The Three Types and the Truth

Three Kinds of People When it Comes to Truth

Austin Frakt posted this image over at The Incidental Economist (it is originally from Dog House Diaries.)

It got me to thinking who these three types of people are. I think the “Awesome” people are your general liberally minded people. I don’t mean “liberal” in a political sense. I just saw that 60% of Republicans are in favor of raising the minimum wage. (Fewer are for adjusting it to inflation.) So there are a fair number of reasonable people who consider themselves conservative even though they are, as I said, “Liberally minded.”

The “Dangerous” types are really quite common. I once had this insurance broker who told me that he had no misconceptions. The world was neatly divided into what he knew was true and what he didn’t know. He was, of course, a Republican. This kind of certainty is entirely typical of conservatives. It is similar to the Dunning–Kruger effect where people who have little skill in something overestimate their abilities while people with much skill underestimate. But in this case, it is that people who are most certain of something tend to be the least right. And on a larger level, people who are most certain about a lot are least knowledgeable about everything. You know, a conservative!

But what about that “Run” group: are there really people like that outside of a mental ward? I think there are: Christian conservatives. These are the people who really skew things. These are the people who dragged a once great political party into its current state where science and even facts are nothing but opinion. These are the people for whom Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness.” The “Dangerous” crowd can still be convinced of things. They at least admit that there are more things in heaven and earth than exist in their perfect truth bubble.

The “Run” group have all the truth that is necessary and that truth is Jesus! Or at least the Jesus that they’ve been taught. You know, the God who loves the sinner but hates the sin, but couldn’t be bothered to make man without Original Sin? That guy! The one who loves you but will consign you to the fires of hell. To suffer in agony. Forever. Because you masturbated or somehow otherwise offended him by doing something he designed you to do. That’s the “Run” group!

In my experience, the “Run” group divides up their ultimate truth three ways: one part “Jesus loves me!” and one part “God hates abortion!” and one part “God hates non-productive ejaculation!” So you see, the graph is wrong. It isn’t that the “Run” types have beliefs that expand to fit the big universe; they have just reduced the truth to just about the most pathetic set of things imaginable.

It is a good idea to run from them. Unfortunately, here in the United States, they are everywhere. I’d say they are 20% of the population. But I’ll admit, that number is very possible outside the truth bubble.

6 thoughts on “The Three Types and the Truth

  1. "Are there really people like that outside of a mental ward? Christian conservatives." Dude, go INSIDE a mental ward sometime. (If you haven’t already.) They all have a special relationship with God.

    Thing is, what are our "views?" Shaw mentioned this once, in a preface to a play (Androcles & The Lion, I think). A person in 1600 who said "the earth is round" because they had experience as a seafarer, looking at the horizon and the obvious curvature, was talking from personal knowledge. A person who said "the earth is flat" because they’d never seen curvature on the horizon, or used maps for navigation that assumed the planet’s round shape, was talking from personal knowledge.

    Today we accept (well, some of us do) that the Earth is round, located so many miles from the Sun. Just because we accept it. None of us perform the experiments that prove these things. (Hell, on airplane flights, people wonder aloud why the little plane on the little video map goes in an arc instead of a straight line. Because the arc is a straight line!)

    Shaw, no fan of religion, was making the point that we can’t mock religious belief easily. They believe what they’ve been told. We believe what we’ve been told.

    This is where having a sense of right and wrong comes into play. I don’t really have many opinions of my own; most, especially concerning economics and science, come from other sources I trust. Why do I trust them? Because they don’t strike me as assholes. If Naomi Klein and Thomas Frank and Noam Chomsky, tomorrow, together published a huge book with lots of footnotes that claimed laissez-faire economics will help and always has helped the world, I’d give it a serious look. If the next Thomas Friedman or Fareed Zakaria clone comes out with a book along those lines, and others say I should read it, I will . . . but generally those writers will expose themselves as Asshole in a few pages, so I don’t pay much attention to their arguments.

    I just finished "Atheist In The Foxhole" (great rec), and I had the same feeling about right and wrong. Of course, it’s natural for a young kid who wants to live in New York to take any job he can. But, still . . . Fox? Finally, the Fox website gets too racist for his taste and he burns his ships. What, exactly, about Fox News wasn’t racist before? (The take I got from the author was that racism is bad, but incessant putdowns of the poor are merely common sense, and thereby OK.)

    Rant to continue . . .

  2. Ahh, fuck the rant, ya know what I mean. Who knows anything? I trust people who seem to have the same values I do about intrinsic truth being a goal worth seeking, who don’t use charming folksy-isms or snarky pundit-isms. They could all well be wrong. I do get the sense that the sources I trust really believe what they say they stand for, and aren’t saying it for cash. But, then, O’Reilly believes what he says, and so do the Duck Dynasty people, I suppose.

    Thing I know: never poop before you make sure you aren’t out of TP. I should put that on my tombstone. It’s a valuable lesson for the young. Other than that, I really just trust people I like.

