Weighing the evidence

The Whole Story — Both Sides of It. 

     Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a happy old couple with just ONE problem – there was an axe stuck in their ceiling. In truth, the couple wasn’t all THAT happy because they constantly worried that someday that axe would fall out of the ceiling and kill somebody.
      One day a tired and hungry stranger came along and the old couple invited him in for a rest and a meal. While eating, the couple told the stranger about their life together, pointing out that the one sour note in all their happy existence was that (damned) axe stuck in the ceiling. At which point, the stranger got up on his chair, and with a quick tug, dislodged the axe from the ceiling…

  1. The U.S., and other democratic nations, desperately need a better way to inform voters.
  2. We voters need an easy and effective way to gather BOTH SIDES of the significant evidence regarding our various controversial issues …
  3. Right now, there is no such way.
  4. Currently, we get only a jumble of bits and pieces of the different claims and arguments, and our conclusions are not at all reliable — or the same.
  5. What’s worse is that once we are emotionally committed to a conclusion (which doesn’t take much), human nature has us reflexively seeking only evidence that is supportive of the conclusion we’ve already made (this is called “confirmation bias”) …
  6. And what’s even worse than that, our political opinions are distributed over a mountain range of political topics with a natural watershed and all our seeking tends to be down only one side — liberal/conservative (Democrat/Republican)
  7. Our current polarization shows how that works!
  8. And obviously, our different sources of info tend to be highly polarized themselves.
  9. Our most popular sources are also very powerful, and consequently corrupt — and serving their own purposes
  10. And now, we have the Internet, and our ability to gather the slanted evidence we seek has been substantially increased.
  11. And our country grows more polarized — and angry — as we speak.
  12. This isn’t good.

  13. I may have the solution.
  14. Again, what we need is an easy and effective way to gather the significant evidence (both sides) regarding our various controversial issues…
  15. But also, we can’t expect one source to effectively represent both sides — we need at least one source for each side.
  16. Juxtaposed pro and con articles in the newspaper make for a good step in the right direction – but only a very small step.
  17. Unfortunately, such attempts inevitably leave all sorts of “loose ends,” and change very few minds.
  18. What we need to hear is dialogue between the two sides as they respond back and forth to each other’s questions and comments.
  19. In other words, what we need is readily available – and effective — public debate.
  20. But human public debate is hardly ever effective.
  21. We humans hardly ever have effective debate — when a method for ensuring effective debate should prove positively revolutionary…
  22.  Just think what the different legislatures could do if their members were able to keep their debates honest, objective, open-minded, fair and friendly.
  23. They could create a whole new world!
  24. Maybe, they could save this one!
  25. Yet, no one seems to be looking for such a method…
  26.  Has this issue been carefully studied and discarded as insolvable?
  27. Probably not.
  28. But if we actually scrutinize the situation, a lot of specific problems with our debate become obvious.
  29. And then — once those specific problems become obvious — potential specific solutions, to those specific problems, do also… 
  30. What’s going on here?
  31.  We appear to be stuck with the conclusion that the possibility of fixing – or even, improving upon this situation — hardly occurs to us humans.  (Much like it didn’t occur to the old couple, in the beginning story, that the axe could be dislodged on purpose…)
  32. But then, for some reason, it did occur to me…
  33. And, as noted, I even have a proposed solution.
  34. Not that my specific proposed solution will necessarily work, but it does make some sense — and whatever, a method for improving public debate is something that we humans should be seriously pursuing anyway.
  35. Can we humans significantly improve upon our ability to have effective debate? 
  36. Sure we can – we just need to wake up to the problems!
  37. We need to seriously scrutinize human debate. 
  38. Here’s what I came up with.
  39. First — what is it that must happen in order to have actually effective debate?
  40. Both sides must be able to effectively present their significant evidence and arguments.
  41. Or, in other words (as strange as this might sound), the two sides need to agree upon precisely what it is that they disagree about (think about it – I’ll try to explain later)…
  42. To have effective debate, the two sides do not need to finally agree with each other regarding the actual issue at hand.

  43. Moving right along – from at least one perspective, we humans have two basic obstacles in our way to effective debate.
  44. Our nature — and, our current issues.

  45. In regard to human nature,
  46. Our basic problem here is that once into debate, our reflexive behavior takes over, and we unconsciously slip into a fight/flight mode.
  47.  In that mode, we
    1. Become oblivious to any good intentions we might have previously had towards seeking the truth,
    2. Seek only to win instead (or, at least seek only to avoid losing instead),
    3. Do whatever winning requires (if possible),
    4. Place a premium upon quick (often foolish) answers, and
    5. Are essentially oblivious to what we are doing…
  48. This is a totally natural human reflexive syndrome once we become even partially committed to one side of a story. 
  49. That’s how we humans are — we just haven’t appreciated the supreme potency of this syndrome… 
  50. It takes over — we zone out.  
  51. Seriously — this is the heart of the matter.
  52. In “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Acton recognized the supreme potency of the power syndrome.
  53. Here, we need to stop and recognize the supreme potency of this fight/flight syndrome, and do our best to avoid it…

  54. The reason this happens is that our natural reflexes evolved in a much earlier time — and, it’s these old reflexes that take over under even a little stress…
  55. In seeking only to win, we
    1. Insult our opponents (We have numerous ways of doing this).
    2. Refuse to yield the floor.
    3. Refuse to answer our opponent’s questions.
    4. Pretend to answer their questions while ‘dancing around them’ instead.
    5. State opinion as fact.
    6. Raise our voices.
    7. Grasp at straws (while pretending they’re trees).
    8. Exaggerate. And,
    9. Flat out lie.

