Two Kinds of Mistake Theorists

by AllAmericanBreakfast3 min read11th Jun 20207 comments


World Modeling

Conflict theorists default to blaming a bad guy. Entrenched power is exploiting others for selfish gain. Explaining away the problems in the world as the result of mistakes only gives the oppressor/barbarian/authoritarian cover. This description is brief and reductive only because I'm trying to focus on mistake theory. It's not intended as a straw man, just a brief summary.

Opposed to them are mistake theorists. There are two kinds.

Object-level mistake theorists reject the idea that evil will, "isms," or conspiracies are to blame for object-level disagreement between groups. Chalk it up to coordination, communication, or motivation challenges; the scarcity of some key resource; or the fact that some problems are just really hard. But it's almost certainly not due to evil intentions.

I call them "object-level" mistake theorists because they use their theory to interpret the sorts of controversies you'd read about in the news. They don't use it to interpret the meta-controversy between conflict or mistake theorists. Object-level mistake theorists see conflict theorists as sophisticated intellectuals who are acting on a theory they happen to disagree with.

Here is how an object-level mistake theorist might model various kinds of conflict theorist take on some contemporary American political issues:

  • ANTIFA is angry about institutional racism, and think the best way to fix that problem is by burning cop cars. They think power gives up nothing without a demand. Or else, police unions are angry that ANTIFA deliberately downplay the gritty realities of the world to have a bad guy for their political narrative.
  • The battle between the Discovery Institute and evolutionists isn't about science. It's a political battle for or against a step toward American Christian theocracy. Both sides know that taking each others' arguments seriously would be a fatal mis-step.
  • Socialists are trying to use an expanded safety net as a prelude to full-on class warfare and ever-escalating demands for more entitlements. Or, conservatives are opposed to simplifying the IRS because they want to make interacting with the government as hateful as possible, so that people won't trust it to do anything else right.

The object-level mistake theorist thinks all these arguments are wrong, but sincerely held. They assume that conflict theorists are familiar with mistake theory and have rejected it, just as they have rejected conflict theory.

Evangelistic mistake theorists, on the other hand, explain not only object-level controversies, but the meta-controversy between conflict and mistake theory, in terms of mistake theory. To them, conflict theorists are simply mistake theorists who happen to have a poor understanding of mistake theory. Here's how an evangelistic mistake theorist might model the takes of conflict theorists on the same issues:

  • Deep down, ANTIFA knows the cops are necessary, and they really just want moderate reform. But they're so caught up in their lefty tribe that they've forgotten that the police are good, reasonable people. So they burn police cars, say the cops are all in the KKK, and call to abolish jails, making the factionalism even worse.
  • Deep down, police unions know that ANTIFA are well-intentioned, and they really just want to see peaceful protests and get some support in doing their difficult and dangerous job. But they get so much criticism and bad publicity that they're on the defensive all the time, and don't know how to explain the challenges they face in a way that ANTIFA would understand. So they defend cops at all costs and shy away from open dialog, entrenching themselves further.
  • Deep down, the Discovery Institute wants to seek the truth, just like mainstream evolutionary theorists. Both sides want to resolve their disagreements through reasoned debate. But there are so many complex points to the argument, and the experiments are so difficult to conduct, that they resort to the courts and battling over curriculums.
  • Deep down, "socialists" just want an expanded social safety net and to fix regulations around some negative externalities. They want social democracy, not a centrally planned economy. But they're so uneducated about the terms they're using, because they build their worldview around social media shares, that they don't realize how threatening their labels sound to mainstream liberals and moderate conservatives. Alternatively, deep down, wealthy "conservatives" are just frustrated that socialist rhetoric makes them feel bad about earning money. If "socialists" could just tone it down a bit and advocate for the social democracy they actually want, we could find a middle ground.

If evangelistic mistake theorists are correct, then all that's needed is to educate ANTIFA, police guilds, the Discovery Institute, and socialists about how to interpret their conflicts through the lens of mistake theory. The people who are the most partisan are likely to have given the least thought to their views. They want to spread the light of mistake theory to the confused and flailing factions.

The object-level mistake theorists might be annoyed or curious about the viewpoints of conflict theorists. Either way, they acknowledge that the disagreement is between two equal minds, even if they find it annoying to have to listen to the other side jabber on about white supremacists or the Hollywood liberal elite.

Evangelistic mistake theorists sometimes portray themselves as the bearers of good news. In fact, they say, once those conflict theorists really understand our ideas, they'll come around to our side, and we can have peace, love, and factual logical debate to resolve all our issues.

That vision is not as hopeful-sounding to me as it seems to be for them. It suggests that a huge number of people are just dumb. There's nothing to do but educate them, fill them up with mistake theory to replace the void inside. They have nothing to teach us except to reveal how better to convert the next one. Fortunately, once they grasp mistake theory, they'll be so happy that we showed it to them!

By contrast, object-level mistake theory suggests that conflict theorists are also smart people, and they might have something important to teach us. They are a worthy debate opponent. If we pick berries in their wood, many of them will make us sick to our stomach, but some will cure the vitamin deficiency we suffer from only eating the fruits of our own forest.