime rates as if it justifies abuse by police.

            To stay on topic, a BLM that took a Mistake Theory approach would probably call on the police chiefs who reformed Dallas & Cincinnati’s police departments to debate people like Heather MacDonald who argue for more aggressive policing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Miami Gardens is a crappy and corrupt town in a county known for its corruption. It’s also 75% black and that includes police chiefs Matthew Boyd (retired due to the stop-and-frisk issues), Paul Miller (resigned due to same), Steven Johnson (ousted after being caught in a prostitution sting) Antonio Brooklen (resigned due to sexual harassment scandal), Cynthia Machinac (interim, did not apply for chief job… probably a wise move), and Delma Noel-Pratt (current). Both the mayor and the only former mayor (the town was only incorporated in 2003) are black as well. So it really fails to fit the BLM narrative.

          • mdet says:

            *very late reply*

            Well that goes along with what I was saying. That there was a side of BLM that seemed to only be saying “White cops shoot Black kids” (conflict), and there was a side that was pushing for race-neutral policy reforms to limit police abuse & misconduct more generally (mistake). Like this tweet from prominent activist DeRay McKesson where he speaks out on behalf of a White victim of police brutality to emphasize that his desired reforms will help people of all colors (this isn’t to say that McKesson has never been “race baity”, just an example of BLM activists advocating for White victims IIRC even before the story made it on mainstream outlets like NYT).
            BLM’s failings were, in my book, the result of the former, conflicty group overshadowing the latter. Like Scott‘s post on how everyone’s heard of PETA’s stunts and controversies while no one’s heard of their smaller, but much more reasonable & agreeable sibling Vegan Outreach, precisely because controversial stunts grab headlines in a way that agreeableness doesn’t.

      • Nornagest says:

        There’s nothing in mistake theory that says you can’t shoot at intellectual failures if they’re threatening you.

        • Thegnskald says:


          I am just saying you don’t have the right to pollute the gene pool, any more than you have the right to poop in a public pool. Your desire to reproduce doesn’t outweigh the right of children to have the best possible genetics, or, likewise, to deprive our collective descendants of the benefits of this policy.

          Nobody is killing you or rounding you up for slaughter. You are being deprived of the means to pollute the gene pool, but they don’t have any real purpose beyond that anyways. You can even have testosterone or estrogen treatments if you want, to continue to have recreative sex. Provided, of course, you can pay for them; I do recommend getting the highest paying job available, as the importance of providing for the next generations does make substantial taxation necessary.

          • Nornagest says:

            And that’s the kind of rationalization that I could argue against if it was coming from some anonymous wacko on the Internet, but if it’s coming from the state doctor advancing on your son with a pair of scissors and a steely glint in his eye, it’s still threatening.

          • Thegnskald says:

            And that is what Conflict Mode feels like.

            And why not matter how good an argument I make as to why this is the best policy, I won’t convince you. Because this isn’t a situation in which there is a compromise, there isn’t a mistake to correct; it is two value systems in conflict, only one of which can succeed.

          • Nornagest says:

            The point I’m trying to make is that if you’ve created a direct, imminent threat to me or mine, it no longer matters whether it comes out of an intellectual mistake or an intractable clash of values. The threat is there now and I have to deal with it. That’s not Conflict Theory, it’s just conflict.

            This of course means that anyone who believes in an intractable clash of values has a strong incentive to discover or manufacture such a threat, but I don’t think that’s much of a revelation in light of the rhetoric we’ve all been hearing for the last couple years.

          • Thegnskald says:

            The threat is only meaningful insofar as you think that there is something being threatened.

            Somebody from our hypothetical society would conclude you have a bizarre and antisocial obsession with the sexual reproduction of your children.

            Sort of like how people who oppose gun ownership think gun owners have a bizarre and antisocial obsession with guns.

            The “threat” comes entirely from your belief in the rightful state of the world, not from anything logical. I can make excellent logical arguments for why such a society is better, why reproduction as a right is misguided, why our obsession with our sexual organs is a primitive and backward view of things. None of those arguments will sway you.

            Conflict in the sense used here isn’t a personality trait, and neither is Mistake. You just don’t have anything under threat that you value. It is easy to be rational when you have no strong preference for the outcome.

            There are people with what I would call useless values, like their sports team or favored politician winning, who go into Conflict mode over that. They aren’t Conflict people, they just have values that make it hard for an outsider to understand why they are getting passionate about something the outsider puts no value in.

            Maybe you have fewer of those. Probably not. Most people have values most other people don’t understand, they would be boring if they didn’t.

            Mostly we don’t shit on each other’s values, except maybe in sports or politics, where that is part of the game.

            But I have zero use for another reason for people to feel superior to their outgroup, which is what this Conflict-Mistake nonsense is clearly getting used for.

          • Nornagest says:

            I still don’t buy it.

            You’re forcing a conflict and calling it an example of Conflict Theory. But the only reason an actual conflict is forced in your thought experiment is because you’ve declared yourself ruler of the world and decided to implement your eugenics scheme over my objections, which is outside the taxonomy’s scope altogether; it has nothing to do with the arguments you make or the reasons for our disagreement, which could still be framed either way. You keep going on about how nothing will sway me, but by the framing of your thought experiment I can’t be swayed; it becomes a very different scenario if your eugenics-obsessed world conqueror sits all his victims down and politely tries to get them on board with his scheme.

            Is conflict inevitable if the same values belonged to a random blogger? A cult? A faraway country? No.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Cool. I am not the ruler of the world.

            However, my new Eugenics Party is gaining hugely in popularity, and it looks like I, and other members of my party, will win the next US election in a landslide. All the other first world nations have already implemented these policies. Our first order of business is a constitutional amendment to put the plan into place, and it looks like we have the popular support to get it. You are being called a backwards troglodyte in popular media for opposing this clearly desirable plan, and people scoff at the opposition as being among the undesired 80% or 20%.

            (Substitute your own country if you don’t live in the US)

            It doesn’t change anything. Ruler of the planet was just a convenient way of avoiding a backstory.

          • Nornagest says:

            Same issue, just with more gingerbread around it. I’m not really getting through to you, am I?

          • Thegnskald says:

            I believe the feeling is mutual.

            Because the central point of this is that this is what “Conflict” feels like from the inside.

            Arguing that nobody bothered to convince you is missing the point. Maybe they did; maybe they had excellent arguments you were unable to rebut, but you know there is something deeply wrong with their logic you just don’t have the ability to pin down.

            Maybe they just don’t care about your opinion; maybe the idea is fashionable and has no logical basis.

            It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that it conflicts with your values in a deep and important way, such that it is impossible not to see the movement as evil, even if the individuals in it aren’t.

            If you are getting caught up in trying to argue it is fight back – you are right! It is!

            But you aren’t in Mistake mode anymore at that point, not if you are remotely serious in fighting back against a movement that doesn’t care what arguments you make, or has better arguments than you do. And trying to shoehorn fighting a war of what comes down to ideology into the “Mistake” bucket because, no, really, THIS value is actually important, is missing what Mistake and Conflict are about.

          • Nornagest says:

            No, the important thing is not that it “conflicts with my values in a deep and honest way”. It’s possible to imagine lots of things, including this one, that deeply conflict with my values in implementation but nonetheless are not irreconcilable even in theory. It might not be worth my time to engage them; I might not have the knowledge or the cleverness to do so successfully; or they may be presenting such an imminent threat that I need to start thinking about physical self-defense. None of that matters. Mistake Theory isn’t challenged by those quibbles, and neither is it challenged by this absurd eugenics scheme. The only reason it even appears to be is the ambiguity introduced by the word “conflict”.

            If there was a Demon Party in American politics, populated by literal demons complete with horns and tails and negative utility functions, then I might be willing to entertain Conflict Theory as the only possible solution. But demons aren’t real.

          • David Shaffer says:

            I think this could go either way, Conflict or Mistake. Conflict and Mistake Theories are views about what the proper set of tactics are when facing a political disagreement, not views about “is this really bad”. Mistake Theory says that your opponents have similar high-level goals as you, have made a mistake about the best way to get to your mutual goals, and thus are best dealt with by helping them figure that out, at which point they will be allies. Conflict Theory says that your opponents have different high-level goals, making compromise impossible; you need to crush them. Scott’s point about it viewing intelligence as largely irrelevant or even suspect suggests that Conflict Theory sometimes also believes that the way to reach your high-level goals is fairly easy to figure out; after all, if politics is riddled with true enemies, you don’t need to posit difficult trade-offs to explain why political progress is difficult.

            So which applies to facing the God-Emperor Thegnskald and his castration/ludicrous taxation program? Whichever keeps my balls in my sack and my money in my wallet. If I can have a rational debate with the Emperor, explain how CRISPR should allow us to perform eugenics without having to mutilate anyone and increasing economic productivity should allow us to support the well-bred elite without having to resort to high taxes and the dead-weight loss and immiseration they bring, and he agrees to drop the program, then sure, Mistake Theory works fine. If the only way to get him to stop is to forcibly remove him from power and/or kill him, then we’re in Conflict Theory territory.

            Whether something is a conflict or mistake is a function of your opponent’s terminal values, not of how horrible the things are that they’re doing. If you can talk the Emperor down, but have to resort to violence to force one of his viziers to stop requiring small bribes, then the first case is Mistake and the second is Conflict, for all that avoiding castration is as important as important gets, and avoiding paying a small bribe isn’t a big deal.

          • 1soru1 says:

            > Mistake Theory says that your opponents have similar high-level goals as you, have made a mistake about the best way to get to your mutual goals, and thus are best dealt with by helping them figure that out, at which point they will be allies.

            That’s not necessarily true; mistake theory equally applies to people with dissimilar top-level goals who are mistaken about the incompatibility of those goals, and thus best dealt with by helping them figure that out, at which point they will be neutral.

            The ones you do need to worry about are those with inherently conflicting goals who are mistaken in how to best go about achieving them; pointing out errors in the blueprint for a killer robot is unwise.

          • Jack Lecter says:


            I realize you weren’t actually talking to me, but:

            Maybe they did; maybe they had excellent arguments you were unable to rebut, but you know there is something deeply wrong with their logic you just don’t have the ability to pin down.

            How do I know this exactly? I can imagine having a really strong, really vivid intuition. I’ve had them before. They often serve as an excellent early indicator that someone’s argument is flawed in a way I haven’t consciously noticed yet. Usually, they provide hints as to where the flaw is, and I can find it on my own. I also have access to the internet, so if I need to I can ask other people for help. I can even google the argument and see if anyone’s got an coherent rejoinder.

            But here’s the thing: sometimes my intuitions turn out to be wrong. And if I try all the things mentioned above and still can’t find any flaw in their logic, that strongly implies this is one of those times. Which are kind of frequent, really- my pre-conscious systems send up error messages all the freakin’ time, often just because they’ve pattern-matched a perception to something in memory, often because of some surface similarity. Often, I mistake the inner voice concerned with prudence for the voice concerned with truth.

            Are you different? When you have strong feelings, do they always turn out to be right?

            or has better arguments than you do.

            I usually take this to be a sign that the arguments are correct. Or at least, not incorrect in a way knowable by me.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Are you different? When you have strong feelings, do they always turn out to be right?

            Impossible to say. I have a problem, in that I can argue any position better than just about anyone else.

            Discovering I could do the same thing with not-my-true-beliefs has greatly reduced my confidence in strong argument as a means of arriving at Truth, which is why I have shifted my emphasis from “arguing about Truth” to “arguing for the purpose of getting other people to realize that argument isn’t a means of arriving at Truth.”

            For the broader Mistake-argument people: As the leader of the eugenics program, and a Mistake person myself, I have listened to your arguments, and modified the program such that the stated concerns with the program, apart from the existence of the program itself, have been resolved.

            In response to complaints about the lack of a welfare net, we are going to institute sustenance-level UBI. Taxes will be going up to 75% to make up for it, and we’ll run a deficit for a few years, but our calculations suggest that the return on investment in the program as a whole will mean that everything will pay for itself within the next two generations, at which point we will lower taxes as it becomes possible.

            In response to the complaints about medical care, we’re instituting a single-payer healthcare system. Conditions which are too expensive will be put on a lottery system; we can’t afford to provide infinite medical care for every person, obviously, but for routine care and ordinary situations, the medical system will cover you. For extraordinary situations, everybody has an equal chance of coverage.

            In response to the complaints that sex is a basic human necessity, non-reproductive members of society will be given hormone treatments free of charge, and we’ll look into research into permanent sterilization techniques that are less invasive.

            Our goals are now aligned, yes? You’re not being an irrational Conflict person who refuses to compromise, are you?

            Or maybe we can stop using “Conflict” as another word for the outgroup?

          • 1soru1 says:

            > Our goals are now aligned, yes?

            No: you appear to have a core goal ‘increase the score of the average human on this unspecified genetic test’ which I am kind of skeptical about, but not really deeply opposed to.

            Then you add on a bunch of things that go directly against the typical consensus goal of ‘people get to live well’.

            There are two reasonable explanations for that second point; you are mistaken about how much those two goals conflict, because you don’t care much about them, and so make mistakes when thinking about them. Or you are signalling to your side in the conflict how much you value your core goal by making extravagant trade-offs of things you don’t value.

            If you have plausible set of goals and power (i.e. not ‘kill all the humans’ and ‘immensely popular ruler’) and can operate in mistake mode, then you can be compromised with.

            Wheras if you stick to conflict mode, a disagreement about which end of an egg to crack first will only end if one side defeats the other.

            This example seems relevant. For once, the answer to a question in a headline is not ‘no’ but ‘see above argument’.

            The reasonable response to a goal of ‘make Germany great’ is ‘hey, go for it’. The problem comes when someone says ‘to show how I value German greatness more than them, then I will do what they will not’.

          • Mary says:

            Your desire to muck around with people doesn’t outweigh the right of children to have the best possible genetics as determined by a process much older than you, or, likewise, to deprive our collective descendants of the benefits of this policy.

            Your delusion that you are somehow exempt from the condemnation you pour on mankind in order to be taken seriously shows that you are inherently irrational. Therefore you are mistake, all the way.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Mary –

            What, so evolution has moral primacy to you? You are morally obligated to have as many children as possible?

            Such rustic and backwards beliefs are exactly why we need a comprehensive solution, so our future isn’t an endless cycle of slow decline, as medical costs slowly accelerate exactly because medicine keeps getting better; the alternative isn’t what we have always had, but in our modern society, a form of dysgenics, in which people who would have died two centuries ago are kept alive, and their children’s children’s children are kept alive in turn.

            Such genetic selfishness will be the ruination of our society. We must act now!

          • Thegnskald says:

            1soru1 –

            Your “consensus” objective there is doing the heavy lifting, and can’t support the weight.

            Supposing the consensus were on my side, would you join the consensus? If you would maintain your current beliefs, do you transform from a Mistake theorist to a Conflict theorist, based, not on the way you approach problems, but by your relationship to the consensus goals of society?

            If what other people believe can flip you from one to the other, then the classification isn’t saying anything about you.

          • 1soru1 says:

            > Supposing the consensus were on my side, would you join the consensus?

            Back in the 1930s, it pretty much was. I suppose if I was brought up then I likely would likely have followed it; if you transported current-me back to then, I could probably do a reasonable job of explaining some of their key mistakes.

            > If what other people believe can flip you from one to the other, then the classification isn’t saying anything about you.

            Huh? Scott said ‘theory’, I prefer ‘strategy’, but you seem to be assuming ‘caste’.

            A fact about the way you are thinking and/or acting in a given set of circumstances changes if, given a change in circumstances, you think or act differently.

            A consistent fact about me is that I _prefer_ a mistake strategy, and would almost always recommend trying that _first_.

          • Mary says:

            What, so evolution has moral primacy to you?

            My, you beg the question. I stated it was preferable to YOU. For instance, it’s not so silly. It doesn’t come up with non-sequiturs like this:

            You are morally obligated to have as many children as possible?

            nor does it indulge in ad hominems like this:

            Such rustic and backwards beliefs are exactly why we need a comprehensive solution,

            Especially since first you have to establish there is a problem to solve. Given that you are one of the human beings you are abusing, your opinion is worthless — obviously, if you’re wrong, and still more obviously if you’re right, given the necessary value of your opinion by your own rules.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Bloody phone interface. Just deleted the comment I wrote instead of editing it.


            My argument here is that the worldview in which the two strategies are personality types – or castes – is entirely inappropriate and just amounts to “boo irrational [outgroupers]”, which you can already see happening in the comments.

            You are welcome to try out your mistake view against mine with key faults, however. My point being that conflict is a rational strategy under some circumstances, it should prove entertaining to see if I can argue the case well.

            Mary –

            Espousing natural evolution is to ask for exactly what I describe. It isn’t ad-hominem to say you want people to have as many children as possible; that is the long-term result of evolution. We are in a fortunate position as a society right now, because evolution hasn’t caught up with our resources, but evolution is a blind idiot god, and we get more of what we get more of – which means people who are biologically inclined to have as many children as possible, will. They will outcompete those of us who do not.

            We can’t fight evolution, but we can constrain it, make it work for us rather than against us. It is simply mad to let a blind optimization process continue unsupervised, especially when we are what is being optimized; we must decide what gets optimized, or else that decision will be made for us.

            Which society would you rather live in – one in which all human values are sacrificed in favor of the biological imperative of “Make more of yourselves” until we run out of resources, or one in which we have some say in the future of our species?

            Futurists talk of genetic engineering, but they have spoken of that nearly as long as physicists have spoken of fusion power. Bluntly, I don’t think we are smart enough; we are talking about the source code of the human being, undocumented and filled with more lines of dead code than functional. It is a possibly impossible technical challenge, coupled to a possibly impossible ethical one – we must be willing to accept failures in order to achieve success, which to many is a terrible thing to countenance. More, the same people who now object to this sensible proposal will object in turn to mandatory genetic editing, even should we manage it, because it requires the same sorts of aacrifices, losing out on the opportunity to conceive the old-fashioned way, and requiring the same sort of sacrifices on the part of the people.

            Something must be done, and of the two options we have before us to avert humanitarian disaster, both pose the same ethical concerns, but only one is feasible with current technology, or indeed known to be feasible at all.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Is this approach to social policy an intellectual or moral failure

        That entirely depends on whether my four wives come from the top 25% of the top 80% of women, or if they’re randomly distributed among the top 80%.

      • John Schilling says:

        It would be a monumentally huge Easy Mistake to implement a eugenics program by means of castration. Or even permanent sterilization, now that we’ve got so many alternatives to random in vivio fertilization to work with and outright genetic engineering on the horizon. If that’s what you’re doing, eugenics is almost certainly not your true goal and pursuing a Conflict almost certainly is.

        To the extent that moral failures exist, pursuing conflict for the sake of conflict is one of them.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s not so much eugenics, come to think of it, as a huge societal replacement. It’s implementing ant/bee society (the few reproductively active agents supported by the labour of the mass of non-reproducing workers/others) instead of human society (anyone can reproduce).

          That is creating a new society, whether it will be a better/superior one remains to be seen.

  12. petealexharris says:

    If I had to assign a political axis that lumped Marxists and fascists together (yes, I think “alt-right” is weasel wording for fascist, sue me) I’d go for “authoritarian” which is usually contrasted with “libertarian”.

    Now, that use of the word “libertarian” as one end of a political axis is not the same as “Libertarian” used as a political identity, but still, it’s suggestive. The Libertarians end up on the opposite end from the Marxists and the fascists.

    So, is authoritarianism inherently favourable to conflict theorists? The idea that people will and should be made to do what the winners of a conflict want, and if they want to do otherwise they have to win instead? That telling the Great Leader when he’s making a mistake is disloyal rather than helpful?

    It’s a pity Left-libertarian wasn’t a political option in the survey, to get more nuanced data from us lefties who might have chosen that, but had to pick liberal or social democratic instead.

    • Lucas Silveira says:

      “So, is authoritarianism inherently favourable to conflict theorists?”

      I suppose so. “No problem with authoritarianism as long as he who rules is one of us” sort of thing. Who are in charge and where they come from would be more important than their policies.

      • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

        It appears to me that as presented, both mistake theory and conflict theory are authoritarianism-friendly. The former leans towards technocratic authoritarianism–Brave New World, if you will–while the latter is attracted to totalitarianism, 1984-style.

        Democracy is actually a highly counterintuitive political system–I like to think of it as a sophisticated “social technology” for introducing accountability into government–that only blossomed in the industrial era, and relies on a broad implicit understanding and acceptance of a large collection of fairly complex and non-obvious social ideas (pluralism, negative liberty, the “marketplace of ideas”, and so on). In contrast, mistake theory (“leave it to the wise ruler who knows much more than me to make the decisions”) and conflict theory (“defeat and subjugate the evil other”) are derivatives of age-old instincts about power that most people have no trouble grasping and following.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          In contrast, mistake theory (“leave it to the wise ruler who knows much more than me to make the decisions”)

          That’s not mistake theory. That’s having no opinion at all.

          • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

            In practice, most “mistake theorists” necessarily rely on trusted authority figures (usually scientists) to provide the “facts” on which they base their conclusions about the “correct” policy. A few (Scott, for example) are scientifically literate enough to grapple with the data and analysis behind the “facts”, but for the rest, I believe my analogy between those who trust technocratic wisdom and those who trust royal (or perhaps clerical) wisdom is reasonably apt.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think it is a mistake (ha) to see this taxonomy as being primarily about how to actually solve problems. Seriously grappling with the logic of political issues is incredibly difficult, and so is seriously fighting for a cause. Most people do neither. But even if you never attend a march or research an issue in your life, I still think there’s a meaningful difference between the mental framing of a Conflict vs a Mistake question, and that that framing informs the way you think and act about the problem, whoever you ended up outsourcing your object-level opinion to.

    • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

      I really don’t see how you can take Marxism to necessarily imply authoritarianism, that seems as silly as claiming that capitalism necessarily implies Pinochet-style military dictatorships. There’s plenty of counterexamples of fairly hardcore Marxist anti-authoritarian movements, from the Spanish anarchists to the IWW.

      • Anthony says:

        There are very, very few examples of actual lasting anti-authoritarian Marxist governments. Unless you want to count the more left-wing social democracies (ie Scandinavia of the 70s, Costa Rica, Uruguay) as Marxist, which is a stretch.

        Meanwhile there are plenty of non-authoritarian capitalist democracies in the present and the past two centuries.

      • Yakimi says:

        Were the Spanish anarchists Marxists, let alone “hardcore Marxists”? I thought European anarchism owed its existence as an independent tendency to Bakunin’s expulsion from the First International by Marx.

        • Michael Handy says:

          Uhh, sort of. The Catalonia Anarchists, at least, were essentially Council Communists with a Syndicalist and anti-state leaning. They took Marx’s base analysis as correct. They were not Vanguardist, though, which is what people tend to think of when they hear “Marxist”

          Even Bakunin was essentially Marxist in his economic analysis, as this quote on his reaction to “Das Kapital” shows

          This work will need to be translated into French, because nothing, that I know of, contains an analysis so profound, so luminous, so scientific, so decisive, and if I can express it thus, so merciless an expose of the formation of bourgeois capital and the systematic and cruel exploitation that capital continues exercising over the work of the proletariat.

    • DocKaon says:

      Authoritarianism makes perfect sense if you’re a mistake theorist. If there is truly one right answer then it’s okay for an authoritarian to force people to accept that right answer. If you’re a conflict theorist then you see that people have different values and interests and forcing one answer is going to hurt somebody. So you have to accept negotiation and compromise to achieve an acceptable solution.

    • Deiseach says:

      yes, I think “alt-right” is weasel wording for fascist, sue me

      I wouldn’t sue you, just point out that while all Nazis may be fascists, not all Fascists are Nazis 🙂 So are you saying “alt-right = Fascist” or “alt-right = Nazi”?

    • Nornagest says:

      So, is authoritarianism inherently favourable to conflict theorists?

      I intuitively want to say “yes”, but I’m not sure I trust my intuition here. Elsewhere in these comments there’s some discussion of treating a social problem as a disease vs. treating a social problem as a battle, and while the former’s clearly the more mistake-theorist approach, I think there’s a strong case that it’s also the more authoritarian: the battle framing at least grants agency to your opponents. And you can lose a battle, while a disease only stops being a disease when you cure it.

      …I’m echoing Foucault here, aren’t I? Never thought that’d happen.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      “alt-right” is just Richard Spencer’s white nationalism, which is far more concerned with race than with style of government. They want a white ethnostate. I don’t see why their white ethnostate would have to be fascist or authoritarian rather than a social democracy.

      • Null42 says:

        Alt-right is still somewhat undefined; the media uses it to mean white nationalist, but it used to have a wider range of meanings including Death Eaters/the-banned-thing-that-starts-with-n (this is really confusing to new readers BTW), Bannon-style civic nationalism, monarchism, some libertarians, and a few things I’m sure the people here could explain to me. Because of the history of the blog, I think quite a few of them read it and commented as ‘alt-right’. I doubt that many actual Spencerians would be commenting on a Jewish guy’s blog except to troll.

