Some problems with the systematic assessment of planning arguments.

(Ref. e.g. the article ‘The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments’ (Informal Logic, Dec. 2010, also slightly revised, in Academia.edu).

In an effort to explore phenomena, identifying shortcomings and errors, that can be seen as arguments against the too ready acceptance of the argumentative model of planning, I ran into a well-intentioned article full of claims and arguments that did not fit the simple clean basic model of the planning argument, and would cause some problems in their analysis and plausibility assessment. Briefly, there are three aspects of concern.

The first is the liberal use of verbs denoting the relationship between concepts that — in the basic planning argument — would be seen as plan features that cause outcomes or consequences. Reminder: the argumentative view shares the focus on cause-effect relationships with much of the systems modeling perspective: the ‘loops’ of systems networks are generated by changes in components / variables causing positive or negative changes in other variables. So the relationship constituting the ‘factual-instrumental’ premise of planning arguments is mostly seen as a cause-effect relationship.

Now the survey of arguments in the article mentioned above (not identified to protect the author until proven guilty, and because the practice is actually quite common) hardly ever actually uses the terms ’cause’ and ‘effect’ or their equivalent in arguments that clearly advocate certain policies and actions. Instead, one finds terms such as ‘reflects’, ‘advance’ (an adaptive response); ‘reinforce’, ‘seeks to.. ‘, ‘codifies’, ‘is wired to..’. ‘erodes’, ‘come to terms with…’. ‘speaks to…’, ‘retreats into…’,’crystallizes…’, ‘promotes’. ‘cross-fertilizes…, ’embraces’, ‘ ‘cuts across’, ‘rooted in…’, ‘deeply embedded ‘, ‘leverages’,
‘co-create’ and ‘co-design’, ‘highlight ‘, ‘re-ignite’. (Once the extent of such claims was realized in that article that was trying to make a case for ‘disrupting’ the old system and its propaganda, it became clear that the article itself was heavily engaged in the art of propaganda… slightly saddening the reader who was initially tending towards sympathetic endorsement of that case…)

This wealth of relationship descriptions is apt to throw the blind faith promoter of the simple planning argument pattern into serious self-recrimination: What is the point of thorough analysis of these kinds of argument, if they never appear in their pristine form in actual discourse? (The basic ‘standard planning argument’ pattern is the following: “Proposed plan X ought to be adopted because X will produce consequence Y given conditions C), and consequence Y ought to be pursued, (and conditions C are or will be given.)” True, it was always pointed out that there were other kinds of relationships than ‘will produce’; or ’causes’, at work in that basic pattern: ‘part-whole’, for example, or ‘association’, ‘acting as catalyst’, ‘being identical’ or synonymous with’, for example. But those were never seen as serious obstacles to their evaluation by the proposed process of argument assessment, as the above examples appear to be. How can they be evaluated with the same blunt tool as the arguments with plain cause-effect premises?

Secondly, the problems they cause for assessment are exacerbated by the fact that often, these verbs are qualified with expressions like ‘probably’; ‘likely to’, ‘may be seen as’ and other means of retreating from complete certainty regarding the underlying claims. The effect of these qualification moves is that the entire claim ‘probably x’ or ‘x is likely to advance y’ can now be evaluated as a fully plausible claim, and given a pl-value of +1 (‘completely plausible, virtually certain’) by a listener — since the premise obviously, honestly, does not claim complete certainty. This obscures the actual underlying suggestion that ‘x (actually) will advance y’ is far from completely plausible, and thus will lend more plausibility and weight to the argument of which it is a premise.

A third problem is that, upon closer inspection, many of the relationship claims are not just honest, innocent expressions of factual or functional relationships between real entities or forces. They are often themselves ‘laden’ with deontic content — subjective expressions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’: ‘x threatens y’, or ‘relativizes’, or ‘manipulates’ are valuing relationship descriptions: judgments about ‘ought-aspects that the proposed method reserved for the clearly deontic premises of planning arguments: the purported outcomes or consequences of plans.

What are the implications of these considerations for the proposal of systematic argument assessment in the planning discourse? (Other than the necessary acknowledgement that this very comment is itself a piece of propaganda…)

Apart from the option of giving up on the entire enterprise and leaving the subjective judgments by discourse participants unexamined, one response would be to devise ways of ‘separating’ the qualifying terms from the basic claims in the evaluation work sheets given to participants. They would be asked to assess the probability or plausibility of the basic premise claim, perhaps using the qualifying statements as a ‘guide’ to their plausibility judgment (like any other supporting evidence). This seems possible with some additional refinement and simplification of the proposed process.

It is less clear how the value-contamination of relationship descriptors could be dealt with. Changing the representation of arguments to the condensed form of the basic ‘standard planning argument’ pattern is already a controversial suggestion requiring considerable ‘intelligent’ assessment of arguments’ ‘core’ from their ‘verbatim’ version, both to get it ‘right’ and to avoid turning it into a partisan interpretation. The ‘intelligent computation’ needed to add the suggested separation of value from relationship terms to the already severely manipulated argument representation will require some more research — but doing that may be asking too much?

And it is not clear how these considerations can help participants deal with insidious argument patterns such as the recent beauty alleging media coverup of terrorist incidents in Sweden, and then using the objection that there was no evidence of such an incident, as a ‘clinching’ argument for the coverup: ‘see how clever they are covering it up?’


‘New System’ Priorities: Diversity or Unified Vision?

A Fog Island Tavern Discussion

– Hey Bog-Hubert – got over your post-election excitement yet?
– Not exactly, Vodçek.
– Not exactly – what does that mean, exactly? Or, well, approximately, if you don’t do exactly?
– Well, right now I’m just wondering about all the blogs and sites that are oh so urgently proposing this or that ‘new system’ that should be adopted instead…
– Haven’t they been doing that for a while?
– True. Maybe I’m just starting to pay more attention.
– And?
– And I’m getting more and more confused and aggravated.
– Why is that? Well, the confusion part I understand: there’s just too much of all that floating around. But what’s aggravating you? Isn’t it encouraging that people are starting to think about these issues some more?
– Sure, if they just were the right issues.
– So you think they aren’t? Hmm. I could use some explanation…
– Okay: I know you’ve been looking at things like that too. Briefly, what are the main groups of controversies you see?
– Main groups? You mean the political parties?
– No, Vodçek. Sorry, my question wasn’t clear. I’m talking about the groups that are basically saying those parties, and the system they’re a part of, need to be replaced with something new.
– Not all of them are suggesting something new; aren’t many of them claiming to be ‘conservative’?
– Right: but they don’t mean conserving things as they are, more like going back to some mythical previous better state of affairs, aren’t they?
– I see what you mean. Even if it’s something traditional, inherited, it wouldn’t be just like that old system, but something new based on old principles? Well, I see many ‘New System’ groups calling for a more or less radical re-thinking of how society should be organized. Ditch the current ones, all parts and subsystems. I don’t see much specific detail in those, of the New Systems, that one could examine and discuss. And then there are all those groups that are doing very specific ‘alternative’ things: the commons projects, alternative currencies, sustainable agriculture or permaculture communities, alternative energy technologies, etc. Many good ideas, but hard to see how they’d fit into an overall picture.
– I agree with your impressions there. Any of those well-intentioned causes you would want to join, become a part of to create the new society, saving the human race?
– Oh man, I have enough trouble keeping my humble tavern going from day to day. But you are right. I can’t say I share the enthusiasm some of those people seem to have.
– And do you think about why that might be? Other than that some of those guys are just trying to make you feel guilty by accusing you of laziness, apathy, stinginess for not giving them money, or worse?
– Well, do you have a good explanation? You aren’t doing much of that enthusiasm-activism yourself, am I right? Other than scribbling in your little notebook there when there’s nobody else here you can shoot the breeze with?
– Touché, my friend. But hey, there are some ideas in this little notebook, some thinking about those issues, that explain why I am not out there ‘doing’ things. Well, as long as there’s nobody else keeping you distracted here, perhaps we can discuss some of it?
– Okay. Starting with why I don’t think the world is ready for THE BIG NEW SYSTEM yet? Apart from the fact that those websites and flyers mostly consist of complaints about how bad things are and how those current ‘isms’ – capitalism, industrialism, neo-liberalism, globalism etc. – need to be ditched. As I said, few convincing specifics about what the new system should look like.
– I agree, we aren’t ready for another big system. Not sure I agree with your ‘yet’ – whether we should go for one big ‘unified’ system again. The record on the few experiments we had with those grand schemes hasn’t been too encouraging, would you agree?
– I really don’t know, Bog-Hubert. Human societies today, — technology, trade, travel, politics, communications — have developed too far to really ignore the calls for some global agreements and order. We can’t really go back to a state where we fumbled around in small isolated tribes, assuming the things we do have no effect across the globe. But I don’t think we really have any good ideas yet about what a better system should be.
– ‘Yet’, yet again – we need to get back to that. For now, I agree: Even among the people who think they have the key to the design of THE NEW system, there is precious little agreement about what it should look like. So I’d say the chances for consensus about that unified vision they all call for are pretty slim. We — if you talk about humanity as a whole – still do not know and can’t agree on what that better new system should be. We don’t really know what provisions in such a system would work and what wouldn’t.
– So?
– So we should take a closer look at those alternative initiatives, experiments. Right now, I have come across estimates of such efforts already counting in the millions. No idea if it’s true, or what the bases for those numbers are. Most seem to be small, local, and struggling with limited resources. I think we can say that most of them are working in isolation, many trying to stay under the radar of ‘official’ systems that tend to see tem as subversive or worse. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t see that they communicate well either with the outside world or among themselves. If they do, it’s mainly promotion pieces focusing on their ideas and hopes and successes, if any. Not a good basis for accumulating systematic, valid information about what works and what doesn’t.
– Don’t some of them see their main focus as the very key to making the BIG system work, and ask the entire world to awaken and accept it? And give them all more money?
– True. But okay, they are entitled to their faith. What I’m saying is that we need those experiments – many more, and as different and diverse as possible.
– I agree; that’s why I list that as a high priority. There should be a concerted effort to encourage and support those – on the condition that they are voluntary, not forcing people to participate, don’t get in each other’s or the existing systems’ ways in disruptive or aggressive manner, and most importantly that they agree to share their experiences in some coordinated and systematic fashion that allows others, the world, to learn from what they are doing.
– Hmm. Sounds good – but hey, doesn’t that already require some kind of global system?
– You are right. But that is, first off, not a BIG BROTHER governance and decision-making system, only a documentation, evaluation and discussion platform. You could say that the development of such a platform itself is an experiment. Starting small and local, but yes, aiming at involving many or all such initiatives, so global.
– The agreements of that system, or platform, as you call it, will require some decisions though. Beyond local, so: global, after all?
– Right again. But the decisions are not all-embracing whole system design decisions. Not even excluding alternative forms of communication or interaction, or replacing other institutions. So to the extent decisions – yes, ‘global’ decisions – are aimed at, they are sufficiently innocuous to serve as the basis for experiments about how to develop better decision-making modes? Because the current decision-making modes are part of the problem, aren’t they?
– Getting into treacherous territory there, Bog-Hubert.
– Perhaps. But isn’t it getting more obvious every day that Voting – the crucial element and crux of democracy — it’s more of a crutch? Simple and straightforward, sure. But I don’t think you can say it guarantees that the democratic principles of self-determination or that all concerns people may have about common plans will actually be heard nor given ‘due consideration’. Majority voting by definition permits ignoring the concerns of the minority…
– Okay, okay. So what you are saying is that thee will be a need to design such a platform, and that one of its features will have to be better decision-making methods. Well, I agree, that is an agenda that we don’t hear much about in the public media and political platforms: Can you draw a diagram of all that while I get some more coffee going?
– Sure. Got a napkin?

new-system-priorities-1a

– Ok, looks good. I see you added some issues down there — getting carried away already?
– Well, think about it. So far, we agreed that what’s needed are
• The ‘alternative’ experiments
• A forum and provisions for sharing and evaluating their experiences
• A ‘discourse’ platform for working out the global ‘road rules’ agreements
But since those agreements are not within any governance jurisdiction, wouldn’t there be a need for
• Some provisions for ensuring that those agreements are actually adhered to ?
Because they can’t be ‘enforced’ by any of the usual government policing and jurisdiction systems, they would have to be a different kind of arrangements. So that will need some innovative work. And I think that there will be a need for a better way of
• Selecting and appointing ‘leaders’ – people in positions to make decisions that can’t wait for the outcome of lengthy discussions.
And to the extent these people will wield power, won’t we have to rethink the problem of how to prevent that power from becoming addictive, leading to the temptations to abuse their power? I seriously feel that some better
• Tools for controlling power should be on the agenda. We don’t say anything about their order yet.
– Good grief, that is quite a package of work you’ve lined up there. No wonder our fearless leaders and candidates are a bit, shall we say, reluctant to even mention some of those. Hard to make meaningful campaign promises about those, eh?
– Sure. Quite controversial – which is precisely why they should be on the agenda.
– Okay, Bog-Hubert: at least there should be some meaningful discussion about those issues.
– More meaningful than their current treatment in the media, is that what you are saying? Because at least for some of the issues that are being talked about, the flood of opinions and rhetoric is already unmanageable. Almost meaningless for guiding sensible decisions.
– I agree. But…
– But — what’s bothering you?
– Well: those headings in the diagram, they are still so general that they don’t say much more than the usual complaints about problems with this and that. Calls for something to be done, but no specific details yet that one can get behind, don’t you agree? So you’d face the same kind of lack of engagement on the part of the public I think you’d want to enlist for that discussion?
– You are right. In the current form, the diagram doesn’t convey much substance yet. We’ll have to discuss some details: explaining why some new ideas and agreements are needed, sketching out what each of those components would do.
– And indicate why you think they can be made to work. We may need some help from our friends there. Let’s think about it for a while, until some of our usual suspects turn up.

– Hi guys, what’s that napkin doodle you are poring over there?
– Hello Commissioner, welcome to our little team. We are trying to figure out what the agenda really should be that you folks in government ought to be working on. Priorities…

Alternative Initiatives and Experiments

– Hmm. What’s this thing about ‘alternative experiments at the top here? Sounds subversive.
– We should have known that would look odd to you, what with all your calls for unified vision and purpose?
– Well, isn’t that what we need these days, come together to work on the urgent, common project of a more viable system to get us out of the mess we’re in, and the bigger mess we’re going to be in if we keep working at cross-purposes?
– Hear, hear, Commissioner. Yes, we need a unified vision we can all work on. It’s just what I have been saying for a long time, too.
– Hi Sophie, good morning. Amazing: you agree with our politician for a change? Well, can you tell us what that great, unified vision is going to be?
– Wrong question, Bog-Hubert: it will emerge once we get everybody to become aware of the whole system and acquire a consciousness of all of us being part of that whole together with the entire ecosystem. A new ethic…
– Oh yeah, that will take care of the economy, solve unemployment, inequality, and crime, eh?
– Whoa, Commissioner, is that a trace of sarcasm I hear, already? Suggesting a profound disagreement about the kind of unified vision we are supposed to embrace?
– Well, Bog-Hubert, it’s not the same thing. Sorry, Sophie, but that consciousness thing is just wishful thinking. Not a sound practical basis for reorganizing society. It needs negotiated compromise. Don’t hit me…
– Hey people, cool it, okay? Let’s not get into a brawl about specific Unified System Visions here. You are actually making the argument here, about why we need all those alternative experiments.
– How so? You’ll have to explain that, Vodçek.
– Okay, in principle, I’d agree: it would be great if we found that unified vision of the new and better system so many groups out there are talking about. But look at our first attempt to describe what it would be or should be like: big disagreement erupting before we even got started, about what it means and how to get there.. And I don’t’ think it’s just the two of you. Too much disagreement about it out there, all over. Doesn’t that tell us something: we – I mean humanity in general – don’t really know what that system, that vision should look like? Even if somebody really knows, too many others have different ideas about it. Too many to expect a unified consensus about the common effort we should start to get there any time soon. So… I think what Bog-Hubert is trying to say here is…
– Yes. We should just acknowledge that we don’t know. We’ve been through that before you guys came in, but it can’t be said often enough. Especially about the big, global system many think is needed. We have tried a few big systems, and so far none of them have met with universal approval, in spite of the intense propaganda from their promoters that flooded the media. Can’t we admit: we don’t really know what works and what doesn’t work for the big challenges we are facing? And spending all our chips on another big system without better evidence looks like an even worse idea than the muddling through we are doing now.
– Hmm. You’ve got a point there – and that’s why you’d let all those alternative crazies work on their separate blueprints to save the world?
– Right. I’d try to avoid the kind of name-calling though; many of those initiatives are run by very intelligent and well-intentioned people. Some of their ideas actually make a lot of sense, and I think we need to learn how they work out. The people doing that are often just working on a volunteer basis, — much cheaper and often more effective than big government contracts to big think tanks. Though to be fair, I’m sure some useful work is done there too. Most of them are small, local projects, and many are unquestionably improving matters – take the sustainability, organic and permaculture food projects – and do no harm, which can’t be said of all the big corporate activities. So they should be encouraged and supported rather than treated with suspicion and bureaucratic obstacles. The more diverse, the better. We need to learn from their experiences. But…

Sharing and evaluating experiences

– I knew it; there’s a but butting in.
– Yes, Sophie. As far as I can see, most of those initiatives and projects don’t really communicate well – not with the society and media in general, not even among themselves. So there’s little valid information available about their real experiences – what works and what does not work. Not much systematic evaluation. Much of the information they put out is just promotion — focused on the promises and whatever success they claim to have. Nothing about their obstacles and problems, other than that they really really need your donation.
– Yeah, and many of them actually are trying to sell the premises of their initiatives as THE basis for the next BIG system, for all to adopt.
– True. They should be given the opportunity to show some actual evidence for their claims, and a forum for fair but critical assessment. So the overall strategy should include encouragement and support. But on condition of sharing their experience in some organized and useful manner.
– ‘Organized’? That sounds like it will require some big system after all, Bog-Hubert? If those numbers you mentioned are real?
– Yes, that’s true. You’ll need some common format not only for compiling and documenting all that information, but also for the criteria and method for assessing the successes and failures. Big task. But there’s a significant difference: this ‘system’ can be designed and developed by those projects and initiatives themselves – not just ‘participation’ but actual decision-making, based on the interests and concerns of all the players involved.
– So there will be a ‘data base’ or documentation system for all the project information, and an ‘evaluation’ component with some common criteria and measures of performance based on what those initiatives are aiming at achieving, and a process for developing and displaying the results?
– Yes. And because that is not an all-powerful Big Brother Government system imposing its will upon all aspects of society, it will be a much less ideological and controversial process, don’t you think?
– Ah: if you are right – which remains to be seen though – it will be a good exercise project in itself – a testing ground for developing a better ‘self-governance’ system with all the aspects further down in your priority list. Sneaky.
– It was Abbé Boulah’s idea, that one, yes. He’s the sneaky one.
– So let’s look at those other parts of your list.
– Okay: which one?

Discourse platform

– The process you are talking about – developing the data base and evaluation system – already requires some common forum or platform where development ideas can be brought in, discussed, and decided upon, doesn’t it? Is that what that ‘discourse platform’ is supposed to be?
– Yes, Dexter. Glad you could join us, this gets into IT territory. And it will not just be like some of the social network platforms we know, nor a ‘knowledge base’ compilation of data, a data bank or encyclopedia-like system, but a ‘planning discourse support system’ aimed at developing, proposing and displaying, and discussing designs for the system itself, and then helping participants to make decisions based on the merit of those contributions – ideas, proposals and arguments pro and con. So that discussion must be accessible to all the participant entities.
– I see. It sounds plausible. But apart from the integration of the different programs, — feasible, but will take some work — won’t there be big practical implementation problems to do that? Just think of all the different languages all over the world, in which those contributions will be brought in. You can’t expect people will agree to one global language for that anymore – not in this post-colonial age. So there will have to be a massive translation effort to translate that discourse into all the different participant languages?
– True. And not only that. Much of the needed information will actually be in the form of scientific research, statistics, systems projects from many different disciplines? Each with their own vocabulary — disciplinary jargon, — replete with acronyms and greek letters and math equations. For a viable discussion, the content messages of those contributions must be translated into conversational language that ordinary citizens can understand. So yes, it will be a major project to coordinate that, and not an overnight process.
– And you’ll have to deal with all the problems we already know from the current scene of collaborative projects under various political systems.
– Such as?
– Well you have the ‘voter apathy’ syndrome – even in projects open to and relying on public participation. Many people just don’t participate or vote because they don’t really have the feeling that their input will count in any significant way. Then you have the ‘information overload’ problem – how can anybody digest all the information that’s flooding the media and social networks? You have the ‘trolls’ that just try to derail any meaningful discussion with irrelevant posts; personal attacks and insults and erroneous information – not even to talk about the problem of deliberately ‘false news’ – lies and distortions. And last not least the fact that the decisions — by so-called leaders or by referendum-type voting – can blatantly ignore even the most significant information and concerns of large parts of society.

New decision methods

– Yes, you are getting into the details of what’s needed to make any such planning platform work properly – in the best interest of all affected parties, in a really democratic way. So first, the system should provide some real participation incentives. And it should be organized so as to eliminate or at least reduce repetitious, irrelevant, erroneous and maliciously distractive and misleading content, and give people a good informative overview of the state of the discourse, don’t you think? Those are major design challenges – but we do have some ideas for improving things. Better decision modes for such planning systems remain a major issue.
– Hey, Bog-Hubert: all that doesn’t sound like a small local project anymore. You keep calling it a ‘planning discourse platform’ as if it were only a minor item on the agenda – but it is really a blueprint for the Big Global Discourse System, isn’t it?
– You are right in that any global governance system – as well as any local governance system if it wants to be really ‘democratic’ – will have to deal with the same issues and find acceptable solutions for them. The difference is that this is not a proposal for a ‘revolutionary’ upheaval replacing all the ‘evil’ current systems with another BIG System overnight.
– Or just a ‘get rid of the crooks’ effort that ends up just replacing the old crooks with different ones who will become just as bad and corrupted because the new systems hasn’t solved those problems you are pointing out here.
– So it looks like the ‘new decision models’ item on the priority list is really a high priority one. And that whatever the solution may be will look somewhat different from the ‘voting’ methods that are now considered as the key principle and guarantee of democracy? Can you give us some more details about what might make such methods work?
– Hey, putting a problem on the agenda doesn’t mean that we already have a solution, does it? Just that there is a problem and that we feel it is possible to fix it. But a key aspect, I think, is this: there must be a closer, more visible and recognizable connection between the merit of the information and arguments brought into the discourse, and the decision. That link is currently just a sanctimonious ideal: ‘let’s talk and then decide’.
– Sure, but a vote can, and too often does, ignore all the talk. So there’s work to do on that. But some of your Abbeboulahist ideas also justify hope – for example: if we can get a meaningful measurement tool for the merit of contributions, that measure can become a more decisive factor in the decision. And we have some ideas for that, too.

Few main ‘global’ agreements to facilitate ‘diverse’ aims

– True, Vodçek. So this system will be developed and emerge as a ‘parallel’ structure within the existing system, at first only dealing with the kinds of common agreements needed to draw useful lessons from the experiences of all those ‘local’ efforts. And aiming only at few decisions needed to facilitate the process – decisions like the ‘global, unified’ rules of the road – which side of the road to drive on to let everybody get to their ‘diverse’ destinations; or like the international rules for air or ocean traffic.
– Yeah, with all the translation and communication problems of such a global discourse, there won’t be that many decisions being agreed upon by that process, if you ask me. But I agree that some such common ‘road rule’ agreements will be needed, in this partial system as well as in the overall global system or non-system, if the Big Brother World Government is too scary a prospect.

Provisions for ensuring adherence to agreements:
‘enforcement’, sanctions?

– Hey, none of that is talking about any kind of World Government, I hope. Is it?
– Well, Sophie, think about it: Any kind of agreement or treaty or law – different names for essentially the same concept – will need some provisions for making sure that the agreement is kept, the rule is followed, and about what to do if it is violated. Deliberately or inadvertently.
– If all such agreements are reached by consensus by all the well-intentioned folks in a well-informed, spiritually conscious and aware community, and with more adequate decision procedures giving each participant’s concerns due considerations, will there still be such violations? Or at least not as many?
– Wouldn’t that be nice, Sophie. Won’t there always be people who feel that they aren’t getting as much of a benefit from a common decision as others, that they even get ‘the short end’ of it even if they couldn’t come up with sufficiently persuasive arguments to persuade the community or to justify a ‘no’ vote preventing the precious consensus decision? Peer pressure to agree resulting in a temptation to just bend the rules a little bit…? And then a little more?…
– I see where you are going here, Bog-Hubert, you cynic. You didn’t even mention all those sheer ornery or even pure evil folks. The problem isn’t just that there will still be such violations, but also that we – society – have not gotten past the traditional ways of dealing with them that we inherited from times when rules and laws were imposed by rulers who didn’t give a hoot about whether people were really adhering voluntarily to the rules because they agreed to them…
– What are you talking about, Vodçek?
– Law enforcement, of course, Sophie. The traditional approach is that laws have to be ‘enforced’ – that violators have to be punished so that they wouldn’t do it again, and to deter everybody else from even trying. And what Bog-Hubert is aiming at, — I have heard him talk about it with Abbé Boulah before – is that enforcement, prevention and application of force – requires that the enforcer must have more force, be more powerful, than any would-be violator. Otherwise, it’s not effective. So he is saying there should be different tools for ensuring that agreements and laws are adhered to – ‘sanctions’ that do not require ‘enforcement’. Am I right, Bog-Hubert?
– Couldn’t have said it better myself, Vodçek. One alternative would be something like sanctions that are triggered ‘automatically’ by the very attempt at violating a rule. Like the car ignition key that can sense if you are drunk and just won’t turn on if you are.
– Like that kind of thing can really fight crime and corruption. But what’s wrong with the ‘enforcement’ approach?
– Two things, Commissioner. One is escalation of enforcement tools. If criminals are getting better weapons than the police, the police must get better weapons, eh? Then the bad guys get even better gins, and so on… Not supportable, in the short or long run.
– Hmm. There oughta be a law…And the other reason?
– Power. You see it already at the local level, but it becomes critical on the level of international relations. It’s the reason people are very uncomfortable with the idea of World Government.
– I don’t get it.
– Well, you’ve heard the quip about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely, haven’t you? Now if you have an enforcement agent or agency which does have better weapons, more powerful tools, than any would-be violator, what’s keeping that agent or agency from becoming tempted, ever so slightly, to bend the rules a little for itself? If the theory is true that it would take an enforcer with more power…
– Well, we have the balance of power of the different branches of government, and term limits, and impeachment rules, and so on, to constrain such power abuses, don’t we?
– True, and the claim is that they have been working adequately for quite a while. But many people are saying that those tools are getting to the limits of their effectiveness even al the local, regional and state levels. And seeing how often and how cleverly they have become ineffective, allowing power-holders to become evermore worried about the infringement of their power and their little abuses, and therefore seeking more power, and more clever, even ‘legal’ ways to circumvent their balance-of-power constraints. At the extreme, having to convince themselves that they really have the inviolate power by engaging in reckless activities – the Caligula syndrome.
– But those guys have always been brought down in the end, haven’t they? Well, most of them?
– Have they? At what cost of their own impoverished, murdered and ‘disappeared’ or otherwise oppressed citizens before they are stopped? Or that of other countries’ forces trying to bring them down? But think: if we have a World Government – one whose legitimate role is to ensure that agreements and treaties are adhered to, as we discussed – but whose tools for that are only ‘enforcement’ tools: weapons? And so-called ‘’security’ and ‘anti-terrorism’ systems that have to constrain the liberty of all citizens in order to be effective: With the kinds of weaponry we have nowadays, what could keep such a ‘government’ from falling victim to the temptations of power if there’s no more powerful agent to keep it in line?
– Right. So the concerns of people who oppose such governments are, shall we say, not entirely unfounded? And the governments who are supposed to ensure their citizens that they are not, — ‘trust me, trust me’ – in any way tempted to take some additional advantage of their power, are naturally and inevitably hesitant of divulging all the safeguards they have, so they won’t fall into the wrong hands: the secret service must be secret, after all. Mustn’t it?

Control of Power

– Okay. You’ve got us all worried, happy now? So the first conclusion is that we need some sanctions that don’t rely on enforcement, to ensure adherence to agreements. Keep it on the agenda. But what do we do about the issue of control of power itself, apart from the law enforcement aspect? Do we have any new ideas about that, or even grounds for optimism that better solutions can be found? Because I see that just the right of citizens to keep arms is not a solution, given the escalation problem and the other means of exerting power.
– No, Sophie, nobody has a brilliant solution up his or her sleeve yet. Just perhaps some different principles to bring to bear on the problem.
– Such as?
– Well, look at the concept of power itself, for starters. For the poor, the ‘disempowered’, the recurring slogan is always ‘empowerment’ – as if power were a universal human right, which we could argue is a good way of looking at it. Just like life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness we always invoke. But we expect people to pursue, to work for, or pay for those things, not just to be ‘given’. At best, what’s ‘given’ or ‘endowed by the creator’ – or what a society agrees to grant all its members — is the right to pursue, not the right to get it without one’s own effort.
– That’s a concept that would need some discussion, my friend.
– Yes, we can discuss that, and what it means in detail. But to explore its implications here: what if we apply it to the power issue – specifically to the power to make decisions and take action on behalf of others, or that affect others in one way or the other. What if, say we’d ask people with such power to ‘pay’ for the decisions they make? Just like we expect the poorest fellows to pay for their loaf of bread they are allowed to buy at Wal-Mart to survive? By ‘paying’ we probably would need a different kind of currency than money.
– We might also look at some older forms of power control – patterns that have come to be despised lately, such as the hierarchical organization of societies.
– How did that control power? Wasn’t that the ultimate form of power abuse?
– Not always, Vodçek. See, in a hierarchy, the person at each level had a certain amount of power – the power to control and direct the activities of the subordinates, within certain limits set by their superiors. The unresolved issue was of course always the lowest and the top positions: the lowest ones had little or no power until they ‘earned it’ by whatever degrading means, and the top position had no one else to answer to – except supernatural ones in the afterlife.
– But there were some useful provisions in the form of controls by parallel boards with members from lower levels of the hierarchy, term limits and the like. They also tended to be older folks who weren’t as much tempted to certain distracting abuse as younger people. But again, the traditional controls seem to break down again and again, so the issue of meaningful and effective control for governance folks on the global level is still up for grabs. So I agree: the issue of control of power should be a high priority item.

Choosing the people for power positions

– All that sounds like you want to do away with all kinds of leadership positions. I’m not sure I can go along with that.
– You are quite right feeling uneasy about that, Sophie. But that’s not the intention at all. We do need people in positions of leadership and power.
– After all you went through show how they will be corrupted by power? I say kick the big shots out!
– Whoa, Renfroe. I understand how you can get impatient with some of their shenanigans. And how you might get the impression that with a better functioning ‘democratic’ decision-making system, we don’t need those bigwigs anymore.
– I’d say!
– But not all decisions need to run through such a process, and some can’t wait, they need a quick decision to deal with new situations. Think of a ship that finds itself suddenly on a course towards an iceberg. There has to be someone – the captain – who will have to make a quick decision: pass it on the port or starboard side? You can’t have a lengthy palaver to reach a decision: it must be done fast. And the problem is to have a process to appoint people to such positions, yes, power positions – whose expertise, skills, experience and judgment you can trust. And what safeguards have to be in place to prevent such people from getting tempted to abuse that power for purposes of his own that are contrary to the well-being of the ship and its crews and passengers.
– Okay, I see what you are saying. So do you have any trick up your sleeve for that problem? It’s what you’d call a dilemma, isn’t it? Giving a guy – or a gal – the power to make big decisions, but keeping them from making the wrong ones when they have all that power, and by definition, as you explained, no greater power to keep them in line?
– Well, can you see how that problem should have some better solutions for people in such positions in ‘global’ institutions, in world governments?
– Okay, it belongs on the list of priorities too, I agree.

Solutions?

– I still would like to know what gives you the idea that there are better solutions in sight for these problems. If a problem doesn’t have any solutions – like a genuine paradox or dilemma, why waste our time, money, and energy trying to find one?
– Good question, Commissioner. But for some of these issues, there actually seem to be some improvements in sight that should at least be explored and discussed.
– Explain that, please. I’m getting curious.
– I’ll leave it to Bog-Hubert – I think the way he drew that diagram shows how some answers to simpler questions in the list can help suggest solutions for others. Bog-Hubert?
– I’ll try to keep it simple. Take the idea we have discussed here before, of awarding contribution rewards to people who contribute ideas and arguments to the planning discourse we sketched out before. Basic credit points that simply will be an incentive for participation and providing information.
– That’s trying to get at the voter apathy issue, right?
– At least part of it. Now, the rule that only the first entry of an information item will get the credit, but not repetitions, will speed up the process. The assume we can put a process of evaluation in place, for the assessment of merit of each such entry – is it plausible, important, is there evidence or adequate support for the claims, do the arguments have weight. Then the original credits can be adjusted, upward for good merit items, downward for erroneous or unsupported, implausible claims and arguments. That will all help making better decisions, as a first effect. But in the process, participants are actually building up a ‘record’ of their contribution merit points.
– Ah, I see: and that record can be made part of the ‘qualification’ criteria for appointing people to positions of power? If they have made consistently meritorious contributions to the policy discourse for important issues, they can be considered better qualified than others whose entries have been shown to be unsupported and implausible?
– Right. Better judgment. But that’s not all. Those merit points can become a kind of alternate ‘currency’ for various purposes. One is the sanctions issue for violating agreements and ‘laws’. The penalties can be in the form of subtracting credit points from their accounts. Especially if some means can be found to identify attempts at violating agreements and laws as the attempt is started or going on, so that penalty points can be applied immediately, without having to involve heavy-duty law enforcement. So the size and extent of enforcement forces could be reduced, as well as the worry about enforcement by force and associated escalation, would you agree?
– I think that would take some fine-tuning, but yes, it’s an idea that should be explored. What about the power issue itself – didn’t you mention something about that as well?
– Yes indeed. The idea is to make people in positions of power ‘accountable’ for the decisions they make by having to ‘pay’ for each decision – again, with their merit credit points. If the decision is a flop, they lose the points – if it’s a good one, they earn them back, and perhaps more. ‘Profit’, eh?
– What about decisions that are so important, and therefore so ‘costly’, that officials can’t afford to make such decisions with their own points?
– Well, if you feel that such a decision should be made, that is, you support the leader who has to make it, how about transferring some of your own credits to his account? In that way, you are also ‘accountable’ for the decision – and perhaps less likely to let a populist loose cannon go around making disastrous decisions? If the decision is a good one, your ‘investment’ can ‘pay off’ in that you get your points back, perhaps with some ‘interest’? And if not, you lost your points just like the leader who made that dumb decision with your support…
– Oh man, you are getting way out there with these wild schemes.
– Well. It’s all up for discussion. Do you have any better ideas to deal with these challenges?

new-system-priorities-1f


Combining systems modeling maps with argumentative evaluation maps: a general template

Many suggested tools and platforms have been proposed to help humanity overcome the various global problems and crises, each with claims of superior ability or adequacy for addressing the ‘wickedness’ of the problems.

Two of the main perspectives I have studied – the general group of models labeled as ‘systems thinking’, ‘systems modeling and simulation’, and the ‘argumentative model of planning’ proposed by H. Rittel (who incidentally saw his ideas as part of a ‘second generation’ systems approach) have been shown to fall somewhat short of those claims: specifically, they have so far not been able to demonstrate the ability to adequately accommodate each others’ key concerns. The typical systems model seems to assume that all disagreements regarding its model assumptions have been ‘settled’; it shows no room for argument and discussion or disagreement, while the key component of the argumentative model: the typical ‘pro’ or ‘con’ argument of the planning discourse, — the ‘standard planning argument’ does not connect more than two or three of the many elements of a more elaborate systems model of the respective situation, and thus fails to properly accommodate the complexity and multiple loops of such models.

It is of course possible that a different perspective and approach will emerge that can better resolve this discrepancy. However, it will have to acknowledge and then properly address the difficulty we can now only express with the vocabulary of the two perspectives. This essay explores the problem of showing how the elements of the two selected approaches can be related in maps that convey both the respective system’s complexity and the possible disagreements and assessment of the merit of arguments about system assumptions.

A first step is the following simplified diagram template that shows a ‘systems model’ in the center, with arguments both about how the proposal for intervention in the system (consisting of suggested actions upon specific system elements) should be evaluated, and about the degree of certainty – the suggested term is ‘plausibility’ – about assumptions regarding individual elements.

A key aspect of the integration effort is the insight that the ‘system’ will have to include all the features discussed in the discourse under the terms of ‘plan proposal’ with its details of initial conditions, proposed actions (what to do, by whom, using what tools and resources, and the conditions for their availability), the ‘problem’ a solution aims at remedying, which is described (at least) by specifying its current ‘IS’ state, the desired ‘OUGHT’ state or planning outcome, the means by which the transition of is- to ought-state can be achieved; and the potential consequences of implementing the plan, including possible ‘unexpected’ side-and-after-effects. Conversely, the assessment of arguments (the “careful weighing of pros and cons”) will have to explicitly address the system model elements and their interactions – elements that should be (but mostly are not) specified in the argument as ‘conditions under which the plan or one of its features is assumed to effectively achieve the specific outcome or goal referenced by the argument.

For the sake of simplicity, the diagram only shows two arguments or reasons for or against a proposed plan. In reality, there always will be at least two arguments (benefit and cost of a plan), but usually many more, based on assessment of the multiple outcomes of the plan and actions to implement it, as well as of conditions (feasibility, availability, cost and other resources) for its implementation. The desirability assessments of different parties will be different; the argument seen as ‘pro’ by one party can be a ‘con’ argument for another, depending on the assessment of the premises. Therefore, arguments are not shown as pro or con in the diagram.

 

AMSYST 1
The diagram uses abbreviated notations for conciseness and convenient overview that are explained in the legend below, that presents some key (but by no means exhaustively comprehensive) concepts of both perspectives.

*  PLAN or P Plan or proposal for a plan or plan aspects

*  R    Argument or ‘reason’. It is used both for an entire ‘pro’ or ‘con’ argument about the plan or an issue, — the entire set of premises supporting the ‘conclusion’ claim (usually the plan proposal) and for the relationship claimed to connect the Plan with an effect, usually a goal, or a negative consequence of plan implementation, in the factual-instrumental premise.
The ‘standard planning argument’ pattern prevailing in planning discourse has the general form:
D(PLAN) Plan P ought to be adopted (deontic ‘conclusion’)
because
FI (PLAN –>R –>O)|{C} P has relationship R with outcome O given
Conditions {C} (Factual-instrumental premise)
and
D(O) Outcome O ought to be pursued (Deontic premise)
and
F{C} Conditions {C} are given (true)

The relationship R is most often a causal connection, but also stands for a wide variety of relationships that constitute the basis for pro or con arguments: part-whole, identity, similarity, association, analogy, catalyst, logical implication, being a necessary or sufficient condition for, etc. In an actual application, these relationships may be distinguished and identified as appropriate.

*    O or G   Outcome or goal to be pursued by the plan, but also used for other effects including negative consequences

*    M —   the relationship of P ‘being a means’ to achieve O

*     C or {C}     The set of a number of
c conditions under which the claimed relationship M between P and    O is assumed to hold

*     pl ‘plausibility’ judgments about the plan, arguments, and argument premises, expressed as values on a scale of +1 (completely plausible) to -1 (completely implausible) with a midpoint ‘zero’ understood as ‘so-so or ‘don’t know, cant decide’) in combination with the abbreviations for those:
*       plPLAN or plP plausibility judgment of the PLAN,
this is some individual’s subjective judgment.
*       plM plausibility of P being effective in achieving O;
*       pO plausibility of an outcome O or Goal;
*       pl{C} plausibility (probability) of conditions {C} being present;
*       plc plausibility of condition c being present;
*       plR plausibility of argument or reason R;
*       pl PLAN GROUP a group judgment of plan plausibility

*       wO weight of relative importance of outcome O ( 0 ≤ w ≤ 1; ∑w = 1)

*       WR Argument weight or weight of reason

Functions F between plausibility values:

*      F1     Group plausibility aggregation function:
n
pl PLANGROUP = F1 (plPLANq) for all n members q of the group
q=1, 2

*      F2    Plan plausibility function:
m
Pl(PLAN)q = F2 (WRi) for all m reasons R, by person q
i = 1,2…

*      F3   Argument weight function:

WRi = F3 pl Ri)* wOj

*     F4   Argument plausibility function:

Pl(Ri) = F4: {pl(P –>Mi –>Oi)|{Ci}) , pl(Oi), pl{C}}
The plausibility of argument R is a function of all
Premise plausibility judgments

*     F5     Condition set plausibility function:

Pl{C} = F5 (pl ck) pl of set {C} is a function of the
K = 1,2… plausibility judgmens of all c in the set.
n
*     F6 Weight of relative importance of outcome Oi: wOi = 1/n ∑ vOi
i=1,2…
Subject to conditions 0 ≤ wOi ≤ 1, and ∑wO = 1.

*    System S The system S is the network of all variables describing both the initial  conditions c (the IS-state of the problem the plan is trying to remedy), the  means M involved in implementing the plan, the desired ‘end’ conditions or goals G of the plan, and the relationships and loops between these.

The diagram does not yet show a number of additional variables that will play  a role in the system: the causes of initial conditions (that will also affect the  outcome or goal conditions; the variables describing the availability, effectiveness, costs and acceptability of means M, and potential consequences of both M and O of the proposed plan. Clearly, these conditions and their behavior over time (both the time period needed for implementation, and the assumed planning horizon or life expectancy of the solution) will or should be given due consideration in evaluating the proposed plan.


About Dr. Keating’s $10,000 challenge to prove that man-made climate change is not occurring

I foolishly accepted a chore that turned out to be more work than anticipated: to follow a discussion about Dr. Keating’s $10,000 Challenge and to put together an IBIS as well as a few Issue and Argument maps about it. Physicist Dr. Keating has offered $10,000 to anyone who can produce, via scientific method, a proof that man-made climate change is not occurring. He invited such submissions to be entered on a blog, and to offer his reasons as to whether and why he would accept or reject a submission. There were some such submissions, some of which were quickly rejected, others still awaiting judgment, but a flood of posts offering a variety of opinions — about the challenge and about submitted entries.

Taking a break from slogging through this material to ferret out essential information for the IBIS and maps, some thoughts occurred to me that I just have to write about, ‘to get them out of my system’.

These thoughts amount to not only raising some questions about the challenge as it was presented, but also about the nature of many of the responses offered. Many have to do with the concept of ‘proof’ Dr. Keating invited. He defends the choice of terms by referring to claims by ‘deniers’ of man-made climate change that such proof exists and is easy to provide. Perhaps his certainty in offering the reward stems form the knowledge that ‘proof’ is not appropriate term for evidence in favor of scientific hypotheses, especially for issues involving matters of degrees of several different sources contributions to an effect. The argument of offering evidence in support of a hypothesis is an inductive kind, not a deductively valid one that deserves the label of ‘proof’.

So while the ‘deniers’ should perhaps not have used the term (he did not cite any such claim specifically), in the larger interest of the controversy his use of the word ‘proof’ in his challenge is not really helpful either. Not because, as some of the posts claim, ‘it is not possible to prove a negative’. Isn’t it the scientific way to disprove a hypothesis by showing, by valid ‘scientific means (experiments, observations verified by repeatability, measurement etc.) that a piece of evidence that constitutes a necessary consequence of the hypothesis is NOT true, is indeed a deductively valid one (known as ‘modus tollens’) that can be accepted as proof? But because if the issue is one involving matters of degrees, acceptance or rejection of a hypothesis hinges on the degree of certainty — for example, of the probability that the ‘null hypothesis’ (the negation of the hypothesis) could have occurred under the conditions of the evidence data or arguments provided is too small to be believable. So this would have required specification of that level of confidence.

The choice of ‘weight of evidence’ or ‘argument’ instead of ‘proof’ may have been avoided for several reasons: the difficulty of ‘weighing’ the evidence, or because ‘argument’ is perceived as something unduly (unscientifically?) adversarial. like a brawl, with win-lose outcomes not necessarily based on the merit of the arguments. The significance of the overall issue (at least as seen by Dr. Keating and his laudable effort to get it ‘settled’) should suggest that such a win-lose outcome is not in the best interest of humanity.

It is no wonder that many posts therefore tried to represent the challenge as ‘meaningless’. But they also did not acknowledge the elephant in the room: the question of what should be done about the problem — if it is indeed a problem serious enough to worry about, and if ‘we’ (humanity) actually can do something about it. Getting ‘the right thing’ done is NOT the likely result of a win/lose brawl.

Getting the right thing done would require re-framing the understanding of ‘argument’ as the mutual attempt to
a) identify and acknowledge the ‘real’ underlying issue;
b) identify possible solutions (‘what should be done’)
c) reaching into each others’ minds to show how one’s proposed ‘solution (conclusion to the argument) really follows plausibly from beliefs the other already holds, or that the other would accept as plausible upon being shown the arguments or evidence (validated ‘scientifically?) for it;
or
d) changing the proposed solution to the point that it becomes acceptable to the other — ideally of course ‘better’, but at the very least ‘not worse’ than before, or if nothing is done.

So the question becomes one of determining what is ‘acceptable’. That includes not only the plausibility of the scientific data presented as evidence in the pro and con arguments — which of course are important, — but also the consequences of whatever action or inaction is chosen as a result of the allegedly ‘basic’ issue, in this case whether and to what degree man-made climate change is occurring. Specifically: does ‘acceptability’ include such aspects as whether some parties will lose income, property, security, property, respect, ‘face’?

As long as proponents on either side of the issue feel that they can legitimately suggest that the other side is not entirely without ‘hidden agenda’ interests (funding, reputation, payments from certain industry segments, political entities etc…?) in order to influence public assessment of the purity of the scientific arguments offered, would it be appropriate and helpful is all such could be brought up and discussed? For example: re-framing the challenge to explore what actions ‘we’ ought to take depending on the various outcomes of the ‘scientific issue: what if MMCC IS occurring? what if it is NOT occurring? and what if it does occur, but to some degree (to be estimated..) — such that the respective actions will have ‘acceptable’ outcomes for all affected parties even if the resolution of the scientific issue were NOT as expected?

As long as these issues are kept off the discussion table, I am afraid it will not only prevent a proposed ‘proof’ or hesitancy of people to present it to Dr. Keating’s exclusive judgment, from ‘settling’ the issue and allow humanity to proceed towards working out feasible and acceptable action solutions; it will poison the entire discourse in a way that not even the most complete and representative argument maps of its contributions will be able to clarify let alone remedy.


A solution idea for the use of civic credit points for the control of power

In the Fog Island Tavern:

Hey Vodçek — what’s all the excitement over there about?

Hi Bog-Hubert. Some good news from Rigatopia — why don’t you go over to find out? Here’s your coffee.

Thanks. You can’t provide a quick summary? I’ll have to catch the ferry in a few minutes…

Okay. It looks like they have developed a new solution for the problem of power and accountability. You remember Abbé Boulah’s campaign for argument evaluation in policy-making?

Applying the ideas of our architect friend — to evaluate design and planning arguments — to more general policy discussions and decisions? Isn’t he developing some kind of game to get people used to the concept?

Yes. The game is a good starting point. So you know how people get points for any contributions they make to the discussion — but they get modified by everybody’s assessment of the plausibility and importance of those contributions, and by the overall quality (plausibility) of the solution they collectively work out.

I remember. So how does this get used to control power in real life?

It’s actually quite simple. People who participate in public discussions build up a credit points account based on the quality of their contributions. The participation in public discourse is of course free and open to all: the possibility to earn credits is an incentive to participate.

Yes — we have talked about how that might be used to actually get decisions made. There were some questions about how the plausibility assessments could be used to guide decisions. And about some kinds of public decisions that have to be made quickly so there’s no time to have a long discussion about them…

Right. So some people have to be appointed to positions where they are responsible for making such decisions. One part of the idea — the solution they are trying out on Rigatopia — is that a person’s credit account will play a significant part in the appointment to such positions: you have to show a certain level of creditable participation in public discourse to qualify for positions where you have the power to make decisions.

So how does that solve the problems with power in those positions? We don’t have to go through the entire litany of power addiction, temptations for corruption, etc?

No. The solution is that each decision must be ‘paid for’ — up-front — with a credit point ‘ante’. Which is lost if the decision is no good; but can be seen as an ‘investment’ to earn new points if the decision is successful. But eventually, the points are ‘used up’.

Makes sense: we often talked about how power — as ’empowerment’ to pursue your happiness — should be ‘paid for’ just like you have to pay for your food and clothes and car.

Yes — but not with the same currency. And here, the currency is credit points — something anybody can earn, but which must be earned, and which can be lost by making stupid decisions.

That finally gives some substance to the notion of ‘accountability’. I agree. What about public decisions for which there is — and should be — some thorough discussion before decisions are made?

You are asking about how we can realize the expectation that such decisions should be made on the basis of the merit of arguments, of the contributions people make to the discourse. And how to add this element of accountability to the basic idea of using some overall group measure of proposal plausibility as a guide to the collective decision.

Right. The argument evaluation approach has been worked out reasonably well to produce an individual judgment of overall proposal plausibility (as a function of argument plausibility and argument weight — that was described in the paper in the ‘Informal Logic’ journal). But we all had some reservations about how to fashion a group decision from those individual judgments, and whether traditional decision methods such as (majority) voting could easily be replaced.

Okay: here’s the answer to that. Whatever decision method is being used — say voting — will have to be assessed in relation to some such measure of collective proposal plausibility — the plausibility assessments of all the people who have contributed to the discourse and assessments. But somebody has to take some responsibility for the decision. And that must involve accountability — which brings us back to the civic credit accounts. If you wish to actually have some actual ‘say’ in such a decision, you have to commit some of your credit points — perhaps your traditional ‘vote’ or polling opinion is ‘weighted’ by the credit points you are willing to put up as ‘ante’ — and lose if your decision is flawed. Of course, if it’s a good decision, it will earn you point points back, with ‘interest’ depending on how good it is.

Makes sense. It sounds a bit complicated, but with all the new information technology we have, it shouldn’t be too difficult to implement. I assume that such decisions — if they are to apply (e.g. as ‘law’) to the entire community, city, state, or whatever entity — must be ‘announced’ in a format ‘validated’ by the credit points that are backing them up. I like the aspect that the currency for influencing decisions and making decision-makers ‘accountable’ has been shifted away from money to civic credits. But tell me: won’t there be decisions that are so important and consequential — and require vast resources such that no individual decision-maker alone can reasonably be accountable for them?

Sure. The provision for this is also quite simple: If there is such a momentous decision, requiring so much money or other resources that the responsibility for it must be shared by the community — or at least by the supporters in the community, — this can be achieved by people backing the decision transferring credit points from their own accounts to that of the ‘official’ in charge of actually ‘signing’ for the decision. If it’s a bad one, they all, including the official, will be ‘accountable’ by losing their points. If it’s successful and ‘earning’ new credits, the points will have to be paid back to the supporters — with ‘points interest’ according to the size of their respective investment.

Sounds interesting, even like a breakthrough, almost. Thanks for the summary; I guess they are still discussing quite a few of the details that must be worked out. Looking forward to hear more about it when I get back, gotta run.

Remember, you heard it here first, Bog-Hubert. Have a safe trip!


On the role of feelings in argumentative discourse

– Are you neglecting your civic duty to sustain the customary atmosphere of comfortable if meaningless small talk in the Fog Island Tavern, Bog-Hubert? Scribbling notes in your crumpled notebook like a real coffee house intellectual — or have you actually gotten over your writers’ block to get back into some serious writing?

– Sorry, nothing so encouraging. I’m just writing down come complaints of Abbé Boulah’s about people’s lack of comprehension of his and his buddy’s ideas glorious ideas about argumentative planning. We were walking along the beach, and he seemed quite disappointed by some reactions he got from some experiment. So I need to write some things down before I forget them.

– Reactions to what?

– It seems they were trying out some of those ideas about structured planning discourse including the argument assessment approach, in a distance learning project of some kind. And the participants on the other end either didn’t understand what they were trying to do at all, or else hadn’t even studied the background material they had prepared and sent over there. They totally screwed up the exercise, and finally blamed the disaster on his buddy, alleging that he didn’t allow for the role of emotions and feelings in the discourse, didn’t understand emotions at all; something like that.

– That’s a problem with those online and distance projects: you never know whether the folks at the other end really are doing their part of the deal. But I can see where they picked a plausible excuse, at least.

– Plausible, huh? In what way, Vodçek? How is ignorance and laziness ‘plausible’?

– Well, doesn’t the very word ‘argument’ invite a number of misunderstandings that then can be used as excuses? You can’t really blame misunderstanding only on the party that doesn’t understand, can you?

– What kinds of misunderstandings?

– Well, many people understand ‘argument’ as something disagreeable, adversarial, quarrelsome — that can easily end up into a more serious fight — not very nice nor cooperative.

– I can’t argue with that: we’ve had a lot of that kind of reaction.

– Right. And even for those who do understand ‘argument’ as a set of statements that aim to support some claim, that notion is flavored by the association with formal logic, rationality, scientific ‘objectivity’, in short, a kind of discourse in which the ‘truth’ of issues is to be established. Truth that is independent or overriding of how people feel about it. Scientific, ‘objective’ truth. That kind of inquiry that almost by definition excludes feelings. And of course that bothers people who are concerned with issues about which they do have strong feelings. Where the ‘truth’ about what IS the case is less the point of the discussion than what OUGHT to be, and theta patently isn’t true YET. So they understandably resent the impression that those feelings are slighted and ignored.

