04 January 2010


I'm not sure what to make of this

I don't mean that I don't understand. My dilemma is more refined than simple ignorance. My problem is that I concluded some time ago that the reason most people disagree is different worldviews and even different data sets, as they put forward their perspectives and somehow "agree to disagree". Something I have never done personally though others have attempted to do so with me. Either I am wrong and stop arguing or they are wrong and I don't stop arguing the point. Ever. Although I may stop if they concede the point or the point has become metaphysical and therefore utterly meaningless to me. (The likelihood of me entering an argument over such things is incredibly unlikely.)

So the question I have is as follows, should I be seeking some other explanation for why people disagree over issues or should I just accept that I follow a certain type of rational thinker and that this will imply a certain category of disagreements (which by now should be rather obvious what categories of disagreements, largely worldviews which rely on revealed knowledge and assumptions rather than rational empiricism). And if the latter is my course, then my actual problem is more that I can't come up with anything that anybody else hasn't already but I can recognize very rapidly what ideas can be come up with that would make sense (presumably to me, possibly to others) very fast. This is however not a marketable trait. At least not without considerably improved writing skills and a publishing agent.

Nor is arguing over the facts rather than the opinions derived from them. Which would seem to be the implied tactic required to get past the "agree to disagree" conundrum. Many (opinionated) people tend to dismiss facts they don't like rather than assimilate them into a new worldview and thus new opinions or beliefs. I recently saw this with arguments over condom use and teenage sexuality. It pops up all over the place when studying policies on opiates and narcotic drugs (in particular regarding marijuana). It also comes up frequently in interpreting polling data as one has to ask the first obvious question "what/who did they actually poll"? incredibly often to decide whether there is an underlying "fact" worth arguing over. So for that part of the discussion, I'm not quite sure what "I" mean and that's why I ask.

This problem of data sets appears to be getting worse as the Internet and cable news has become so stratified that it is very easy to insulate one's mind within a comfortable sector of information flows. I myself have an enormous quantity of blogs on my feeds that are of a particular ideological bent, though most of them link off frequently to people that at least marginally if not substantively disagree and put forward different worldviews and ideological perspectives (I don't think I have any actual Stalinist or Socialist opinions in that rotation however, probably because those ideological perspectives are almost as rare as libertarians).

The related problem is that most people naturally act to create these bubbles of opinion wherein people surrounding them will tend to reinforce existing opinions rather than push them in new or unexpected directions. That in so far as it produces reasonably healthy or non-argumentative relations is fine. What it fails to do is allow people the luxury of arguing with people who hold different opinions frequently enough to understand that people do disagree or have different facts or have different worldviews from themselves and their ever widening circles of associates. And that can lead to our lovely habits of tribalism. Things like "Real America" or "elitism" or "ivory towers", diversifying our opinions into little boxes, but without the ability to even test them for logical consistency. For instance, the health care debate has sparked renewed calls for the end of the filibuster. I myself don't mind it regardless of the party in power or minority. The problem is that assuming away these differences on how best to pursue a particular course of action is not a sensible way to govern a nation-state. I think it would be fair to say that on many issues both major parties seek similar goals, in many cases so much so that they're in considerable agreement (and often this is when I become concerned: when they agree). What they disagree on is the matter of how best to seek those goals. In terms of health care, I think both of them are stupidly protecting the wrong approaches. In essence, "agreeing to disagree" without having any responsibility to approach the situation in terms of actual truth seeking. That is: by asking what will actually improve the status quo of our health care delivery and financing systems and then arguing over the mechanisms and refinements needed to do it (or more precisely arguing over the involvement of government or regulatory agents) rather than whatever it is we've been doing (mostly trench warfare). If all of our disagreements are so fortified that there is no possibility of agreement, then I would suggest the problem is that our population is too busy self-reinforcing instead of truth-seeking. This is, as I have often documented, a common problem for conservatives of late, though naturally there are plenty who oppose them who haven't figured out which side of the mouth to speak from either. We spent a decade within a "cut taxes" mantra that makes sense only so long as that "cut taxes" mantra also includes a serious notion that we should also "cut government", and of course it never did, making the mantra meaningless prattle rather than an effective policy response to a particular problem. The prospect of a population of people who are so busy following specific policies untethered to reality rather than logical responses, mantras instead of principles, should be disturbing. The fact is it guarantees a level of disagreement based solely around this notion of "agree to disagree" as no facts will ever be requested around which to base real agreements.
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