  3. @JMF – This is an important issue but I think you are a tad cynical. There is nothing bad about trust. We need to trust each other. Our social system is designed to find the truth. The problem comes in when people are disingenuous. Most people who accept climate change are just accepting what other people say. Most people who don’t are just accepting what other people say. But the former group stems from a group of climate scientists who largely have no ax to grind and whose opinions are based on a few decades of direct research (and thousands of years indirectly). The latter group stems from oil companies who have a very real financial interest in stopping any legislation that would address the problem.

    You can think about it like John Rawls’ veil of ignorance. If you had no idea where in the world you would find yourself, would you look at the data for and against climate change and conclude nothing should be done? I don’t think so. What’s more, of the two groups–climate scientists and oil companies–which has a greater stake in a particular outcome? Clearly the oil companies. The truth is that any scientist could make a name for himself if he could find holes in the theory.

    Richard Feynman described how he thought about things and it is very much how I think. You start with a model of the truth (he used an orange as I recall). When new data come in, you alter the model. Over time, fewer and fewer changes have to be made in the model. Sometimes the model completely falls apart and you have to start over.

    That’s especially true of my model of economics. My model has changed over the years. There actually hasn’t been any revolution along the way. I started as a libertarian with a very simple and crisp model. But over time, the model has become far more complex because the actual economy is complex. I think the reason that many conservatives hold on to their tired neoclassical ideas is that they refuse to look at the real world. They are too focused on their utopian dream, or in the case of professional economists, their computer models.

    Here’s the thing: liberals are at a distinct advantage. Everything is allowed! It is a practical way of thinking. You go where the data take you. Conservatives don’t. They start with a long list of things they can’t even consider. It isn’t any surprise that their ideas are really limited.

  4. When I participated in online adult college courses a few years back, I really enjoyed the business ones; just interacting with people who had a very different perspective from mine, and everybody being polite in expressing their differences.

    When, in a course on Business Ethics, Rawls came up, 90% of the students just couldn’t grok what the "veil of ignorance" was about. They didn’t hate it ideologically. They had no way of conceiving what it meant. I and the instructor spent a lot of time trying to explain it, to no avail (and it’s not like the concept is hard to grasp in the first place.)

    Mind you, these weren’t business students at Harvard, with a guaranteed in to the financial world. These were business students at a community college. Whose intelligence, I’m sure, equals or surpasses that of Harvard students, but whose degree will be a lot less lucrative.

    And yet they’d bought into the "winners win" mantra so completely that Rawls’s brilliantly basic conception of "so where did you start from on the Monopoly board" was just inconceivable to them. (It’s inconceivable to my Bain brother, a Harvard grad, also.)

    This is an important question, and I am cynical, and my calling others "assholes" doesn’t begin to address it. Nor does your take on a model refined by experience and data. I agree with that model; it’s close to how my thinking works. But is it different, really, from the evolution/climate-change-denier who gets new chain-forwarded e-mails daily confirming their beliefs?

    Ultimately, liberalism and conservatism come from someplace else besides mere data. Or mere experience. Veterans who have seen the horrors of war are liberal and conservative. Workers who have been screwed by employers, the same. People who live charmed lives, no different.

    It strikes me, typing this, that the great faults of socialism and fascism lie in trying to condition all their subjects to think a certain way. Since that will never work, of course they need spying and secret police forces. You can create a system as perfectly designed to manufacture creeps as Fascism did, and some will still resist it. You can create a system as good for workers as modern Europe, and some will respond to demagogues saying "Muslims suck! Let’s privatize the bus service!"

    And this is why I rant on this site (and in e-mails to other hapless victims.) Not because I think my rants have any intrinsic worth. But because I honestly don’t know why we are what we are, and I hope that by splaying by psychoses out for everyone to see, somebody might pick up on one of them and have an insightful response I’d never seen before.

    As you can readily imagine, this method of searching for insightful responses has not, to date, produced much of many.

  5. @JMF – The difference is that one must allow the information to flow. There is nothing saying that the oil companies can’t do good climate science. In fact, they have. But they spend far more on propaganda than on science.

    I understand the resistance against reading differing information. All of us have a bias toward staying the way we are. That’s understandable. But I don’t think that climate change deniers can be let off so easily. Actual contradictory information gets through to them all the time. The very marginal (cherry picked) science from the deniers almost never gets through to people who accept climate change.

    It’s actually pretty simple. If someone is thinking, when pressed, they don’t say, "I’ll have to look that up in the book I just read by Bill O’Reilly." Or Al Franken. It happens all over. I am very disturbed by the ignorance on the left, but it isn’t [i]nearly[/i] as bad as it is on the right.

  6. @JMF – Oops! I forgot. I don’t think those people failed to understand Rawls. They just didn’t agree with him. It is a highly skewed sample. Not everyone would agree on the society based upon the veil of ignorance. That’s fine! The point is, I think, that the vast majority would select a system that is far more fair than the one we have. That’s probably even true of those business students. Most people don’t "grok" (Good word!) just how unfair our system is.

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