Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Fine Art of Finger Pointing

As the finger pointing begins, to aid discussion, I would like to establish some ground rules.

(1) Direct one's criticism at a trait or attitude, not at a person or group. Bigotry, authoritarianism, intolerance, misogyny, a disregard for the truth - these are all problems worthy of condemnation. Trump supporters, Muslims, Atheists, Mexicans, Progressives, Conservatives, Liberals - these are people - some more of whom may have the quality in question, some may not. More importantly, there are always people outside the target group who share the quality. When they do, they need to share the criticism and not be left out because they are not a member of a target group.

(2) Explanations have to point at real difference, not just perceived difference. One cannot rationally blame Clinton's dishonesty or corruption, for example, because there is no actual evidence of sufficient dishonesty or corruption. Significantly more dishonest and corrupt people won their elections. So, we needed to find actual difference.

(3) Where an explanation lands on a perceived difference not grounded on evidence, then an explanation is required for the mistaken perception. It is best if independent reason exists for that explanation. Implicit gender bias explains misperceptions concerning Clinton's "dishonesty" and "corruption". It causes people to accept as true derogatory claims independent of evidence and react to them out of proportion to that of a male facing the same accusations.

(4) A common rhetorical trick is to treat a proposed explanation as the sole explanation and then respond by saying that because this is not true, the explanation being offered can be rejected. This is a straw man response - constructing a too-weak interpretation of an argument in order to easily attack it. Explanations should be taken as contributing to that which is being explained, not as the sole cause.

(5) From (4) it follows that two people offering different explanations can both be right. Getting into a shouting match over such differences is a waste. Instead, they should be taken as identifying two different problems, each of which needs to be addressed.

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