        And yes, Spencer has advocated for universal healthcare.

        • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

          To be honest, the same paragraph that says «it is taboo to write some words starting with n and referring to some kinds of reactionary though» continues to go «If you want to talk about Mencius Moldbug, call him Mencius Moldbug».

          Calling (some) Death Eaters «people who agree with Mencius Moldbug» is exactly what Scott Alexander asked to do instead of using the banned word, it just didn’t catch on.

    • Null42 says:

      Isn’t this basically the Nolan chart and the political compass you see on all those memes now? Red quadrant and blue quadrant, near the top.

  13. dlr says:

    I was surprised at the low correlation you reported between IQ and financial success. I would have thought it would be much higher. If .15 is the actual correlation between those two things in the real world, what is everyone so excited about IQ for ?

    I wonder if the low correlation found is because a high percentage of SSC readers are still in college. Seems like removing the students, since they aren’t really earning money yet, would show the IQ/financial success relationship much more accurately.

    • paradigmshiv says:

      My initial impression was that this blog is heavily skewed toward the higher ends of both IQ and financial success, so there’s going to be a lot more variability than in the general population, where IQ and financial success are established to be pretty strongly correlated.

      Then I looked at the survey results, and I suspect that a lot of people are lying about their IQ, and my feeling is that people who took the survey are more likely to exaggerate their IQ than their income. This is assuming IQ is self-reported without any proof (I didn’t take the survey).

      You do also have a point about people being in school. The second most reported income level in the results is 0.

      • Aftagley says:

        Then I looked at the survey results, and I suspect that a lot of people are lying about their IQ,

        I don’t remember the exact open thread where this was discussed, but apparently a bunch of people put in their IQ tests from out-of-date MENSA exams (Cattell IIIB ) which routinely return results that are far in excess of what we consider normal IQ results (those from Stanford-Binet ).

        The example I remember from the thread was someone who thought they had an IQ of 170 realizing they were more than likely actually in the 130 range.

    • vV_Vv says:

      IQ is normally distributed, income and wealth follow Pareto distributions. This is because there are “rich get richer” and “winner takes all” feedback mechanisms that make wealth accumulation exponential past a certain point.

      Therefore, the Pearson correlation coefficient between IQ and income or wealth, which measures linear correlation, can’t be very high. I suppose that their Spearman rank correlation coefficient will be greater.

      For instance, Bill Gates’ net worth is about 500,000 times larger the net worth of the average American of his age. Bill Gates’ IQ is most certainly larger than the average American IQ, but not 500,000 times larger.

  14. dlr says:

    Which answer corresponded to Conflict Theory and Mistake Theory on the Nazis and the Gay Marriage questions ?

    • ragnarrahl says:

      “Gays get to marry” “nazis win” are conflict theory.

      Other answer is mistake theory.

      I’m amused by the thought of the gay Nazis winning marriage now.

      • bbeck310 says:

        I’m amused by the thought of the gay Nazis winning marriage now.

        Isn’t that the Milo Y position?

        • Null42 says:

          He wasn’t a fascist, just a libertarian who really, really enjoyed riling up the social-justice left for fun and profit. Mostly profit, I suspect.

      • vV_Vv says:

        I’m amused by the thought of the gay Nazis winning marriage now.

        Well, Ernst Röhm, the leader of the SA, didn’t get to marry, but he was a known homosexual, and this didn’t damage his standing with the Nazis or his personal friendship with Hitler. Of course, Nazis being Nazis, he was eventually murdered when Hitler decided to purge the SA.

  15. peterispaikens says:

    The political disagreement questions may not be that informative because wording for the 4 options provided for the political disagreement questions pretty much presumes the “mistake” policy, requiring people with “political conflict” mindset to pretty much choose something at random.

    One way to look at political disagreement that doesn’t map (at all!) to the provided answer options is that some groups aren’t “wrong” in an objective sense, they may have correct knowledge and valid arguments, but different, incompatible goals than I do. That doesn’t imply that they are stupid or evil, they may be overall decent people, but they are an opponent (for that particular political position) because of a difference in inherent values, or possibly a moral/ethical system (E.g. do ends justify the means kind of thing?).

    Also, there may well be an inherent conflict of interest – e.g. the position or policy that is best for overall society may easily be objectively bad for them (or me) personally or for a group (“tribe”?) they/I belong to. There’s a deliberate choice between advancing the globally optimal policy and advancing the policy that’s best for themselves or a (sub-)group they identify with – no matter how they choose, there’s no *mistake* involved, both choices are understandable. And in such a situation, someone acting in their own interest against the globally (slightly more?) optimal proposal, or, alternatively, for the globally slightly more optimal proposal that’s really bad for me/my group – I’d be inappropriate to say that they “seem pretty wrong” or that “their mistakes are understandable/incomprehensible”. They simply have interests opposed to mine. And that doesn’t make them evil in my mind, though it might be useful to loudly argue that they are.

  16. akc09 says:

    I had a tricky time with the political disagreement question too. I was in the minority that chose “moral failing,” but only because it was closer to the answer I would have given on my own, which is something like, “They weigh values differently than I do” or “We’re willing to make different trade-offs in our society.”

    e.g., Somebody else might be more willing than me to sacrifice some personal freedom for a sense of security.
    Assuming we have the same facts, I don’t know if I’d call that an intellectual failing, but it also doesn’t really seem like a “moral” failing either.

    (pulling this out of my ass:) Almost like there’s some equivalent of the Big 5, but for the values that you’d use to make policy decisions. Say… compassion, security, fairness, individual freedom, annnd I dunno, some other. And everybody’s got their own little bar graph of what’s important to them.

    Again, assuming I’m being charitable and my political opponents are as well-informed as me, they are possibly just people with a really different-looking bar graph than mine. I don’t want to jump to saying that makes them evil, or that I now need to deal with them in the ways described by Conflict Theory.

    So anyway, that’s just my “wait no, I’m more commmmplicated than that” tangent. 🙂

  17. Joeboy says:

    I’m personally really struggling with the whole concept of “conflict theory vs mistake theory”. My worldview is something like “People almost all want to be (in some sense) good / fair etc, but invariably, in manifold ways, to differing extents, we are thwarted by intellectual failures and biases that strongly favour personal intellectual / emotional / material comfort over the welfare of others. This leads to many situations where it’s important to challenge people robustly and sometimes materially.”
    Does that get me out of the conflict vs mistake dichotomy? I’d assume that to be a really normal, vanilla worldview, here at least. I guess I have some kind of conflict vs mistake quotient based on how often and in which direction I fail to apply that worldview properly in practice.

  18. Garrett says:

    Vaguely related question: Could it be that one of the reasons that Ayn Rand’s followers are mocked/disliked is that they approach things from a moral/conflict theory perspective?

    There are many different schools of thought on libertarian-like thought. One example is our own David Friedman who brings economic-like analysis to many of the questions of government. He tends to ask very on-point questions to specific arguments similar to: “what are you comparing this to?” In my head I view these as “shallow” questions or arguments. Though very incisive and demonstrate well a style of thinking, they don’t go or require going very deep or into the weeds.

    In contrast, understanding Rand’s world view requires effort. The best way to understand everything is probably the book “The Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. And after digesting 200 pages you get to the conclusion that “taxation means that people are trying to destroy your mind!” Of course, 200 pages of argumentation (possibly with errors) can show why/how that conclusion is reached. But simply telling people that “taxation is about destroying your humanity” will have you sound … kooky.

    If you get to a position via the “people haven’t considered that principle/agent problems exist with all forms of government” style of argumentation, it seems reasonable that mistake-theory is likely for you. But if you’ve come to the same conclusion from the “any other form of government is attempting to lobotomize you” form of argumentation you’d consider conflict-theory to be appropriate.

  19. Freddie deBoer says:

    Really fascinated at how there isn’t a clean left-to-right spectrum happening in most of these.

    • axiomsofdominion says:

      Really? There should be something like 10 axes for a really reliable model of the intellectual map, its just we only pay attention to 1 or 2 because our political system doesn’t allow for much nuance due to being FPTP 2 party hell.

      • Anthony says:

        I suspect if you did a PCA on people’s political opinions on a wide range of object-level positions, you’d find that, per country, PC2 was fairly small and PC3+ nearly invisible.

        I also suspect this won’t change much from countries with FPTP to PR.

      • Null42 says:

        Of course it’s R^n and you’re taking projections down to a smaller number of dimensions.

