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The Flaws of Fence-Sitting and the Disorder of Democracy

By MatTehCat | The Cat's Mewsings | 24 Feb 2023

The other day, I noticed a tweet from Gad Saad that caught my attention,


listened very briefly to the Tim Pool podcast the other night with Jimmy Dore, and in both of these examples I noticed some common themes. 1. We should be willing to be convinced by the other side, just as we should expect that they’re willing to be convinced by us. And, with respect to Jimmy Dore’s statements, 2. we should be willing to cooperate with people who are not on our side to achieve our goals. While I would be remiss to say that there’s nothing to be learned from your opponent, I do think these positions are inherently flawed.

For at least the past week, Matt Walsh has been getting grief for harshly criticizing a man who’s pretending to be a woman, acting as a trans activist, on TikTok: Dylan Mulvaney. Matt has been criticized for being too harsh towards Dylan, and he has had to defend his tone. The essence of his argument is that there can be no common ground between himself, or the Right, since he wants to win, and people who advocate for an ideology that results in the mutilation of children and adults. For Matt Walsh, he feels that tone is not relevant; no matter the tone, you will not convince someone who fundamentally disagrees with you. In this regard, Matt Walsh is absolutely correct. Thus, how would Matt benefit from listening to the rationalizations of Dylan Mulvaney or his like? Will he be convinced by Dylan? No, of course not.

Success in most social games is predicated on the ability to cooperate. In the basic game theory setup, both players can cooperate, one player can cooperate and the other player can defect, or both players can defect. The last scenario generates the lowest payoff for both players, the penultimate scenario generates the highest payoff for the defecting player while generating the lowest payoff for the cooperating player, and the first scenario generates the greatest payoff for both cooperating players. In instances where defection is more likely than cooperation, defection is the rational choice. Thus, groups whose members cooperate will generate more over time than groups whose members defect occasionally, or who never cooperate.

There are many mechanisms to increase cooperation between members including punishment, institutional mediation, and identifiable traits. Groups that are better at increasing the benefits from cooperation between their members while keeping costs low and expanding to new areas that increase the number of groups that can be produced will outcompete groups that cannot. This means they have to be in-group dominant, out-group resistant, and homogenous. If they cannot control the number of groups they can maintain, and the group size exceeds their ability to sustain more groups, defectors can invade, take advantage of the massive group, and parasitize off the group, causing the benefits from cooperation to collapse. In other words, as I have previously stated, “population size is beneficial only to a point, after that, it fails to generate cooperative behavior.” I.e., in cooperation games that take into consideration indirect benefit effects, and direct benefit effects, both with network reciprocity effects, small and homogenous groups of cooperators should be more stable over longer periods of time. Much of this is a review from a previous and rather lengthy paper I recently wrote.

Here’s the point so far: pursuing large groups to achieve your goals appears to be an ineffective strategy. Matt Walsh is thus absolutely correct. There’s no reason to seek to expand the size of your group if you want to achieve a political goal through cooperation, specifically with others whose goals are antithetical to your own. Jimmy Dore, on the other hand, advocated for cooperating with people who you fundamentally disagree with to achieve your goals. This is an exceptionally flawed argument.

Paraphrasing Jimmy Dore, he claimed that if you want to get something done, you’re going to have to work with people you fundamentally disagree with or are different from. For example, if you want to unionize or get something done as a union, you’re ultimately not going to be concerned about the political orientation, religion, ethnicity, or national origin of your union members. If this is the case, this may be taking an emic example, a highly salient one, and making it the standard for behavior. This can ultimately be described as a compositional error. This doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable insight, only that it probably won’t work in the long term or in other contexts.

Reviewing the literature on game theory, it became clear to me that a central issue was how groups managed to identify goals that would induce cooperation between members of a group to achieve that goal. For humans, language or symbolic communication appears to resolve this issue. However, even this doesn’t satisfy the requirement for rational cooperation. I.e., you ultimately have to trust that another means what they say, you cannot be certain that they mean what they say. In situations like these, where there are groups who have fundamental differences between them, for example, Progressives and Conservatives, Christians and Jews, or Muslims and Hindus, cooperation ultimately becomes harder to achieve.

In these kinds of situations, focal points or goals may be harder to communicate, or it may be harder for the different groups to agree on a focal point that is relevant or an “important matter” for both of them. Thus, even if you can get them to cooperate with each other, it will be exceedingly costly and the achieved goal may not cover the costs or effort it took to get them to cooperate. This is why excessive punishment is not cost-effective, for example. For groups that are smaller, homogenous, and who can trust each other because they have better reputations with each other, they will know what they want to achieve, be better at coordinating, cooperating, and thus achieving goals that net them greater returns. Thus, based on this theory rooted in the fundamentals of game theory, larger and more diverse groups are not effective vehicles for achieving political goals.

In other words, Jimmy Dore may have explained a particular scenario, and observed success from that particular scenario, but it clearly doesn’t seem like an effective strategy on a larger scale, nor does it seem useful for long-term games. The groups will ultimately disagree with each other, the larger group will fall apart due to a lack of cohesion, and they will be less capable of achieving their goals than smaller, better-organized, and homogenous groups. This reminds me of Iban Khaldun’s notion of Asabiyyah, which Peter Turchin wrote extensively on in his book, War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires.

Then, should we be inclusive? Should we not know how we or our group would respond to “important matters”? The answer to both of these questions is obviously no. It is not effective to increase group numbers if increasing group numbers decreases the group’s capacity to cooperate. Secondly, the goals and constitution of the group actually matter. This requires you to know who you are, who your enemies are, and the fundamental differences between yourself and them. This also requires that you be picky or fussy, that you actually have selective mechanisms that prohibit just anyone from being part of your group, and harsh but fair mechanisms that deter defecting and free-riding. To virtue signal about how open-minded you are, about how you’re willing to consider your opponent’s position, will deliver nothing of worth. To pretend as if “[not] living in an echo chamber” requires you to seriously contemplate both positions equally, in the sense Gad Saad apparently used it, is incoherent.

This doesn’t mean you can’t learn from your opponent. I’ve already stated that you should try to learn from them. However, this doesn’t mean that you disregard the fact that you fundamentally disagree with them. If this is what he means by “[not] living in an echo chamber,” c’est la vie, but that is not how I interpreted it. In either sense, you should know who you are, what you want, why you want it, who your friends are, how to identify them, who your opponent is, and why they are fundamentally different from you.

As I’ve noted before, politics is a battle of standards. This battle of standards means that you have to be clear about what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. If these standards fundamentally define the good for you, or what is acceptable behavior, you cannot budge from them. Claims that they disproportionately affect certain groups, that they’re not inclusive, or that they’re harmful is just stating the obvious. They’re not intended to be inclusive, they’re not intended to benefit everyone equally, and they’re only intended to benefit people who uphold them, not those who do not. This means that you must be able to gatekeep, you must be exclusive, and if this means that your group is smaller but more efficient at getting things done, all the better.

This also means that democracy, as a political concept, is fundamentally flawed. Large political bodies only seem to be effective occasionally and for short periods of time, if the game theory literature is to be believed. What this means is that a small, well-organized, highly cooperative, and coordinated body of political actors will be more effective than a large, disorganized, uncooperative, and uncoordinated body of political actors. I.e., fundamental change does not have to come from huge movements.

To continue to try to build their voting base when they have not even grasped these fundamental aspects of political theory will cost the Right dearly. Progressives seem to have a preternatural and almost inherent understanding of these tactics. We would be wise to regard them as relevant strategies. However, we would be fools to think that they’ll treat us as legitimate potential cooperators rather than obstacles in their path. To try to reason with people who seem bent on treating you as less-than-human, or ignoring your humanity to score political points, is like walking into a dark room, filled with poisonous snakes, and expecting to survive: you won’t. The prudent actor will recognize this, act accordingly, and focus their efforts on tangible, effective, and long-term solutions to the problems they perceive and the goals they want to achieve. Really, the devil of this process is, as the saying goes, in the details.

Still, given that conflict is unavoidable, it is better to know how to fight well than to flail about wildly.



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The Cat's Mewsings
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