Disqualification is About Multiplication, Not Subtraction

You think Bob is terrible. This is so incandescently obvious that you can’t help but view disagreers as delusional.

What is most confusing are people who agree with your reasons for hating Bob – he never shows up on time, he fails to pay off debts, he cheated on five girlfriends – and yet who still support Bob. That is, they aren’t so far gone to deny the reality of Bob’s transgressions, but rather they reach a different conclusion from the same set of facts.

The notion of a “same set of facts” can still be true when we consider the matter of Bob’s positives. Everyone – yes, everyone – has positives. The same goes for news sources, politicians, public intellectuals, corporations, etc. To be disqualified, the bad has to so outweigh the good. And in the case of Bob, you’ve run the numbers and there should be no debate. Yet there is. How?

The confusion comes from an unstated assumption that running the numbers is basic addition and subtraction. It is not. Let’s simplify Bob to someone who volunteers and who cheats on girlfriends. Judger A, who works for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, really values volunteerism. So instead of one good canceling out one bad, it’s (good * 5) + (bad * -1) = Not Terrible. For Judger B, who once caught his girlfriend cheating and holds no special affinity for charity, it’s (good * 1) + (bad * -20) = Terrible.

Most people have +/-20 multipliers that overwhelm all else – the equivalent of a one-issue voter. This helps explains fervent loyalty or hatred of, well, anything. You think Judger A is in denial about Bob when it’s simply that Bob hit a positive multiplier in Judger A that does not exist in you. The exasperated conversation where Judger B tries to convince Judger A stays so hopelessly exasperated because both parties are dimly aware that multipliers are at play. I just like him; It’s not that bad; I agree with you, but I don’t want to write him off. This is less than satisfactory when you come to a conversation with a +/-20 multiplier. And even though everyone’s multipliers are a bit different, it doesn’t feel like they should be. How does everyone not rate cheating at -20? The mistake here is thinking that multipliers are subject to rationality in the same way that the positive or negative sign in front of them is. If someone has something slightly positive, you can get it negative with persuasion, but you’re unlikely to push it deeply negative without bestowing that person with your experience since it is personal experience that usually powers extreme multipliers. Likewise, it was probably not cold rationality alone that got you to +/-20, so an honest self-evaluation wouldn’t conclude that you are smart in a way this unmovable opponent is not.

That which is deeply held in oneself and rarely held in others always produces an extreme multiplier. When you finally find someone who shares a positive, extreme multiplier, the feeling is not so much Nice, someone gets it as it’s Holy hell someone understands me. The feeling of being understood is so rare and so craved that a powerful kinship is inevitable between the two parties (even if it’s unidirectional because one party doesn’t know the other). So your multiplier on a subject will oscillate as your view becomes more or less widely accepted. Like, when very few people know of your favorite band System of a Down, it’s +20 upon meeting a fellow fan. When SOAD conquers the airwaves and your uniqueness is less unique, the multiplier falls to +7. When everyone stops listening to music with actual instruments and SOAD fades from consciousness, the +5 rises to a +12. And on and on.

All multipliers have an inverse (e.g., -20 for cheaters, +7 for people who have never cheated), but given the lack of symmetry between action/non-action, the inverses don’t sum to 0. And given that what we love defines us more than what we hate, the pinnacle kinship scenario occurs only with positive multipliers.1

Now, wait just a minute. Those people I despise are motivated by hate and they all get off on hating. Incorrect. They have a different sign on the same topic as you. Part of this can be explained by framing (i.e, focusing on who suffers vs. who benefits). Another part can be, sure, having different sets of “facts.” But the large, vital element is the personal component that all of us struggle to explain. Even when you think you can explain it – you hate cheaters because you were cheated on – you still don’t have the complete picture: why did cheating rocket to -20 for you when your dear friend, who was also sexually betrayed, only moved cheating to -5?

This all means that it’s so challenging to change minds because none of us really know how our minds were set in the first place. We do know, however, when someone has hit an extreme multiplier in us. So, if you are at a conversational impasse, turn away from facts and figures and turn toward an attempt to understand the multiplier that is surely driving much of the deadlock.

  1. It’s easier to get to -10 with hate than +10 with love and because of this ease, the quantity of big hate multipliers is greater. The absolute value, though, of the strongest hate multiplier < the strongest love multiplier.