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has anyone here ever had an opinion that was changed by this setting out of the arguments, with evidence, etc?

I can name a very simple one: I used to think that deposing Saddam Hussein was a good idea, because he was a Bad Guy. Then somebody pointed out that Bush the Lesser had started pushing the smaller members of the UNSC around by blackmailing them with threats of withdrawing foreign aid, and I went "hey, waitaminnit - you don't get to do that! You've got a case, why do you have to bribe and blackmail to make the other guys come around to your point of view."

Similarly, I used to think about Afghanistan "well, it worked fine enough for Kosova..." Until some kind chap pointed me to a declassified MI6 analysis that said that the official British story about Kosova (which the Danish press had plagiarised wholesale) was basically a load of crap. Now, if the Russian spies say that the official British version of events is full of crap, I take that with a grain of salt. But when the British spies say it...

Of course, when you have a position that you've spent a long time thinking through, spent a lot of energy nuancing and spent a lot of debating hours refining, the chance that a single argument will shatter it wholesale is much smaller. No doubt it's partly because you have a greater emotional attachment to the idea and the narratives you use to justify it. But I think it would be silly to discount the fact that the position has already been changed and refined quite a lot.

In principle it's possible that someone can point me to an argument that completely justifies slavery. In principle, it is also possible that someone will provide me with data that conclusively proves that Maxwell's equations are wrong. But it has to be really, really good, because there's rather a lot of data and theory to support Maxwell's equations, and slavery violates most of my principles. So proving Maxwell's equations wrong would entail finding another model that describes all these volumes of data, and convincing me that slavery is right, would involve convincing me that most of my principles are wrong.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 07:09:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Of course, when you have a position that you've spent a long time thinking through, spent a lot of energy nuancing and spent a lot of debating hours refining, the chance that a single argument will shatter it wholesale is much smaller. No doubt it's partly because you have a greater emotional attachment to the idea and the narratives you use to justify it. But I think it would be silly to discount the fact that the position has already been changed and refined quite a lot.

I agree, so it's not just that one becomes more dogmatic as one gets older (though that can happen of course :-)), but that one has reviewed a lot more evidence, countered a lot more oppositional arguments - a bit like an experienced chess player.

As Popper pointed out there is value in a certain amount of what might seem like dogmatism in order to ensure that a theory is adequately defended; one shouldn't just abandon a theory due to the first bit of counter evidence without considering that supposed evidence critically.  I think he cited Newton as having rejected some observations which seemed to contradict his theories, explaining them as due to abberations in lenses, etc. - correctly.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 08:35:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bush the Lesser had started pushing the smaller members of the UNSC around by blackmailing them with threats of withdrawing foreign aid

Yes. Authorization to do this was part of the American Servicemembers Protection Act, introduced as an amendment to an important appropriations bill by Jesse Helms. Bush's "coalition of the willing" is more likely termed the "coalition of the coerced/bribed." Or how we got international powerhouses like Costa Rica, Georgia, Romania, Iceland, Thailand, Honduras and Mongolia to give some sort of half-assed diplomatic cover for his war of aggression.

It has been pointed out (by a Russian, btw) that the lack of support for the war by any continental European country pretty much predicted how disastrous this was would turn out. Which speaks volumes about the international perception that Britain merely follows in Washington's footsteps.

"Coalition of the Willing." Rhetoric at its worst.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 10:12:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS:
Similarly, I used to think about Afghanistan "well, it worked fine enough for Kosova..." Until some kind chap pointed me to a declassified MI6 analysis that said that the official British story about Kosova (which the Danish press had plagiarised wholesale) was basically a load of crap.

And this would be why I generally spend quite some time trying to understand why people believe what they believe. If that kind chap had not understood the reason behind your thinking about Afghanistan, he might have delivered a thousand reasons why invading Afghanistan would be wrong, that you would not have accepted as they would not have been relevant to your reasoning.

You can always heap arguments of why something or another is wrong, but to convince you need first to understand. And if you can convince then you can change stuff.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Dec 5th, 2008 at 04:47:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the debate where it came up was about the Kosova crisis, not the invasion of Afghanistan, so the psychological analysis wasn't quite as convoluted as might appear - I made the jump from Kosova to Afghanistan more or less myself...

But the wider point is well taken, and applies just as well to the kind of evidence that I would find acceptable in the Kosova case. It's certainly true that if he'd argued solely that it was A Bad Idea from a geostrategic point of view, I would have been less (read: Not at all) persuaded. Whereas I suppose for others it's their analysis of geostrategic advantage that matters.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Dec 5th, 2008 at 05:33:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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