Pons Asinorum: Resolving Opinions and Bias
ARISTOCRACY, n. Government by the best men. (In this sense the word is obsolete; so is that kind of government.) Fellows that wear downy hats and clean shirts—guilty of education and suspected of bank accounts. -Ambrose Bierce.
In answer to Jason’s thoughtful essay on why politicians lie, I should like to extend his notion of plotting the median voter on another plane of reference and the High Information Party.
Let us posit a plane in two dimensions. Facts in evidence constitute the X axis, Phainomena. The Y axis measures what I shall call the Endoxa Dimension, both terms taken from Aristotle. Jason correctly observes honest people will disagree. On this plane, such disagreements are easily plotted. Happily, we can dispense with a third dimension for now. That third dimension, that of the Zeitgeist will be integrated in due course to form a Euclidean Noosphere.
Here at the League, the best writers attempt to support their theses, but not always from factual bases. And why should they? We write opinion. Maniacs are more interesting than statistics because the maniacs reach simple conclusions, unencumbered by peer review. Preaching from atop a soapbox is an easier venue than defending a thesis in a university conference room.
The High Information Party’s bumper sticker can be reduced to a single word followed by a colon.
Here, Jason, who began so well, goes off the rails. He thinks the High Information Party can win elections via untrue claims. The current political parties collect vast troves of information already. It’s called Opposition Research. But it’s all so much Queen of Hearts thinking: Sentence first, verdict after. A truly High-information Party would construct its arguments in this wise, following simple geometry, that of the Pons Asinorum.
Take an arbitrary and exceedingly complex issue, say taxation or defense policy. Take what facts can be assembled on this issue. Rate those facts using a standard information triage: How fresh is this fact? Has it been confirmed from multiple sources? Is it germane to the issue?
Now start putting points on the Endoxa axis, that of the specialists in that field, hopefully incorporating those of those who collected the facts. Incorporate those who aren’t specialists but those who must act on them and live with the consequences of these facts.
Now ask each specialist to rate the facts. Insofar as everyone agrees each fact is solid, it may be plotted on the Phainomena axis with the value increasing with the number of votes it got.
Once all the available facts are thus rated, the Endox-ists might point to gaps in the facts. Currently, when the politicians don’t want to face facts, they appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission to write up a report so they can ignore it or cherry-pick from among its conclusions. The BlaiseP Black Ribbon Commissions would not issue conclusions but only assemble and rate the facts in evidence.
How would an intelligent, honest politician respond to such facts? He’d appeal to the less-informed voter by framing his rhetoric as a Pons Asinorum: my opinion is also my bias and so is my distinguished opponent’s opinion. A politician would thus be liberated to be honest about his opponents’ position on the facts. He wouldn’t need to be ashamed of his own biases: they were derived from as many facts as were available at the time. Debates would be conducted according to standard rules of forensics, with qualified judges.
It is a national disgrace that political debate cannot be raised to at least the level of high school forensics. Aristotle once said: How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms.