A problem I have with dismissing Asymmetric Insight is that its a very anti-market concept so to speak.

I'm a strategist for my company. My entire goal, every day, is to figure out things I don't think my competition has figured out so that we can gain an advantage over them. Either I or my competitors will be right about the reality of the market place, and the actions we take will or won't succeed at our basically shared goals (make more NPV profit).

When I was in college I was a professional poker player and quite successful. The entire concept of being a long run successful poker player is that you have asymmetric insight over your competition. And it would make you successful to understand things like "my opponent is on a tilt and thinking emotionally."

A world were Asymmetric Insight didn't exist is like a world in which every single aspect of life were subject to Strong Efficient Market Hypothesis. I don't think that's true, the very concept of entrepreneurship rejects it.

If you'll allow a recent example, I gave ChatGPT a question about my industry, and it regurgitated what it always seems regurgitate, a shallow "maybe this, maybe that" mushy middle on the issue without much insight. ChatGPT doesn't claim to have any asymmetric insight, but the top search returns on Google are full of people taking sides on the issue. And firms in my industry make big decisions based on their view of the issue. Somebody is going to be right and somebody is going to be wrong.


Changing minds is a process that involves other people coming to trust your side more than the other side. You don’t get that process going by dismissing them with asymmetric insights.


You're probably right that pointing out Asymmetric Insight may not be an effective way to change minds, and that is a useful observation. But that isn't the same as it not existing. Perhaps the other person isn't rational, but the best way to talk them out of it is more indirect.

Still, I can see instances where blunt Asymmetric Insight is needed. At a strategy meeting last year we were all set to do something incredibly dumb and costly for the third year in a row, until I went into the room of the hold up advocating it and cursed him out, pointing how idiotic it was. By noon that day he had changed his mind and ascended to the change in strategy. My colleagues were all thrilled and I got a big raise.

I think there is a big difference between something that is no skin in the game (politics) versus something that is skin in the game (business). When there is some impactful action to be taken by you in the hear and now, its sometimes justified to think the other side is just wrong. The market will bless or curse your judgement later.

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One important thing happened, life and age. I observed the king of the world (IBM) of my youth evolve into a slow bureaucratic institution that took 7 years to do a new design end up failing in a world where CPU's doubled in cost/performance in 2 years. I have watched the FDA evolve from protecting us from thalidomide to blowing approval of Covid-19 testing. I have watched the CDC evolve into telling us that the N-95 masks designed and specified by their sister agency OSHA don't protect the mask user like they were designed to do, but do protect the "other guy" who they aren't designed to protect.

The market based systems have mechanisms for punishing evolutionary incompetence and the central governments don't. It is bankruptcy that prevents the evolutionary decay of institutions.

There is no real difference between government institution evolution and what we see in private monopoly institutions (thinking of US steel and the steel workers union). It is the possibility of real failure keeps Nordstrom's making my wife happy, even during real downturns. They don't complain about "lack of resources" like government monopolies do.

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Maybe already implicit is a corollary: it's fair to consider possible bias/motivated reasoning, as long as applied symmetrically, along both dimensions:

a) first respect the other person's explicit rationale

b) apply the motivated reasoning test to oneself as well as the other

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Arnold has nothing favorable to say about so-called asymmetric insight. I infer that he has a more positive estimate of our human rationality than is warranted. We are not entirely transparent to ourselves; we often don't know our motives for believing something, motives which may make rational argument against that belief ineffective, no matter how powerful. Sometimes others are better able to see this than we are.

He says that if your argument were really decisive, the other point of view would not have survived. If only that were true! Socialism has to be the most empirically discredited idea ever, yet many otherwise intelligent people continue not only to believe in it, but believe in it passionately.

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Sorry, the only way people's minds get changed on political issues is when their support for a policy comes back to hurt them badly.

Experience is the only counter-argument to anything.

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I think Arnold is generally correct, but it is worth nothing that people do hold beliefs for all sorts of reasons other than their practical truth value, as Caplan pointed out. Some of those reasons may well be “I get to act higher and holier than others and boss them around”. Not to mention the more base and common place “my paycheck depends on me believing this.”