        The problem is marketing– with more than 2 axes, you can’t draw a picture anymore. The Vosem Chart had 3 axes and you never see it circulating anywhere.

        BTW, the Political Compass site has maps for a few countries with more than two parties, and they do spread out more on the map. Check out Ireland 2011:

        Or New Zealand 2017:

    • Deiseach says:

      People are complicated!

    • Aftagley says:

      I’m just eyeballing it, but it really seemed to me like the further out towards the end of the political spectrum you go, the higher the likelihood of conflict theory flourishing was.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      As I mentioned in my comment above, I’d say there’s a pretty clear liberal-to-illiberal spectrum there, that being the axis that’s relevant here. Left-right is seriously overapplied and it’s a mistake to try to fit everything into it.

    • Null42 says:

      I’m sure you’ve seen the Nolan chart and that political compass making the meme rounds with the blue, red, green, and purple quadrants? I kind of like the globalist/libertarian versus nationalist/populist axis, but even that simplifies things as there are many libertarians who followed Trump, for instance.

      I suspect conflict theory is favored by people who feel powerless, and mistake theory by people who feel powerful, or at least that the people in charge have their interests in mind. Myself, I am far, far toward the conflict-theory end, and feel pretty powerless in my personal life, so maybe that’s just personal bias. But it makes intuitive sense to me–well, if your side is in charge, of course you can be magnanimous to these poor deluded people who can’t see the rightness of your point of view, and if it isn’t, well, of course those evil jerks are trying to screw you.

      My whole life has been a series of events where I realize people smarter and more ruthless than me have used fine-sounding justifications to advance their interests, and I see this both in everyday life (examples meaningless here) and politics–rich guys throw money at think-tanks to advance economic theories and libertarian ideas that redistribute wealth upward; feminists redefine sexual assault to shift as much risk during sexual encounters as possible to men, and variously claim equality or the rights of women are the goal (the pay gap is bad but the gap in violent deaths is never mentioned); conservatives talk about small government to shift as much money as possible out of the school system; liberals look the other way at illegal immigration (hoping to eventually legalize the undocumented immigrants) and favor increased legal immigration to get more people who will vote the way they like; businesses talk about ‘excess regulation’ so they can poison and cheat people with impunity; leftists were passionate advocates of freedom of expression until they got in charge and passed hate speech laws and speech codes; have I forgotten anyone?

  20. Jiro says:

    A) In a country where homosexuality is illegal, a government clerk participates in civil disobedience and marries gay people anyway.

    What in the world does this mean?

    “Homosexuality is illegal” is not the same thing as “gay marriage is illegal”, but even assuming that you mean the latter, how in the world can a government official “marry gay people anyway”? In this context, to marry gay people means to have the government and government laws treat them as married. Are you suggesting a scenario where the government makes gay marriage illegal but if you manage to do it anyway the government will now recognize the otherwise illegal gay marriage?

    • Deiseach says:

      I took the question to mean “goes through a symbolic ritual of ‘issuing a licence means you’re married, so I’m issuing you a licence to support your Human Right Of Marriage and my right of free conscience’ to make a gesture of defiance in order to get a conversation going about changing the law”.

      You get a lot of that in religious contexts – in denominations where female ordination was not permitted before but is now, you have a lot of ‘prophetic’ types going ahead and ordaining women and claiming they are too really now ministers/bishops/whatever. Same with gay marriages – performing blessing ceremonies, going ahead with the wedding ceremony, what have you, even if the denomination does not recognise that as a valid and/or licit wedding.

      It’s the same principle as going to court to sue someone for not baking a cake for your gay wedding – sure, you could have gone to another baker, and heaven knows the wedding is not make-or-break because of the damn cake, but you want to make a point here about equal treatment and it’s just as normal and right as straight marriage and so on and so forth. Like that case of “so gay marriage is illegal in our state, your out-of-state marriage is not recognised here, legally you are single or a cohabiting couple not spouses as far as state law is concerned – but we’ll still grant you a judgement against a baker who wouldn’t bake a cake to celebrate your marriage, which remember we said does not exist as far as our state law is concerned’. What is that but pure symbolism for the sake of moral victory?

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      One person could pretend to be the other gender. If the clerk realizes that, does not tell on them and marries them anyway he is doing civil disobedience.

      I think a better example would be a bureaucrat acting as if two homosexuals in a long stable relationship are married even though they are not. For example, maybe there is an issue of insurance coverage, credit worthiness, inheritance, child custody, or some other family matter and the clerk has to take marital status into account, and the clerk makes a decision acting as if they are married.

  21. MarginalCost says:

    “all significant at such low p-values that I really don’t want to get into more fights in the comments over significance thresholds, replicate it yourself if you don’t believe me”

    Okay, so I know you mean to replicate the results of your correlations, but I first read that as asking commentators to replicate all of the fights over p-values for the sake of demonstrating what those kinds of fights are like. And my headcanon is that you envisioned a single commenter doing the back-and-forth by themselves, possibly double-blinded.

  22. Quixote says:

    I don’t think this data / question really gets at the question you want to address. The issue is that the survey asked about the people with politics you disagree with, not the sources of policies you disagree with.
    To put it in a punchy way, the people who got suckered by tobacco companies claiming smoking didn’t cause lung cancer were mistaken. The people producing the propaganda that suckered them were evil.
    The people taken in by fake stories casting doubt on the science around global warming are mistaken. The people producing the fake stories are immoral.
    The question, as I answered it, seemed to be asking me about the bulk of people on the other side. And for the most part, I think they are good folks who are less knowledgeable than I am. And I think that knowledge difference is mostly due to luck, I grew up somewhere with good schools, access to books and libraries, and my folks had the financial wherewithal to help me afford a good college.
    So even though I think the root of policy difference is conflict, I answered the question that the root of political difference is understandable error.

    • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

      To put it another way, the real divide isn’t between people who think those who disagree with them are stupid and those who think they’re evil. It’s between both of those groups and those who concede that people who disagree with them may well not be beneath them on either the intellectual or moral axes.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        One could possibly pose the original question question more fairly as, “What do you think accounts more for the difference in political views between you and your opponents?”

        • Null42 says:

          Motivated reasoning and personal interests (and of course this applies to me too even though I try to be evenhanded). So yeah, mark me down for conflict theory.

  23. Strawman says:

    (Should really have gone in the comments of the previous post, but here it goes)
    I’m worrying that we’re seeing the beginning of a transformation of the political fitness landscape from one favouring mistake theory to one favouring conflict.
    In an ecology of parties/organisations/causes competing for votes/influence/attention, I suspect we have an equilibrium both where everyone is a mistake theorist, and one where everyone is a conflict theorist.
    That a single mistake theorists would have a hard time surviving, let alone gaining any meaningful level of influence in a world of powerful, established conflict theorists seems pretty obvious, but more interestingly, a single conflict theorist would not have much luck getting attention or being taken seriously in a world dominated by mistake theorists – they would be consider immature, uncivil or just plain crazy, and if they wanted a seat at the adults’ table they would, at the very least, have to adopt most of the outward trappings of mistake theory, to the point where they would join in and make it equally difficult for the next conflict theorist that comes along.
    But suppose there is an external shock to the system (like a sudden, rapid shift in how most people get their news), and suddenly a whole lot of conflict theorists burst unto the scene all at once, now the discourse is coloured by idioms from conflict theory, conflict theory perspectives are voiced on almost all issues, and moreover, they seem to be getting a disproportionate amount of attention (perhaps because at this point they are still new, and therefore newsworthy, perhaps some, large or small part of the public had a latent preference for conflict theory they couldn’t exercise before, or simply because, due to the very low baseline of attention previously afforded conflict theory, almost any exposure would read as a jump by several orders of magnitude). Now the old guard of mistake theorists are fighting a losing battle, increasingly they will be dismissed as “low energy”, corrupt or insincere, or simply fail to get any attention at all, and the only way they can seem to recapitulate some of their lost status is by themselves adopting the rhetoric of conflict theory. Once some critical mass of conflict theorists is reached, conflict theory becomes the winning strategy. I’m not sure how society managed to dig itself out of that hole in the past, but I don’t think it was easy.
    Moreover, if Player 2 sees the world through the lens of conflict theory, you’d be making a mistake not to interpret their actions from that perspective, thereby – “he who fights monsters…” – becoming at least part conflict theorist yourself. If Player 2 views you not as someone who will thank them for the lesson once they’ve pointed out your mistakes, but as an enemy to be defeated, you should probably acknowledge that at some point they might try to, well, defeat you. If you dismiss their renewed military build-up as nothing more than the inevitable return to the status quo ante of international relations, see nothing inherently objectionable in their increasingly militaristic nationalism, and regard that itty-bitty annexation of an itty-bitty bit of a neighbouring country as a regrettable faux pas not to be repeated, history will remember you as Neville Chamberlain (i.e. the Neville less likely to defeat the dark lord).

