Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

By Richard Martin

I had a run in with someone yesterday on Linked In who was responding with fallacious and demonstrably false arguments to a guest blog by Quentin Innis titled On Tankies. Quentin wrote the text in frustration at the obstinacy of Western apologists of Russian aggression, terrorism, and imperialism and to provide responses to the most common “talking points” excusing Russia’s invasion and destruction of Ukraine and bullying of NATO countries.

Why did I have a run in? Simply because I too am tired of having to read and respond to uninformed and illogical statements concerning Russia’s destructiveness, aggression, threats, and coercion by individuals who can’t argue a point properly. I just can’t take these people seriously.

I admit it. I lose my cool sometimes, but that’s because claiming “moral equivalence” or spouting “what-about-isms” are a waste of time. Worse, they pollute public dialogue and debate because they are off topic, unethical, and play right into the hands of foreign powers seeking to undermine our national defence, security, and institutions.

Uninformed statements are put forth by individuals trying to debate with serious authors and experts as counterpoints to well-argued and evidenced arguments. The problem is that the so-called counterarguments or debating tactics are nothing more than rehashed talking points from Russia’s lies, threats, and misdirection. Those repeating them have not bothered to read any history by actual historians or reporting by credible, professional journalists. They just assume that what they have heard in a sound bite or a read in a tweet is true and worthy of debate. It isn’t.

For example, there is a popular, but false and uninformed “argument,” that NATO threatens Russia. There is no need to elaborate on the ignorance and stupidity of this statement further. It should be enough to read Quentin’s article or my own of 19 February 2023 on why NATO is not the aggressor, Russia is. A wannabe debater also stated that the war in Donbas is a civil war. No, it isn’t. It was instigated by Russia in early 2014 in response to the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine and continues as part of Russia’s invasion and war against Ukraine since then, especially since 24 February 2022. Apparently, that individual had never heard of Russia’s “little green men,” a.k.a. Wagner Group or the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.

These types of uninformed and false claims are easily refuted by doing a quick search on Wikipedia (or through other online sources, including mainstream media). For example, see Little green men: Russo-Ukrainian WarRussian occupation of Crimea; and War in Donbas (2014-2022). At the very least, reading such articles should give one pause that the situation and historical background is much more complex than can be encapsulated in sound bites and tweets. It should also cause someone to think that maybe they don’t have enough background information to make a proper assessment of the soundness of pithy catchphrases and 10-second videos on YouTube™.

But that is apparently too much work for some people. After all, why try to develop a deeper understanding of the historical and political background of a social problem when you can just repeat something that sounds clever and feeds into your pre-existing biases, cynicism, fear, and anxiety about war and conflict? I get it. War is hell, but the fact that you don’t like war and fear it doesn’t make it disappear.

Another false claim I’ve read is that, somehow, “NATO invaded Afghanistan.” It is part of a wider trend of presenting “moral equivalence” statements as serious counterarguments. In logic this is known as the “tu quoque” fallacy: Literally, “so did you!” Anyone who has children knows that the go-to defence after being caught doing something wrong or dangerous is to claim that “He/she/they/you started it/did it too/did it first.” Can we see how puerile that is?

It is a logical fallacy because it doesn’t address the proposition, logic, or evidence that is adduced by the author of the original argument. In simple terms, saying that so-and-so does it too doesn’t counter the logic or content of the author’s position. It merely deflects it in an attempt to hijack or confuse the debate. What started as a presentation of evidence and logically linked propositions leading to one or more conclusions becomes a discussion over something unrelated to the intent of the original author or one putting forth an argument.

If someone wishes to debate or discuss whether NATO “invaded” Afghanistan or not, or anything else for that matter, fine. Go ahead, state your starting position in your own article or post. Don’t contaminate others’ writings with your sophomoric tactics in an amateurish attempt at debate. Put it on your own website or blog! See if someone will take you up on it. On the other hand, if you wish to engage in genuine dialogue, debate, or commentary on an article or post with its author, you should at least try to be on point.

For instance, say someone wishes to debate the author of an article that provides reasoned arguments, with propositions, logical links, and evidence in favour of his position. The way to do that is to address the content of the text and its logic. If the original author says that Russia invaded Ukraine and provides logical arguments and evidence in favour of that position, the correct way to debate or discuss these is to provide counterevidence and genuine counterarguments. Highlighting the original author’s faulty logic or reasoning is also fair game, so long as one has valid points to make.

But showing a map of Europe that indicates the year that countries joined NATO doesn’t prove or argue in favour of NATO aggression. It may be the case that the expansion of NATO as indicated by the map is evidence of anti-Russian sentiment. But it doesn’t follow that the sentiment proves that the countries involved, or the NATO alliance, are aggressive. The opposite is the case. The eastern European countries and their citizens were and remain so concerned about Russian aggression and coercion that they asked to join NATO and were accepted by consensus of then member nations. Moreover, defensive alliances are specifically mentioned as legitimate and inhering in the right to self-defence in the Charter of the United Nations, which the Russian Federation claims to uphold.

Furthermore, one must weigh any claims within a wider political, economic, and social context. NATO was in Afghanistan to lead the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), under a UN Security Council resolution. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, and could have vetoed it, but didn’t. ISAF was thus the result of a wide international consensus that assistance to the Afghanistan government was needed for a variety of reasons. In addition, there were non-NATO countries that participated in the operation.

But even if that were not the case, even if NATO had “invaded” Afghanistan, that still would not constitute a sound argument in debating someone about Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. That’s simply a “non sequitur,” which translates as “it does not follow.”

The final point I wish to address is about qualifications and expertise. We live in a society where everyone’s opinion on just about any matter seems to be taken seriously. The problem is this: Not everyone’s opinion is valid. There is a psychological phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It states that the less some people know about a topic, the less these same people claim expertise.

The most interesting aspect about the Dunning-Kruger effect is that most people, when learning more about a topic, develop less confidence in their knowledge and expertise. They obviously realize that their initial impressions and reactions were uninformed. Then, as they acquire more and more knowledge and experience, their confidence level rises again, but never to the levels of the ignorant who claim expertise with little or no real knowledge. 

Knowledge is a universal acid; it dissolves overconfidence born of misinformation and ignorance. It also gives us humility. Socrates claimed to be the wisest man in all of Greece, not because he knew a lot, but specifically because he realized that he didn’t know everything, or even very much. This type of humility would be valuable to anyone who wishes to debate well-informed experts, who have the knowledge and practical experience to make reasoned judgments.

I will debate anyone who shows humility. Sometimes I need to be reminded of the need for humility. Whether we’re debating the Russo-Ukrainian War, pandemic policies, or anything else, these should be the bottom line. I’ll respect you, if you respect me.

Many businesses are facing a new threat to how they’ve traditionally positioned and delivered value for customers. This applies in particular to service businesses, where companies have tended to rely on providing access to data and information.

Take the investment business as a case in point (this applies to most other service businesses however). In the past, when people wanted to invest and grow their money, they had to go through a stockbroker or some other intermediary. When they wanted to make a transaction or decide on whether to keep a stock or sell, they were almost completely reliant on the intermediary to provide up-to-date pricing data. Newspapers published daily closing prices on stocks, bonds, commodities and currencies, but that was about it. Then along came the Internet and the amount of data and information went through the roof.

In parallel with this came an explosion in knowledge and information that was available to the average investor about how to invest for growth, retirement, or just plain security. Nowadays, investors are much more sophisticated about tax deferment and other investment strategies. Just browsing through the business and finance section of any bookstore gives an idea of the amount of information and knowledge available at minimal cost.

All this has had the effect of undermining the traditional value proposition for investment advisors. Before, people had to go through them to get basic data and information and also to actually make their transactions. Internet brokers and access to a galaxy of information online has given a lot more power to individual investors. This has undermined the information-knowledge hierarchy that gave the strong position to investment advisors.

The concept of information or knowledge hierarchy is a product of information technology and information science. The most basic form of information is data. These are simple figures or symbols that represent any “differences that make a difference” (to quote information theorist Gregory Bateson). A stock price quote is an example of a datum. A car’s speed as indicated on its speedometer is also another type of datum. However, data such as these must be put in context to make them understandable and relevant. A car’s speed doesn’t tell us much unless it’s transformed by contextual information, such as the speed limit, the driver’s habits, and whether the speed is dangerous or prudent given the road conditions. The same applies to a stock price. Out of context, it’s fairly meaningless. But in context, such as whether it represents a price rise or drop, whether the overall trend is up or down, and what other stocks are doing in similar conditions, all of this information provides the necessary context to understand the value and import of the data. The two bottom runs of the information ladder are therefore composed of basic data and interpretive information to set it in context.

The next level up is knowledge. This is where the data and information are given wider meaning in the more abstract framework of a system. Speed data and speed limits are part of the wider system of driving techniques. With proper knowledge and expertise, drivers know when to speed up, when to slow down, where to go, how to get there, etc. Investment pricing data and contextual information are part of a general investment and wealth management system. If an investor is trying to protect her wealth, then the system must be oriented to security and value investing rather than growth. I’m simplifying obviously, but I’m just trying to show how knowledge uses data and information to make decisions and orient action.

The final level in the information is wisdom. This is the ability to make general decisions while considering multiple concrete factors. For instance, wisdom tells us that adolescents below 16 or 17 shouldn’t be allowed to drive, as they tend to lack the judgment and prudence to drive safely (notwithstanding the fact that many adults don’t drive safely). Wisdom is also involved in the decision to take a driver’s license away from someone who has poor vision and slow reflexes, such as the very elderly, or people who drive intoxicated. In the financial realm, wisdom will enable a person to make investment decisions in line with their life course, their objectives, and their personality, risk temperament, and overall political and economic conditions. In other words, wisdom sits on top of the information hierarchy, because it provides the overarching framework for all decisions and actions.

What does this mean for business strategy? The following diagram shows the relationship between each of the levels in the information hierarchy and the types of transactions and relationships with clients. The vertical access represents the total number of interactions between buyers and sellers. This can be expressed as bulk numbers of interactions or total number of clients/customers. The horizontal access represents monetary or non-monetary value for buyers and sellers. This is usually expressed in terms of monetary value. The further to the left we are on the graph, the less valuable the products or services, but the higher the overall costs: transaction costs, commoditized pricing and many competitors. As we progress to the right, value increases exponentially while the total number of transactions and clients falls significantly. However, the overall value per transaction is much higher because, even though there are many less transactions, they are worth much more to buyers and sellers because they are based on knowledge and wisdom, rather than simply data and information, which can be had much more easily. In other words, transactions on the left are based on “know what,” in the middle on “know how,” and on the right on “know why” and “know when.”

Value Curve

So if a company is facing increasing commoditization of its products and services, this forces it to adopt a cost-leadership strategy. This is much more precarious than a company that bases its value on differentiation and quality. If you’re faced with this situation, you can try to compete defensively by reducing prices and/or increasing volume, but in the long run this will only continue to erode your relative value. The preferred strategy should be to move to the right, into the area of knowledge, i.e., providing know how, or even better, into know why and know when, i.e., close relationships based on wisdom and personalized services.

© Alcera Consulting Inc. 2014. We encourage the sharing of this information and forwarding of this email with attribution. All other rights reserved.