Giordano, Hilzoy, Wikipedia on the Benefits of Not Being a Dick

Synchronicity is in the air.

Al Giordano, whose opinions on things like this were borne out repeatedly during the presidential campaign, wrote the other day on what Obama has really been up to with the stimulus bill: The partisanship trap:

…Obama’s strategy is to set [Congressional Republicans] up for another rout in the 2010 Congressional elections and to hasten, in the meantime, the process by which they wake up and realize their seats are vulnerable. The President doesn’t need their votes on the Stimulus (therefore, this maneuver is not about the Stimulus, but more akin to a football team calling a running play to set up a later passing play). The truth is that so many Congressional Democrats are so undependable that Obama will need some Republican votes later on other legislative priorities, particularly in the Senate in order to get 60 votes for “cloture” to allow bills to be voted up or down: On the Employee’s Free Choice Act, on Immigration Reform (and now he needs one more to offset the anti-immigrant junior Democratic Senator from New York), on children’s health care and much, much more. To get to that point, he has to make individual Republicans feel vulnerable at the ballot box to Democratic challenge. Today’s events are speeding that process up.

In the end, Obama’s “bipartisanship” is one of the most Machiavellian partisan maneuvers we’ve seen in Washington in a long while, and I use that description in its most admirable context. The Republicans fell right into the trap today. Progressives that urge Obama to be more “partisan” should pay close attention to how the GOP is getting pwned before falling into the same trap themselves.

hilzoy is likewise someone who has emerged from the last few years with many of her interpretations vindicated by subsequent events. She makes a similar argument in Bipartisanship and the stimulus:

If Obama had gone to the Republicans and said: I propose a bill entirely made up of things Democrats really want and you really hate, but please, do join us in supporting it!, that wouldn’t work at all. But he didn’t do that. He went the extra mile. When Republicans protested about particular things, he dropped some of them (though not all: he was not, for instance, willing to compromise on refundable tax credits, and he was right not to compromise on that one.) There’s a fine line between being willing to compromise and being willing to surrender, and I think Obama generally stayed on the right side of it, while being open enough to compromise that he will get real credit for trying.

The House Republicans, by contrast, looked silly. They were carping about tiny bits of the stimulus (the capitol mall?!). They changed the bits they objected to from one day to the next, and looked for all the world like what I take them to be: people who were determined to oppose the stimulus bill from the outset.

This reminds me of a recent bout of Wikipedia editing I got involved in. As always, I came away with the feeling that it’s the people on your own side who are the biggest pains in the ass when trying to craft a consensus on a controversial article. Case in point: user hrafn’s one-man campaign to “win” the evolution/creationism debate for the evolutionists at the Strengths and weaknesses of evolution page. More detail (much, much more detail) about my views on how this runs counter to Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy is available on the article’s talk page, if you’re interested.

I made it a personal challenge to try to do everything “right” in Wikipedia terms. I assumed good faith. I made it about improving the article, not about the personalities. I worked for consensus on the Talk page, rather than getting caught up in revert wars in the article itself. It took a long time, and ultimately, while I think I made some good points and achieved some small, but measurable, improvements in the article, I gave up. Life’s too short, and I’ve got other things I care about. You win, hrafn. For certain values of “win”.

The “big three” core policies of Wikipedia, the so-called Trifecta, are these: 1) Remain neutral. 2) Don’t be a dick. 3) Ignore all rules. Taken together, I think they really do offer hope for building consensus on controversial questions. But it’s not a quick process. Quoting hilzoy, again:

To my mind, it is generally a good idea to act on the assumption that your opponents are reasonable people. (There are, of course, exceptions: e.g., when you don’t have time.) It’s the right thing to do morally. But it’s also generally the right thing to do tactically. I think this is especially true when you suspect that your opponents are, in fact unreasonable. You should always hope to be proven wrong, but if you are not — if your opponents are, in fact, unreasonable — then by taking the high road, you can ensure that that fact will be plain to the world.