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m going to be cynical here and say that any underdog or less popular/mainstream opinion, if they want to get a toehold, will represent their case under mistake-theory: “look, we’re all reasonable people here, just give us a hearing and make your own mind up on the facts of the matter, we can agree to disagree but nobody is going to be compelled to act against their sincere beliefs”.

      Once they’ve got the upper hand, though, then they move to conflict-theory: anyone who disagrees is a bigot [insert ‘ist’ and ‘phobe’ terms of choice] who is motivated purely by hatred and spite and cannot be reasoned with or tolerated! this is hate speech, not free speech! error has no rights! you’re either with us on the side that is good and right, or you’re an enemy to be punched!

      (I’m seeing some choice examples of this in my own country right now, but I’m too fed-up to quote any of the stupidity).

      • Null42 says:

        I’m going to be even more cynical here and say that applies to the overdog/more-mainstream positions as well.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        Once they’ve got the upper hand, though, then they move to conflict-theory: anyone who disagrees is a bigot [insert ‘ist’ and ‘phobe’ terms of choice] who is motivated purely by hatred and spite and cannot be reasoned with or tolerated!

        I’d say that both the people on the top and those on the bottom–the underdogs/weirdos and those whose dominant position is genuinely secure and mainstream–tend to be mistake theorists. People who are truly secure can afford to be benevolent…or at least, they’re unlikely to get defensive.

        It’s the ones in the middle, the ones whose beliefs are just beginning to become mainstream but are still fairly tenuous or up for debate, who tend to be aggressive conflict theorists. They’re the ones who have a motive to actively silence dissenters.

  24. Anthony says:

    I would be interested to see conflict vs mistake correlations for various object-level political positions, not just overall tendencies – best would be the questions from Global Warming to Basic Income, where there’s a strength of belief coded into the answers.

    Also how religious beliefs and intensity thereof correlate.

  25. RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

    I registered a conceptual objection in the main post that I’d like to explicate here, both because I think I can be clearer and because it also seems implicated in the polling methodology at issue here.

    There are two different questions. (1) What is the right answer to policy question p? And (2) What is the reason for disagreement over policy question p? (And actually a third, (3) What should be done with respect to fixing p in light of entrenched opposition from the other side.)

    It seems to me like the basic core of the methodological approach characterized as “mistake” is that it involves addressing question (1) substantively, whereas the “conflict” approach assumes an answer on (1) and addresses (2) and (3). Am I wrong about that? (Serious, non-rhetorical question.) If I am right about it, then it seems very confused to present the two as a dichotomy. They are simply talking about different things, and any answer to one is entirely compatible with any approach to the other. I think — again, if I am right above — that the word “mistake” is partly responsible for the confusion, because it is a term relating to (2), whereas the key feature of the approach being discussed really has to do with evaluating the merits of arguments pro and con, not in assuming anything one way or the other about the motivations of those who disagree.

    I’m ready to be corrected on this, because I’m reluctant to ascribe an obvious conceptual confusion to a guy as smart as Scott is.

    • Anthony says:

      Separating out questions 1 and 2 isn’t as easy as you think, because question as two questions: 1a) What is the desirable end state, or direction of movement, on policy question p? 1b) What is the best way to get policy moving in the desirable direction. This of course means that question 2 can be separated into 2a) Why do people think we should move in different directions on policy question p? and 2b) Why do people think these particular government actions will or will not move in (some direction) on policy question p?

      Conflict theorists consider 1a and 2a to be more important than 1b and 2b, mistake theorists the opposite.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I think the dichotomy between mistake and conflict theory happens principly on (2) [Why is there disagreement?]. Mistake theory would posit that disagreement stems from legitimate mistakes or uncertainty around (1) [what’s the best policy?]; conflict theory posits that it comes from conflicting interests between fundamentally opposed groups. Of course, these positions then have differing implications for (3) [how do we address the opposition?].

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        I guess this is fair but I still wonder if there’s a bit of an equivocation going on. What concerned me most was the conclusion to Scott’s initial post on this topic, which read as if he were admitting a fairly basic mistake in his approach to analyzing issues. If he’s just saying that he ought to be more open to the possibility that disagreements are caused by x, y, and z then that seems innocuous enough, but a great deal of the discussion that led up to that struck me as going to much more fundamental, merits-based considerations like the idea of carefully weighing the evidence to assess whether the putative goals of a policy prescription are likely to actually have the intended effect — a pure type-(1) inquiry. And the tone of his conclusion also struck me as going beyond a simple increased willingness to entertain different kinds of answers to (2). It really confused and concerned me.

  26. VolumeWarrior says:

    About 80% of blog readers selected intellectual failure, compared to only 60% of Mechanical Turk users. I have some reservations about the accuracy of the Turk survey, but this matches my predictions. I would expect SSC readers to be selected for mistake theory more than for any particular political position.

    Maybe I am badly misunderstanding the difference between intellectual and moral failure, but I don’t see how anyone who is aware of public choice theory and rational irrationality (i.e. SSC readers) could model the majority of political discourse as merely a series of intellectual mistakes akin to 2+2 = 5.

    First, if people really were making intellectual mistakes, it would be easy to correct their opinion, at least on objective issues. And yet half the country thinks Obama was born in Kenya and the other half thinks Trump is going to hand over the launch codes to Putin any day now.

    Second, the tribalism and self-serving bias is so obviously transparent. People don’t form their opinions on gun control because they have done a rigorous cost-benefit analysis in an excel spreadsheet. They don’t have a robust deontological framework where the right to X supersedes consequentialism. They just have some soundbite from Limbaugh or NPR about how guns r gud or guns r bad.

    This is not a legitimate intellectual attempt to arrive at The Truth. Maybe it could be moral to just cheer for your tribe and give the middle finger to truth, but this is very very very very far from forgetting to carry the 2.

    Again, this seems so obvious that there is a good chance I am misunderstanding the intellectual vs. moral or mistake vs. conflict dichotomy.

    Maybe a way to explain the poll results is that the term “intellectual” means “good responsible smart-sounding guy”, and the majority of people fail this metric. But there are any number of reasons why people aren’t all good responsible and smart-sounding. So the poll just captures a general pessimism about mainstream political thought.

    Edit: Conflict theory doesn’t explain things well either. Real-world political discussions aren’t proles yelling at elites. They’re proles telling other proles that they’re subhuman garbage. For example, telling poor whites that they’re racist doesn’t help if the CEO of Halliburton is racist. My belief is that “anti-racism” usually isn’t about racial equality, it’s a tool you can use to threaten the status of white people in the context of college educated cosmopolitans.

    This seems to fit the real world a lot better than the townsfolk vs. vampire narrative. Although saying that you’re “fighting evil” is pretty good cover for pumping your own status. People about as good a cover as “Pursuing the Truth”, to be honest. Overall we should be skeptical that most modern people have found a way to shortcircuit the evolutionary brain and act independently from their own self interests.

    • mdet says:

      At the same time, the people who form their opinion on gun control by parroting Limbaugh vs NPR aren’t necessarily committing a moral error either. I’d argue that yes, what you described is more of an error along the lines of “You didn’t think this through very much did you?” than “Your whole value system is repugnant”.

      My own answer is that most disagreements come down to “You have failed to consider that some people’s circumstances and life experiences are very different from your own”, which doesn’t map clearly onto an intellectual or moral failing.

      • VolumeWarrior says:

        what you described is more of an error along the lines of “You didn’t think this through very much did you?” than “Your whole value system is repugnant”.

        If it were only failure to think things through, then people would arrive at random answers (like a math problem they don’t understand). Instead people arrive at predictable conclusions based on status games in their tribe.

        Sure, hard to call this immoral given that individual political opinions never really materialize. But if they were magically made dictator, this method of determining policy would certainly be immoral. And as things stand, everyone pretending that they’re onto this really Great and Important Thing for society is definitely lying.

        Maybe it’s a white lie. But we wouldn’t be on SSC if we just automatically grokked normal social cues.

    • Garrett says:

      There are studies which show that women are happier in more traditional gender roles and more traditional societies. (If I’m mistaken, assume that there are.)

