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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

& Politics

So, after that last post, a lot of people (or at least as many as read this blog) might be wondering what my take on politics and differences in opinion are; how I can believe that people (on occasion) are totally wrong, without believing that there's something wrong with them. From my experience on political blogs and debates, ranging from far left to moderately far right, it seems to me that people like to pick up a single vice (or a couple) that explains the opposite opinion and run with it.

My take, however, is quite a bit different. While I certainly have run across people so caustic and annoying that I wish I could smash their skulls in with a ratchet, I believe that most of the time differences in political views are due to two specific factors:

1. Differences in assumptions. Assumptions usually arise when something cannot be proved to a satisfactory degree one way or another (or the person is simply is too lazy to learn about the evidence). Lots of examples of this in politics, because you usually can't tell a person's motive for certain; so some assume it's bad, some assume it's good.

Other times the cause of assumptions is more complex. People create a network of assumptions and conclusions based on evidence over their lives, which can color their input of new data, leading to new assumptions that would not have been made by a more objective analysis of the evidence. I wouldn't call this a vice per-se, as it's something everybody does, and is more based on chance (what assumptions the person already has) than being a good or bad person.

In either case, assumptions powerfully affect our logic. As assumptions are believed to be true, they are counted as facts in the reasoning process. Thus, two people might look at exactly the same evidence, and employ the same logic, yet come to two difference conclusions simply because they hold differing assumptions.

This reminds me of a comment I made on Juan Cole's blog. He couldn't understand why people persisted in taking the president of Iran's comment about "Israel's occupation of Palestine must fade from the pages of time" (his translation) "out of context", and thinking it meant Israel should be annihilated. He believed that the difference in perception was due to people reading too much into the "deceptive" "wiped off the map" translation. I pointed out that even his translation sounds threatening to anybody who doesn't, like him, hold the assumption that Iran's intentions are honorable (especially considering that the alternate assumption is usually that Iran has sinister intentions); a misunderstanding was not required to come to the opposite conclusion. His assumption that Iran's intentions were honorable prevented him from understanding the opposition, which were based on the opposite assumption.

2. Differing priorities. At least when I'm not emotionally involved (it's quite difficult for anyone to think totally rationally when you're emotionally involved), I always consider choices to be the evaluation of benefits and drawbacks. I actually consider it to be a weighted average - a math problem. Each consideration in making the choice is a variable, and each has an assigned weight. Different people weigh different things differently. Two people who evaluate exactly the same benefits and drawbacks may come to different conclusions simply because they have weighed one or more variables differently.

The example that most readily comes to mind is abortion. Just to list a few of the benefits (actually, they more take the form of arguments in favor of, but you should be able to get an idea of how you would construct a weighted average based on these):
- Difficult or impossible to get kids to always abstain or have "safe" sex
- The cost of making a girl have the baby even if she was irresponsible is too great
- The girl may have been raped, and not have been able to choose at all
On the drawbacks list:
- Killing of innocents is wrong
- Allowing abortion on demand encourages irresponsible behavior
- Blame rests with the parents (particularly the mother, for the purposes of this argument), not the child, and so we should not allow the blame and punishment to be transferred to the child (in the form of the abortion)

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I'm just giving you some ideas of the types of variables that appear in the evaluation of abortion. You alter the weight of one or more of those, and you can easily change the conclusion.

This is one thing that I do respect Neo-neocon for. Although I don't always agree with her conclusions (and, at varying times, her assumptions and logic), I do respect the way that she often attempts to come up with explanations for the other side that aren't simply assuming vices. Even if her analyses aren't always right, she makes a good effort (far above the average on political sites), and that requires respect.


confudeforeigner said...

Can you name a "far left" bllog that you've read?

Where in the political spectrum would you place neo-neocon. I was amused to see her class herself as a centrist.

Do you think you have a genuine left in America, given the historical hysteria over Marxism/socialism and that the Dems are clearly neoliberals as well?

confudeforeigner said...

Oh and I answered your question over at there, but neo keeps deleting my posts. Brave indeed.