  56. In placing such a premium upon quick answers, we don’t have time to
    1. Understand our opponent’s argument.
    2. Really understand our own argument.
    3. Think twice.
    4. Step back from the canvas.
    5. Look before we leap
    6. Say what we mean.
    7. Keep from going off on tangents defending things we didn’t mean.
    8. Realize we’re wrong.
    9. Admit we’re wrong.
    10. Cool off.
    11. Apologize.

  57. But probably, the real key here is how “unconscious” we are of what we’re doing.
  58. Psychologist would say that we know what we’re doing, but only at a “preconscious” level – which isn’t nearly good enough to cause us to stop doing it…

  59.  And then, there’s the complexity of our controversial issues.
    1. It so happens that our typical debates are really quite complex — are like “exponential trees.”
    2. This complexity makes our shifting of gears — from seeking the truth to trying to win at any cost – and getting nowhere – so easy to do.
    3. Because of this complexity, “when useful,” we can slip easily and unnoticed from one loose end (branch) to another — leaving loose ends all over the place…
    4. And, this is why we humans hardly ever get anywhere in debate – why we go in circles — and, why the members of our audience don’t know what to think, and don’t change their minds. 
    5. It’s all these loose ends.

  60. Now, this didn’t happen when our reflexes were evolving – and, might made right…  Things were much simpler then.
  61. These days, in trying to be rational and civilized (you might want to slow down here — or just skip to number 67),
  62. One side will say that such and such is true because of arguments 1 through 7.
  63. The second side will say that argument 1 is wrong because of its (the second side’s) own arguments A, B and C; that argument 2 is wrong because of arguments D and E; that argument 4 is wrong because of argument F; that argument 6 is correct, but doesn’t take argument G or H into account.
  64. Note that the second side has already left arguments 3, 5 and 7 hanging, and given multiple answers to 1, 2 and 6…
  65. The first side then comes back and claims that argument B and C are wrong because of argument 8, 9 and 10; that argument E is wrong because of 11; that H is wrong because of 12, 13, 14 and 15…
  66. More loose ends and multiple answers.
  67. Etc.
  68. Pretty soon, we’ve got a serious morass of loose ends on our hands — even if all of this is in writing. 
  69. Just think of what this is like when the debate is oral!
  70. This is why we hardly ever get anywhere in a serious debate.
  71. Our old, simple, reflexes are simply not up to their new complicated, tasks.
  72. Or better yet, we still have our old reflexes and old cans of worms – but our cans of worms are now open!
  73. So, when we complain that our debates never “get anywhere,” too many “loose ends” is the underlying problem — and these loose ends are caused by a combination of our animal nature, and the complexity of our controversial issues…

  74. So, the Internet is one of the culprits — but it could ( and should) also be our savior…
  75. What we need is a savy, techy and popular website to develop a forum for this purpose —
  76. There must be thousands of appropriate websites in our country — National Organization for Women (now.org) might be a good one.
  77. If I were them, here’s what I’d do.

  78. Advertise our coming forum.
  79. Describe what we hope to do.
  80. Start off with one topic – maybe, “Voter fraud in 2020.”
  81. Contact the DNC and RNC, and ask for a representative from each side
  82. Each rep would be able to enlist the help of others on their side.
  83. A section of this website would be set aside for a thorough discussion of the intricacies of human debate (#s 37 – 54 above).

  84. Another section would allow for viewer participation.
  85. Readers would be urged to judge the debate on those intricacies, and post their opinions as the debate proceeds.

  86.  These intricacies of human debate suggest a hierarchy of goals for the spokespersons to keep in mind:
    1. Seek to find the truth (rather than to win) — which suggests in turn that the spokespersons
      1. Debate “in good faith” (be open-minded, honest, objective, fair and friendly), and
      2.  “Zoom in” (slow down, and keep narrowing focus).
    2. Each side should do its best to follow these guidelines.
    3. Spokespersons for each side would be urged to stick to the guidelines — and to politely point out infractions that the other spokesperson might commit.
    4. They would be urged to watch for their own infractions, and own up to them when recognized…

  87. There are lots of variables in the overall process, and I don’t know what specific ‘navigation’ would be best, but
    1. One party (Democrat or Republican) could bring a case against the other’s position re a specific issue (or, sub-issue).
    2. Say the Republicans (R) bring a case against the Democrats (D)
    3. R would provide a “brief” (opening statement) summarizing its case.
    4. D would respond to one of the specific claims of R by either asking a question about, or arguing against, the specific claim.
    5. R would then respond to the D’s response by asking a question about it, answering it, accepting it or arguing against it.

    6. If R accepts D’s answer, R should either concede (hardly possible so early in the game) or move on to its next sub-claim.
    7. If R does not accept, R should explain why not.
    8. D would then respond to R’s response by accepting it or by arguing against it…
    9. If D accepts R’s response, D should move on to R’s next sub-claim that D doesn’t accept
    10. Etc.

    11. For example:
      1. R claims that the Xl pipeline construction should be reopened, and
      2. Provides several supporting sub-claims.
      3. D responds to the first of the sub-claims with which D does not accept with a response, or responses, of its own.
      4. R responds to the first of D’s responses with which R does not accept with responses of its own.
      5. D responds to the first of R’s responses with which D does not accept with responses of its own.
      6. R responds to the first of D’s new responses — with which R does not accept — with new responses of its own
      7. This goes on till one side has nothing more to say about this first branch — say that’s R.
      8. If R doesn’t concede re the XL pipeline in general, R addresses’s whole
      9. If R had one more response to D’s last response, D responds to that.
      10. If D had more than one response to R’s last response, R responds to D’s second response.
      11. Etc.
      12. This would go on till R (or D) has nothing more to say about D’s (or R’s) first sub-response.
      13. If no one concedes, D would respond to R’s second sub-claim.
      14. Etc,
      15. This goes on till someone concedes, or no one has more to add.
  88. This could be long and grueling, but would be there for all to see, and to make up their own minds about, based upon all the current evidence.
  89. The basic reason we need to keep narrowing our focus (and go to all this trouble) is that claims and responses in human debate tend to have multiple parts (a lot of multiple parts).  We would keep narrowing the focus by leaving all but one of those parts behind — each step of the way — and thereby, growing these exponential debate trees, one lopsided branch at a time…
  90. The basic claim here is that the best way to actually “get somewhere” in an argument (debate) as it tries to branch out exponentially, is
    1. to follow only one branch at a time.
    2. Complete that branch, then
    3. back up to the next “branching.”
  91. When we opponents in a debate try to negotiate numerous branches at one time – as seductive as that may be — our mental set is not sufficiently patient, we keep missing critical turns and the debate goes nowhere but circles.
  92. Here, we’re hoping that by clearly separating the trees, we won’t be confused by the forest 🙂
  93. This new “focusing” approach could be quite tedious. 
  94. But then, tedious and slow is much better than exciting and circular — 10 times 1 is a lot better than 100 times 0.
  95. And finally, it isn’t that every specific disagreement (branch) would have to be addressed.
  96. Each side would try to expose a pattern, or a smoking gun, early on and save a whole lot of tsuris (Yiddish for “grief”).
  97.   Each side choosing a new branch to be pursued would keep that in mind — choosing that which it considers the most promising.

  98. A separate forum would be provided for the audience.
  99. The audience will be urged to study the guidelines and do their “scoring” of our debate accordingly. They will also be encouraged to point out infractions as well as unexpected adherence.
  100. By watching the audience forum, the spokespersons should learn quickly how its side is doing re the guidelines and, would hopefully adjust its methods accordingly.
  101. Where a side fails to properly adjust, its failure should be noted and judged.
  102. Clearly, a spokesperson cannot be made to follow the guidelines, but an alert and “noisy” audience should keep the spokespersons under control.
  103. And after all, it’s only audience opinion that matters anyway — and, an out of control opponent should not score well with the audience.
  104. The audience, and spokespersons, will be reminded that the ultimate objective here is not for the spokespersons to agree with each other, or even for the members of the audience to agree with each other, or for an allegedly impartial Judge to make the final decision.
  105. We will all be reminded that the ultimate objective of this debate is for the evidence and logic of both sides be presented as effectively as possible — so that the individual members of the audience will be as well informed as possible when making their own individual decisions.
  106.  One general guideline, of which the spokespersons will be constantly reminded, is to “slow down and zoom in.”
  107. The natural tendency for us humans in debate is to speed up — and, to thereby miss our turns.
  108. In line with our comment above about unconscious reflexiveness (#5.8), spokespersons will keep “zoning out” and will need to be constantly reminded of what they are supposed to be doing…  Seriously.
  109. hidden doubts
  110. One way to summarize the guidelines for spokespersons is to “argue in good faith.” Opponents would be reminded to keep their efforts honest, objective, open-minded, fair and friendly. (Just think what the different legislatures could do if their legislators were able to keep their debates honest, objective, open-minded, fair and friendly! We could create a whole new world! Maybe, we could save this one!)
  111. Another focus of the spokespersons should be to make sure that they understand their opponent’s case before they start arguing their own. In the beginning, the audience should see lots of questions.
  112. And, instead of aiming for agreement, the spokespersons should be aiming for ‘nailing down’ every last nuance of every last specific disagreement. If that remains their target, the audience will have its best chance at finally, and actually, understanding the disagreement and the available evidence, and for making the best decision possible (given that available evidence).
  113. And again, with a little luck, we’ll find a smoking gun early on and close our case…
%d bloggers like this: