The Golden Rules of Interpretation
By Bryan Caplan
Robin Hanson has written the one piece that everyone on earth should read before they post comments on a blog:
Writing is hard in part because words have many associations that vary among readers. Even when we use carefully choose our words to signal certain associations, we know some readers will instead hear other associations. So in addition to saying what we do mean, we sometimes have to say explicitly what we do not mean.
Unfortunately, the problem goes way beyond dumb legal rules. Consider these common presumptions:
* If you say anything about correlates of race you must hate a race.
* If you say anything about genetic correlates of success you are a social Darwinist.
* Any general claim about human behavior is an absolute law without exception unless it includes qualifiers like “tends” or “often.”
* If you quote someone you agree with everything they’ve said.
* If you say you prefer option A to option B, you also prefer A to any option C.
* If you say anything nice (or critical) about anything associated with a group or person you are presumed to support (or oppose) them overall.
* If you say anything nice (or critical) about anything associated with an idea or claim you are presumed to support (or oppose) it and related ideas overall.
* If you worry that more A will cost too much of B, you don’t care about A at all.
* If you dislike a proposed solution to a certain problem, you don’t care about that problem.
* If you oppose one end of a continuum, you support the other end.
* If you approve of a decision you approve of the actual outcome, and vice versa.
* If you think A causes B, you think A is necessary for B.
* Any opinion you express is a strongly and confidently held opinion.
* If you criticize someone about something, you say you are immune to such criticism.
Short and sweet version: If a writer on a blog is an idiot or a monster, why are you reading him in the first place?!