Issues and PersonalitiesJune 11, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Hopefully we’re pretty much done with the Loser’s Compromise series. I think it’s gone pretty well, and a big part of the reason for that is that this series focuses entirely on the issues, rather than on personalities. I think that’s a good strategy, for a number of reasons.
Let’s recap. In “Victoria and Holmes,” we looked at how the Loser’s Compromise worked, and why it would not be an advantage to anyone who was arguing a point that was clearly supported by the evidence. When the facts are on your side already, there’s no need to appeal to the idea that all points of view can be seen as equally consistent with the facts. Thus, the Loser’s Compromise appeals to us primarily when the evidence is not in our favor. Hence the name.
In “A Quick Preview,” we mentioned the Loser’s Compromise in passing, noting that the Myth Hypothesis is already 100% consistent with the verifiable evidence, and therefore the best a competing hypothesis could hope for is to predict the exact same consequences as the Myth Hypothesis. Anything less, and the Myth Hypothesis is the one best supported by the evidence. Under the circumstances, it would be easy to understand the temptation to raise a Loser’s Compromise in defense against the superior consistency of the Myth Hypothesis.
In “The Loser’s Compromise (cont),” we explored the further ramifications of the Loser’s Compromise, and how it makes us “losers” by causing us to lose the ability to distinguish between false alternatives and the true one. Indeed, the whole point of the Loser’s Compromise is to blur the distinction between true conclusions and false ones so as to protect us from having our false beliefs exposed as error, defending our pride at the expense of our intellectual integrity.
“Why ‘Loser’s’ Compromise?” explored the difference between a laudable open-mindedness that admits its own fallibility, and the Loser’s Compromise, which seeks to avoid acknowledging its mistakes. Honest inquirers admit the possibility that new information might change their conclusions, but they still distinguish between conclusions that are consistent with the evidence and those that aren’t. The Loser’s Compromise, by contrast, seeks to avoid discovering which conclusions are most consistent with the truth, so as to avoid being proven wrong. That’s the exact opposite of an open-minded, skeptical admission of fallibility.
“Our unicorn overlords” looked a specific example of creating a situation where two conflicting hypotheses predicted the exact same real-world consequences (of which there are a huge number by the way: virtually all of the worlds political developments throughout history!). By taking a step away from the specific topic of Myth Hypothesis versus Gospel Hypothesis, it demonstrated with a bit more objectivity the manner in which the Loser’s Compromise really offers no justification for believing in powerful, invisible beings.
And most recently, “How great a loss!” pointed out that, fundamentally, the Loser’s Compromise is necessarily a self-deception, since conflicting hypotheses can only be equally (in)consistent with the truth if they are both false. Granted, lack of information can sometimes produce an inability to determine which hypothesis is most consistent with the facts (in which case agnosticism is the only justified conclusion), but where the available information is readily available, and is clearly more consistent with one hypothesis than another, it is mere self-deception to pretend to be unable to reach a reasonable determination of the truth.
Seven posts, and none of them have been attacks on any one person. I have focused on the issues themselves, and on the reasons why a Loser’s Compromise is a bad idea. And that’s a tremendous advantage for my case. If I had tried to attack someone personally, and to prove that they were guilty of promoting a Loser’s Compromise, I would have set myself up for failure, because the person I attacked would only need to deny that they believed in any Loser’s Compromise. The burden of proof would be on me to establish someone’s guilt, to prove their thoughts in contradiction of their claims, and that’s a difficult burden to bear. Plus, even if I won, what would be the point? One person would be embarrassed, and 50 years from now (or even 10, or 2), who would care?
It is so much better to focus on the issues, because if someone comes along and says, “I reject the idea that the evidence could support some conflicting hypothesis as well as it supports the Myth Hypothesis,” then I haven’t lost an argument and/or made an enemy, I’ve added one more to the number of people who reject the Loser’s Compromise. That’s a win for both of us, because we’ve both rejected a flawed idea that impedes the search for truth.
Granted, there may be some out there who do indeed want to promote the Loser’s Compromise (for instance, by arguing that some other hypothesis is just as consistent with the real-world facts as the Myth Hypothesis, and is therefore “justified” whether or not it is true). And granted, my posts on the Loser’s Compromise may indeed make such people very uncomfortable. Good. Embracing flawed ideas and self-deceptions should make us uncomfortable. It should bother us so much that we can no longer continue defending the errors in our thinking. Ideally, it should drive us to reconsider our assumptions, and seek out new beliefs with a stronger foundation in real-world fact.
A hundred years from now, it won’t matter whether one person “scored a point” against some other luckless individual. But the difference between sound thinking and self-deception will still matter. People will come and people will go, but ideas and their consequences will endure—for good (sound thinking) or ill (self-deception). And that’s why it’s so satisfying to focus on the issues, rather than on petty personal squabbles.