Thursday, November 26, 2020

Finding Agreement Suspicious

Here's a question for my loyal readers: Is there any position you can think of that you support but that, if you hear someone else supports it, you become more suspicious of them politically?

Perhaps intuitively that makes no sense. If you back a given stance, why would you look sideways at someone else who shares your view? But there are circumstances where I imagine it could make sense -- for example, when you have cause to believe most other people who hold your view do so for bad reasons, are using it as a stepping stone to enable policies you don't support, or that the view most commonly is a valid proxy for other positions one strongly opposes.

Imagine, for example, an African-American opponent of affirmative action, who believes that such programs engender White resentment while doing little to help the most disadvantaged in the Black community. Such a person might nonetheless conclude that most White opponents of affirmative action come to their opposition for other, less tasteful motivations, and so view them with political suspicion. If the person is generally liberal otherwise, they might recognize that most affirmative action opponents are politically conservative and that persons who loudly trumpet their opposition to affirmative action often are especially conservative (and even more especially-so on racial issues). Any of these could give cause to view your putative compatriots a bit askance.

One can imagine other circumstances as well. Someone who supports a ban on assault weapons but not a total prohibition on the sale of handguns might believe that many people who back the former do so in order to make the latter more palatable or feasible -- essentially a slippery slope argument. Where one has multi-peaked preferences (e.g., one prefers only an assault weapons ban > no gun ban > complete gun ban), then one might not want to empower who share your support for an assault weapons ban on the theory that they, unlike you, want  to go much further than that (see this article by Eugene Volokh for more on how these mechanisms work).

So I'll pitch the question again: Can you think of any policy areas where this applies to you? Positions that you hold, but where you're suspicious of most other people who claim to hold them? It's an interesting question, I think.


Benjamin Lewis said...

With "for the wrong reasons" mechanism, I consider this 100% justified, and it can be mathematically modeled as a Bayesian probability exercise (others can also? less sure): given that a person supports X position, what is the probability that the person also supports Y & Z positions / philisophy #2? As your affirmative action example illustrates, there can easily be circumstances where a totally random person is MORE likely to have general decision values that I support than is a person randomly selected from "those who have Y/N view on policy X", even assuming that I agree with Y/N. In particular, I suspect this happens when, as you illustrated, "my" decision view of the policy results from empirical and sociological observations, but most people probably reach that outcome directly from theoretical expected value; maybe vice versa can also work for this, but IDK if there realistically are situations where most people on 1 side of an issue come to it from empirical observations?

Likely examples -
-- death penalty - opposition encompasses criminal justice radicals, and also Innocence Project style narrow empirical opponents b/c of procedural flaws, and also some folks who are specifically worried about empirical racism as per Furman v Georgia... If I'm a CJS abolitionist I don't suppose I'm more suspicious of someone who opposes executions, but if I endorse harsh punishment for the guilty and am worried about procedural flaws being irrecoverable in execution cases, I bet I'd be dubious when people agreed that the DP is bad?
-- disabilities & eugenics policy - there are folks who think they can beat the odds and have friendly eugenics - I don't but my wife kind of does: pre-conception genetic interventions could conceivably benefit the world a lot; as could Beta Colony style (Bujold / Vorkosi-verse) universal birth control with screened permissions to conceive; but obviously this is extremely dependent on actual implementation, and most people who endorse probably endorse because they actually like unfriendly eugenics
--> UBI: I have possibly a sticky slope instance of this about UBI - I read at one point an analysis of the politics (specifically in the US, I think?) of Universal Basic Income by some radical socialist or something, who observed that UBI was cyclically in high demand among progressives when conservatives had been empowered and were screwing people over, but then became disfavored if liberals were empowered because other options are more progressive. Of course also there are conservatives who explicitly say they like UBI because it can consolidate all of social safety net in one place which makes drowning it easier, so that's a "wrong reasons" situation I guess.
-- "simplify the tax code" : I vacilate on this b/c I haven't actually done my research fully enough. I believe that economically incentivizing particular behaviors is a good goal, and that in principle it may be sensible to use the tax systems to short-term incentivize (create access to!) long-term incentivized behaviors; when I'm endorsing simplification, I just also believe that in practice it makes the code more regressive because only people with means can access the incentives. VS my estimation is that most people who want to simplify the tax code more or less think making it more regressive should be the goal / are concerned with Romney's 47% "takers" idea etc.

Benjamin Lewis said...

This circumstance is definitely familiar. The slippery slope / multi-peaked preferences seems less personally common if not totally foreign; I'm more radical than most of my acquaintances, so maybe there isn't an issue where I'm worried about people going too far. Likewise, the proxy thing doesn't seem super salient; if you're radical enough, people can't actually match preferences as a proxy? Mostly what I experience there is "still suspicious although less so." This is definitely routine on immigration, Israel-Palestine and other fopo topics, climate, democratization-civil rights-voting rights, abortion... all over the place.
I think I have more typical experiences of either of these in cases where default-endorse process, but I interpret the other person as signaling that it's specifically important to pursue the process in this case because there should be a specific outcome. By analogy, in the 1972 musical film 1776, RI delegate Stephen Hopkins (Roy Poole) has a line on a motion to open debate, "Hell I'm for debating anything, RI says Yay". I can't think of any specific examples presently, but it feels like there have been circumstances where I was thinking "well, sure, if you want to open an investigation into ___, I guess that's fine, it's a good idea to be able to investigate stuff that people are worried about even if there isn't strong evidence in advance; but I'm gonna keep an eye on you".