The things we believe

I believe, for instance, that the government of Saudi Arabia addresses violent extremism basically by paying its violent extremists money, in exchange for them promising to commit their violent extremist acts in places other than Saudi Arabia.

I don’t have any evidence to hand for this, and I would not stake a huge amount on it (although I would stake a small amount), but it is something that I believe. It fits in with my theories of the world, I think I read something somewhere once that said it was true, and it just makes sense to me psychologically, fitting in with the motivations of the parties involved.

Various Trump fans and people with whom I argue on The Twitter believe that, for instance, President Obama treasonously sent one or more planes full of billions of dollars in cash to Iran, under cover of night, for some nefarious reason or other.

Stripped of the “treasonously” and “nefarious” and the implication that it was some private project of Obama’s, this is actually true. Just before the Iran Revolution, Iran had paid some U.S. entity like US$400 Million for some weapons or something, and when the revolution occurred, we just sort of held onto it, without of course supplying the weapons or something. Iran was not happy about this, and had over time gotten the attention of the folks at The Hague about it, and it looked like they might be going to find in Iran’s favor for like US$2 Billion for money and interest. To pre-empt this, and not have to either thumb our noses at The Hague or pay quite that much money, we gave them the $400 Million plus like $1.3 Billion in interest, held back until they released the hostages they were holding.

And it had to be in cash because we’d put into place so many sanctions against Iran that they were cut off from the international banking system, so there was no other way to get money to them. And it was at night (if in fact it was, I dunno) because Iran is like 9 hours ahead of Washington DC, so really it usually is, at one end or the other. Also because you probably want as much security (and obscurity) as possible around the moving of that much cash in any case.

People believe that this was treasonous and nefarious, though, because it fits into their narratives. Primarily, the narrative that President Obama was a Bad Guy, who was trying to Destroy America, and would have Seized All The Guns and Put Patriots Into FEMA Camps if the heroic NRA hadn’t stopped him, so failing that he just gave lots of money to Iran so they could destroy America for him. Or something.

Needless to say, I don’t find this very plausible. If Obama had wanted to destroy America, there were lots of other things he could have done, and didn’t do. Also he just seems like a very smart, beneficent, and cool guy to me. The Saudi government, not so much; they seem like selfish rich people who would not have huge reservations about just bribing their extremists to go elsewhere rather than doing anything more fundamental about them. So the first story fits my narrative, whereas the second doesn’t.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is any truth of the matter, or that I think I’m just as likely to be wrong as I am to be right. Quite the contrary, I believe that the story I believe is probably true, and the one that they believe is almost certainly false.

But it is interesting to think about how each putative fact does not stand alone, is not believed by itself, due to specific evidence for or against it; but rather exists as a supporting fact in a somewhat-consistent narrative.

And that, perhaps, the right way to try to get to the truth, and/or to get to consensus, is to try to find another narrative that one’s interlocutors also believe, and that the facts up for evaluation fit into differently.

(Note that “You’re an idiot” is a particular claim that will almost never fit into the addressed party’s narratives, and so isn’t much use for finding consensus there, although in some cases a significant fraction of onlookers may agree with it and applaud.)



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: