Muddy the Waters

Modern public discourse’s most common trick. Proposition A is true in all cases. A voice from the peanut gallery interjects “except extremely-rare-and-specific cases X, Y, and Z” The speaker is forced to concede that, indeed, Proposition A is not true in those cases. Unfortunately for us, the human brain is hardwired to use inductive reasoning. If you think you’re a powerhouse deductive thinker, try this. If you get all four correct, good for you, you’re probably right. Good luck with that. Our extensive use of inductive reasoning I have covered before, I believe, but I’ll recap quickly here. Essentially, inductive reasoning allows you to produce a heuristic quickly, call it up quickly, and when it stops working it can change easily. In a survival setting, it doesn’t get better than that. However, for long-term systems and decisions our natural inductive reasoning doesn’t work as well because the cause and effect relationship is muddied by time, quantity of factors, and chaos. So here’s the problem- we have a hypothetical lecturer giving his students a proposition which is true 99.999% of the time. So much so that you may as well assume that it is always operable. But the knowledge of the three or four rare and specific cases pollutes the heuristic pool disproportionately. Now your mind contains one case where A is true, and three where A is false. In a simple context this isn’t a problem, but it gives the listener a psychological out to allow programming to overcome their reason.

Muddying the waters like this is an easy way to confuse facts that make simple intuitive sense- this is virtually the only strategy used against evolution, for example. “Can you prove without a shadow of a doubt that evolution is true?” Any responsible scientist will say no, when really the answer should be a solid “yes” because it’s better to be wrong with that much rationale than to let them corrupt a powerful theory that, to our perspective, is clearly true. The behavior of the scientist is a perfect example of the nature of real truth. The truth is that no, we don’t actually have authoritative proof. The virtuous, truth-respecting, complex road would be to try to explain why we don’t know it but believe it anyway. The cheap, easy, manipulative road would be to declare we just know- word of God- if you’re virtuous (or whatever) you’ll believe, and be done. Which we shouldn’t do, even though we would be lying to spread what we perceive to be the truth, and competing against enemies using tactics that quite simply work better but which we refuse to emulate.

Real truth is tough. We can’t prove evolution in the same sense we can’t prove that gravity exists, that we exist, or even that the universe exists. In fact, the only thing that it is possible for me to know is that I exist. It’s the nature of consciousness. I think therefore I am. Somewhere, somehow, in some sense, I exist. (You might think this applies to you as well, but I can’t tell you that because I have no proof of it.) However when I observe another entity, it is impossible for me to know if it is sentient or if it’s merely a complex imitation of sentience. Nevertheless, after tens of thousands of objects fall when you drop them you accept gravity as an invariable fact. Unlike gravity, we can demonstrate evolution and produce results yet somehow a disturbing portion of the populace doesn’t “believe.” Oh, that’s a good one too. The people who say that atheism is an act of faith are a perfect example of muddying the waters. We then have to explain that the burden of proof is on the person making the assertion of existence. Invariably, by the time we’ve reached the third syllable of “burden of proof” they’re too bored to care. Damage done, the Church wins. You can say whatever you want, just make ’em deny it. They use the easy road of powerful unfounded assertions and get fast, powerful results. They decry that faith is a virtue, appealing to conformation behavior in our social psychologies. They employ routine reinforcement in church, isolation punishment, and all forms of classical and operant conditioning. They “ban” contraceptives and abortions to multiply their flock, inflicting poverty and tragedy on poor unwitting victims who can’t break out because some clawed tentacle is lodged in their minds. Religions arbitrarily associate themselves with preexisting control structures- ages ago it was primarily fear of wrath and hellfire, now it’s a more fuzzy family oriented religion because that’s the version that survived in this environment. Fascinatingly, one genus of meme has rejected the idea of evolution when it survives by that very law.

