Hierarchy of agreement/v1

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This was an earlier attempt at detailing this idea, but I think it went off the tracks at some point. --Woozle (talk) 14:54, 20 June 2015 (EDT)

The main levels are:

  • Ally: good intentions, good judgment, willing to provide material and informational resources towards helping others
  • Confidant/advisor: good intentions, good judgment, willing to provide informational resources towards helping others
  • Trusted: good intentions, good judgment, but not interested in analyzing from others' positions
  • Honest and well-meaning: intentions are good, even if their judgment isn't reliably so
  • Openly self-interested: presumably still truthful, but prioritizes own benefit over the common good
  • Untrustworthy: prioritizes own self-interest over honesty, but is not actively seeking harm to others
  • Covertly hostile: actively seeking goals known to be harmful to others, but trying to pretend that they are not
  • Overtly hostile: openly seeking harmful goals

In general, the trust-level of any conversation, from the point of view of any given participant X, descends to the lowest (outermost) level to which any other participant has been assigned by X; the "trust level" of any given conversation (from X's point-of-view) can therefore be characterized by the outermost-level participant present.

More detail on some of the levels (these descriptions probably need a little reworking):

Honest and Well-Meaning

  • Definition: Participant is believed to be both:
    • honest: neither knowingly inventing details nor leaving out important information
    • well-meaning: allowing the common good, in at least some areas, to take priority over self-interest
  • Goal: to maximize some combination of the common good and personal gain.
  • Benefits:
    • Participant's opinions may be presumed to reflect what is good for everyone, not just for them (and argued with on that basis, if there is disagreement)
  • Common ground: goals, trust, negotiation

The participant may have more awareness of any decision's possible effects on her/his special areas of interest, and hence act as a sort of advisor to the group in that area, but s/he would not choose an action which favored such interests over the interests of others unless it also seemed to produce the best results overall (for society at large).

This level of negotiation is especially vital in science, where the convention in a disagreement is not only to assume your opponent's unswerving devotion to the discovery of truth (the "common good" which science aims to serve) but also to put the most charitable possible interpretation on any ambiguous statements s/he makes

There is a certain kind of discussion which can only take place at this level, but I am having difficulty characterizing it. --Woozle 19:35, 28 August 2010 (UTC)

Openly Self-Interested

  • Definition: The participant is believed to be honest (as above), but isn't willing to sacrifice local gains (i.e. gains for her/himself or the interests s/he represents) for the greater good without some sort of compensation.
    • Such compensation may be unwritten, as in "you owe me for this one", and hence is not always obvious.
  • Goal: to maximize local gain (for self or constituency).
    • In practice, there is a social cost to embracing opinions seen to be harmful to society at large, so a self-interested negotiator will generally be willing to give the greater good some priority -- but only to the extent that the social gain of doing so outweighs the loss (or increased risk of loss) of supporting a decision which is locally detrimental.
  • Benefits:
    • Participant can be trusted not to hide their personal stake in any particular decision; if they make a statement, it is because that is what they believe, not because they are trying to manipulate the discussion somehow.
  • Common ground: trust, negotiation

Negotiation at this level is generally of a quid pro quo nature.

Political policy can be discussed at this level, but the results are generally consistent with the classic one-liner "if you like sausage and respect the law, you shouldn't watch either one being made". Policy is almost always better constructed if it is consistent with an overall political philosophy (or at least a set of mutually agreed-upon goals), for which an "honest and well-intentioned" discussion is required.


  • Definition: The participant knowingly misrepresents facts or her/himself, but always acts for her/his own local interest
  • Goal: same as "openly self-interested", but may claim to have the greater interest as a top priority
  • Benefits for group: is at least a rational actor; once her/his motives are understood, meaningful negotiation can take place
  • Disadvantages for group: can't be trusted to keep promises, so agreements must have reliable means of enforcement
  • Common ground: negotiation, manipulation

Note that an untrustworthy participant who actually has the common good as a priority still cannot be trusted, as there is no way to establish that this is truly their goal. Such a participant might behave deceptively with good cause until s/he determined that others in the group could be trusted at a higher level.

An untrustworthy negotiator may or may not be a rational actor.

Negotiation at this level is generally of a carrot-and-stick nature.

Covertly Hostile

  • Definition: Entity does not engage in meaningful/honest negotiation, but may go through the motions for various reasons. Takes hostile actions but generally tries to justify them in terms of the common good, often using rhetorical deception.
  • Common ground: manipulation

A hostile may or may not be a rational actor.

Overtly Hostile

  • Definition: Entity refuses to negotiate. May deliberately take actions which prevent negotiation from occurring (e.g. insulting or harming an agent who offers negotiation). Openly takes hostile actions and justifies them solely in terms of its own interest.
  • Common ground: none