Taking Children Seriously

Common Preferences

Posted by Elliot Temple
on the TCS List on Tue Nov 5, 2002, at 1:13:33 am

If two people have theories they prefer to enact, and there is some conflict that makes the realisation of both impossible, then there is a problem, and I want to specify this is a Relationship Problem (rproblem) because there are other types of problems too. Unresolved rproblems result in coercion because someone's active theory doesn't get enacted.

Common preferences, solutions everyone prefers to their initial positions, are really just any resolution to an rproblem – a way to deal with an rproblem without coercion. This is because if there is no coercion, then some/all of the conflicting theories must have changed to not conflict, and if there is no coercion, then everyone is happy with the change (genuinely prefers new stance).

Are common preferences always possible? This is the same question as “can rproblems be resolved without coercion?” Yes, they can. And this does not require infinite creativity, nor time, nor energy, nor resources, nor perfect communication. What does stop common preferences are hangups and irrationalities (and not trying...).

The reason is that common preferences do not depend on solving any particular problem. There are hundreds (really an infinity) of different improvements one could make to an assortment of relevant theories that would bring the parties involved to a state where their active preferences do not conflict. Common preferences don't require total convergence on any issue, nor agreement about what is at stake, nor understanding what the other person wants with perfect accuracy, but only doing these things enough to make some improvement that only has to be good enough to resolve the apparent conflict. If each person resolves what they think the conflict is from their perspective, even if they've solved totally different things and totally misunderstood the real problem, they've still found a common preference because they proceed happily and without coercion.

One common cause for confusion is that many people seek mechanical solutions to problems and do not understand the response that solutions require creativity. The dialogues go something like this:

Joe: How do I solve problem X?
curi: Try Y.
Joe: How do I solve problem X if Y isn't an option?
curi: Try Z.
Joe: How do I solve problem X if Y or Z aren't options??
curi: Try W.
Joe: How do I solve problem X if Y, W, or Z aren't options??
curi: Solving problems requires creativity.
Joe: Huh? Are you saying you don't have an answer and X can't be solved?

Real solutions to difficult problems rely on this or that aspect of the situation – there are always lots of details in which numerous solutions are contained. Whenever curi offers a solution, Joe wonders “well, what if the situation was slightly different so that wouldn't work – what if luck was not on my side” (the answer is that this new situation would have some other solution instead) and cannot accept any solution that seems to rely on happenstance. Joe is looking for some way that will always work regardless of the details and arbitrary constraints he invents – a solution that can be applied without thinking.

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