In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

In Pursuit of Disagreement

It is important to not succumb to confirmation bias. (Edited: Panayiotis Filippou)

It is important to not succumb to confirmation bias. (Edited: Panayiotis Filippou)

In A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin wrote: “Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”

There are many gains to be made through disagreement. In our flawed humanity, we are susceptible to interlocking biases. A prominent predisposition is confirmation bias: the tendency to search for new information – or interpret existing information – to match pre-existing beliefs. Even in the age of mass global communication, it is possible to only visit preferred websites, to ignore news and comment articles against mummified beliefs and to block other users for minor deviations.

By seeking out disagreement, we refurnish, revive and refine our own arguments. It may be the source of disagreement lies within the known facts. It is more probable that – instead of ignorance – disagreement arises due to different interpretations of the same data, and the political and societal priorities thereafter. Different people find different trade-offs to be acceptable. A fourth reason for divergence is that proposed legislation – noble in ambition – has negative consequences. On the subject of economics, Thomas Sowell wrote:

Economics is a study of cause-and-effect relationships in an economy. Its purpose is to discern the consequences of various ways of allocating resources which have alternative uses. It has nothing to say about philosophy or values, any more than it has to say about music or literature.

It is through the raucous debate with a fuller variety of people – addressing their differing interpretations, trade-offs and priorities – we learn to argue successfully for distinct audiences.

The road of disagreement also means we should lose our ability to view our own opinions with immutable certainty. There are relevant books we haven’t read, and pertinent facts we have yet to uncover. It is easy to cradle the comfort blanket of consensus. It is even easier to imagine political opponents as foul demons. In Britain, Labour supporters have their worn cry of ‘Tory scum’, whilst conservatives have a tired creativeness with their insults, such as ‘leftard’, ‘champagne socialist’ and the omnipotent ‘metropolitan elite’.

In the United States, both sides of the gun control debate are called ‘zealots’ and the terms ‘communist’ and ‘Marxist’ are preserved for any politician espousing social democratic opinions.

Finding active disagreement appears to be an effective method for understanding your political opponents, and improving arguments. It also stops us being imprisoned by confirmation bias, and conflating disagreement with moral deficiency. We should read widely, read deeply, and debate effectively.

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This entry was posted on August 25, 2014 by in National Politics and tagged .
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