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Why reality has a liberal bias:

Building on a comment:

I think I remember Milton Friedman saying in Capitalism and Freedom that it was a lucky coincidence that the path of freedom was also the path of greatest prosperity, but that he would advocate freedom even if it wasn't most prosperous. (This in 1963, when lots of people still worried about the competitive powers of Communism.) I was impressed by this statement of principle, back when I was 14.

These days, with more age and cynicism, I note it's cheap to make a stand on principle when you think it pays off the best anyway, and that very few people actually advocate a system they think makes things worse off in a way they care about. (E.g. some liberals might grant that social justice measures slow GDP growth, but not think that's very important.) Almost everyone's an implicit consequentialist, invoking good consequences as fall-back to defend a system they primarily defend for reasons of deontology (morality) or tradition or authority or self-interest or something. Perhaps out of instinct, perhaps because it's the only way to reach someone who doesn't share one's deontology, tradition, etc.

Of course, that opens the door to intellectual dishonesty and corruption, if it turns out the consequences of something one is already committed to believing in aren't in fact optimal. Easier to deny the evidence than to actually admit inferiority but believe anyway or to admit error and change one's mind.

Which suggests to me that the people who are have the least amount of principles or axioms, and the most commitment to consequentialism for its own sake, are most likely to have an accurate view of consequences.

And these days I think that's what the US calls liberals, or at least a subset of them. Libertarians have the non-aggression principle (deontology); some conservatives at their best have reverence for tradition as a living and gradually evolving thing; other conservatives have straight religious authority deference, or deference to the rich, or the self-interest of the rich; the far lefts [sic plural] I don't know well enough to talk about much really, but it seems like a mix of deontologies and authorities and 'theory', depending.

Whereas at least in my case, the switch from libertarianism to liberalism/social democracy was all about a switch from moral principle and theory being primary to empiricism being primary. "You know, Sweden just seems like a nice place to live." It's less true that I have different axioms now than it is that I don't think axiomatically nearly as much. And even when I think I do -- "torture's just *wrong*" -- I'm not sure I really do, e.g. in the face of evidence of torture really really working for interrogation or criminal rehabilitation.

Which on the one hand means I'm on shifting moral quicksand and on the other means I (speaking for my kind of liberal vs. other political positions) have a reason to think I have among the clearest views of reality, with the least amount of cognitive bias. On most if not all issues, if there were a sudden surge of evidence against me there's not a lot of ideology compelling me to reject it as threatening to my entire world view, the way accepting anthropogenic global warming is threatening to anyone ideologically committed to small or non-existent government.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/313306.html#comments


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 22nd, 2012 10:28 pm (UTC)
My experience is that NOBODY is as dogmatic and doctrinaire as an American liberal. Except, perhaps, a British one. These are people who brag that they refuse to read anything they disagree with. Upon my word of honour, and I am not exaggerating, I have had better conversation and more civility from old-time Fascists and convinced Communists. I am not a conservative except on things like abortion, but I am forced to consort with them because even the worst of them don't quite spit in my face in the way that seems natural to 90% of liberals and progressives - present company excepted (or I would not even be bothering to post).
Mar. 22nd, 2012 10:35 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen such bragging from liberals. I have seen purity-maintenance group-exclusion rituals; I certainly wouldn't say liberals are uniformly empiricist. They can be ignorant and flawed too. But I think there's a population level difference. Gotta run now though, need to buy canned Italian tomatoes.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
Have you read blogs or listened to speeches by some of the more vocal US conservatives? Dear gods, immunity to facts is not merely obvious, it's also been shown in studies. Obviously, everyone has their biases, but there are clear differences (at least in the US), and facts are not something most conservatives embrace. We have an entire political party where being a federal level candidate demands not just rejecting the existence of human-caused global warming, but of darwinian evolution.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 12:12 am (UTC)
OTOneH I pretty much agree, and disagreeing with scientists at one point is a heuristic I use for discounting people's opinions in general.

OTOH it's definitely true liberals as a social group aren't immune to groupthink, echo chambering, "purge the unbeliever", and confusion when someone who's anathema turns out to agree on something. Tangency sometimes shows it, but I think I see it more in the comments at james_nicoll's LJ. Cf. the confusion when OSC says something sane, or calls himself a Democrat, or the annual bewilderment at the Prometheus Award being given for libertarian-ish books even if not written by libertarian authors. Those silly libertarians, not having a purity test! Ahem. Or reactions to anything hinting of eugenics or racial differences. Understandable, but risky.

Because all that is harmful to maintaining that liberal bias on reality. If people get shunned for questioning orthodoxy, that becomes a barrier. To keep being right you have to keep being open to the possibility of being wrong.

Of course that gets tiring and you don't want to have to keep rejecting nutballs, but it's a delicate line to maintain, one I intend to post more on.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 12:23 am (UTC)
*nods* In liberal groups I've generally seen "purging unblievers" involve either attacks because someone does not accept obvious scientific facts (like evolution) or in ways that are orthogonal to scientific facts and have far more to do with ideology and often poorly considered emotional reactions (discussions or racism and sexism seem especially prone to this).

