Three conflicts

September 26, 2018

The three "blind spots of politics" (hat tip to Arnold Kling via Russ Roberts of EconTalk):

  • Power: those who have it (landlords, business owners, the "privileged") vs. those who don't - the defining conflict of the American left
  • Control: those who want to control us (the government) vs. those who want to be free - the libertarian conflict
  • The struggle for civilization (marriage, government, order, military dominance) vs. barbarism (atheism, one-parent families, immorality) - the conservative's conflict

A lot of politics centers on some mix of these conflicts. Most people I know acknowledge that all three are to some extent "real", but differ in ranking of importance.

Kling calls them "blind spots"; understanding these conflicts has let me see two things to which I was blind before.

First: as I've mentioned, I'm more conservative than many where I live, in the Bay Area. But understanding the power narrative, and seeing its reality to some extent, has given me great insight into both the nature of human interaction, and how others perceive things. I have a much deeper appreciation for the role of power in human behavior than I did several years ago.

But Kling calls them "blind spots" for a reason: it's too easy to see all human behavior in terms of your "preferred conflict". It's classic "overfitting"—they teach you to avoid this in science—distorting the facts (the data) to fit your theory, your model of reality.

Sometimes the data is wrong, but other times, it's the lens through which you see the data that requires adjustment. It can be hard to see defects in your own perception.

As a funny aside, I realized I'd inadvertently theorized "political fanaticism": inability to see the defects in your own lens, regardless of the facts. Late to work every day for the past two weeks and fired for bad performance? Discrimination, for sure.

It's another case of Taleb's Bed of Procrustes.