Friday, March 10, 2017

Soldiers & Scouts

A friend linked an article in response to a conversation we had, where he stated he engaged in debate to test his own assumptions, whereas I stated I primarily did so to inform and convert. The article suggests there are two mindsets towards truth seeking: the opinionated soldier and the open-minded scout. The scouts are said to possess higher EQ (emotional quotient). There are general truths to the article, but reasons to be cautious as well. Let's tease out some of the implications the way Jesus would do it: through parables.

Parable 1

A Roman Centuria has been tasked to resupply a garrison. They come to a crossroads. If they go right they will be led into Germanic territory. If they go left they will remain in friendly territory but will add 3 days of travel to their journey. They find a local Gaul familiar with the territory and offer to hire him as a scout. The Gaul responds.

"I can, but don't waste your money. I have lived here my whole life and I can tell you the Germanic lands are incredibly dangerous. You'd best go around."

The Roman leader, the Centurion, having been well-educated in high-EQ approaches to fact discovery, responds, "Gaul, I did not ask for a rundown of your preconceived notions. You clearly have a soldier's mentality as you are already advocating for a particular conclusion. I already have 80 soldiers, I don't need another. I'm offering to pay you as a scout, using scout mentality."

The Gaul agrees to scout out the route under cover of darkness. The next day he returns and reports to the Centurion.

"Captain I was able to observe a Germanic camp from a safe location. It is as I suspected. They have a large well-armed contingent and are staged for a rapid deployment. I suspect they have been tipped off to expect a Roman supply train."

The Centuria's Lieutenant responds, "If we move quickly we will be through before they have even slept off their hangovers."

"That's another thing I did not perceive any signs of alcohol in the camp."

"A Germanic camp with no booze, that is preposterous! Captain, this scout has clearly not dropped his soldier mentality. He has already made it known he prefers a particular conclusion and has let that cloud his observations. I guarantee you a proper scout mindset would have observed a shoddy camp drowning in booze, just like we always see from the Germanics. My own scout mentality compels me to suggest we dismiss this biased testimony."

The Centurion concurs with his lieutenant. The Romans take the shortcut through Germanic territory. They are quickly slaughtered by the awaiting Germanics and the supplies are stolen.

Lessons: someone perceived to have taken sides may only be advocating strongly after a sober weighing of the evidence. We can't say for certain that someone who has taken sides is one way or the other without further considerations. Also, one believing their own high EQ leads them to dispassionate analysis may end up even more susceptible to their own biases than they otherwise would be

Parable 2

The Centuria approaches the intersection. The lieutenant, having experience in skirmishing with Germanics, advises the Centurion to go around the danger. A local Gaul is consulted, who responds that he has no idea if the area is safe, but he'll make observations overnight using scout mentality. The next morning he reports he found only a single lightly armed camp, which the Roman forces could easily overpower. The lieutenant responds.

"I have never seen Germanics lightly armed in small numbers. The assessment must be inaccurate. We should go around."

The Captain responds. "Lieutenant you are quite passionate in your convictions. But the Gaul is more open-minded than you. He is using scout mindset to make all observations without bias, whereas you are in a soldier's mindset. We will trust his observations over your convictions."

The Romans march through. Unfortunately the scout, while impartial, was simply a poor scout. He underestimated both the numbers and armaments of the camp he had found and missed two other nearby camps entirely. The Romans are quickly slaughtered by the awaiting Germanics and the supplies are stolen.

Lessons: higher EQ does not equate to greater rationale or observational ability. Low EQ might limit one's ability to properly apply his intellect, but high EQ does not boost it.

Limitations to truth seeking

I see a number of articles these days with the message of "turns out EQ is more important than IQ." These may be sober analyses made through high-EQ observations, or perhaps are opportunities for low-intellect writers to find an avenue of superiority. I would assert that we can more generally and more dispassionately claim that truth seeking is limited by the following factors.
  1. Intellectual ability (IQ)
  2. Intellectual curiosity
  3. Emotional maturity (EQ)
A person lacking in the first domain is unintelligent. One lacking in the second is lazy. A person lacking in the third will not be able to apply his intellect in a sober or dispassionate manner. He might make extraordinary arguments as to why the Earth is flat, despite strong indications to the contrary. I have made the same argument myself, such as in Stefan Molyneux is a Gamma, where I describe a man who has great intellection prowess until he feels he is under attack, at which point emotions take over. The third aspect is the thesis of the article but it doesn't encompass the whole picture, and perhaps puts too much emphasis in emotional stability at the risk of undervaluing the other components.

How Can We Know if We Know?

None of this matters much if we can't make some applications in the real world. How do we know if our own stance comes from soldier stubbornness or scout rationale? How can we know about another person? Let me propose a rubric that conveniently follows the Rule of 3.

Command of the Facts

If we restrain ourselves to matters of opinion we'll never get anywhere, we'll never tease out who is more prone to being objectively correct. In France, the Cartesians and Pascalians have been at it for centuries. That doesn't give much hope that American liberals and conservatives will come to an agreement anytime soon. 

But where we can judge another is in the facts. Does the other have a grasp of the relevant facts? Are they prone to misstating facts? If a person cannot articulate the cold mundane facts of the matter, they probably cannot be trusted to make the proper conclusions.

As an example, I don't make strong claims about climate change, but the advocates drive me up the wall. They never know any facts, only conclusions and consequences. My favorite technique now is to ask them for a number. Any number related to climate change theories. Any number at all. A rate, a measurement, a percentage....anything. This doesn't work online, where anyone can quickly google the subject, but in person the point is easily made: they don't know a single quantitative fact on the issue and yet they are very sure of the conclusions, often to the point of arrogance. I suggest you use the technique in other domains as they suit you.


Does the person routinely contradict themselves? Then they have probably not spent much time pondering the issue at hand, or haven't come to the accurate conclusions. It's inevitable we'll all be contradicted as some point. To believe otherwise is to believe one has achieved perfect wisdom! How does the opponent handle contradiction? Does it give them pause? Do they update their worldview as necessary? Do they seek to disprove the apparent contradiction using logic until it is clear they cannot? Or do they plow through the thing like it never happened?


In Make Predictions or STFU I advised being wary of anyone who doesn't use their worldview to make predictions. Making & testing predictions is the essence of scientific inquiry, and thus should be the basis for testing one's own beliefs. If someone isn't sure enough of the worldview to make predictions, then how could they possibly be sure enough to assert their correctness?

So if you want to display that you don't engage in perpetual posthoc analysis / rationalization, blog up or find some similar approach to get yourself on the record about something.

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