Said Achmiz


The Real Rules Have No Exceptions

Quite reasonable. In that case, yes, I invite readers who enjoyed (and believe that they did properly understand) this post to say what they believe the answer to this question is.

If there aren’t any responses in, let us say, two weeks, then I will post my own explanation.

The Real Rules Have No Exceptions

It’s hard to give examples, because you don’t actually explain the specific function of not stating the “real rule” in any particular case.

By no means is it hard to give examples. Indeed, I did give several examples in an earlier comment.

As for reasons to keep the real rule unstated, they seem clear enough to me. I did not state them because I considered them too obvious to belabor… of course, it’s possible that I was wrong about this!

I can make my views of this explicit, if you like, but I don’t think I will be adding much to the understanding of signaling already common in this forum. In fact, I wonder if anyone else (perhaps one of the folks who liked or benefited from this post) would like to try their hand at explaining this? It would give me useful info about whether readers of this post understood it as I intended it to be understood (and would help to clarify the post for anyone confused, of course).

The Real Rules Have No Exceptions

My point of disagreement is the conclusion—that exceptions are primarily a form of self-signaling, a way to avoid being honest about the real rule.

I did not say “self-signaling”.

Note well that the idea of “the real rules have no exceptions” applies to rules that govern social groups and organizations and subcultures and societies just as much (if not more!) as it applies to rules made by a person to govern their own actions.

In that light, the signaling is not to oneself, but to others; and it is of great importance (as the rule-as-stated, clean and exception-free as it is, creates legitimacy, and the appearance of explicit structure and order). And for this reason also, the insight described in the OP is, in such contexts, subversive to the group and to those in power within it, because it is corrosive to the beliefs and behaviors that maintain the group’s cohesion and stability.

The Sense-Making Web

I second this. I have no idea who this post is talking about, and find that I am very confused about this whole “Sensemaking scene” thing.

100 Tips for a Better Life

A tangential comment—you say:

Maybe it is because of my scientific training and having looked at the data from the perspective of a scientist.

Indeed, this is one of the answers to the fundamental question of epistemic rationality, i.e. “what do you think you know, and how do you think you know it?”. Oftentimes the answer to the latter clause is “because someone told me”, but that just pushes back the problem: whom can you trust to provide you with truth? Of course we have to get some (indeed, most!) of our information about the world from others, but it’s a thorny problem, to be sure… but as you imply, one way to sidestep it is “nullius in verba”—to personally gain the relevant expertise, and to apply it to the problem at hand.

But we cannot do this for every problem! There are only so many hours in the day (not to speak of more fundamental difficulties, like the possibility that we might find some given problem to be beyond our capacity for understanding, try as we might to unravel it). And it obviously does no good for you (or anyone else) to say “fear not, I have investigated the problem on your behalf, and here is the answer”, because in that case we’re right back to “whom to trust”…

All of this is to say that if you investigate some question (e.g., climate change), and find an answer to your own satisfaction, then you have solved the epistemic problem—for yourself only. Absolutely no one else is helped by this unless you can convince them that your judgment is reliably correct (or, of course, induce them to undertake the same journey of discovery as you did). This is surely frustrating (I know from personal experience), and indeed you may decide not to bother trying to convince others (and few would blame you for it)… but the fact remains that there’s no royal road to truth, and in particular “just take the word of someone who has figured it out” isn’t it.

100 Tips for a Better Life

Those public health official examples seem unrelated to tip #59 (“Those who generate anxiety in you and promise that they have the solution are grifters.”).

To the contrary, I think they are directly related, for the same reason that my anti-example of pro-“war on terrorism” public figures is related.

Grifters aren’t always out for your money.

100 Tips for a Better Life

Just for the record, climate change is not really controversial or doubtful in any meaningful, scientific way. I am sincerely puzzled by you viewing it as such.

Just for the record, I most certainly did not say that I view climate change as “controversial or doubtful” in any “meaningful, scientific way”. (Indeed I went out of my way to note that I am not expressing any opinion on the topic!)

However, as I said, many people hold the view that you are puzzled by—people who are, I repeat, not obviously irrational.

