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10 reasons why the lived experience argument is flawed

I recently watched the interview with James Altucher and Andrew Tate. The conversation shifted to Tate's view that his opinion has greater weight than statistics and data when it came to his view on women were unsafe drivers (a stereotype).

Our life is not driven by statistics, we make most day to day to decisions from our experiences. But in the case of running organizations or creating public policy lived experience is a poor decision-making tool.

The argument goes:

  • "Truth is subjective and personal experience transcends objective facts."
  • "Truth is personal and we can’t make that judgment"
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    1. Not a good way to run a business

    More and more companies are making data-driven decisions they have even gone as far as automating the process with self-correcting machine-learning models to run their business from.

    2. Not a good way to make public policy decisions

    Creating public policy by polling and imagined slights is a poor way to govern people. How can that view even be validated objectively?

    3. Not a good way to legally adjudicate people

    The legal system is based on objective truth not lived experience. If we ran courts via ad hoc laws, decisions would be based on feelings and subjectivity, and a lack of consistency in decision-making.

    4. Incorporates unvalidated assumptions

    The lived experience incorporates several unvalidated assumptions and accepts them on the face of it.

    5. Poor way to resolve conflicts and differences

    If two people have different experience that lead to conflicting state about reality. How do we determine which statement is true?

    6. Rhetorically persuasive but not reliable

    It relies on personal experience or anecdotal evidence instead of facts or research. This can make the argument seem more persuasive, but it is not a sound way to support a claim.

    7. Opining on lived experiences and then hiding behind, "opinions" when pressed is evasive

    People hide behind "opinions" when they say something outrageous

    I remember when Moodys was being crucified by the US congress on how their rating contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. There response was, "We were just giving our opinion."

    In the same way, when people get caught saying something incendiary, they just use the I was just stating an opinion; not everyone will agree. But hey I am off the hook. It's mild public gaslighting - "you interpreted what I said wrong if you really analyzed what I meant, you would see I am right."

    I think there is a balance between how you craft words in a public domain vs how people interpret things. The truth about human nature we tend to assume negative intent on words. And you can't sit all the day imagining all the negative connotations of your words. But a good question would ask, "If the average person reads this, how would they likely view it."

    There are dedicated companies (PR firms, spin doctors, etc.) that help craft messages so that people don't misunderstand something. And cynically, you might say they craft messages to send erroneous signals like dog whistling. But it does prove that a properly developed message will reduce misinterpretation.

    8. Lived experience does not mean you are an expert

    People assume that if you have experience in something, you must be good at it. This happens a lot with hiring candidates.

    • What was the nature of the experience?
    • Did they use the best practices?
    • What was the quality of their output, and did it lead to positive, tangible outcomes?

    9. Lived experience is not always correct

    We often go through life copying social norms or making quick judgments and creating arbitrary rules to help navigate the world. And we think we are right, maybe it's by feeling, culture, religion, or social proof. That does not mean that it is accurate or based on reality.

    10. Nobody can fully comprehend another's experience

    Everyone has different lived experiences, and it would be impossible to fully comprehend what any one person might be thinking. But to suggest that an individual worldview is true of the larger world is catastrophic at worst and arrogant at best.

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