Importance of Ideas and People We Disagree With

post by Olitness · 2021-07-29T11:50:56.346Z · LW · GW · 4 comments

This is a link post for


  True Diversity as Source of Innovation and Resilience
  True vs. Fake Diversity
  Diversifying Isn't Always Ignorance
  Some Examples
  Moving Across The Spectrum
  It's Not "Either" "Or". Usually It's Both, and Then Some
  You Always Learn From Those Who Oppose You
  What If No One Disagrees?
  What About Nazis, Murderers, Pedophiles etc.?

True Diversity as Source of Innovation and Resilience

It's important to have true diversity among people. For there to be people who vehemently disagree with you, your methods, your ways, your goals. And you actually want that! Mere tolerance of them is not realising its true importance and how they benefit you.

You want people spread out on the spectrum, from one extreme to another, with most people somewhere around the middle.

Why would you want that if your way is, of course, "the right way"?

One big reason is that such diversity creates most resilient, robust and balanced society that flourishes with new ideas, options and innovations. You like those things, options, innovations and not living in collapsed society or being dead, right?

And believe or not, there is rarely just one way to do things. You always want there to be extra options and ways. You might love going to work through forest, but in a case that there is a wildfire, you want there to be another way like a road through a city for example!

If we all go to the right, and there is no one going to the left, then in very unlikely event that going right way proves to be fatal (black swans are still a thing), then there will be no one remaining! But if we diversify, then we survive.

This doesn't mean you should change your opinion (unless you are really compelled to). But you should want there to be someone who opposes your opinion, even if they are wrong.


True vs. Fake Diversity

Diversity among people isn't based on race, ethnicity or gender or any arbitrary group like that because people aren't their race, ethnicity or gender. What makes a person are ideas they enact on! That's where true and productive and more enjoyable diversity comes from.

Compare it with fake diversity where you separate people based on gender or race. This is mere discrimination and/or virtue signalling, not a diversity because two people can be same in all other respects except for their race or gender, or whatever.

In most contexts, diversifying among those variables makes no difference. But when diversifying among ideas, that makes almost always meaningful difference.


Diversifying Isn't Always Ignorance

Diversifying in investing can be thought of as a sign of ignorance or lack of expertise and is at best considered way to preserve the wealth, not to grow it.

This might be true also on individual level. More focused you are, larger the outcomes you can get.

But on societal level, diversifying ways in which we go and put our efforts in is crucial, because we can't afford any fatal risk as a society.


Some Examples

Example 1:

Another day I was listening to couple smart people arguing about monogamous vs. polygamous lifestyles. Which is right for our society to adopt? Now, that is a bad question, as you might have guessed by now.

Answer is neither. You want there to be people distributed on both ends of the spectrum, with most somewhere around the middle. And you want to find partner who is on the spectrum exactly (or approximately) where you are.

Evolutionary speaking, it is most advantageous to be monogamous in polygamous society and to be polygamous in monogamous society. But in practical sense, you want there to be people who meet their love at 11 and spend their whole lives together and then you want there people who start their sex lives at 11 and die at 100 while having a threesome (note that I am not advocating any of these options!).

Example 2:

Diet is less related but good and nicely controversial example. But I try to be quite narrow in this particular example. You might have heard that some fish might contain excessive amounts of mercury and other heavy metals. But they are also one of healthiest and most nutritious foods. So what should you do (apart from most practical thing to test fish you frequently eat and your blood for heavy metals)?

Diversify! Don't eat tuna all the time. Switch it up for sardines, salmon, herring, cod and so on. Moreover, even among tuna there is big diversity. Switch up brands, switch where it was caught, switch bluefin for skipjack tuna etc.

This way you get all the health benefits of eating fish while avoiding risk of heavy metal poisoning.

Example 3:

GMOs. Are they good or bad? We don't know yet! Simply, we can't predict its long term effects with certainty. They might prove harmless and very useful or they might prove to be dangerous with bad side effects. In either case, you want there to be people who are for GMOs and eat them themselves to study its effect, and just to be safe if that goes wrong, you want there to be bunch of people who never even touched GMOs in their life. This makes whole experiment safe for the society and is completely justified and ethical as long as everyone is free to choose whether to eat or not eat GMOs.

Example 4:

Politics is another cool controversial example. Most people won't agree on politics, but most people will agree that times and circumstances change. In such world where things change (our world being such), you want there to be different political parties and policies in place to account for different situations.

While I think world is much better off as being capitalistic, I want there to be socialists and countries than enact those ideas. I don't like them, but I still want them to exist.

Why do I prefer there to be bunch of socialists if I am capitalist pig, instead of running them over with tanks?

For one, I can see what not to do. But I can also know that in (in my opinion) unlikely case that capitalism fails, there is immediate alternative, even if it will be just temporary alternative before we figure out better one.

Another reason is that there are bunch of good things to be found even in things that are bad overall. If you can't find them, then you just don't understand them well enough. And by finding them, I can learn something and consider implementing it into my system.

Also, if I am actually interested in real benefits and outcomes, instead of just enacting my "religion" (in this example religion being "capitalism") and being dogmatic, I want there to be competing systems and theories. And I want them being enacted by other people and see them in action so I can compare the results! I want to know if I am right, and best way to verify it is when someone does opposite of what I am doing and then compare their results with mine!

Of course, I wouldn't want majority of world hold opposing views of mine or opposing side to rule the world. But I want there to be at least few of them. Just in case. Few is good, many is bad, none is dangerous.


Moving Across The Spectrum

And another essential point is, that people at any point on spectrum don't have to remain the same ones! It is like with top 1%. Most of the people in top 1% are different people every year!

Same is with everything on the spectrum. As with prior example, usually in younger years it is better to explore with relationship and lean more on polygamous side. And as you get older and find your true tastes and preferences and values, you lean more to monogamous relationships.


It's Not "Either" "Or". Usually It's Both, and Then Some

We tend to look at world in binary and absolute, black and white answers. It's simple, but it doesn't work like that in most cases.

When we look at relationship example to illustrate this, you can ask: "Should I lead polygamous or monogamous life?". Or you can realise that you can do both at different times, or neither! There are many more options like just polygamy or monogamy. In fact, there are options for which there aren't even names yet! You could be in open relationship, polyamorous, serial monogamy and many other variants between (or beyond if you are creative enough) that aren't yet predefined by society.

Note that this isn't same as compromise, which are often shortsighted and lead to lack of responsibility when things go wrong and tend to backfire in many other ways. This is about creating new options and going beyond, while compromises are about settling "in between" preferred or optimal options.


You Always Learn From Those Who Oppose You

Even if you disagree with them, and even if they are wrong, you still learn something from them. That is because since they are so different, they probably have vastly different exposure and experience. This provides them with knowledge (whether right or wrong) that you might have never heard of. And most things are context dependent and never 100% right or wrong. You might find that stupid idea of theirs is indeed dumb and you should avoid it, but then find out 1% of cases where it can be useful to you!

Instead of looking how something is wrong, we can get more benefits by asking "Hmm, seems wrong, but when and where it could be right?".


What If No One Disagrees?

Let's be honest, consensus is mostly right. But biggest payoffs are in few cases where it is wrong and you find out about it.

Whenever everyone (or most) agree on something, it is always good sign to question it. Mostly this will be futile, but it is good exercise to keep in mind because opportunities are found by asking questions you aren't supposed to ask.

Also we have to distinguish fake consensus from real one.

Think of consensus that killing people without reason is bad. You should question that. But once you do that, you (hopefully) find out that it is right consensus, therefore real one.

Contrast it to some other things that aren't even questioned but are taken for granted by most of the society. For example, using shower gel or toothpaste. Did it ever occur to you to question this? To 99.99% of people it didn't. Did our ancestors or hunter gatherer societies used them? If so, did they suffer consequences? If not, why are we using them and if we don't we do suffer consequences? Is it possible to not use any shower gels and toothpaste and remain healthier teeth and smell better? If so, what does it explain and what can explain lack of this knowledge in our modern society? (I have dived deeper into this question and ran self-experimentation on it and was really surprised with results, but this is for another post another day.)


What About Nazis, Murderers, Pedophiles etc.?

Surely you don't want killers and crazy people running around, right? Well, it's not so simple.

I wouldn't want nazis, communists, murderers or pedophiles enact their ideas. But I want their ideas to visibly exist. Idea is not dangerous unless it is acted on. And knowing about bad ideas and being there some people who propose them and believe in them lets us see how unreasonable and bad those ideas are. This in turn helps us beware of such ideas. Contrast it to what would happen if we would suppress such ideas from being voiced: some would wonder "what happens if I give this a try?". Those would usually be contrarian bold types, and we don't want their courage and talents to be wasted in exploring ideas that they would dismiss if they would be visibly wrong.

I wanted to explore these ideas of having open mind, questioning our cherished ideas and importance of those we disagree with because I feel that there is lots emphasis on tolerance and open mind, rather than on the other benefits that can come from there being ideas and people we disagree (even hate), even if they are wrong.

I hope this is not too much "cliche" and "Duh" for this forum and I think it might provide some small twists and different point of view on well known ideas in this community.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by frontier64 · 2021-07-29T16:41:37.888Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're advocating for two different positions here.

But in practical sense, you want there to be people who meet their love at 11 and spend their whole lives together and then you want there people who start their sex lives at 11 and die at 100 while having a threesome. [....] You want there to be people distributed on both ends of the spectrum, with most somewhere around the middle

On the one hand you say there should be a diversity of behavior. As you describe it you want people who are wholly monogamous and people who are polygamous because there are individual evolutionary advantages to each kind of behavior.

I wouldn't want nazis, communists, murderers or pedophiles enact their ideas

But for other areas where there can be diversity you say you just want a difference of ideas and opinions. And your justification for the diversity of some ideas is that it will make other people less likely to act on that idea. You're justifying a diversity of ideas by saying it will cause less diversity of behavior.

I see a conflict here not just in methods but in what the end goal itself is.

Replies from: Olitness
comment by Olitness · 2021-07-29T18:44:03.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for pointing this out. I have to admit I have totally overlooked this and I think it seems like very important point and it should be clarified.

At first look when I look at these two examples, it feels clear to me why it should be so. But I cannot identify principle behind it of why it should be so. Yet, most of us can agree that we wouldn't want killers to be running around, but it is not harmful for people to lead their sex lives as they wish as long as they don't harm anybody.

I think it could be thought of then that harmful ideas should be expressed, but not acted on so that we can judge and keep in mind their harmfulness without being affected. These ideas will be mostly weeded out by society by "natural selection". 
On other hand, ideas that are not harmful will remain to be enacted on as they don't have any obvious harmful effects, other than not being a preference of other people who can feel offended by them.

On another note as I think about it, I wouldn't mind if there is society that decides that it is OK for there to be killers killing people etc. as long as living in such society is only voluntary and does not affect any other society. 
So I am thinking that as long as behaviour I oppose does not affect me, or anyone who does not want to be affected, is being enacted by people who are OK with being affect, then it is fine.

Replies from: frontier64
comment by frontier64 · 2021-08-15T16:00:47.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This idea is very similar to Hans-Hermann Hoppe's covenant communities. Groups of property owners who all contract with one another to limit the kinds of tenants who live on their property to a particular group. This gives people who want to live in a certain kind of community the opportunity to do so. People who wish to live in total anarchy or a different kind of community only need to live outside of the covenant community.

You might like to read a few of his articles online and maybe pick up a copy of Democracy at a bookstore or library if you haven't already.

I should mention that I agree with the worldview you express here, I consider myself a Hoppean libertarian. It just so happens that discussing libertarian economic and social philosophy doesn't generate much interest on LW.

comment by ChristianKl · 2021-08-01T19:25:02.542Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A spectrum is a bad way to think about diversity of ideas. To map ideas into a spectrum you have to put them into a box. 

The GMO is example is very fitting of how the box limits thinking well about the issue. It's a tool that allows to change a species in a stronger way then is possible without the tool and with that power comes the ability to screw up. Sensible GMO policy is about risk management and what kind of risk management is reasonable instead of having a "GMO is good" or "GMO is bad" position.

If we all go to the right, and there is no one going to the left, then in very unlikely event that going right way proves to be fatal (black swans are still a thing),

Black Swans per definition are not on the spectrum.