Testing Reason: The Nuclear Option

Passing or failing this test does not mean you are reasonable or unreasonable all of the time. If you think that, you don’t understand the point of the test. It is not a measure of intelligence.
The test is actually one simple question. What is the likelihood of nuclear war in the near future?

The most correct answer is surely that it is “low”. It gives a person wiggle room and shows that they understand the world is not a binary situation, unlike another possible answer. This is where you will have the most fun.

Read this carefully to learn a little about persuasion.

My hypothesis is that a lot of people will answer “zero”. That thought is the most comforting, so it should come easily to a person’s mind when they don’t really think about it.

Did you catch that?

The question was indefinite (“near future”) with an answer that is impossible to confirm. A person would need to hold information about the laws, militaries, governments, political relations, and people of every superpower on Earth to give a precise answer. But “zero” sounds good to me so let’s go with that.

I will clarify here that you could do this same type of trick on me. It would probably work if I didn’t recognize it. Come up with your own example.

For extra fun, ask them to explain why the answer is zero if they say zero. This will commit them harder to their position. Then remind them it can’t be zero. Switch up the type of wording you use when you do it. Notice how the first question uses the unspecific words, “likelihood” and “near future”. Switch to talking about probability.

Reconfirm with them. “You think the probability of a nuclear war is zero?” They will say yes because that is a statement with near equivalent meaning. “Ok. So did it go up or down in the past year?”

Again, there is no way to directly answer the question without trapping yourself. Expressing any certainty in the answer demonstrates that they do not understand how complex the world is. It is impossible for anyone to answer this question and be confident that they are correct. The probability obvious was higher or lower at some point in the past year. There are too many variables.

The question also works as a litmus test for how much fear the media has pumped into their minds about Trump. People who became scared (or more scared) of Trump when Hillary invited them to imagine nuclear war will tell you something about Trump being dangerous.

There is room for fun here too. Just ask them “how much?” Again, it is impossible to say. But because people are uncomfortable saying that they do not know, your mark will probably wave his arms around and stammer something about “a lot”. You can see how this has endless opportunity for fun.


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