Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Common Wisdom May Be Wrong

We tend to believe - and politicians often claim - that if someone is being criticised from both sides, they are likely to have found some reasonable middle ground. My uncle just offered that opinion about Obama, because some Democrats are mad at him. But it is the sort of thing that could have been said about any politician, that they would regard as a badge of honor.

But you can have the impression that you're getting it from both sides wherever you stand. It doesn't have to be fifty-fifty. You can have 90% of the people pissed at you from one side and 10% from the other, and still tell yourself you're in the golden middle.


(another) Jonathan said...

The "reasonable middle ground" is a common fallacy in our society, just as conspiracy theories are common in other societies. There isn't always a reasonable middle ground: sometimes one of the extremes is correct; sometimes all of the discussed positions are wrong. You always have to look at logic and evidence and make your own evaluation. But many people routinely use a splitting-the-difference heuristic, based on finding a middle ground between the positions (or based on the reactions) of others, as a shortcut to evaluating complex public controversies. Such heuristics may yield wildly inaccurate results, since they assume a distribution of opinions that may not exist. This is related to anchoring bias. A clever pol can exploit this bias by using straw-man arguments, or framing his opponents as extreme, to make it appear that he holds the middle ground.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Choosing a middle solution is often socially safest, and that, more than rightness, drives many people's decisions.

A certain amount of that is fine. Hence the cautioning comment "Is this the hill you want to die on?" But there is a difference here, whether we are pursuing something for ourselves, to find the truth, versus compromising because it's the best deal in a social context we can get. If someone says Ankara is the capital of Turkey and another says it's Istanbul, there's no sense in walking away telling yourself "Well, it's probably Sakarya, then." But it might be wise to concede that Istanbul is the more important city, or just drop it altogether.

Jan said...

Francis Porretto did something about middle/moderation quite a while ago, but it's still appropriate:
Somewhat tangential to your topic, but still worth a read.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Good link.