The Challenge of Restoring Sanity in the Public Discourse

A bit of good faith perspective from a “both-siderist” “logic nerd”


I think that anyone who’s not using bad faith arguments can agree that they are bullshit, and a lot of the practices that Aaron Huertas describes are flat out indefensible. Even as an anti-political debate judge with over a decade of experience, which is as both-sidery and logic-nerdy as it gets, I find policing tone or purity or intentionally misrepresenting the other person’s position to be strictly offensive tactics.

Both in the sense of being like punching the other person in the face, and in the sense of being profoundly insulting to human intelligence and dignity. However, in the name of human intelligence and dignity, I think the logic nerd and both siderist types of speakers got a straw-manned ad hominem treatment here. What can I say, nobody’s safe from the Fallacy Man.

I’m not saying that they don’t have their bad faith versions, or that Aaron Huertas necessarily implies or believes that they only have bad faith versions, and I do understand the larger point that their bad faith versions on the right are running rampant today in the public discourse, demanding a counterattack against them in order to save lives and the planet.

But there is (or at least can be) a constructive point to policing logic and balance in a way in which there cannot be one to policing tone or purity or to the misrepresentation of your opponent’s position. It’s not to stick to the rules for the sake of OCD, and it’s not to never take sides in any clash in order to avoid being disliked so that you sell more books. It’s about sanity.

Policing Fair Play in the Universe

Let’s start with policing logic, or specifically its applied forms of rules and facts. Strategically speaking, the side that argues in bad faith has an inherent advantage. While both sides in any clash can enforce rules of procedure and fact check against each other equally well, the side that argues in bad faith is perfectly okay with never admitting that they’ve ever done anything wrong, whereas the good faith side is forced to admit every mistake.

From this perspective, being a fair logic nerd or critic is further damaging to the good faith side, as it is likely to admit errors and submit to not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law, so to speak. In the eyes of a public that doesn’t know any better, this intellectual humility, arguably much more common today on the left, will be seen as weakness.

This principle doesn’t just apply to contests in public speaking. Humans are hardwired psychologically to respond positively to confidence in any context, whether it’s physical combat, dating, or any abstract performance art. The world is naturally skewed to give advantage to bold liars and idiots. But the thing is, it’s an initial advantage, it’s not self-sustaining.

In fact, the logical inconsistency and moral compromise is actively self-destructive, increasingly over time at an accelerating pace. A #winning group of people operating in this manner is bound to tear themselves apart from the inside out as they gradually lose trust of their supporters and mobilize not only their natural opponents, but also more and more previously neutral people. It is a strategy that loses exactly by too much winning.

A good faith logic nerd is not a strategic idiot, it is a person who understands all this, and that in the long term, one wins by being better — by being consistently reliable and trustworthy, by sticking to principles.

The main strategic problem of the Democrats specifically is that they’re compromised themselves in many ways, as both the good faith and the bad faith logic nerds have a tendency to keep annoyingly pointing out. Which makes the Democrats not even a sufficiently lesser evil in the eyes of most neutrals and actual progressives, let alone a greater good to be embraced.

Paradoxically, they’d have more chance of winning in elections if they risked defeat more for the sake of upholding principles. Yes, I am personally convinced that they are objectively the lesser evil because their policies would kill and endanger much fewer people. They also offend me less, personally.

But I’m also convinced that hiding uncomfortable facts, like the uncomfortable nuance of wage gap statistics, or cheating to win, like in the whole Bernie Sander’s DNC fiasco, is what actively detracts voters from giving them a chance to enact policies. And let’s be honest, it’s not like the neocon globalism that they’re in bed with is all fluffy, cute, and harmless. Chauvinistic tribalism, nepotism, and cult of personality sure as hell aren’t better, but there must be better ideas upon which we can build a world.

The Pyrrhic Victory of Winning the Argument

Now, let’s take a look at the both-siderist perspective. In order to satisfy the Fallacy Man, a good faith both siderist should not be using the golden mean or false dichotomy fallacies — being moderate between two radical extremes is not the most sane or helpful position by default, and all (not necessarily just both) extremes don’t necessarily deserve equal attention or treatment.

Believe it or not, both siderism as a practical political system is a real thing that does work. Not every country on Earth has a two-party political system like America does (the so called Westminster model), and it doesn’t mean that no other country on Earth can accomplish things. The other way of doing things in politics is based on consensus rather than a winner-takes-all competition, and politics based on consensus aim to reinforce sanity.

The consensus model of a democratic system isn’t perfect, of course. It can get frustrating, as it is much easier to block things from being done within it, given that broad coalitions of multiple parties are typically required to pass laws. However, the sanity reinforcing effect comes in to the extent to which different parties are forced to reach across party lines and negotiate, to aim for a mutually acceptable compromise, to seek win-win solutions.

You may be thinking now that all that is lovely, but America has the bipolar system that it has, which requires the strategy of trying to win at all costs. The problem with that again lies in the long term. Imagine you win. You demonstrate that you’re right, you get in all the offices, you enact policies. Great. But what happens then? The other half of the country that hates everything about you and your policies didn’t go anywhere, did it.

The harder you win, the more likely you get what John Cleese called in one of his political ads/lectures a seesaw effect — the more the pendulum swings one way, the farther it will swing the other way afterward. What do you think that Trump represents? An anti-Obama, that’s what. The solution in Great Britain, in the opinion of Cleese, would be the introduction of a moderate third party, like the Liberal Democrats for whom Cleese made the ad. Crazy, right?