The same style of attack is used to justify war. The self-defense clause is a classic example of when violence is appropriate. The question then becomes where is the line between aggression and self-defense? George Bush has thoroughly exploited that issue of definition and launched a completely unjustified war based on imaginary evidence of a threat, and then claiming self-defense. This is a complex issue, but I’m about to go all proposition A on you here. There is no case in which violence is justified. Period. However, the existence of an agent choosing to use violence for personal gain can change the nature of the situation. Provided that there are no other options, that any and all other reasonable measures have been tried unsuccessfully, you are justified in self-defense.

The issue of violence is exactly the Prisoner’s Dilemma. There exist two stable states, one of which more stable than the other. The first is a state of continuous violence, and the other is a state of continuous peace. Everyone needs to know how this works, as it explains human herd behavior beyond perfectly. The peaceful solution only stands if the convictions of everyone backs it up- easy to do with only two, but nigh impossible with millions. If everyone was a strong individual, following their right reason in pursuit of their own happiness then this is the logical outcome. The incredibly frustrating part is that we all have that choice RIGHT NOW. Tomorrow, we could be living in a utopia! We don’t because we know the chance is damn slim that everyone else is going to make the same decision at exactly the same time. So acting in such a strong individualist manner- being ethical and empathetic actually represents a huge disadvantage to the person doing it. It’s the hard road. But if you allow the herd’s actions to force you back onto their path then humanity’s chance at utopia is delayed indefinitely again.

Consider a board game for four. It doesn’t really change the game to add this, but let’s simplify the example by saying you can’t talk. One of the players cheats, and the other three (including you) know he’s cheating. However, the rules of the game in a roundabout way allow for precisely such a form of cheating. His tactics take advantage of every nuance and bug in the game’s design, but he’s legit. It’s the ideal strategy, but it ruins the fun of the game for everyone. Then someone else decides that if he’s going to play that way and clearly win, he’d better join in. The third player turns over with the other two. What do you do? Despite the triviality of the example, think about this seriously. Do you continue to play honestly, knowing you will lose? Or do you take up the sword and start cheating as well, hoping to beat them at their own game and maybe give them reason to stop? What if you played again after each, how would the following game change? All four of you could decide to just play fair and have fun. But if you do, you just lose because the others aren’t going to decide at the same time.

We’re talking about strategies here. If I say you never have the right to use violence, like I should, I’m missing a vital example. But if I talk too much about the exception, it dilutes the heuristic past usefulness. Keep that in mind. You only have the right to defend yourself when you are left in a bind. Compulsion is a necessary element of a bind. You have a choice to either do violence, or not do violence and suffer an unacceptable penalty. That is the only circumstance. You may not do violence for personal gain, and you may not do violence from a position of action. That is to say, as long as you have other options they need to be exercised first. If you’re worried about defending your house and property, a home security system should come before the shotgun on the wall. You may passively defend your home as much as you want- locks, cameras, dogs, whatever. They primarily act as a deterrent. Now the prisoner’s dilemma is actually working in your favor because the would-be criminal is left with a choice between your house and any other house. And should there come a time when everybody’s house is adequately secure then nobody will break into houses anymore because it’s just not worth it. But when someone breaks into your house and you meet it with lethal force, you are being irresponsible and are culpable for a lower-degree form of murder.

Now we’re obviously going to have a discussion about gun control. Just to put my thoughts out about that- the government needs to consider carefully every instance of control it institutes. Controlling drugs is the purest lunacy, although for the state it works pretty well. Controlling guns has some justification, but only if you do it completely. Gun control has to be all-or-nothing. Have “some” guns in circulation is insanity. Obviously the criminals are going to be the ones to get the guns, and they’re going to find people who don’t have guns and target them. Duh! If nobody can get guns, the criminals can’t, problem solved. If everyone has guns, the criminals are going to have nobody to rob. They’ll know they’re risking death for petty theft- maybe they’ll get away with it a hundred times (yeah right) but then on the hundred and first they’re dead and none of it was worth it.

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One Response to “Muddy the Waters”

  1. Desiree Says:

    Wow. Discovered your blog several days ago, and am trying to work my way through your posts. Going to take a while though, if I actually give myself time to think about them.

    You, sir, are an incredibly refreshing read.


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