– But that’s precisely Abbé Boulah’s point — talking about ‘planning arguments’ or ‘design arguments’ — the ones in which one of the key premises, the ‘ought’-claim — is exactly the one that deals with feelings! The kinds of arguments that are not susceptible to formal logic analysis because they have to do with what people want, desire, in short, with how they feel about things.

– Sure, Bog-Hubert: you and I, and some of our friends know that. But for somebody who just hears ‘argument’ and does not examine the planning argument story carefully enough, the impression is still that those ‘feelings’ issues just don’t count in argumentation. So maybe the story needs to be told more clearly and understandably?

– I thought the difference between the ‘formal’ and ‘deductive’ kind of arguments and those planning arguments was clear enough. But you may be on to something there. What do you think are the key points that should be made more clear?

– Let’s see. A first problem might be the frequent impression that people who go on about argumentation appear to take a position of superiority: if they have an argument — one that’s sanctioned by ‘logic’ as ‘valid’ and that therefore has a true conclusion, they are seen as putting down other opinions as ill-informed or stupid. I know what you are going to say: the process we are proposing as ‘argumentative planning’ is explicitly inviting all kinds of concerns, arguments, as ‘legitimate’ and deserving of being given ‘due consideration’ — since all planning arguments after all are ‘inconclusive’ from a formal logic point of view. But I have a hunch that using the word ‘argument’ makes it difficult for people to see that difference. Is there a different way of talking about that?

– Coming to think about it, we did discuss that issue some time go. In such discussions, many issues are raised and expressed as questions, not arguments — whose answers or conclusions could become significant premises of arguments for or against planning proposals. And we saw the problem as one of getting people to put those claims together into complete arguments so that they can be evaluated properly, according the the approach our friend has developed. But maybe the invitation should be to just raise such questions, not stating them as explicit pro or con arguments?

– I can see why you kept going in that direction: how the argument evaluation process might become more difficult with an approach of inviting questions rather than arguments. You’d have to get somebody to put the arguments together in some way in the end. Perhaps you could get a program to do that, using the plausibility assessments of the answers (by the participants) as premises for pro and con arguments. We should look into that. But that very issue brings up a different problem: one that has caused some trouble in the past .

– I think I know what you are referring to; we touched upon that very briefly a moment ago but didn’t go into it? If you focus on raising questions whose answers may become argument premises, many people in the past — mainly technical-oriented folks — have often tended to focus on the factual and factual-instrumental premises of planning arguments. The deontic premises — the ‘ought’ -issues — were either taken for granted, assumed to be given by overriding social policies, even legal precedents or regulations, or simply swept under the rug because they couldn’t be settled by ‘scientific’, logical means. Often, technocrats acted as if, because they had the expertise regarding the technical fact and instrumental questions, they should also have the authority to determine the ‘ought’ questions. Maybe it never occurred to them that there might be people who did not share their vision of the ‘common good’, and that different visions could be legitimate. And such attitudes of course looked to many ordinary folks as arrogant usurpation of powers for which the political process had not provided legitimacy.

– Right. Thereby casting those legitimacy questions both onto the technical-scientific expertocracy and the political process, as well as the role of argument in the ‘planning and political process. But isn’t that inevitably leading to the opposite fallacy, if you will: that planning issues should be decided predominantly or only on the basis of the deontic premises? What ‘the people’ want or desire — blithely assuming that ‘the people’ are indeed of one mind about what they desire. And then the very discrediting of the argumentative process now precluded a meaningful discussion of the plausibility of either kind of premise: what ought to be, and what to do to achieve it.

– A veritable tragedy of argumentation; i agree. Especially for those of us who finally have tried to show a way for both kinds of premises to be discussed and evaluated with equal legitimacy. So how should that question be dealt with?

– I think one main task is to make it more clear that the call for decisions to be made on the basis of arguments does not mean that there is anybody ‘official’ or ‘running the process’ or even a ‘system’ or machine, who determines the ‘truth’ or plausibility and the weight of arguments. No ‘little man behind the curtain’ or on the big screen calling the shots. Make it more clear that the planning arguments are all NOT deductively and objectively ‘valid’ and their conclusions true or false regardless how people feel about them. But precisely that no ‘absolute’ knowledge about the truth of any claims is assumed, and that decisions are made on the basis of the assessments of the people participating in the process.

– If the argument assessment results are to be used in making decisions at all. That has been raised as a possibility, as a much needed alternative to the standard decision-making rule of majority voting which doesn’t really require that any of the concerns expressed in the discussion are given ‘due consideration’. But the details for alternative decision-making methods based more explicitly on argument evaluation results need more discussion and agreement. We may very well all be wrong in the end — but we are trying to pool or knowledge and beliefs about the information we collectively bring into the process to arrive at a decision we can all support, with what is just the best of currently available knowledge.

– So what about the role of feelings, specifically, in this process?

– Thanks for getting us back to that question, Vodçek. You are asking about how to deal with the problem of people insisting that because they have raised valid questions about the legitimacy of the expert, and the predominance of the technical-scientific ‘rationality’, public issues should therefore be decided o the basis of their feelings out the issues?

– I guess that’s one way to put it.

– Okay. Can we agree on the principle that whatever the basis of people’s individual position on issues: so-called scientific rationality and logic, or their feelings, their judgment is to be accepted as their rightful and legitimate stance?

– No argument there. But I sense a ‘but’ coming… and I don’t think it has to do with all the authors of learned books on logic and critical thinking that try to tel all of us how to think properly?

– Right. The ‘but’ arises when people start demanding that the judgment resulting from their ‘feeling’ or emotional assessment should be accepted by others as a legitimate basis for their decision as well — even if they are not able to provide any further support or explanation for their judgments. My ‘gut feeling’ telling me that plan A is a good idea (or a bad one) cannot possibly be a valid reason for me to expect that others should adopt the same judgment, if I can’t explain and get across w h y I feel this way. Just as someone else whose gut feeling tells him the opposite of mine can’t expect to sway me just on the basis of him having that gut feeling.

– You are talking about issues of shared or public interest of course, not issues that are our personal matter only and don’t affect anybody else.

– Right. For any common, cooperative decision, perhaps we can tentatively state two rules:
1) The method or rule for arriving at a final common decision should accept everybody’s individual judgment regardless of how the individual arrives at it. And
2) Whenever, and to the extent that an individual or party tries to persuade others to adopt an individual position on an issue (through argumentation), that party is responsible for supplying reasons, evidence, supporting arguments, for a l l premises of the arguments, the factual-instrumental premises, the factual premises, and the deontic (‘ought’) premises, upon request. No request for further support of a premise can be rejected on the grounds that it is a personal value judgment or feeling; such a rejection will be a valid reason for anyone else to reject the demand that the position be adopted by others. (However, of course the person will still be able to ‘cast his vote’ on the basis of his personal convictions even if he cannot supply reasons to sway others).

– Does that mean that we have to accept such votes even if they are based on obviously false information or flawed — fallacious — reasoning?

– No. But if you think that somebody is making such mistakes, it is your responsibility to offer your reasons to sway that person. Remember that your premises may be less supportable and certain than they appear to you. The fact that somebody’s argument appears to you as a fallacy does not entitle you to use your authority as a connoisseur of fallacies to reject the entire argument with all its premises, and this the right of the person to have a say in the decision.

– Isn’t that a main difference between this approach and, say, the logic rule books? It does not — as an approach — try to tell anybody how to think, but just encourages all participants to examine their reasons — yes, even challenge and test them — but then accepts whatever judgment people bring into the process as legitimate contributions, right or wrong, to the final decision.

– And I would insist on something else: the support for an ‘ought’-premise can take the form of a story laying out the vision a person considers desirable, not just another set of ‘formalized’ arguments. But parts of the story should again be open to questioning.

– Agreed, Vodçek. So how do we make this more clear and understandable? How do we avoid the potential misunderstanding arising out of the term ‘argument’?

– Would it be meaningful to avoid the word ‘argument’ altogether, and to just ask people to refrain from making arguments, but only to raise questions?

– What do you mean?

– Well, take the three types of premises of a planning argument about a proposal A:
“Yes, A should be adopted
because
A will lead to B given conditions C,
and
B ought to be pursued or aimed for,
and
conditions C are given.”

Instead of this whole (‘adversarial’) argument, can we instead just ask the questions
“Does A really lead to B?”
and “Should B be aimed for?”
and
“Are conditions C really present?”

And invite participants to discuss those? Perhaps not even in the same sequence, so as to further avoid the argumentative flavor? And avoid presenting the argument at the outset as a ‘pro’ or con’ argument?

– Why should we avoid that?

– Think about it: If the proposed action really leads to result B, and a person P1 considers B desirable, the resulting argument is a ‘pro’ argument for that person, right? But if another person P2 sees consequence B as undesirable, the same argument becomes a ‘con’ argument for that person, doesn’t it? Or if P2 feels that while the goal B is worthwhile, the proposal A is not an effective way to achieve it — or if P2 grants both of the above two premises, but has information that the conditions C aren’t present to make the proposed action effective: in all these cases the same set of claims become counterarguments for P2. So why should it be labeled as one or the other from the outset, if it really depends on people’s assessment of each of the premises?

