The world is divided into two types of people: those who believe, and those who don’t. Or those who accept, and those who don’t. You’re on one side or the other. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, there’s one side with their perspective and then there is that other side. Everything which happens is seen through this lens and stands as proof of the belief.
Except, of course, reality doesn’t work that way.
Most people don’t actually fall into one group or the other, but retain a healthy dose of skepticism on any given topic. You may have a point, but you may not. While any set of true believers is likely to be vocal, given the ability to self-publish text or video or even, God help us all, snarky little memes. So what’s a person to do who doesn’t buy into this nonsense – whatever this nonsense might be?
It’s a technique I call “filing away.”
Take any event in the world today. Brexitis the hot topic of the moment in the UK and Europe, so we can start with that. Either the EU is a hopelessly bureaucratic attempt to enslave people in a new world order or it’s a source of unity and siblinghood which makes life better for everyone No other opinion is reasonable, at least once the debate heats up. The UK should either leave or remain, and the (close) vote showed that it was time to go. So go they must.
Ordinary Brits are reasonably perplexed about all of this. Everyone has a daily life to get through, making a living and raising the kids and maybe having a nice holiday by the sea once there’s enough saved for it. They probably just want a decision of some kind, so the current situation is absolutely the worst of all possible worlds. Can’t they just get on with it?
No, they can’t. It’s one way or the other, after all. Either PM May is selling out or she’s leading the nation down the road to ruin. It’s not at all that she was given an impossible task by trying to implement the referendum without terrible pain. The whole things was sold as painless, after all. It was never something which the nation had to get through for a brighter future, it was a better way to go right now.
When you aren’t on one side or the other, regardless of the issue, there’s a tendency to remain silent. There are usually good points all around. Events don’t necessarily confirm one position or the other, but they might. We’ll have to see how it all plays out.
The problem is that there is no model for being vocal and holding this practical perspective on the world.
I offer this technique to anyone who cannot see themselves as a true believer on any issue. Every idea, every event with spin, every statement made can be filed away for recall later. You don’t have to make a judgement right away, but it’s important to remember things. You can assign a reasonable gut feel likelihood that something is true or useful to any topic, as well.
That’s is what is important. You don’t have to either believe of disbelieve anything. You can file it away somewhere in the middle.
Take Brexit as the example. Will it give the UK more power to control its own destiny? I’ve filed that away with about a 70% possibility of truth. They will be able to set policy, yes, but implementing anything entirely on their own is not going to be easy. You can’t just use the Royal Navy to make thing happen anymore. Similarly, the possibility of absolute ruin and chaos coming has a 70% probability in my mind. It seems likely, but people often have an amazing way of making any situation, no matter how bad, just plain work.
When you file away an argument, your assessment is likely more than a little wrong. We all have our biases, even when we aren’t true believers. I’m a liberal, and I strongly believe that a modern economy demands at least some sense of equity. I favor stability so that people in a bad situation have more ability to plan a long term strategy to get themselves out of it. These beliefs definitely color how I view everything, and my assessment of “truth” at any one time is going to be a little off.
But I do think that there are two important principles to the idea of filing something away. The first is that whatever instant judgment is rendered is relatively unimportant compared to how it plays out and what subsequent evidence arrives. The second is a probability, neither 0% nor 100%, which can still be off but is not going to be completely off no matter what the issue at hand might be.
This seems to be the main tool for being pragmatic about the world. And it’s more than an internal way of evaluating ideas and events.
What the method of filing away needs is a bit more weight behind it, a push to be maybe not as evangelical in its fervor as the true believers but at least a lot more vocal. Just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you don’t know something. Those of us who are in the middle can ask constructive questions, express reasonable doubt, and generally call out things pushed as 100% which are clearly not.
That’s a great start, but there is also a basic sense of boundaries to the chaos of the world. Order is, after all, what true believers of all kinds are trying to impose upon the world, if not in law than at least in perspective. They want to make sense of the world and, through a sense of order, make life more predictable and easy. Once they have all the answers, or sincerely believe they do, everything makes sense.
Of course, we live in a world which doesn’t make sense all the time. But there are probabilities guiding the chaos, and there are boundaries. Filing away the argument or observation of the moment for a more useful evaluation later requires both of these things. It’s a useful way of making sense of the world without imposing upon it, one way or the other.
So what do you file this away under? What’s my net percent?