Re: Confidence: A Basic Politics Puzzle

Eric Watt Forste (
Tue, 18 Feb 1997 15:01:48 -0800

Robin Hanson writes:
>Haveing now spent several years in pursuit of a Ph.D. in political
>economy, the following observation stands out to me as the most
>puzzling: Why do people seem so damn confident of their political

Because the stakes are so high.

There are only a few individuals out of the mass of society who
are likely to use violence to mess my life up. There are the
criminals, whom I rarely encounter and whom my friends and neighbors
will readily help me oppose, and there are the government, whom I
encounter on a daily basis and whom my friends and neighbors are
afraid to oppose openly because they don't want to go to prison or
get shot any more than I do.

People are much more willing to use epistemic caution in debates where
they aren't afraid that they have a lot to lose, if they lose. The only
time I ever feel even *close* to the sensation that I am arguing for my
life is when I'm in political arguments. I've worn handcuffs, I've had
my room destroyed in a drug search (this was when I was very young),
I've seen innocent young men and women shipped off to rot in prison.
People do not argue calmly when they are arguing about the rights and
responsibilities of the person who is holding a gun to their head, and
that seems pretty straightforward to me.

I find this a satisfying explanation of the phenomenon you pointed out,
but now that you've pointed it out to me, I'm going to give some thought
to changing my ways a bit. I don't promise that I'm going to change my
ways, just that I'm going to give it some thought.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++