Surprise, surprise, they did manage to succeed at shifting the British model away from the bipolar nightmare, proving that no political system is set in stone. Fighting for a third option may not succed at any given point in time, as all changes take time, but instead of fighting for the victory of a lesser evil now, it can ultimately be more worth it to lose a term to win the future.

It’s a bummer, I know, but choosing to stand in opposition to insanity is never a position where you’re having fun fighting for your ultimate personal victory. Sanity is compromise, cooperation, conversation. Sanity is calmness, not excitement. Sanity takes long, hard, unglamorous work, it’s not a sport, or a war on something. Sanity is also more about what you reject to participate in, rather than what you actively push for. That’s why everybody hates both siderists, and why so many sane pacifists end up shot, mainly in America.

If I remember my education correctly, the main conclusion among political scientists about the political system in America is that USA works despite it, rather than because of it. The president has too many powers, the electoral college is pure nonsense, and the bipartisan system doesn’t exactly help to keep things in check. If you want a less crazy American politics, the people in politics need to keep themselves in check, not do everything they can to game the system, as the system is geared to produce insane extremes.

That’s how Republicans broke America, by being too good at using the existing political system to their advantage. What’s needed is the reintroduction of (self)moderation into American politics, and the more either side will try to win the argument, the less possible that will become.

If the mainstream politicians are already too far gone down the tribal path, the only practical political solution left may be a broad popular movement with its only platform being the restoration of sanity, expected to dissolve into multiple parties after the crisis is resolved. Much like what the Civic Forum was in my country during the Velvet Revolution, which was a majority of Czechs simply deciding one day to peacefully end communism. Imagine how impossible that appeared to be after 48 years of totalitarian rule. Many people now hate Vaclav Havel, the both siderist who lead it, but it was a success.

The Battlefield of the Human Soul

In the end, it all comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of what successful discourse means that often happens to elite debaters, to the extent that it might as well be called a good debater fallacy — thinking that discourse is something that you’re supposed to “win”. In any society, discourse is a relationship that involves communication, and when it ends, it’s in violence.

Don’t get me wrong, one can win an argument on a number of real levels like logic, technique, expert vote, or popular opinion. But the more emphasis you put on that, the more you come across as an asshole to everyone who doesn’t agree with you even after you’ve won. The problem is, you still need to talk to the losers. If they hate you, you can be all kinds of right, and it won’t matter.

As a general rule, no one who’s personally invested in any political position has ever been persuaded otherwise by somebody explaining to them the logical fallacy that they’ve fallen for. If anything is the biggest blindspot of logic nerds, actually, it’s believing that pointing out flaws is persuasive.

In reality, you either find a common ground with people who have different opinions, you go your separate ways, or, if neither works, enter a culture war spiralling into a civil war. Which, as George Carlin pointed out, is kinda stupid term, since war is the least civil thing ever, especially a civil war. But I digress.

In order to restore sanity in a discourse, the key things to understand are that a) fighting for your side, even if its whole thing is fighting against tribalism, is still tribalism, and b) that the only people who profit from people dividing themselves neatly into combating camps are individual sociopaths who want to control everyone, not any “winning” side of any division. Both in terms of humanism and realpolitik, the best strategy is to strive to overcome divisions.

Think about it, what’s the endgame here? Round up all racist uncles, incels, gun nuts, village idiots, or rational Trump voters and shame them forever? Turn them into second class citizens? Lock them up? Forcibly reeducate them? Chemically castrate them? Summarily execute them? If, as I presume, it’s none of these, then I’m afraid you’ll have to find a way to live with them as they are, or one of you will eventually end up in one of these ways.

All of these same people have existed in the same numbers all through the 90s, and yet somehow, we have lived in peace back then. Well, in substantially more of a peace. Both siderism is about finding ways to look at the same situation while focusing on what unites us, rather than what divides us. That doesn’t mean that there should be no progress, but what can be affected is how people perceive that progress. Which brings me to why we’re here at all.

It doesn’t take a politics or media expert to notice that someone is clearly working people up on purpose this time, fanning the flames of what has always divided us, using media. If nothing else, we need to realize that falling for it is letting them win. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Russians, the Clintons, the alt-right, the feminists, or the damm Hydra. It doesn’t matter if it’s the fake news or the Facebook. Whatever you think specifically, you’re wrong.

Good faith both siderism is not about avoiding to take a side, it’s about firmly taking the side of anti-partisanship. It’s a principled opposition to the very idea that people are supposed to be on a side to begin with, that they’re supposed to be divided. For example, the platform that the Czech expresident Vaclav Havel demolished communism on stated simply “We’re not like them.”

The whole peaceful Velvet Revolution started by a simple response from about half the country to being patronized to by the government, by saying “We’re not children.” As in the Philip K. Dick’s concept of the authentic human being, sanity and humanity are about knowing what you shouldn’t do, and then not doing it in a radical act of quiet refusal. If a discourse is insane, don’t accept its terms. When everyone goes mad, stay sane. Be an island of a better world.

Personally as a both siderist, I could easily choose to not care at all. I’m not American, and I’m a progressive educated cis white male who will probably be fine no matter what. I’m also very good at making people think that I agree with them, and I don’t even have to lie to achieve that. But I am opposed to insanity to such a degree that I feel obligated to fight it, even if it makes people hate me and jeopardizes my livelihood. It may be futile, and I may be misguided, but I do believe in good faith that this is what’s needed right now.

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