Ultimately it comes down, as ever, to judgement. Ignoring and dismissing arguments based on asymmetric insight all the time is bad, but it is equally bad to always behave as if everyone never has any other motives for beliefs (or statements) other than pure truth.

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Jan 15, 2023·edited Jan 15, 2023

It is part of human nature, that individuals sometimes don't know their inner motives.

It is also true, as forumposter123 explains, that entrepreneurs sometimes have asymmetric insight into consumer motives and thereby succeed in market competition against rival firms.

But I take it that Arnold's point concerns civic persuasion about public policy -- not commercial entrepreneurship, salesmanship, consumer sovereignty and the like. True, Arnold uses the business expression, "the bottom line":

"The bottom line is that asymmetric insights will not help you deal constructively with different points of view."

But the examples in Arnold's blogpost are about public policy, argument, deference, trust, and a distinction between *the fallacy of attacking the motive* and *rational persuasion by argument and evidence.* In a nutshell, civic persuasion.

Although motives are indeed often murky, we nonetheless should do our level best to adhere to *the principle of charity in debate* in civic persuasion. Nothing persuades less than impugning one's motives. Arnold has got it right -- and leads by example and constructive insight.

PS: It is useful also to draw a distinction between two kinds of rational disagreement in civic argument about public policy:

(a) Disagreement about subtle matters of cause and effect (mechanisms). For example, people might agree that public policy should not increase youth unemployment (a great evil), but disagree about whether a minimum wage (say, $15) will substantially increase youth unemployment.

(b) Disagreement about ends (values). For example, people might agree that a large increase in immigration would increase economic growth, but disagree about trade-offs between growth and congestion (or way of life, or other values).

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I think the penultimate sentence should read, "Sharing them with your tribe *will* [not and] make you <i>seem</i> smart to them, if that is your goal."

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One of the first essays I ever read by you was about type M (motives) and type C (consequences) arguments. Do you still think of this as a useful heuristic that attempts to avoid asymmetric insight?

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The Scandinavian countries have market economies and flatter tax systems than the United States.

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As this idea has reappeared several times in Arnold's posts, I've been thinking about it more.

The asymmetric insight may at times be correct, but I think should not be accepted at face value without more evidence.

To actually make a strong case for the insight (and change minds), there needs to be a deeper examination of the pattern of actions and results - whether the actions taken with the stated motives appear to be achieving the stated goals, whether there are consistent side effects which negate or blunt the stated goals, whether the rewards for actions are based on achieving said goals or on other results, examining what is celebrated by the group, etc.

In zero-sum games there may well be a very clear right/wrong or rational/irrational distinction, but I believe in most situations it's not that clear-cut, as there is room for different weights on particular values (the three languages), as well as a lack of information and/or lack of knowledge of available information.

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Very high signal to noise ratio here. A concise statement of important principles of truth-seeking and civil dialogue.

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I mostly agree with what is said in Kling's blog post. It is true that inaccurate asymmetric insights do not help. His examples ring true. We see inaccurate asymmetric insights all the time, especially when they are cast on ourselves. These will not help people holding them deal constructively with different points of view.

But as forumposter123 points out, sometimes the asymmetric insight is accurate, even if the rest of us don't know for sure that's the case in his example. These can be helpful but even when true, that is only the first step in understanding or changing different points of view.

And from there it could get more complicated. There can be a little truth to seemingly inaccurate asymmetric insights. Maybe some (or many) conservatives do want color blind social policy to perpetuate racial oppression. Maybe some (or many) progressives advocate steps to fight climate change to control others’ behavior. It's not my belief but maybe each side really does know the other better than it knows itself. I can't be sure I know the answer to that.

That said, asymmetric beliefs are risky. They have power to do great harm. But I also belief they are of great benefit. Sorting those out is the challenge.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

I disagree with the premise. Some points of view are simply inherently malicious and do not deserve empathy.

More to the point, many arguments are made just to waste the time and effort of anyone who is motivated to respond to them. This is well known as a tactic used by cults, and is how China's Great Leap Forward was intended to work and did work. I submit that both CRT and intersectionality are examples of the same method.

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