Not long ago, I did a post about a concept I call world-creation. World-creation is about the ways our actions and words often end up unwittingly creating the very social world we occupy, whether that world is one we find good or bad. I highly recommend reading that post in its entirety if you want to fully understand the significance of this post.
In that post I discussed how social dilemma games, like the well known game theory hypothetical known as Prisoner’s Dilemma, will usually have a move considered the cooperative move and a move considered to be a competitive move (some textbooks will use alternate terms like confess, keep quite, defect, convert, but you get the point).
I used a specific example from Harriet Braiker’s book Who’s Pulling Your Strings?: How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life, which I reproduce here:
A true manipulator will always look at the game by assuming that the person he or she is playing against will compete. Competing is the manipulator’s natural mind-set…
People who play with the manipulator’s mind-set believe that everyone will automatically play to win – or to maximize gain and minimize loss on each turn – by playing competitively. However, this option will only work best for the competitive player when the opponent plays cooperatively: The competitor gets $20, and the cooperator gets $0.
Manipulators always play the competitive move. When they first sit down to play with an opponent, they make the competitive move. Sometimes their opponent will make a cooperative move on the first try; sometimes he will not. However given that the manipulator continues to play competitively, the originally cooperative opponent has no choice but to change his tactics into also being a nontrusting competitor. In this way, the opponent will improve his score by $1 (up from $0) and in so doing also reduce the manipulator’s score to $1.
On the other hand, consider the experience of people who examine the matrix and choose on their first move to play cooperatively, trusting the other player to also cooperate so that each gets $10 on every move. If both players do play cooperatively, over 10 moves, each will accrue $100. As long as both players continue to play cooperatively – that is, by trusting one another – their gain will be guaranteed over the course of the game.
However, if a cooperative person gets burned by a competitive person on the first few rounds, the only option open to the trusting person is to switch strategies and become competitive too – just as a defense.
I went on to discuss competitors, people who are always competitive no matter what. No matter what the game, they will always defect, compete, confess, fight, cheat, or whatever the competitive move for a specific game is. They always want to take but never want to give. Another term for a competitor in social dilemmas is a free rider. Another type of player is the realistic cooperator. This player will cooperate if dealing with a cooperator, but if he realizes he’s dealing with a competitor or a free rider, he is smart enough to change strategies and start competing too. A third type of player is the unrealistic cooperator. This type will keep cooperating, no matter how many times the competitor, or free rider, takes advantage, for whatever reason (e.g. strong moral values, the belief that he can change the competitor, masochistic tendencies, low intelligence).
In some other posts I described bullshitters and liars, and ways in which bullshitters can really screw with your sense of what’s real and what isn’t. I’ve also discuss advocates and truthseekers. Advocates are persuaders who prefer to deceive with bullshit, while truthseekers are persuaders who prefer to deceive with lies. If you haven’t done so already, I recommend you click and read all the links in this paragraph, so that you can understand the nuances of each, and most importantly, understand the reasons why bullshit (and it’s close relative the half-truth) are bigger enemies to truth than the lies, which in turn makes the advocate the bigger enemy to truth than the truthseeker.
Well using the game theory analysis we’ve discussed in the past, let’s pretend there is a game where the ultimate goal rather than reducing prison sentences or accruing money is to gain reliable knowledge and bring the truth closer to light. Let’s call this game “The Truthseeker’s Dilemma.”
In such a game, one can consider the advocating/bullshitter as the competitive move or free riding and consider the truthseeking the cooperative move. The advocate is just saying whatever it will take to sell you the ideas that he cares about the truth, that he knows the truth and that he is interested in communicating the truth, when in fact all three ideas are false. All he cares about is selling you the image of being knowledgeable and concerned with getting to the truth, when in fact all he’s not as knowledgeable about the matter as he’s pretending to be and is just trying to bluff his way through by presenting what he considers to sound plausible. The advocate or bullshitter is a competitor who wants to win at any cost. Bullshitting is what people are talking about when they discuss intellectual dishonesty. It’s not quite a deliberate lie, it’s more a series of bluffs, half-truths, “innocent” misrepresentations, etc.
A truthseeker on the other hand is like the cooperator in a social dilemma problem. A truthseeker is chasing the truth, no matter where it takes him, even if he ends up with a conclusion that’s not flattering to his image or is not what he’d prefer. A truthseeker will not bluff his way through arguments pretending to know things he doesn’t know. A truthseeker will admit when the other person has a superior argument or will at least concede some points to him. A truthseeker will always have his eye on what’s true and what’s not, even when he’s lying, since to lie one still has to know the truth beforehand. The liar in a warped way is still keeping the truth in view. An advocate will try to avoid admitting when he’s wrong or conceding valid points to someone he’s debating, because his end goal is to present a winning image, not to bring the truth to light.
