Ace really writes a masterful account of the strange phenomenon whereby we all get very pissed off in those debates where we know the least, and where the facts which are knowable on some level and if known would quickly resolve the debate. Examples include who killed Kennedy, or whether there is global warming, or whether the Rosenbergs (or OJ or Dreyfuss or whoever) were innocent, and the like.
Here’s part of what he says:
The way I put it is that the arguments that get the most ferocious are those which should actually cause the least amount of heat and fire — arguments in which the fact-set is substantially unknown.
In situations where most facts are unknown or only partly known, that really should, if we’re being all logical and intellect-based, cause the least emotional involvement in one side or the other, because both sides are, if they’re being completely honest, both pretty much ignorant.
I don’t mean “ignorant” as it generally applies– ignorant of things, generally. I mean that in specific situation where facts are barely known by anyone, all parties are groping in the darkness, and hence are ignorant of the true facts.
And they should know they’re ignorant, and should know that the facts of the matter can only be guessed at, and ergo any conclusions they draw from the mostly-hidden fact-set must be tentative at best, and, being tentative at best, should produce the least emotional heat, for such tentative, provisional, contingent, weakly probabalistic best-guess conclusions should have the least certitude behind them, and, if they have the least certitude behind them, the least emotional and egotistical investment in them.
Right? I mean, this stands to reason. If I’m arguing with you about, say– well, let’s say Cain, since Miller is talking about Cain here — we’re both ignorant. I don’t know, and you don’t know. We are both guessing, relying on rules of thumb, patterns of human behavior, general worldview, general cynical vs. idealistic factory setting, etc. We are relying entirely on proxies to find an answer, because the actual direct evidence, which we’d both gladly admit is necessary to really answer the question, is entirely absent.
So we are forced to resort to secondary, indirect, inferential evidence, and general rules of thumb.
And so we should both be rather modest in our confidence in our conclusions, as our conclusions are built on foundations of sand.
And we both know that.
And so this discussion should produce almost no heat, no anger, no cursing, no frustration. We’re both sitting here taking stabs in the dark, and we both, if asked, have to confess the complete inadequacy of
That’s not true, though, is it? In fact, this specific situation seems to consistently produce the most anger and heat.
I’m including myself — I am not saying “You suck and here’s why.” I am not saying “Here’s why you suck.” I am analyzing a specific set of human responses, which are common to myself as well, and wondering about them.
Why are we getting so angry and emotionally invested in stuff that we actually have the least information about, and therefore the least confidence as regards conclusions based on our meager information?
I have guessed previously that it’s precisely because these discussions are not about information that can be readily determined and assessed that makes them so personal.
Because facts and data are, by their nature, impersonal. If tomorrow it’s proven — proven — that all of Herman Cain’s accusers were recruited by David Axelrod, I will promptly admit “Man did I get that one wrong.”
And similarly I imagine if proof emerges of impropriety on Cain’s part, most of his defenders will similarly confess error.
But in that case, it would have been taken out of the realm of the personal. It’s not personal, anymore, once it’s about proof and facts. Now it’s a purely intellectual affair — no heat. No anger.
Less of a bruised ego. Because people don’t get invested, as far as emotional and egositiscially investment, in facts and data.
What they get emotionally and egotistically invested in is probabilities and guesses based upon underlying worldview.
It’s this — the gut, the “psychic vibe,” the horse-sense, the common-sense, the cunning, the read on people, the ability to predict the future based on incomplete information — that people really get personally invested in.