Some backstory: Alex Tabarrok and Robin Hanson have been advocating more betting on contentious opinions, with Tabarrok at least describing such bets as a “tax on bullshit.” Tyler Cowen (Tabarrok’s partner in blogging at Marginal Revolution) and many others have been cool on the notion, with Cowen describing Tabarrok’s use of the world bullshit as an attempt to sway the debate via mood affiliation. Hanson now has an interesting reflection on the distaste some have expressed for betting, and Marginal Revolution commenter Urso saying:
[B]ets, at least in the Hanson/Tabarrok model, look incredibly confrontational. When you start talking about a “bet on bullshit” you’re implicitly accusing everyone else of being full of bullshit, pretty much all the time.
Which strikes me as both correct in that I think it explains some of the hostility to betting as polite discourse…
And also correct in that I think that everyone is probably pretty full of bullshit, pretty much all the time. Me included, of course.
By that, I mean that it strikes me as genuinely hard to examine one’s opinions coldly, to suppress as many biases as possible, to reason from fact rather than mood or tribe affiliation, and otherwise try in good faith to be as un-full-of-bullshit as possible. I was trawling through some old forum posts in these past few days, and it’s kind of shocking to me how much discourse seems to be entirely people talking past each other, engaging imaginary agendas, and applying unreasoned dogma. It’s, of course, more visible to me in others than myself, but I also cringe at some of the things I said — and I suspect that if I were truly unbiased, I’d be cringing at a lot more of the things I said.
I’m not sure that betting is the best way to cut through the endemic bullshit, but I am pretty sure that politely ignoring the bullshit is not the way to go. (That is, in fora that at least aspire to genuinely be conversations of the mind. If you’re looking to build rapport and relationship face-to-face, it is, in my view, no sin to grease the wheels liberally).