During my brief but wonderful tenure as the mean-ass editor of Fault Lines, I had a minor epiphany. The concept of FL was to bring together the differing points of view of the players (what might be called “stakeholders” in the moment’s jargon) in the criminal legal system. Defense, prosecution, cops and judges all had their say.
I read every post before it hit the screen, and that’s when it happened. Rather than finding myself seduced by confirmation bias, I found just the opposite. It was far easier for me to be critical of posts arguing the defense perspective than the prosecutorial perspective. By critical, I mean that I could easily see the logical gaps, the legal holes, the facile inferential leaps that allowed arguments with which I agreed to reach their conclusions without facing the hard questions.
But the prosecutor posts? Being a criminal defense lawyer, I was often in natural disagreement with the perspective from the outset, finding myself inclined to argue the merit of the perspective rather than pinpointing particular problems in reaching the conclusion. What I found was that I had to resist the urge to disagree with posts I disagreed with, and in doing so, I was substantially less critical of the reasoning used to reach the conclusion.
The upshot was that posts with which I personally disagreed were given greater latitude than posts that were closer to my own point of view. This means I may have allowed some cheaper reasoning to slip through on the prosecution side than the defense side because I over-compensated in order to not let my defense bias impair the prosecution perspective.
Berny Belvedere is trying something similar at Arc Digital. Full disclosure, I wrote a few pieces for Berny, but found that it was better suited for a more philosophical perspective than a legal one. The squishiness of words and concepts to non-lawyers wasn’t a good fit for me, even though I wanted to help Berny to create a viable heterodox website. Where Fault Lines never got the traction needed to stay alive, I hope that Arc Digital does.
While some would approach their mission with confirmation bias, favoring posts they agree with over posts they don’t, Berny seems to go out of his way to include writers who are quite extreme in their views, particularly on the progressive side of heterodoxy. It’s hard to imagine Berny agreeing with their positions, but he takes his heterodox mission seriously and values the publication of views he may not share. I admire and respect him for doing so.
But some are dumb. They claim facts that aren’t real. They employ serial logical fallacies without shame. They make inferential leaps that are without justification, but rely entirely on believing something enough that it can’t be questioned, even if the only basis is abiding faith in one’s ideology.
My suspicion, and I can’t say this for sure as Berny has never said so, is that he finds himself in the same conundrum that I did at Fault Lines. Much as it was easy to spot the gap in posts with which I agreed, i feared that the gaps I saw otherwise weren’t really gaps, but just my bias. And to avoid imposing my bias on views contrary to mine, I let it slide. In fairness, the posts were still legally sound and factually supported, because we were lawyers and we tend to get hung up on such things.
In the sphere of more philosophical discussions, where there’s no slavish adherence to facts, definitions or logic, it’s harder to draw the line between viewpoints with which you disagree and viewpoints that are based on dubious factual claims and distorted reasoning. I’ve read some posts there that were cringeworthy, not because I disagreed as much as their claimed facts weren’t facts at all, and they leaped over logical gaps with reckless abandon. They weren’t merely disagreeable; they were dumb.
I wish Berny and all the editors and writers at Arc Digital success, and hope they get the traction to survive as a website that offers all points of view. But he still needs to use his red pen to distinguish sound views with which he disagrees, ones based on actual facts and logic, from the flights of fantasy that he might let slide because he doesn’t want to let his bias influence his judgment. Sometimes, posts with which you disagree aren’t just disagreeable, but baseless and irrational. Even a heterodox approach needs to be tempered by intellectual honesty. Sometimes, you have to say no.