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A Voter’s Guide to Thinking - Dilbert Blog

A Voter’s Guide to Thinking

As the American presidential race heats up, you’ll see a lot of bad thinking emerge, especially mine. So I thought it would be useful to agree on some ground rules to keep each other in line.

I give you my first draft (subject to your improvements) of A Voter’s Guide to Thinking:

A Voter’s Guide to Thinking

1. If you are comparing Plan A to Plan B, you might be doing a good job of thinking. But if you are comparing Plan A to an imaginary situation in which there are no tradeoffs in life, you are not thinking.

2. If you see quotes taken out of context, and you form an opinion anyway, that’s probably not thinking. If you believe you need no further context because there is only one imaginable explanation for the meaning of the quotes, you might have a poor imagination. Sometimes a poor imagination feels a lot like knowledge, but it’s closer to the opposite.

3. If a debate lends itself to estimates of cost (in money or human suffering) and you aren’t willing to offer an estimate in support of your opinion, you don’t yet have an opinion. 

4. If you are sure you know how a leader performed during his or her tenure, and you don’t know how someone else would have performed in the same situation, you don’t actually know anything. It just feels like you do.

5. If something reminds you of something else (such as Hitler, to pick one example) that doesn’t mean you are thinking. That just means something reminded you of something. A strong association of that type can prevent you from thinking, but it is not itself a component of reason.

6. Analogies are not an element of reason. Analogies are good for explaining things to people who are new to a topic. If I am busy as a beaver, that does not imply that I also build dams by gnawing on wood. It just means I’m busy.

7. If you think your well-informed and reasoned opinions as a voter are bringing up the average, let me introduce you to the 100% of other voters who believe they are bringing up the average as well.

8. If your opinion is based on your innate ability to predict the future, you might be employing more magical thinking than reason. The exceptions would be the people who use data to predict the future, such as Nate Silver. That stuff is credible albeit imperfect by nature. Your imagination is less reliable.

I also think it is useful to have a clear understanding of the 2D model compared to the 3D model of reality. The 2D model revolves around the illusion that humans are rational beings and we respond to reason over time. The 3D model says some Master Persuaders are operating outside that frame. Here’s the difference spelled out for this election cycle.

2D Model (aka the Lucky Hitler filter)

Media: Guardians of knowledge and reason

Voters: Mostly idiots, but can be guided by the wisdom of the media over time.

Trump: Lucky Hitler with inexplicable staying power that we think will end any minute. 

3D Model (aka the Master Persuader filter)

Trump: Master Persuader controls the media and is already leading the country in terms of setting priorities.

Media: Tries to resist Trump’s “energy judo” and persuasion talents and loses every time because energy always beats reason.

Voters: Swayed by emotion (energy) and not reason, but rationalizing every decision as if reason were in play. Angry at those with competing hallucinations.

I’m not claiming the 3D model of reality (which is a derivative of the Moist Robot filter) is the only truth. Reality is subjective. I am only suggesting that it might be useful to know both models exist, so you can see which one best predicts the future.

If you hate this sort of blog topic, you’ll detest my book.