Anyway, this is a long way to go to get to it, but I’m hereby apologizing to shcb for losing my cool with him in the comments about global warming science. It’s understandable that people who aren’t climate scientists (which, as far as I know, none of us around here are) are going to have different views on the degree of scientific consensus (or its lack). And while I can have my own opinion on the bad reasons someone might have for elevating the views of people like Joel Kotkin or Larry Summers or James Inhofe over those of the scientific mainstream, it doesn’t buy me much to make accusations in that area.

Evaluating the claims of science is actually fairly hard, in that science asks us to transcend traits that have been baked into us over the course of millions of years of primate evolution. Meanwhile, recognizing whether or not someone is being a dick is pretty easy. Given that, being dickly is a good way to lose the argument, at least in the eyes of a substantial chunk of whatever audience you have. Most people don’t keep score on the basis of journal citations and scientific reputation. They keep score on the basis of who sounds more reasonable. So it’s important to sound reasonable.

One last synchronistic item: I liked the op-ed piece in today’s edition of the Incredible Shrinking Print Media by Deborah Heiligman: The Darwin’s marriage of science and religion.

Although they never were able to see eye-to-eye on the question of religion and God, [Charles and Emma Darwin] were able to reach their hands across the gulf. In the end, each of them accepted and, it seems, truly understood what the other believed.

If it is a sign of intelligence to be able to hold two opposite thoughts or opinions in your head, then it is a mark of a successful marriage to be able to truly see the other person’s point of view. This is also the mark of a successful society.

9 Responses to “Giordano, Hilzoy, Wikipedia on the Benefits of Not Being a Dick”

  1. Steve Says:

    I have to strongly disagree with you here. Sometimes being right is much more important than being polite. Global warming denial and creationism are just plain wrong. There’s no harm in pointing out how ridiculous those opinions are.

    I think the real trick is treating a PERSON with respect while continuing to treat their ridiculous OPINIONS with disrespect.

    shcb is a perfect case in point. He’s a beautiful creature, made in the image of God, and deserves all the respect and honor such an image should be accorded.

    On the other hand, many of the ideas he espouses here, if not actively dangerous and harmful, are easy to refute by using empirical evidence or simple logic.

    It’s possible to respect people without respecting their opinions.

  2. jbc Says:

    Well, Charles Darwin was “right”, and to this day, something like 60-87% of the US population holds views about human origins that conflict with his explanation. Maybe the people who are pushing their “right”-ness on the evolution/creation debate are doing something wrong?

  3. knarlyknight Says:

    Or maybe the primary effect of schooling on the vast majority of American students is to instill a certain respect of authority and a degree of conformity necessary for a compliant workforce, and that makes them more susceptible to faith based arguments.

    Such school conditioning would also make people more likely to assess an argument based on the “reasonableness” of the debater (i.e. the less likely it is to upset authority figures) and less likely to assess the merits of the debater’s logic.

    There is a high degree of conformity in half a sack of hammers.

  4. shcb Says:

    Boy, I feel like the little kid getting a pat on the head by the loud, cigar chewing uncle that says “your cute kid, but not very bright”. Just so we understand each other I think of you guys the same, your ideals are at best a laughable distraction and at worst dangerous. But I enjoy the conversation. The group is small enough to get to know each other and for the most part fairly civil and thoughtful. But I do appreciate the apology (I think that’s what it was).

    Part of the problem we have here is there is no uninterested third party to moderate the rhetoric. If you are in a setting of say a cocktail party and you are discussing something with a friend who has an opposing view you know that neither is probably going to change the other’s mind. You are playing to the crowd, to a moderately interested third party. In that setting JBC is right, sounding reasonable can be as important as whether one person is more right than the other. “Never murder a man committing suicide” comes to mind. Jayson is probably the closest thing we have that third party, and as the only fulltime conservative I do my best to suck up to him every chance I get because that is really the only reason I do this, to practice so when I am talking to someone in person I’ve given some thought to these issues, and I like a good argument, it’s mental gymnastics. But I have to admit that sometimes it gets almost too tedious.

    For instance since we still seem to be on global warming would it be too much to ask for just one of you to say “I wonder why temps are leveling off even though CO2 is going up, you may have a point there shcb”. I think my side of the argument is being very sensible to say the yes something is going on here but before we go off half cocked let’s make sure we have a good idea what the problem is.

    To answer you last question JBC, we’re not doing anything wrong with educating people about evolution, when it comes to beliefs that are or resemble religion you can’t change people’s minds easily. There is a question they don’t understand and they can’t live with not understanding something so they plug the hole with a belief. That is part of science, to understand that you don’t understand everything and maybe never will, but your job is to understand a little more than you did yesterday and just live with the hole that is a bit smaller today.

    Oh well, back to work.

  5. knarlyknight Says:

    I wonder why temps are leveling off even though CO2 is going up, you may have a point there shcb but it looks to me that the levelling off has only been in the last couple of years and thus is consistent with normal short term temperature variations resulting from the data samples (i.e. locations of temperature samples taken of dynamic and widely disparate environments), the abrupt and unexpected cessation of sun-spot activity last year, and perhaps other factors such as particulates in jet exhaust ( )

  6. J.A.Y.S.O.N. Says:

    The real fact is though, no one has ever changed anyone’s mind on I made an assertion a long time ago that political beliefs were more like religious ones, I still feel it’s true. The thread arguments here are really pointless. The opposition’s facts are never good enough to sway anyone.

  7. shcb Says:

    I think you are generally right Jayson. (see, I’m sucking up to him again :-) I think that is why when people change their minds of a few issues many times they change parties and philosophies. Kelsey Grammer, John Voit, Dennis Miller and David Horowitz are a few famous people that come to mind that more or less flipped over a matter of a few years. But reasonable people can at least compromise. I was against gay marriage in any form for instance. But after hearing reasonable well thought out arguments for some of the practical problems gay couples encounter, viewing medical records for example, I am now firmly for something like a civil union but still not in favor of gay marriage. So I haven’t given up all my values but I’ve softened a little.

  8. knarlyknight Says:

    If swaying someone is your goal, then yes threads are pointless. is not pointless if your goal is to understand how much misinformation has been swallowed by others. ;-)

  9. shcb Says:

    But let’s talk about the other part of this thread, Obama’s maneuvering. Bok says

    The House Republicans, by contrast, looked silly. They were carping about tiny bits of the stimulus (the capitol mall?!).

    Maybe that is what she read on the Huffington Post but let’s see what the Wall Street Journal has to say.

    In sum, what we are really getting in this stimulus bill are several more steps in the gradual government takeover of the health-care market.

    I counted about 125 billion listed in this article for socialized medicine. Now the Democrats won everything, so they have every right to increase socialized medicine if they wish, but it should stand on its own merits, not slid in this bill, now of course there is the half bil for the performing arts, the money for the mall, and all the other pork. Wasn’t there a candidate running for president that said he would veto any bill with pork? He not only is not going to veto it, he is out there promoting it. Now it seems there are some Democrats that are a little squeamish they were really hoping for some Republican cover. Ah, the multiplicity of factions is a wonderful thing. Of course now we hear that some Republican governors (read Arnold) are pleading to senate and house Republicans to please, please vote for the bill, why? Because it has bunches of money to help bail them out, back to the WSJ piece.

    This pot of money will be used to blow out the federal matching rate by 4.9 percentage points across the board. Medicaid is nominally a joint state-federal program, but the feds pick up 57% of the Medicaid bill on average and are willing to go as high as 82% in some states. In other words, Democrats want to bail out the states that make unaffordable health-care promises and haven’t tried to control costs. This latest rescue will give Governors more incentive to do so, given that the more they spend, the more Congress pays.

    California is looking at double digit billions in deficit this year, they will take whatever Washington will send its way. Colorado is begging too but not quite as loud, we’re only a few hundred million in the hole. There will be cuts everywhere except for teachers salaries thanks to Amendment 23, god I hate the voters being able to change the constitution, what a stupid idea.

    So the new kid is getting a lesson in how the process really works.

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