Unable or Unwilling to Explain

Originally published October 4, 2014

I had to write Three Kinds of Loneliness in order to write this post, which I'm only writing because it's a prerequisite for another post that I want to write. This state of affairs conveniently demonstrates the point I want to make with this one.

I make a lot of claims. People tend to want to know why I make them, but—

Let me back up. Speaking in good faith entails giving the real reasons you believe something rather than a persuasive impromptu rationalization. Most people routinely do the latter without even noticing. I'm sure I still do it without noticing. But when I do notice I'm about to make something up, instead I clam up and say, "I can't explain the reasons for this claim." I'm not willing to disingenuously reference a scientific paper that I'd never even heard of when I formed the belief it'd be justifying, for example. In this case silence is the only feasible alternative to speaking in bad faith.

This is one reason why I fail to explain myself. Others include access to privileged information I'm not allowed to share, simple forgetting, inferential distance and fear of the double illusion of transparency, the idea not yet having coagulated into communicable form (perhaps being ineffable), expected social repercussions from admitting I believe something indecent, and so on, and so on, and so on, down into the rabbit-hole of epistemology I go, down into the hard Earth where no one else can live though the soil be fertile.

It is not usually socially acceptable to say, "Look, I am smarter than you. I know more than you about this, and I've thought about this more carefully than you have, for a lot longer than you have. You should stop going with your half-baked first impression and just believe the person who is a domain expert and has done the hard cognitive work that you are not even capable of, let alone willing to undertake." Of course it's a good thing that this is not socially acceptable, because if it were, anyone could claim anything and have plausibility about being on good ground. I'm not saying this should be allowed as a fully general argument. I'm saying disallowing it has consequences.

Part of the reason is people have hyperactive "someone is trying to make me give up control" detectors, and people erroneously feel that their beliefs are something they should have special control over. There's less resistance when people are allowed to feel like they believe something for their own reasons. Even if really they were manipulated into their belief by a salesman.

I'm terrified of long-standing miscommunication. I prefer to give no idea rather than the wrong idea if at all possible. A void can be filled, but a wrong idea tends to inoculate against a better replacement.

That's not even the half of it. The worst is that with this post I have only explained a small part of my failure to explain myself. I'm always saying that humans can't communicate. There are reasons I'm always saying this. Now you know some of them.

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