Thursday, November 4, 2021

You're Allowed Cynical Beliefs But Not Cynical Reactions

Society rewards cynical beliefs and optimistic reactions while at the same time it punishes optimistic beliefs and cynical reactions. 

Consider that a politician is given wide latitude to sow distrust in the system and the powers that be but would be viewed as na├»ve for believing things work by and large pretty well and our default position should be charitable benefit of the doubt. Similarly a politician would be expected to embrace a development as beneficial to his side while being seen as a sour puss or exhibiting sour grapes to downplay a successful event.

This is not just a political phenomenon. CEOs must be grounded realists who only crack a smile when championing an outcome. Otherwise, they should be on the lookout for the next problem. Yet if a problem arises, they get no credit for being dismissive.

Perhaps the biggest exemplification can be found in everyday life where nobody wants to hear about the downside after a positive moment and at the same time nobody wants to hear how it will probably all be okay in the face of fear. Rather one should doubt the future and champion any moment of progress while rejecting hope and brushing aside any consideration that ulterior motives may be at play.

Social media amplifies these truths orders of magnitude due to the network and feedback-amplification effects. 

I am a bit ambivalent on this in general. I both fight and embrace my personal tendency toward cynicism. It can negatively bias one's thought process like a disease, but it can also provide healthy critical analysis. A good journalist has a proper balance in regard to cynicism. They are not a cheerleader for their beat nor a pure curmudgeon. 

We are all and always have been journalists in one way or another to greatly varying degrees of quality. Today's technology makes this more apparent, but it has always been the case. We gather facts, analyze data, and relate stories. Some are better than others and some do it for pay while others do it for pleasure (or shear necessity of living in a society). 

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2021-11-11 Addendum: As a personal example of this, I offer how as a fan of OU football any optimistic outlook I hold is seen as being a “homer”, a derisive label. At the same time a cynical take on the team’s prospects is seen as wise and level-headed. Further, if the team does well, it is widely viewed as uncouth to not give them credit for their success. Even more so, if they do poorly, one is not allowed to point out ways the opponent got lucky, etc.

I do not find these social norms to be desirable, tbs.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

What You Think Versus How You Think

What is more important: what you think or how you think? 

To what degree is it fair to hold people accountable for what they think. Cognitive dissonance should be relative to rational ignorance. It seems unfair to hold people highly accountable for beliefs and other thoughts they shouldn't have legitimately thought much about or simply haven't had much exposure to. Further, what you think is subject to social desirability bias and group identity--factors that are so ingrained as to be a bit out of our immediate control. I think of that not as a pure get-out-of-jail card for bad thoughts (or thinking--see below) but rather as a relaxation of culpability.

How someone thinks implies an examination of reasoning, and that seems to be a much more legitimate way to evaluate thinking. What someone thinks should ultimately be governed by how they think not the other way around. Unfortunately we tend to give a very shallow evaluation of others including leaders especially politicians by getting hung up on what they think.

Consider this 2x2 analysis:


In this framework there should be high stakes if the thinking that went into an eventual thought was thorough (deep/rich), but low stakes if the thinking was not. We are rewarding good thoughts and punishing bad thoughts, but the degree to which we do so is dependent on the thinking (process) that created and supported the thought (conclusion). One implication is that more intelligent people should bear a greater burden for their thoughts. 

Another is that a bad conclusion from a thorough process should carry higher blame than would a bad conclusion from a shallow process--the bigger the inconsistency, the bigger the crime. Don't confuse that with allowing a thinker to get off easy for a bad thought when they should have thought more deeply before forming a conclusion. For that we have to change the framework.

To wit: the framework is transposed a bit when we switch from considering thought accuracy (is the thought right, correct, good, moral, etc.) to considering thought significance.


Now the framework assigns greater scrutiny to the interaction of the level of thinking and the meaningfulness of the thought rather than the level of thinking given the ultimate outcome. One obvious implication is that thoughts of trivial/minor significance deserve low stakes regardless of the reasoning level that goes into forming them. 

It is easy but false to assume all thinking should be deep/rich. That is simply not possible. It is out of our grip most of the time. We either don't have the time or the mental faculty or both. Therefore, one implication is don't hold confidently to high-significance thoughts if you did not employ deep/rich thinking in deriving them. Another implication is don't put deep/rich thinking into trivial/minor thoughts. 

How does this compare to the real world experience? I think level of reasoning is generally a non factor in most people's framework most of the time. Rather it all comes down to does it feel good and is it me or like me:


My claim is that reasoning is given very little credit for most people most of the time. Perhaps this is defensible to a degree given the vast ulterior motives we all possess. While that is an apt explanation, it is not a reasonable justification. 


Related: See Arnold Kling's review of The Mind Club.