In a post I wish I’d written, Robin Hanson lists a series of unjustified presumptions readers of political opinion pieces (especially blog posts) often make. In my fairly long experience of attempting to discuss issues in the blogosphere and trying to make my meaning as clear and unambiguous as possible, unjustified presumptions are recurrent sources of misunderstanding which frequently derail debate and render calm, rational discourse all but impossible.
In the hope that it might somehow have a positive effect, I thought I’d post Hanson’s list of unjustified presumptions here:
- If you say anything about correlates of race you must hate a race.
- If you say anything about genetic correlates of success you are a social Darwinist.
- Any general claim about human behavior is presumed an absolute law without exception unless you add qualifiers like “tends” or “often.”
- If you quote someone you agree with everything they’ve said.
- If you say you prefer option A to option B, you also prefer A to any option C.
- If you say anything nice (or critical) about anything associated with a group or person you are presumed to support (or oppose) them overall.
- If you say anything nice (or critical) about anything associated with an idea or claim you are presumed to support (or oppose) it and related ideas overall.
- If you worry that more A will cost too much of B, you don’t care about B at all.
- If you dislike a proposed solution to a certain problem, you don’t care about that problem.
Sound familiar? The only aspect of Hanson’s post with which I take issue is this bit:
Most who say such things do not intend these further claims, and their conversation could be much easier if they did not need to constantly disclaim them. But they are stuck in a signaling game; since most who say such things do add the required disclaimers, observers can infer something unusual about the few who do not.
But do most bloggers or op-ed authors really habitually pre-emptively disclaim such presumptions? I can’t say I’ve noticed it, nor do I think it would be desirable or even possible in most cases. Blog posts would be incredibly turgid if authors had to foresee and disclaim misunderstandings by readers who wrongly assume something we neither said nor meant and which does not follow logically from our words.
However, given that misunderstandings of this sort are so common and destructive of useful debate, is there any other way to avoid them?
Feel free to add to the comment box any other common erroneous presumptions of which you’ve been the victim.