Monday, August 20, 2012

Humans Have a Problem Being Wrong.

Kathryn Schulz is an expert on being wrong.  She says that if some guy disagrees with you, most people will assume one of the following:
  1. He doesn't know stuff (ignorant)
  2. He doesn't comprehend it (i.e. is stupid)
  3. He is evil.

The nicer people start with one and move to three, but some people just assume you are evil right off the bat.  Of course, while most people use these three quick analysis methods.   They ignore several other possibilities.  This is particularly a problem in politics - your opponent starts out trying to teach you facts, then ensure that you draw the correct conclusions, but if those two actions fail, he decides you must be EVIL.  This is wrong.  There are many other explanations then your opponent being ignorant, stupid or evil.

Here are the other possibilities that I have identified:

First, the most obvious one - yourself might be wrong, i.e. YOU are ignorant, YOU are stupid or YOU are evil.  It's sort of obvious why wen don't consider this possibility.  But given a random person, it is exactly as likely as the first three examples, for obvious reasons.

Second, it also ignores the possibility of combinations.  In truth, this is always the case.   No one knows everything - all of us are at least a little bit ignorant.  No one truly comprehends everything - all of are at least a little bit stupid.  And yes, no one is a real saint - all of are at least a little bit evil.  

This means that in all cases, both you and your opponent are at least a little bit ignorant, stupid and evil.

Third, it ignores different points of view.  Language is an approximation, not a perfect reflection of reality.  This means no statement can ever be totally accurate and quote often two contradictory explanations can both be true
  • In Communism, everyone is equal, there are no class distinctions.   In Communism, there is a strict class system - bureaucrats and everyone else.
  • Gold is worth a lot more than water - unless you are on a raft in the middle of the pacific ocean.
  • Charity deliveries food to hungry people in Africa save- them from starvation.  But it also destroy their native farms, creating starvation (Some charities now deliver money to areas, allowing the recipients to buy food from local merchants, but you get the idea.)
Contradictory statements can both be true.  There are several reasons for this.   You can come to one answer deductively and another by inductively and a third by faith.   There can be a difference between theory and practice.  Definitions may vary depending on time and location.  Time scale matters.   The truth and falsehood of statements can, in some circumstances, only be determined by a point of view.

Fourthly, it ignores different underpinnings.  When we talk about ignorance, we generally meant relevant information. But often there are a lot of indirect facts that are not obviously relevant.  You may know all the facts about the welfare bill, believe them, use reason correctly, but have different risk tolerances.  Your upbringing may allow for 1% of people to die of starvation, or become homeless, while others don't.    Those inner assumptions are never discussed.   They matter a lot. If your personal experience values something more than other people, you will come to completely different results.  If you live in a city, you will think government works a lot better than if you live in a rural area (sewers, cops, bus, fire department, roads, etc. are all better in a city).   Different things are relevant to different people because of their entire life stories.

In summary, besides your opponent being ignorant, stupid or evil, here are the other possibilities.  Before labeling your political opponent as evil, ask if one of these are true.
  1. You could be the one that is ignorant, stupid and/or evil
  2. You both could be ignorant, stupid, and/or evil.
  3. You could both be right.
  4. You could both be totally talking past each other, not understanding what matters to the other person.

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