In that sense, it’s clear that the matter is controversial, in the most straightforward and ordinary sense of the word!

I make no claims to scientific expertise, either on my own behalf or on behalf of the aforementioned (and unspecified) others. But you must recognize, I think, that there is such a thing as public controversy; and also, that experience shows us that it’s foolish to surrender the burden of judgment to some group of credentialed experts, merely on the strength of their being labeled, formally or by convention, as “scientists” of one sort or another. (The replication crisis alone is proof enough of that; and the history of science is rife with more examples.)

As to the matter of COVID, others have addressed this in sibling threads, so I will comment no more on it here.

100 Tips for a Better Life

I think that the burden of proof is rather on you to prove that all statements that are anxiety-inducing and have solutions, are false. Or that all people who make such statements are grifters (have ulterior motives that do not include your wellbeing).

But I never claimed this, so why would I need to prove it…?

My problem was with your examples (and, more speculatively, with what your choice of examples—and their problematic nature—tells us about the larger point). I am not the OP, however, and will not attempt to defend statements I never made!

The other examples you have now given are both better and worse than your original two. Better, because less controversial… but worse, because less representative (most of them lack the quality of their claimants attempting to induce anxiety in the supposed beneficiaries). (Take the “Big Pharma” example, which is particularly interesting. The pharmaceutical substances which are most unquestionably beneficial also tend to be the least profitable, and tend to be least associated with anxiety-inducing advertising and messaging. The correlation is imperfect, yet quite evident. Is this not another example that proves the rule? …or would not, at least, many people say so, who are, again, not obviously irrational?)

Perhaps one general point to extract from this is that it’s misleading to equivocate between “someone tells you the truth” and “someone generates anxiety in you”. Truth may be anxiety-inducing, yet these two activities aren’t the same.

100 Tips for a Better Life

It seems to me that you could hardly have picked more controversial examples!

I have no opinion to express at this time on either topic, but it cannot be denied that in the case of both “public health officials during COVID” and “climate scientists”, there are many (not obviously irrational) people who would respond to your claim with “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens”. In other words, there are quite a few people who would say that these two examples are the exceptions that (in the classic sense of the phrase) prove the rule: seeming to be exceptions, they test the rule, and find it valid—by turning out not to be exceptions, after all.

What would you say to such an interlocutor? (“That’s obviously wrong” will clearly not suffice—the matter’s such that ‘obvious’ to you, and ‘obvious’ to me, may differ!)

As you formulate your response, consider also this: there is another category of allegedly “honest, sincere ‘friendlies’” you might have added to your short list of examples: the politicians, pundits, and public intellectuals who, in the course of this new century’s first decade, advocated for Western powers (the U.S. its allies, that’s to say) to engage in military action in the Middle East, thereby to eliminate a source of dire peril to the citizens of their respective nations. They, too, had as their modus operandi the arousal of anxiety in their audiences and constituencies; they, too, offered up all sorts of ‘truths’ (WMDs! The Axis of Evil! The War on… and so forth); they, too, had “real solutions” to the “real problems” we (or so we were told!) then faced.

Yet it now seems to most of us, in retrospect, that they were grifters one and all, extracting our attention, votes, and dollars.

By no means does this prove that your examples are false. But if I wish to have a principled way to distinguish the true examples from the false ones—is there one? Can you provide it? (It would help, I note, to have case studies upon which we may bring to bear the already-rendered judgment of history—a test your examples fail, unfortunately.)

100 Tips for a Better Life

I once got into a minor car accident (no one was hurt, thankfully) in which the other driver was clearly at fault. I spoke to the police and a report was filed.

I received no compensation from the other driver’s insurance company (nor did he receive any compensation from mine). However, my insurance company subsequently raised my premium (and, no doubt, the other driver’s insurance company raised his premium as well). Filing the report was worse than useless.

I do not know anyone who has their bicycle insured against theft, or their phone insured against theft. I have never heard of anyone I know who’s had their cars broken into (nor do I know anyone who has their car insured against break-ins).

As far as I can tell, none of these alleged reasons to talk to cops applies to me or to anyone I know, despite me and a number of my friends owning cars, bikes, phones, etc.

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