– Now I realize why all those debate programs on the market always gave me a weird sense of ‘already taking sides’ in the debates they try to facilitate: By explicitly labeling and mapping any argument as a ‘pro’ or ‘con’ argument — the way it was intended by the person making the argument — it already slightly distorted the judgment process. I agree, the ‘system’ keeping track, displaying and mapping all the contributions in such discussions should refrain from that kind of labeling; just present the claims that make up the argument premises.

– Well, in order to evaluate how all those bits of information support or not support a decision, do they not have to be put together as complete arguments, in the end ?

– Yes, I think you are right — unless we can get people to assess the plausibility of all those claims separately, and have the ‘system’ put them together as arguments and then calculate their arguments weights etc. But then the system must also make such assessments as whether a specific argument pattern really ‘applies’ to the case at hand — which people might want to make themselves. And they can’t do that unless they see the complete argument, can they?

– You devious fellow. You are once again raising more questions than we started out with, my friend. But do you agree that we can see the task and direction more clearly now? I think we need to run some experiments with various ways to treat these issues, and then write a short, concise ‘game manual’ that makes it very clear what the approach is doing, including the legitimate role of feelings and emotions in the process. You’ll tell Abbé Boulah when he comes in, Vodçek?

– You really think he’ll be able to raise the funds for those experiments?


Some consideration on the role of systems modeling in planning discourse

 

Suggestions made by proponents of ‘systems thinking’ or systems analysis to discussions we might call ‘planning or policy discourse’ often take the form of recommendations to construct models of the ‘whole system’ in question, and to use these to guide policy decisions.

A crude explanation of what such system models are and how they are used might be the following: The ‘model’ is represented as a network of all the parts (variables, components; e.g. ‘stocks’) in the ‘whole’ system. What counts as the whole system is the number of such parts that have some significant relationship (for example, ‘flows’) to one another — such that changes in the state or properties of some part will produce changes in other parts. Of particular interest to system model builders are the ‘loops’ of positive or negative ‘feedback’ in the system — such that changes in part A will produce changes in part B, but those changes will, after a small or large circle of further changes, come back to influence A. Over time, these changes will produce behaviors of the system that would be impossible to track with simple assumptions e.g. about causal relationships between individual pairs of variables such as A and B.

The usefulness of such system models — which simply means the degree of reliability with which simulation runs of those changes over time will produce predictions that would come true if the ‘real system’ that is represented by the model could be made to run according to the same assumptions. The confidence in the trustworthiness of model predictions thus relies on a number of assumptions (equally simplistically described):

– the number of ‘parts’ (variables, components, forces, ‘(stocks’) included;
– the nature and strength of relationships between the system variables;
– the magnitudes (values) of the initial system variables, e.g. stocks.

System models are presented as ‘decision-making tools’ that allow the examination of the effects of various possible interventions in the system (that is, introduction of changes in systems variables that can be influenced by human decision-makers) given various combinations of conditions in variables that cannot be influenced but must be predicted, as well as assumptions about the strength of interactions. All in order to achieve certain desirable states or system behaviors (the ‘goals’ or objectives measures by performance criteria of the system). System modelers usually refrain from positing goals but either assume them as ‘given’ by assumed social consensus or directives by authorities who are funding the study (a habit having come in for considerable criticism) or leaving it up to decision-maker ‘users’ of the system to define the goals, and use the simulations to experiment with different action variables until the desired results are achieved.

Demonstrations of the usefulness or reliability of a model rest on simulation runs for past system states (for which the data about context and past action conditions can be determined): the model is deemed reliable and valid if it can produce results that match observable ‘current’ conditions. If the needed data for this can be produced and the relationships can be adjusted with sufficient accuracy to actually produce matching outcomes, the degree of confidence we are invited to invest in such models can be quite high: very close to 100% (with qualifications such as ‘a few percentage point plus or minus’.

The usual planning discourse — that is, discussion about what actions to take to deal with situations or developments deemed undesirable by some (‘problems’) or desirable improvements of current conditions (‘goals’) — unfortunately uses arguments that are far from acknowledging such ‘whole system’ complexity. Especially in the context of citizen or user participation currently called for, the arguments mostly take a form that can be represented (simplified) by the following pattern, say, about a proposal X put forward for discussion and decision:

(1) “Yes, proposal X ought to be implemented,
because
implementing X will produce effect (consequence) Y
and
Y ought to be aimed for.”

(This is of course a ‘pro’ argument; a counterargument might sound like:

(2) ” No, X should NOT be implemented
because
Implementing X will produce effect Z
and
Z ought to be avoided.”

Of course, there are other forms of ‘con’ arguments possible, targeting either the claim that X will produce Y granted that Y is desirable; or the claim that Y is desirable, granting that X will indeed produce Y…)

A more ‘sophisticated’ version of this typical (‘standard’) planning argument would perhaps include consideration of some conditions under which the relationship X — Y holds:

(3) “Yes, X ought to be implemented,
because
Implementing X will produce Y if conditions c are present;
and
Y ought to be aimed for;
and
conditions c are present.”

While ‘conditions C’ are mostly thought of as simple, one-variable phenomena, the systems thinker will recognize that ‘conditions C’ should include all the assumptions about the state of the whole system in which action X is one variable that can indeed be manipulated by decision-makers (while many others are context conditions that cannot be influenced). So from this point of view, the argument should be modified to include the entire set of assumptions of the whole system. The question of how a meaningful discourse should be organized to take this expectation into account while still accommodating participation by citizens — non-experts — is a challenge that has yet to be recognized and taken on.

Meanwhile, however, the efforts to improve the planning discourse consisting of the simpler pro and con arguments might shed some interesting lights on the issue of the reliability of system models for predicting outcomes of proposed plans over time.

The improvements of the planning discourse in question have to do with the proposals I have made for a more systematic and transparent assessment of the planning argument — in response to the common claim of having public interest decisions made ‘on the merit of arguments’. The approach I developed implies that the plausibility of a planning argument of the types 1,2,3 above (in the mind of an individual evaluator) will be a function of the plausibility of all the premises. I am using the term ‘plausibility’ to apply both to the ‘factual’ premises claiming the relationship X –>Y and the presence of conditions C (which traditionally are represented as ‘probability’ or degree of confidence) as well as the to the deontic premise ‘Y ought to be aimed for’ that is not adequately characterized by ‘probability’ much less ‘truth’ or ‘falsity’ that is the stuff of traditional argument assessment. The scale on which such plausibility assessment is expressed must be one ranging from an agreed-upon value such as -1 (meaning ‘totally implausible) to +1 (meaning totally plausible, entirely certain) with a midpoint of zero (meaning ‘don’t know’; ‘can’t tell’ or even ‘don’t care’).

The plausibility of such an argument, I suggest, will be some function of the plausibilities assigned to each of the premises, arguably also to the implied claim that the argument pattern itself (the inference rule

“D(X)
because
FI(X –> Y) | C
and
D(Y)
and
F (C )”

applies meaningfully to the situation at hand. (D prefixes denote deontic claims, FI factual-instrumental claims, F factual claims)

(The weight of each argument among the many pro and con arguments is one step later: it will be a function of its plausibility and weight of relative importance of the goals, concerns, objectives referred to in the deontic premise.)

This means that the argument plausibility will decrease quite rapidly as the plausibilities for each of these premises deviate from 100% certainty. Experiments with a plausibility function that consists of the simple product of those plausibilities have shown that the resulting overall argument plausibility often shrinks to a value much closer to zero that to +1; and the overall proposal plausibility (e.g. a sum of all the weighted argument plausibilities) will also be far away from the comfortable certainty (decisively ‘pro’ or decisively ‘con’) hoped for by many decision-makers.

These points will require some further study and discussion in the proposed approach to systematic argument assessment. For the moment, the implication of this effect of argument plausibility tending towards zero on the issue of enhancing arguments with the proper recognition of ‘all’ the system condition assumptions of the ‘whole’ system deserve some comment.

For even when a model can be claimed to represent past system behavior with reasonable degree of certainty plausibility close to 1, the projection of those assumptions into the future must always be done with a prudent dose of qualification: all predictions are only more or less probable (plausible), none are 100% certain. The deontic premises as well are less than totally plausible — indeed usually express legitimate opposing claims by people affected in different ways by a proposed plan, differences we are asked to acknowledge and consider instead of insisting that ‘our’ interests are to be pursued with total certainty. We might even be quite mistaken about what we ask for… So when the argument plausibility function must include the uncertainty-laden plausibility assessments of all the assumptions about relationships and variable values over time in the future, the results (with the functions used thus far, for which there are plausible justification but which are admittedly still up for discussion) must be expected to decline towards zero even faster than for the simple arguments examined in previous studies.

So as the systems views of the problem situation becomes more detailed, holistic, and sophisticated, the degree of confidence in our plan proposals that we can derive from arguments including those whole system insights is likely getting lower, not higher. This nudge towards humility even about the degree of confidence we might derive from honest, careful and systematic argument assessment may be a disappointment to leaders whose success in leading depends to some extent on such degree of confidence. Then again, this may not be a bad thing.