Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Supporting the opposite side

Political discussion and diplomacy involve reconciling different perspectives and objectives. Lessons learned in those areas may be relevant to reaching consensus about Book of Mormon geography. 
I saw a good piece on the utility of looking at issues from an alternative perspective. Titled "Flipping the Script," the article addresses the problems of confirmation bias and the backfire effect. Both of these appear frequently in the literature of Book of Mormon geography studies.
Here's the link to the article:
Here's an excerpt from the article, with my comments:
"The spirit of liberty," wrote Judge Learned Hand, "is the spirit that is not too sure it is right." 
[the quotation is from a speech, here. The line continues: "the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias." By this measure, the various sides of the Book of Mormon geography question have not been very effective.]
Authoritarianism starts with absolute certainty: Why tolerate any dissent when it is so clearly wrong? Why allow people their own choices if they choose incorrectly?
[That passage describes the citation cartel perfectly. They refuse to publish material on this topic written by anyone other than Mesoamerican advocates; they refuse to publish critiques of the Mesoamerican theory; they refuse to allow proponents of other theories to publish; and they attack alternative theories without allowing rebuttals or even a dialog. Currently, Book of Mormon Central is the worst because they are republishing all the old stuff, but you can tell if a publication is part of the citation cartel by whether its editors follow these guidelines.]
The antidote to absolute certainty is a spirit of inquiry—but that spirit runs up against various mental habits we're all wired with, such as confirmation bias and the backfire effect: People confronted with information that contradicts their belief often end up digging in their mental heels.
[The spirit of inquiry is absent from the citation cartel; that's why it's a cartel. Both confirmation bias and the backfire effect are on display regularly.]
In one experiment, conservatives were presented with Bush administration claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Some also were given information refuting those claims. Thirty-four percent of the first group accepted the administration's claim. But 64 percent of those presented with the refutation accepted the administration's claim. The contradictory evidence made them truculent.
["Truculent" is a perfect description of the publications of the citation cartel.]
This has serious consequences in more than one way. As Bloomberg columnist and George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen recently wrote, "a few years ago, when I read people I disagreed with, they swayed my opinion in their direction to some degree. These days, it's more likely that I simply end up thinking less of them." (His comment is reminiscent of Santayana's remark about newspapers: "When I read them I form perhaps a new opinion of the newspaper, but seldom a new opinion on the subject discussed.")
[An excellent description of Mesomania. I encounter this all the time.]
As an antidote to such cognitive biases, Cowen suggests not merely reading things you disagree with, but actually writing them—and, he further advises, "try to make them sound as persuasive as possible." The exercise is similar to the invention of another GMU economist, Bryan Caplan, who came up with the Ideological Turing Test: Try to write an essay in the voice of an ideological opponent. If a neutral judge can't tell the difference, then you pass.
[The citation cartel makes sure readers are not exposed to alternative perspectives; that's why it's a cartel. LDS students and members are essentially unable to read things that the establishment LDS scholars and educators disagree with. Ironically, these scholars and educators disagree with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on this issue, so they actively suppress Letter VII and many other important references.]
These are excellent proposals that might help break the political logjam America seems to have gotten itself into. Instead of knocking down straw men and rebutting claims nobody actually believes, they make us take on the best arguments from the other side. If nothing else, this makes our own case stronger. If you don't comprehend your opponent's point, then you can't counter it. And if you can't counter it, then you can't convince anybody who believes it.
[This is another way of saying that if you actually switch sides because you've actually changed your point of view, then you understand both points of view. Those who have never changed their minds on this topic are probably not going to comprehend the other's point of view.]
More hopefully, arguing for the other side might inculcate a healthy sense of self-doubt.

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