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November 10, 2008


Robin writes: "The place where belief conformity seems clearest to me is in ideological groupthink - religion, politics, etc., i.e., where a group's identity is tied up with a belief on some hard to verify topic. I'm willing to believe this often extends to more practical beliefs as well, but as far as I can tell there just is no net "bias ... to enjoy believing what everyone else believes." At best we see pressures to embrace particular groupthinks against others. "

I think I am having a hard time figuring this out. Help me out with this example.

Suppose I believe abortion is wrong, plain wrong all of the time. You have a more nuanced view, and believe that I am wrong.

My group also believes that you non-believers are evil; your group just believes of my group that we are nuts, and possibly faking our beliefs.

Our group takes perverse pride in being small; your group is much larger, but nobody cares too much about the size of the group.

Our group would like your group to vanish, though oddly it is the small size of our group that makes it cohesive enough to last.

You group just wants to bar our group from having any policy influence.

So that is the example. What are you recommending for each participant in the two groups to believe in? I just cannot follow your practical recommendation.

Two comments for Michael Webster:
First your group **is** practicing ideological groupthink as per Robin's essay.
Second your group is even more evil than Robin's discussion of groupthink, because you want to **impose** your beliefs on others.

your group is even more evil than Robin's discussion of groupthink, because you want to **impose** your beliefs on others.

Aside from being beside the point, desire to impose one's belief on others is not by itself evil. For example, I believe that rape is wrong and I desire to impose this belief on would-be rapists. By force. Is this evil? If you believe that my desire to impose this belief on others is evil, then there is quite an abyss between us. But your belief may be self-undermining: if you believe that it is evil (with asterisks of emphasis) for me to impose my beliefs, then presumably you are, yourself, willing to fight against my imposing my beliefs - and thus are willing to impose your own beliefs on me.

Michael, I said "take no pleasure when you and your associates disagree with others." If your belief cannot survive without that pleasure, it should not survive.

@M Webster

" just cannot follow your practical recommendation"

2 Steps, 20 minutes:

  1. please review the OSCON07 talk
  2. please review slides 29-38 of the standard disagreement talk, with special focus on slides 32-37

"my impression" is working magic for me here.

Yes it is still evil. It is less evil, maybe, depending on how you go about imposing it, than rape is. The better way is for the victim to successfully defend herself, or better yet to prevent attacks. Retaliation is still coercion, even when justified.

What others believe is not acceptable evidence that can be used to determine your own belief.

If this principle is followed, then looking at others' beliefs can be a useful heuristic. If it is not, then it's not a useful heuristic.

The point is not to confuse a useful heuristic with rigorous reasoning. Heuristics are what you use when rigor can't be obtained. Using them when it's not appropriate to do so violates reason.

"then presumably you are, yourself, willing to fight against my imposing my beliefs - and thus are willing to impose your own beliefs on me."

This is the classic evil bastards' claim that equates defense with attack. Defending from someone's prior attempt to coerce me is NOT the same as imposing my beliefs on others.

Billswift - I was critiquing your argument, not attacking the conclusion. You have (at 3:53) added the new assumption that pro-lifers are not defending anyone - an additional assumption which was not part of the argument I was critiquing. Pro-lifers will, it need hardly be pointed out, disagree with your new assumption, since they consider the unborn child to be someone.

If you say, "you want to impose your beliefs on others", you are making a statement about the other person's point of view - about what they want. But if you make an assertion about the other person's point of view, then you need to consider the other person's point of view. And from their point of view, the unborn child is someone.

One reason why a group is likely to acquire uniform irrational beliefs is that the dissenters switch to other groups. If dissenters were to insist on sticking around instead, it will be more difficult for a group to acquire an attitude of "All of us are right and all of them are wrong!"

If billswift's advice were sent by chronophone to various past societies, what would it sound like?

What advice? Don't do any more evil than you need to? Defense is better than retaliation? Avoiding attack is even better than defending one? Those are all obvious to anyone who has actually lived in the real world, rather than the fantasyland of academia and the modern middle-class.

My earlier post doesn't give any advice, it just points out that imposing beliefs on others is evil (because it requires coercion, which can be dangerous if the victim resists).

@Frelkins. Thanks for the references, but the first link doesn't work. I presume that the powerpoint accompanied the talk that the first link was supposed to point to.

@Robin. Thanks. Does it follow from your view that I cannot rationally expect to be part of an elite group, which prides itself on being small and exclusive? The Groucho Marx hypothesis, if you will.

@M Webster

The OSCON07 talk is just key - sorry for the typo. The full link (damn you, Typepad!) is http://blip.tv/file/318231/

No, the disagreement paper doesn't really accompany Robin's speech, but is its background.

"I desire only to know the truth. . . .And, to the utmost of my power, I exhort all other men to do the same. . . .I exhort you also to take part in the great combat, which is the combat of life, and greater than every other earthly conflict."

Socrates, The Gorgias

I note that in pursuit of rationality, you throw morality overboard. I would point out that most people "with experience of the world" value morality more highly than rationality, and that your advice would strike them as "one of those Western things."

To elaborate, check out Jonathan Haidt in http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/articles/haidt.graham.planet-of-the-durkheimians.doc (copy link, I don't know this interface's version of html), or check out the research generally at http://people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n/moraljudgment.html

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