I largely avoid tangency, but I haven't seen a liberal echo-chamber there are much as a barely restrained liberal/conservative (the later mostly but not exclusively of the libertarian sort) war. OTOH, James Nicoll's lj is definitely an example of a liberal echo chamber.

Cf. the confusion when OSC says something sane, or calls himself a Democrat,

He doesn't really do either of these enough any more for it to matter :)

or the annual bewilderment at the Prometheus Award being given for libertarian-ish books even if not written by libertarian authors.

This is a truly excellent point, I remember being both amused and puzzled when I saw that MacLeod's Stone Canal won that award.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 12:34 am (UTC)
Paul Graham had an interesting essay on how whenever you called something 'racist' or 'sexist' instead of 'wrong' you were probably being wrong yourself. Or at least risking it, using pejorative labeling as an excuse for not showing why something was wrong.

I don't follow Card except through James, I don't know if he's even posting much. But he could easily post something linked to calling himself a Democrat again, and people will go "whaaah" and I'll have to post my links again about him being pro-immigration, pro-minimum wage, pro-labor in general, protectionist, anti death penalty, pro gun control, pro taxes...

See, I can't understand why anyone who'd read the Stone Canal would be puzzled at it winning an award for libertarian SF. Hello, functioning anarcho-capitalist society?
Mar. 23rd, 2012 01:05 am (UTC)
Part of my puzzlement was that MacLeod is a hardcore socialist, which serves your point quite well. Also, while I think that book is quite good and a portrayal of a functional anarcho-capitalist society, it also struck me as a fairly brutal and unpleasant place to live.

Of course, I was also amused that he clearly did his best to be fair when describing it, and so I found The Stone Canal a considerably better book than The Cassini Division, in large part because it was clear that MacLeod liked that society far better, and as a result got a bit didactic (and thus dull) for much of the early and middle part of that novel.

OTOH, I found reading The Cassini Division useful to read, because it helped me solidify the fact that while on an intellectual level I strongly approve of anarcho-communism, I think that a well run social-democratic state actually works far better in practice and would likely do so even in a largely post-scarcity society - the only exception being a situation like Banks' Culture, where the Minds provide an truly awesome simulation of freedom, while still keeping people from harming on another or otherwise causing servious problems.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 01:14 am (UTC)
Keep telling each other how wonderful you are.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 01:31 am (UTC)
Your comments about liberals and liberal culture would ring a whole lot less hollow if the mainstream of conservative culture (at least in the US) had not be entirely co-opted by the vehemently anti-science, anti-intellectual, and anti-critical thinking religious right.

Do you deny that by spending times with conservatives you are spending time with at least some people who deny the existence of evolution as well as people who believe the US president is a Kenyan-born Muslim?

I also challenge you to find anything that a large percentage of US liberals believe that is anywhere close to as obviously ludicrious as either of these two beliefs.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 01:42 am (UTC)
Why should I, since you're so obviously right in everything you say and do?
Mar. 23rd, 2012 01:55 am (UTC)
I'm fairly convinced that I'm correct, and I've posted evidence to back up my contentions. I'm, however, also willing to concede that there may be things that I've overlooked.

In short, I asked an actual question and the fact that your responses have been purely dismissive suggests to me that you don't have any such evidence. I would definitely be interested to see you prove me wrong.

Also, do you deny the claims I made in my two responses to your comments?
Mar. 23rd, 2012 02:01 am (UTC)
First. It's two o'clock in the morning where I live and the short bout of insomnia that got me to the computer is nearly over.

Second. After literally DOZENS of lousy experiences of people who proclaimed their open-mindedness to the four winds and then refused to read anything that - to mention a recent instance - mentioned Jesus, I am less than hopeful that you might prove the exception. When I say that I haven't met anyone as close-minded as the average liberal, I describe pure experience - experience, in fact, that has driven me away from what used to be my own default position. Anyway, I have a blog with plenty of stuff in it. Go read it, if you want any idea of who I am and what I think.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 02:41 am (UTC)
You don't live in the US, so you don't see the reasons why, but I'm betting that what the vast majority of the liberals you encounter react badly to is specifially mentions of Jesus and Christianity. There are excellent reasons for them to do so. One of the largest and most powerful forces in US politics and society is the religious right, and it is dominated and largely run by Dominionists of the sort who openly advocate holy war with Muslims, murder of physicians who perform abortion, and who also regularlly harass liberals, people of color (most of them are also extreme racists), and in fact anyone who disagrees with them. If you hear someone mentioning Christianity in the US today, they are most likely either one of these people or closely associated with them. The desire to avoid such people makes sense, and sadly you are getting caught up in that.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 05:27 am (UTC)
And water is wet. Anything else universally known and stunningly basic you wish to communicate?
Mar. 23rd, 2012 02:14 am (UTC)
While I fear that once again fpb is acting out the phenomena I'm talking/thinking about, I'll note he's an Italian in the UK, and AFAIK hangs out with conservative Catholics online, so his social "support" of evolution-denial is probably minimal. Beliefs about Obama or Muslims are another matter, mind.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 05:29 am (UTC)
Since I have repeatedly posted about Obama, what I believe about him ought not to be a matter for doubt.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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