Why Not Compromise?

Rob Wiblin:

Why is it that rather than celebrate the values of conflict resolution, tolerance and deal-making, which make our advanced societies function so effectively, our favourite stories continue to be about zero-sum conflicts that are impossible to resolve peaceably? … I suspect the answer lies in what we subconsciously want our taste in fiction to say about us. Celebrating the Na’vi allows us to signal how much we value loyalty and justice. Denigrating Melbourne Airport allows us to show our suspicion of greedy and powerful people. In real life, when defending our stated values requires that we make serious sacrifices whether or not we are likely to win, we sensibly value the opportunity to compromise. But when a fictional character will do all the fighting for you, why compromise on anything?

Katja Grace:

I think he might be roughly right. But why wouldn’t finding good deals and balancing compromises well be ideals we would want to celebrate? When there are no costs to yourself, why aren’t you itching to go all out and celebrate the most extravagant tales of successful trading and extreme sagas of mutually beneficial political compromise? I think because there is no point in demonstrating that you will compromise. … It’s often good to look like you won’t easily compromise, so that other people will try to win you over with better deals. … If you somehow convince me that you’re the kind of person who would die fighting for their magic tree, I’ll probably try to come up with a pretty appealing deal for you before I even bring up my interest in checking out the deposits under any trees you have.

Yes, it might be good for your group to seem reluctant to compromise, but how is good for you to support such a group reluctance? That seems to be more about signaling group loyalty. The people in your group who most want compromise are those also  tied to other groups with which your group has conflicts. By opposing compromise, you signal you have weaker conflicting ties. This loyalty signaling theory better explains why we often oppose compromise that is clearly in our group interest.

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  • Ely

    The evolution-creation debate seems like a good example of this. Creationist students who want to work and be taken seriously often try to present their ideas as slight compromises, or weakenings, of certain aspects of evolutionary theory (when really, internally, they want the whole theory to be turned on its head). Because of the need for vigilance against making religious influence in science appear credibly, it seems that those on the side of evolutionary theory cannot allow any appearance of tolerating slight compromises. This seems to be a lot about signaling group loyalty by not seeking compromise, and it’s probably a hindrance to evolutionary theory which, like any good scientific theory, actually benefits from people poking holes in it and arguing for slight weakenings supported by data. I wonder how many of these folks aren’t allowed to express their idea for fear of not signaling enough group loyalty. The widespread (midguided) credibility given to the theory of inclusive fitness is a good example of how this has hurt evolutionary theory.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      I can tell that you are not a scientist, and you don’t understand either evolution or creationists.

      Creationists have a fundamentally different view of what makes information reliable enough to believe. To a Creationist, the only criteria is that someone who is higher in their religious hierarchy told them to believe it.

      It doesn’t matter what that belief is, if someone higher up in the religious hierarchy says it is true, then it must be true.

      To a Creationist, “compromise” means “accept what my religious authorities say is true even if it contradicts well understood data”.

      In biology, “nothing makes sense except in terms of evolution”. Evolution is the scientific theory with the most data supporting it by far. Every single bit of data that biologists have collected over the past few centuries is consistent with evolution. There is not a single datum (note the singular form) that is not consistent with evolution.

      If evolution was wrong, then biology would have to throw out the past two centuries of data. Not just the explanations of the data, but the data themselves.

      Biologists are willing to compromise. Their idea of compromise is “show me ideas that explains data better than existing explanations and I will adopt them”. If Creationists actually had any ideas like that, they would be taken seriously and those ideas would be incorporated into scientific thought. The problem for Creationists is that they don’t have any ideas of that type.

      These are two fundamentally different conceptualizations of reality. In one, “Truth” comes from the top of the social power hierarchy and is dictated to those below. In the other, no one quite knows what reality is, but if we compare our ideas of what reality might be with the data that actual reality produces, maybe we will get closer to finding out.

      The Creationist mindset is all about power and control. Control by the religious hierarchy of everything, but especially things of value. Of course the most valuable thing is females of reproductive age, which is why Creationists, the religious right, the Catholic Church, and the other conservatives have at their core, a need to control women of reproductive age.

      http://www.opednews.com/articles/1/Why-Rush-Limbaugh-went-off-by-Ruth-Lopez-120308-232.html

      At some level they appreciate that if they lose control of women, then in a few generations the power of the Patriarchy will be lost for ever. This is why Conservatives are inherently anti-science. They want things to stay the same as they have always been. That means never learning anything new. New things don’t come from studying reality, they are dictated from the top down by the “leaders”, who got to the top by following orders from the top down.

      Conservatives are not, and can’t be members of “the Reality Based Community”. The Reality Based Community takes direction from reality, not from leaders. The wealthy can purchase leadership in the Conservative social power structure, and often do so as an investment; for example global warming denialism. That has no effect on reality, but because Conservatives can’t cope with or even recognize reality, Conservatives can’t tell the difference.

      • Ely

        Here is my personal webpage. Please feel free to email me if you want to have further discussion, but I believe you completely misunderstood my post.

        I am currently in an evolutionary dynamics research group with Martin Nowak at Harvard University, who is a leading proponent of the idea that inclusive fitness is a bad theory for biology to be endorsing. I’ll leave it to you to read his book and research papers if you want to argue with that idea.

