Changing minds about inequality -- and facing the blank-out

JustinCEO's picture
Submitted by JustinCEO on Sun, 2018-05-20 14:28

From Elliot Temple's blog. A comment below

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people have lots of bad ideas they don’t understand much about, like that “inequality” is a major social problem.

what would it take to change their mind? not books with arguments refuting the books they believe. they didn’t get their ideas from structured arguments in serious books. they don’t have a clear idea in their mind for a refutation to point out the errors in. non-interactive refutation (like a book, essay, article) is very, very hard when you have to first tell people what they think (in a one-size-fits-all way, despite major variance between people) before trying to refute it. Books and essays work better to address clearly defined views, but not so well when you’re trying to tell the other side what they think b/c they don’t even know (btw that problem comes up all the time with induction).

to get someone to change their mind about “inequality”, what’d really help is if they thoughtfully considered things like:

what is “inequality”? why is it bad? are we talking about all cases of inequality being equally bad, or does the degree of badness vary? are we talking about all cases of inequality being bad at all, or are some neutral or even good? if the case against inequality isn’t a single uniform thing, applying equally to all cases, then what is the principle determining which cases are worse and why? what’s the reasoning for some inequality being evaluated differently than other inequality?

whatever one’s answers, what happens if we consider tons of examples? are the evaluations of all the examples satisfactory, do they all make sense and fit your intuitions, and reach the conclusions you intended? (cuz usually when people try to define any kind of general formula that says what they think, it gives answers they do not think in lots of example cases. this shows the formula is ad hoc crap, and doesn’t match their actual reasoning, and therefore they don’t even know what their reasoning is. so they are arguing for reasoning they don’t understand or misunderstand, which must be due to bias and irrationality, since you can’t reach a conscious, rational, positive evaluation of your ideas when you don’t even know what they are. you can sometimes reach a positive meta-evaluation where you acknowledge your confusion about the specifics of the ideas, but that’s different.).

anyway, the point is if people would actually think through the issue of inequality it’d change some of their minds. that’d be pretty effective at improving the situation. what stops this? the minor issue is: there are a lack of discussion partners to ask them good questions, guide them, push them for higher standards of clarity, etc. the major issue is: they don’t want to.

why don’t people want to think about “inequality”? broadly, they don’t want to think. also, more specifically, they accepted anti-inequality ideas for the purpose of fitting in. thinking about it may result in them changing their mind in some ways, big or small, which risks them fitting in less well. thinking threatens their social conformity which is what their “beliefs” about “inequality” are for in the first place.

this relates to overreaching. people’s views on inequality are too advanced for their ability to think through viewpoints. the views have a high error rate relative to their holder’s ability to correct error.


I think this is good analysis. It raises interesting issues. For example, given that most people's views on various issues are "ad hoc crap", and that most people hate anything (like direct, blunt criticism) that makes them feel ignorant (which they are), how do you effectively engage with them? And in particularly, how do you engage with them without either 1) offending them so much they won't talk to you anymore or 2) sanctioning their views by soft-selling the level of disagreement and pretending their position is more reasonable/thoughtful than it is?

I bet a lot of us fall into doing #2 more than we'd like to admit :-\

perhaps the answer is to work on being more Roark-like so we won't care about doing #1 Smiling

also important is understanding our own positions more effectively so we can quickly and effectively figure out what other people's objections are (like a math tutor who's seen a thousand different misconceptions about the same concept).

overall, it seems wiser to focus on self-improvement (in terms of substantive understanding of issues and in terms of the emotional-level elements of what makes a good Objectivist), and to worry less about advocacy. You can't force people to think, and most people seem to want to blank out. If they didn't, there's no shortage of material they could use to improve their thinking. The quality of such material can be highly variable, but there are *tons* of perspectives out there that are better than those of your garden variety leftist-altruist who cares a ton about inequality. The leftist-altruists just aren't very interested.

As Rand said of such mentalities:

Dropping below the level of a savage, who believes that the magic words he utters have the power to alter reality, they believe that reality can be altered by the power of the words they do not utter—and their magic tool is the blank-out, the pretense that nothing can come into existence past the voodoo of their refusal to identify it.