An obvious-in-retrospect-but-very-useful concept.

What is an Ideological Aesthetic?

Nowadays, I’m very reluctant to commit to the truth of any belief I didn’t arrive at myself; naturally, committing to entire ideologies seems to be beyond the pale. However, I still feel drawn towards certain belief systems, certain modes of thought, certain intuitions.

For instance, I tend to have a libertarian intuition on questions of wages, trade restrictions, and so on — it seems to me that people and businesses should be free to make deals of their own volition, not only as a matter of right (whatever that is), but because they simply have more local knowledge which they can integrate and act upon. I know exactly how this intuition breaks down due to irrationalities, tragedies of the commons, and a million other factors, which is why I cannot call myself a libertarian, yet the intuition still persists. Indeed, all else held equal, I’d emotionally prefer a system that allows people to make deals as they please over a system that restricts these deals.

Hence, while I don’t commit to any ideology, I possess collections of underlying perspectives, ontological assumptions, and concept-related affects which nevertheless influence me by, at least loosely, guiding the questions I ask, the things I learn about, and the facts I find convenient or inconvenient. I call this collection of implicit perspectives, assumptions, and affective assignments my ideological aesthetic; sometimes it can loosely be segregated into different clusters of underlying assumptions, such as the libertarian aesthetic mentioned above.

Disagreement Outside the Veil of Deductive Rigor

How do differing ideological aesthetics contribute to the breakdown of discussions? To answer this, let’s introduce a second concept: the veil of deductive rigor, outside of which one’s position in or viewpoint on a discussion is generally determined by aesthetic components.

The Veil of Deductive Rigor (or, Bearish on Mathematizability)

There is a veil of deductive rigor which a discussion (on any topic) must stay under if it is to remain perfectly clear: conclusions must be arrived at step-by-step through a series of indisputably valid and clearly defined inferential rules to which their premises, which themselves are clearly defined, indisputably apply. Most sufficiently mathematical discussions fall under this veil; even when they stray out of it, the points at which they do so can be clearly marked and analyzed, so as to control the possibility of incoherence and error. As such, disagreements within this veil can generally be very clearly reduced to a few discrete and well-defined points of contention, which can either be further investigated to yield a decisive end to the disagreement, or can be shown to be insoluble with given information.

Obviously, however, the vast majority of discussions not only take place entirely outside of the veil of deductive rigor, but must do so due to their reliance on fuzzy concepts. (This is why I’m skeptical of rationalist attempts to apply things like Aumann’s agreement theorem to real-world situations).

In the best cases, this lack of rigor allows discussions to rapidly cover ground, intuitively sifting through things that may or may not be true to find and establish new understandings of situations which suggest useful, true conclusions. In the worst cases, this dooms them to become incoherent slapfights in which mutual understanding, let alone agreement, was never a possibility. “Mathematizing” discussions by forcing them to bear deductive rigor has the benefit of tightly controlling error, but has the drawback of making it significantly harder to say useful things.

Dissolving Disagreement

One of the core mechanisms behind the devolution of discussions outside the veil to irresolvable, incoherent messes discussion is a difference in ideological aesthetics, which, when unexamined, causes the members of the discussion to, among other things:

To an extent, reliance on an aesthetic is necessary for coherent, useful discussion outside of the veil, as you need to have some way to come up with and filter the points, questions, and so on. Hence, we cannot simply try to destroy them; if we are to have productive discussions with people who are totally unlike us, our strategy should be to encourage an examination of the meanings, contexts, and affects we give to each of the concepts relevant to the discussion, as well as our ideal end-states for the outcome of the discussion, so as to shine light on and preemptively prevent potential failure states. So, as long as the participants in a discussion are acting in good faith and willing to investigate their assumptions/frameworks/affects, the worst-case scenarios for such discussions can largely be preempted.

This investigative procedure also applies to oneself. Specifically, it is incumbent on anyone desiring accuracy in their beliefs to examine their own ideological aesthetic, so as to determine, and, insofar as is possible, remove the direct influence of their aesthetic on their beliefs. That the creation of such a boundary between aesthetic and belief is necessary should be clear: if these aesthetics were arrived at via reason, they would be explicit, rather than implicit, so incorporating beliefs that you find to concord with your ideological aesthetic into the collection of beliefs you hold without further, critical review of their truth will leave you struggling to rationalize things that you never bothered arriving at via reason.

Indeed, this rationalization is one of the most common symptoms of both external discussions and internal dialogues that have broken down due to a problem with ideological aesthetics, whether this problem be a difference between multiple people in a discussion, or an inconsistency between internal beliefs that one has committed to due to their aesthetic value and other beliefs or actual observations. Even beliefs suggested by a single aesthetic don’t necessarily have to logically concord with one another.

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