      Based on this, in order to increase happiness, would you be okay repealing women’s suffrage? I don’t believe that straight-up mistake theory can hold anything as sacred or human right.

      • VolumeWarrior says:

        would you be okay repealing women’s suffrage?

        I’d be okay repealing women’s suffrage because I don’t think the right to vote is an important right. For example, I also would be mostly indifferent if people with green eyes or ambidexterity were disenfranchised.

        However, the thrust of your question is: “would I be OK infringing on individual rights if I had proof it would make them happier”. The answer is no, because I prefer to (and could probably argue) that living in a less-happy but more-self-determined world is preferable. If people screw up freedom, well, hard to pity them.

        I don’t believe that straight-up mistake theory can hold anything as sacred or human right.

        Are you saying that mistake theory has to be consequentialist and never deontological? I seem to recall some very boring debates between Kantians accusing each other of mistakes in reasoning.

        • Viliam says:

          Yeah, I would prefer to have my freedom preserved by a politician with different gender and color of eyes, rather than having it taken away by a politician with the same gender and color of eyes. It also doesn’t matter whether the voters who gave the politician all the power had the same gender and color of eyes.

          People have the intuition that politicians are more likely to discriminate against those who differ from them, so it is safer to have a politician with the same traits as you. But I am not sure that actual data support this intuition. For example, Hitler didn’t discriminate against blond people in favor of dark-haired, and Stalin didn’t discriminate against Russians in favor of Georgians. Also, both of them were male, and as a result of their policies many males have died.

  27. Joel Salomon says:

    Possible source of mixed results, generalizing from myself. I read the Mistake vs. Conflict post the other day, and I think I’m generally a Mistake Theorist. But from one corner of my political opponents I keep hearing claims that they themselves are Conflict Theorists—and I’m beginning to believe them. And if it’s conflict they want…. (Cue dank helicopter memes.)

  28. HeelBearCub says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Horseshoe Theory yet.

    Scott, you seem surprised by these results, but they are really fairly well known and standard, AFAIK.

    • moscanarius says:

      I was going to comment the same, but you were faster. It fits nicely that more Conflict-theory oriented people are more prone to be members of radical movements, which tend to adopt similar fightinf strategies.

  29. HeelBearCub says:

    Not sure if this was discussed at the time of the survey, but these examples seem to place a kind of thumb on the scale:

    A) Nazis beat up some minorities.
    B) Nazis hold a peaceful demonstration, nobody stops them, it goes well, and they get a lot of publicity.
    M) Nazis hold a peaceful demonstration, nobody stops them, it goes poorly, and they get a a small amount of bad publicity.
    C) Some concerned citizens beat up the Nazis.

    Option M is missing in both questions of this format, and in order to really test this, I think you would have needed to offer random variants of A-B-C and A-M-C, where the A-M-C question grouped AC and MC together.

  30. Guy in TN says:

    Do many radical Leftists even identify as “Marxist?” Most that I know call themselves “communist”, “anarchist”, or even just “socialist” (notably absent from your choices). People don’t like to self-identify as tied to the beliefs of one man, they have a more robust political philosophy than that. If you are going to do a survey like this in the future, I would broaden the “Marxist” category to include radical leftists of all stripes. Really, “Far-Left” or “Socialist” would get more takers if you are looking for the extreme variety.

    As someone who identifies as a democratic socialist, I answered “Social democrat” (ugh), because Marx was damn wrong about too many things.

    • 天可汗 says:

      …and one of the things Marx was wrong about was translation, which is why we have “social democrat” as a term in addition to “democratic socialist”.

    • Incurian says:

      What is the distinction?

      • Guy in TN says:

        Democratic socialists want to implement socialism through democratic means. They differ from standard Marxists and communists in significant ways. They usually advocate for decentralized market socialism (and therefore disagree with central planning, abolition of money, ect.). Much of the textbook-Marxism (e.g., historical materialism, labor theory of value, abolition of the state) is also not necessarily supported. For Scott’s purposes, leaving this group out was a mistake, since they comprise major political world parties (and in Europe at least are certainly more popular than Marxists). The only prominent U.S. example is probably Kshama Sawant

        Social democrats, in contract, want to retain the capitalists system, but use the power of the state to mitigate the damages. It’s welfare-state capitalism, so think the Nordic countries, New Dealers, and Bernie Sanders. Social democrats still want the means of production to be privately owned, just highly taxed and regulated. The worker/owner relationship would be left intact.

  31. aciddc says:

    How would you compare the concept of “evil” with the concept of “has different interests from me”?

    Like, do I think capitalists are evil? Not really, I just think they have very different economic interests from wage workers. I guess you could say the interests of the majority are “good” and interests opposed to those are “evil” but that seems to be putting more of a moralistic gloss on the situation than it really warrants. I don’t really begrudge minority groups from pursuing their own interests even when they conflict with those of the majority – I sometimes do it myself when I’m in the minority, though I have some guilt about it. But regardless of when that moral judgment is appropriate or not it’s obviously a good idea for the majority to use its superior numbers to pursue its interests.

  32. Oleg S. says:

    I have removed the data of a few people who did not want their answers to be public, so you may not get exactly the same numbers I did, but they should be pretty close.

    I wonder if the wish to be removed from the public dataset has interesting correlations.

  33. alef says:

    > but first, some data from the SSC survey showing that the distinction {conflict vs mistake} does capture something real and important.

    I really think no; the existence of this dichotomy is baked deeply into your questions and whatever its actual value, it was more or less bound to show up. IMO there’s no real finding here.

    The questions (intellecual vs moral, intellectional disagreement I/II, ‘system’) offer well-suited answers (intellectual failure, fine tune the system, nominate the type of mistake) if you are a mistake theorist. And, if you think your opponents are morally wrong, inexcusably stupid or evil, which I guess is extreme conflict – you’ve also got a suitable response on offer. But for anything else or substantially more nuanced, the answer set you give is just weird and limiting. Not even a ‘none of the above’ answer.

    So what is going to happen? I lot of people will feel compelled to give an answer, even if it’s just the ‘least wrong’.
    For example, I may not be at all comfortable with accusing people of evil, or wishing to destroy the word, so I’ll (uncomfortably) opt for one of the mistake answers in each case even though they are an awful fit for what I think – but hey, now I look like a perfect mistake theorist. Others might be pushed to conflict theory still thinking that these answer are very very wrong for them, just not as wrong for the other options. Some people who don’t fit the choices on offer will select out (no answer), or answer quasi-randomly.

    But I just don’t see what other than ‘mistake and conflict are real, and most people seem to align with one of the two’ could possibly come out of these questions. (Specifically, I think the questions practically guaranteed a ‘conflict-vs-mistake’ factor would come out of the factor analysis, no matter what.)

    • alef says:

      (replying to my own post, sad…)

      I’ve lurked for a long time, read many (most?) of your past arctiles,
      and appreciated/learned from them (even when (and especially when) I
      disagree, I’m tied up in thought for days.) So, so much, thanks!

      So I will say, it was a big surprise for me to take the survey this
      year. This is not in hindsight, this is not in response to recent
      posts, but right at that very time I felt uncomfortable (I have no justifiable reason for saying this, but perhaps, felt even a little bit,
      ‘betrayed’) by the politics questions. How (I thought) can SA – *SA*!!! – not realize the
      absurdly strong cognitive bias/filter he brings to the very formulation of these questons? I couldn’t even sensibly
      dissent with his (IMO, wrong) world-view unless I refrain from
      answering entirely. These questions and offered answers are almost malformed, they are so bad. This was my honest feeling right at the ime (and it influenced the rest of my survey answers.)

      And now you seem to be doubling-down on the (IMO) deeply wrong view of
      political disagreement that makes sense of your questions. Are you open to: this
      dichtotomy could be practically wrong and practically useless? And that your survey was
      subconciously?) designed to support this (IMO, weird) worldview?

  34. PeterDonis says:

    I’m not sure if this makes me a super-mistake theorist or something else, but I had a strong impulse to want to pick an imaginary number for answering most of the questions.

    To me, the reason it’s so difficult to solve so many problems with society is that people have incompatible goals and values. Not in the sense of the conflict theorist, that each side thinks they are “right” and the other side is “wrong”, or of the mistake theorist, that there is some objectively right answer and we just aren’t very good at finding it all the time, but in the sense, say, of one person’s favorite color being red and another’s being blue–or even better, one person wanting to pick a favorite color while another wants to pick a favorite shape.

  35. Rm says:

    Do people really work like that, or are you only talking about people who have debates on the internet? If the latter, then why do you say the conflict theorists are against debates?

    I am rather more conflict- than mistake-theoretical-leaning, and I don’t give a fig about moral or intellectual qualities of the other side. It’s all about time. That’s the only real luxury to be had. When some question can be discussed for at least a while more, I’m all for it. When it can’t, I’m against. People usually have intuitive feelings about this; that they are sometimes wrong, or we disagree, is another matter.

    For example, as a conflict theorist, I allocate one monthly salary for a grant to support classical biological studies. I don’t care whether the State doesn’t fund the cause because the government is evil or because it is dumb. Since there isn’t any way to make the government take my side, I let it be wrong and pay myself. Similarly, our family sends books to some schools in our country that suffer from the war – they can’t waste their money on fiction when they haven’t enough school texts. Children generally like to have a choice in reading, and to be able to read what is read by the ones who have a choice. The State isn’t solving it, and what is more to the point, it never will.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t care whether the State doesn’t fund the cause because the government is evil or because it is dumb.

      Or sometimes it’s because the State has limited funding and competing claims looking for that sum of money. Which do you fund: a monthly salary for classic biological studies, or a monthly stipend for someone needing dialysis who is married with a young family who will suffer if the breadwinner dies of kidney failure?

      (I’ve been in meetings deciding on those kinds of dilemmas: do we give one of our limited house repair grants to a 101 year old woman living in a house where the windows are literally rotting and the rain gets in when the winds blow, or do we give it to someone dying of liver cancer? There’s no way to make a decision there and feel good about it afterwards, believe me, none of us did).

      • Rm says:

        The point is that “the country” would never do it even if it had the money.

        Dialysis is something I might allocate a little sum of money to (rarely) and share the request on Facebook (always); it gets publicity and a chance of fulfillment. Classical biology doesn’t get publicity, but by initiating a private grant, I can kick the issue in the right direction. And yes, when a country can’t count its elks, I consider it an issue.

        So I don’t get to feel good, so – what? Nobody does, in the end.

  36. zima says:

    When I took the survey, I had a hard time with some questions like the intellectual v. moral failure question, because it seemed to me that some disagreements are the result of intellectual failure (should we expand the welfare state to help the poor, or would doing so be counterproductive?), while others are the result of moral failure (should we abolish private property because private property is morally wrong?).

    Perhaps the correct theory is neither mistake nor conflict theory, but rather one of tit-for-tat; in other words, my disagreements with libertarians or liberals can be explained with mistake theory because those viewpoints proceed from a mistake theory premise, while my disagreements with Marxists and the alt-right are better explained by conflict theory, because those viewpoints proceed from a conflict theory premise.

  37. Chad Gonczy says:

    I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of posts and haven’t before considered the mistake theory vs conflict theory argument, so it’s likely I’m missing something significant here but: aren’t you really just talking about people who believe that ultimately the world is zero sum and people who believe it isn’t?

  38. JPNunez says:

    My political opponents are supporters of the Pinochet regime. Therefore they justify murders, torture and the literal burning alive of people.

    I think I am more than justified that they are suffering a moral failure and/or are downright evil.

    They are literally human trash.

  39. MB says:

    Here are a couple of easy predictions:
    1. If you present your findings as showing how ridiculous those alt-righters and conservatives are, then they will be widely embraced and there may even be some interesting NYTimes Magazine or such sympathetic essay about them and about your blog.
    2. If you persist in suggesting any sort of resemblance between the two extremes, then your conclusions will be politely ignored.
    2′. They may be allowed, if buried deep in some scientific paper written in impenetrable jargon and only accessible to experts, never to be seen, read, or cited again.
    3. If you still insist, your methodology will be criticized as amateurish, the results will be “controversial” and never be acknowledged as “science” or “facts”, they will never be permitted to be presented in a formal setting such as a scientific meeting or even a TedX event, your presentations will be protested and boycotted, etc..

    I genuinely think this is how social sciences work in the Anglosphere and in Western Europe, but am open to having my mind changed.

  40. cuke says:

    I had so many thoughts reading this post and the comments, which made me, as usual, grateful for this space, even when I find some of it frustrating.

    I was going to wade in on content, but then saw your comment over at slatestarscratchpad:

    “But it really hurts to have to deal with people telling me how obvious I am all the time. One reason I put off writing this article for so long is that I knew r/SneerClub would make exactly the thread they made about it, and various people would helpfully message me about it in case I didn’t know how ashamed I should be, and I wanted to wait until I was ready to deal with all of it.

    I wish people could just say “Huh, this was obvious to me, but apparently not to some other people, maybe they know less than I do, guess I’ll let them learn it.””

    And now I just want to say that your willingness to stick your ass on the line repeatedly in your writing and thinking is a gift to the rest of us (or at least those of us who enjoy reading you) and I’m sorry that you have to wade through this extra layer of shaming effort in order to get the words out. You are creating a collaborative experience here that a published book or article wouldn’t allow, and that strikes me as a good thing to exist in the world.

    It’s really super easy to say “Oh how obvious, I knew that” and considerably harder to contribute something from scratch. In the same way it’s hard to remember that we all have blind spots and that therefore it helps to proceed with humility.

    You’re a grownup and can stick up for yourself, obviously. But this made me mad, the image of you needing to wade through this unnecessary extra layer of shaming muck in order to write, as if the writing itself weren’t hard enough.

  41. Mary says:

    The current economic and political system…

    0. Is a good start that needs to be fine-tuned
    1. Is fundamentally bad and needs to be destroyed

    2. Is fundamentally flawed, but that’s because it’s made up of people. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.” Fine-tuning is the best you can do.

  42. Seth says:

    I gave the answer you categorized as mistake theorist to the marriage category question, but although I would say that I am a mistake theorist, I do not consider mistake theory to have been the reason for that answer. Indeed, my initial response was, as you put it, “contaminated by object-level political ideology”. Then I realized that my initial response was factually incorrect. Gay couples get to marry in countries where that’s legal, and they don’t in countries where that’s illegal, [i]and civil disobedience can’t override that[/i] – it’s merely symbolic. In the situation where the clerk refuses to marry a gay couple, that’s a frustrating hassle, but the couple isn’t just going to give up – they’ll still be married; just not by that particular clerk. In the situation where the clerk marries a couple despite it being illegal, that couple can’t reasonably expect to claim any of the legal benefits of marriage. To do that, they’d have to let other officials know that they’re married – officials who all know damn well that their marriage isn’t legal – and inevitably get themselves, and maybe the clerk, arrested. Their ‘marriage’ is marriage in name only and must remain secret.

    In other words, I gave your mistake theory answer for conflict theory reasons.

  43. Artischoke says:

    I wasn’t happy with the way the “Political disagreement” questions were worded at the time of the survey, and Scott’s recent post about conflict theory vs mistake theory provides a good framework to explain my concerns: These questions are all already framed from the point of mistake theory. At multiple points the wording presupposes that one person is correct in their political beliefs and the other isn’t.

    Take question 1: “Which of these plays a bigger role in explaining why some people are wrong about politics – intellectual failure, or moral failure?”

    First off, the question outright states that some people are wrong about politics. Second the possible answers talk of intellectual or moral failures. We’re firmly in “mistake theory” territory here. The wording here affected my answer actually: I generally think that differences in preferences play a bigger role to explain political differences than differences in factual beliefs – I would place this belief comfortably in conflict theory territory. However, the question specifically asked not about disagreements in politics, but about people being outright wrong. Now I also generally think that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with someone having different fundamental preferences to political outcomes – I might disagree but I wouldn’t say that the other person made a mistake. If you’re intellectually honest, this is actually the only consistent position from a conflict theory view. Thus I picked “intellectual failure” as the answer, since this is the only real source of being *wrong* in my book. So it doesn’t matter if you think conflict theory or mistake theory has more power to explain disagreements in politics – you can only pick “moral failures” as your answer unless you also happen to adhere to some kind of moral absolutism where people with other values are *mistaken*, which goes above and beyond conflict theory (and I would argue is actually a better fit for mistake theory).

    In question 2 and 3, the question was fine – but the possible answers again only allowed answers within mistake theory. The first answer validated the beliefs of people with differing political beliefs – but it implied that if they are right, you must be wrong. Conversely, the other three answers said something along the lines of that the other person is wrong in their political belief. Again, mistake theory.

    Now this is not to say that the questions aren’t still useful to do some comparative analysis, but I don’t think that they support a conclusion along the lines of “SSC readers predominantly follow mistake theory”.