Just like how in social dilemmas like Prisoner’s Dilemma the worst situation all around is when competitors play other competitors, the worst type of debate for bringing the truth to light is when advocates argue with advocates. Because of all the bullshit and half-truths that get spewed back and forth, there is an increasing utter disregard of truth in favor of the plausible on both sides that results in everyone losing track of what’s true and what isn’t. These are the debates that unravel into incoherent tangents and wild hypotheticals that leave everyone more confused and frustrated than when they started.
Another possibility is the realistic truthseeker versus the advocate, which corresponds to the realistic cooperator versus the competitor scenario in Prisoner’s Dilemma. Just like a competitor creates a world where everyone he faces eventually turns into a competitor, just as a common-sense defense, even if they started out cooperating, the advocate similarly creates a world where everyone they face eventually turns into an advocate, and starts engaging in bullshit, even if they started out as truthseekers. This is because just like it would be crazy to keep cooperating when your opponent has displayed they have no intentions to ever cooperate in return, a truthseeker realizes it would be crazy to ever concede when he is wrong or when his advocate opponent ever has a point given that his advocate opponent has made it clear he’s never going to return that favor. Just like the competitor believes everyone else is just as competitive as he is, the advocate believes that deep down, everyone else is also an advocate, cares more about winning the argument than getting to the truth, and is willing to use bullshit and intellectual dishonesty to get that win. And of course when by his own behavior he turns his opponent into an advocate, he feels his worldview has been confirmed, even though he doesn’t realize it’s his bullshitting campaign, or competing, that created the very world he complains about.
Another option is the advocate versus the unrealistic truthseeker. This corresponds to my Prisoner’s Dilemma example from the earlier world-creation post where I described a competitor versus an unrealistic cooperator, the type of player who insists on always cooperating no matter how many times his opponent plays the competitive move. An unrealistic truthseeker is a person who insists on staying unbiased and fair, conceding points, admitting when he doesn’t know things, refusing to bluff his way through the debate using bullshit and half-truths, even though his opponent is using every competitive trick in the book to avoid ever losing face and risking losing.
And finally, just like best scenario in Prisoner’s Dilemma series is a cooperator playing with a cooperator, the best scenario in a debate is a truthseeker against a truthseeker. These are the enriching debates that benefit the whole community and bring the most knowledge to light and the most breakthroughs. Just like you can tell when a debate is between two advocates by the way the tangents, topics, and examples spiral out of control and the waters muddy thanks to all the bullshit, you can tell when a debate is between two truthseekers when the focus tightens, and there is more agreement and clarity as the conversation proceeds.
The reason this is important is because too many people engage in conversations and debates, without knowing whether or not they are speaking to a truthseeker or an advocate, and without realizing what their own role is, whether they themselves are a truthseeker or an advocate. If you are debating an advocate, you have to realize that you are dealing with a person who does not really care about the truth, and often has no idea whether or not his words are true or not. If you engage him as a truthseeker, you may end up frustrated at all the stubbornness and intellectual dishonesty you keep receiving and angry at his refusal to ever concede any points or argue fairly. Or you may find yourself forced to argue like an advocate as well just to save face and mount a defense, but as a result of fighting bullshit with bullshit, truth suffers and the greater intellectual goal of bringing knowledge to light dies, and everyone loses in the end.
At the end of the day, this is what matters if you are a truthseeker and are arguing with an advocate: Your goal is to not try to win the argument on the strength of the truth of your points, because over time thanks to world-creation the advocate will eventually reduce you into an advocate as well. Your goal is to reveal that your opponent is an advocate who is only pretending to be a truthseeker, and doesn’t really even care about the truth. Even if you are using facts, objectivity, and fair play, you are using them with the intent to expose the advocate as being an advocate, not with the intent of converting your opponent into a cooperator, a fellow truthseeker.
This all corresponds to some points I was making in an earlier series of posts about the folly of communicating with narcissists using guilt. As I described in those posts, narcissists only feel shame, never guilt. Shame is a much more primitive, immature feeling than guilt. It’s less evolved. Shame is the underside of narcissism and other forms of emotional vampirism. And advocacy is a shame-based behavior, whereas truthseeking is more of a guilt-based behavior. If you think about it, a narcissist is an advocate, and the cause he’s advocating for is his false, idealized self, and the idea that he’s superior to others. Just like I advise people to learn to recognize narcissists and their shame issues and not to try to reason with one using logic or appealing to his sense of guilt and fair play, I also advise people in debates to learn to recognize an advocate and their shame issues and not try to reason with one using logic or appealing to his sense of guilt and fair play.