        My main area of expertise is in Bayesian computational statistics, so I certainly do admit I am not the best expert to address those issues in evolutionary theory. I was only responding to things as I understand them.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Protestants are known for believing “every man a priest” based on individual reading scripture, whereas Catholics have a genuine hierarchy and the Pope even declared “infallible” for certain matters. But the hierarchical Catholic church has also declared evolution to be true. There are a variety of views found in Protestant sects, and as a stylized fact I’d say that the ones most hostile to the theory of evolution tend to have flatter organizational structures (Episcopalians are closer to Catholic and more accepting of evolution). Even the children of atheists are naturally creationists due to the promiscuous teleology of the human mind. So I don’t think you understand creationists either.

      • Jon

        He seems more anti-religious than scientific. A priest of Science perhaps?

        But back on point, I’d say it’s reasonable to expect that anyone who ‘offers ammo’ to the more extreme religious groups would face some censure from the Biology community at large. That does play to the loyalty theory.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Perhaps I did misread your comment. If so, then I apologize.

        It is not useful to biologists to communicate with Creationists because Creationists are not driven by a desire to find data or explanations that correspond with reality. Scientific progress requires intellectual honesty among scientists.

        What ever suggestions Creationists make, those suggestions are only made to to try and find a path that will confirm Creationism. Listening to what Creationists say is a waste of a scientist’s time because Creationists don’t have the intellectual honesty to question their basic assumption that Genesis and the rest of the Bible is literally correct.

        Not listening to Creationists is not about group loyalty, it is about the prior probability that a Creationist will come up with a useful or correct idea. That prior probability is essentially zero.

        Creationists not listening to scientists is about group loyalty on the part of the Creationists. Group loyalty and tribal loyalty is about allocation of social status in the local group. That social status is zero-sum and to not reciprocate tribal loyalty is to lose status in that local group.

        Scientific progress is not zero-sum. Non-scientists attempt to compel scientists to compete with each other over zero-sum status, with priority, prizes and other trappings of status. Some scientists try to trick non-scientists into thinking they have higher scientific status than is warranted. This is a sort of tribal loyalty which many university press departments try to fluff up. This is unfortunate because it adds noise to the actual understanding of the importance of new ideas.

        Compromise doesn’t play a role in scientific advancement. Scientific advancement relies on finding out what corresponds most closely with reality, not on reaching a compromise that multiple competitors can agree with. It is unfortunate that things like funding are based on status and to a large part on agreeableness. That has the effect of slowing progress in science, not increasing it.

  • Poelmo

    Yes, it might be good for your group to seem reluctant to compromise, but how is good for you to support such a group reluctance?

    It makes perfect sense if the group distributes the advantages to its members (or if they believe it will). If it doesn’t then it makes as much sense as telling the 99% to shut up and serve their “worthy overlords” to strengthen the economy, even though the stronger economy (well, at least 93% of it) only benefits the overlords. So I bounce this question back at Robin.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    In the Iranian movie “A Separation” the characters Nader and Simin are supposed to be a contrast in that the husband is a stubborn idealist while the wife is pragmatic, in the director’s words. I found the wife more sympathetic and felt sad that they couldn’t work out a better deal at the end. But that might be partly because the husband is shown committing some sins and the lower-class family really needed money.

  • Vaniver

    Hm. When I play RPGs, I tend to play as a compromiser, especially if the compromises represent a third path that requires cleverness to find. When I consume other people’s stories, I notice missed opportunities to compromise / third paths, and point them out.

    But I don’t know if I prefer stories which have compromisers to stories which have non-compromisers. They feel different; in the former I’m often nodding along to someone else’s cleverness, while in the latter I’m solving a puzzle. I think, as stories, I prefer the first, though the second are better for discussing with others.

  • Mark M

    Robin –

    Again you see signalling as the purpose. Reluctance to compromise may be a reflection of truly-held values and beliefs, rather than a way to gain status relative to peers.

    Perhaps I misunderstand, but when I read things like “That seems to be more about signaling group loyalty,” my interpretation is “that seems to be more about manipulating perceptions.”

    Or “I want everyone to think I care more about the magic tree,” rather than “I care more about the magic tree.”

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      Conflict tends to be a negative sum game, one side can only win at the other’s expense. Can you be sure that your side will be the winner rather than loser of conflict? If you don’t have prior information that you are likely to win, a compromise can result in the highest expected value. Robin is saying that we don’t often think in such a way (or valorize such thinking) precisely because people who have such prior information are less likely to compromise, so compromising indicates to others that you are at a disadvantage in conflict.

      • Poelmo

        True, but there is also the compromise that makes neither side happy, like many meaningless compromises in politics, that’s also a negative sum game because nobody really wins the conflict and everyone wastes energy and loses face.

  • Marc

    I don’t see why stories should be more relevant to inter-group interactions, rather than intra-group interactions. If anything I would have thought the signalling advantages of stories were more important in contexts where people were more likely to hear the stories – inside the group.

    I think Katja’s explanation seems more reasonable. The evolutionary advantage of our hypocrisy is presumably to make us masterful bluffers, since we don’t realise we’re lying. Well, telling stories about our unwillingness to compromise seems to be tantamount to a bluff, as Katja says, to get people to back down before it comes to conflict.