This is a great point, and very nicely made—but I do think it avoids the topic of why people end up in these styles of argument in the first place. I think there would be more value in discussing How to deal with Mob & Bailey situations once they arise rather than How to stop Mob & Bailey situations from arising.
You point out, correctly, that Mob & Bailey situations tend to occur when one is overly anthropomorphising a group of people, as though that group were an individual person.The real problem is, that there are situations where it really is useful to act that way for pragmatic reasons.
At least in my experience, Mob & Bailey arguments tend to happen in fairly broad discussions about group behaviours—perhaps about ideologies, or social practices between groups. These are situations where it is very useful and important to be able to try and address an entire group’s collective behaviour, moreso than addressing how individuals act and rationalise their decisions.
In these cases, what we’re really trying to discuss is the mechanics of how groups are organised, rather than any one individual’s beliefs. If we’re arguing with a Tautology Club which breaks university rules, then talking with the club president does make sense. If we’re arguing with a military, then talking with the Secretary of Defense isn’t a bad place to start—but perhaps investigating middle-management positions would be more practical.
I’d love to read further ideas more along the lines of “How to deal with Mob & Bailey situations”, because I think the results can be quite different depending on which structure of social group you’re arguing with.
I think I disagree with the prevalence of situations where it’s really useful to act like a group is an individual person, but I’m not sure that’s your claim exactly. It’s possible we’re in agreement. Step one of this essay is to crystalize the idea of the Mob, this crowd that can look united but is actually different once you look closer. The conversation between Amy, Bob, and Bella is a caricature but I have seen conversations that resembled it. Sometimes it feels like Twitter is designed to create them.
Once the idea of the Mob & Bailey is in your toolbelt, then yeah, dealing with them once they’ve started is a useful topic (though on the small scale, you can catch yourself midway through an argument and go “Okay, hang on, I’m going to specifically address Bella for a moment here-”) and it can segue into how organizations are structured. I claim the platonic Mob & Bailey is seen when there isn’t a clear structure or where there are lots of people aligned but outside the formal structure, like a political party or a religious group. If I need to convince the United Nations to do something then maybe I start by drawing up their org chart (both formal and informal) but like, I don’t think investigating the social structure of Deists as a group is going to be helpful.
Which, again, we might just agree on. If I want to talk the U.S. Military (a group) into doing something, then I might start by talking to the Secretary of Defense (a person) or I might start by talking to a middle-manager in charge of trainings (a person) or talking to an inventory manager (a person). The reductio ad absurdum version of talking to The U.S. Military (a group) might be standing on the front lawn of the Pentagon with a megaphone. That’s unlikely to get me what I want. I’ve got some ideas on how to deal with talking to things like the U.S. MIlitary (not great ideas, but ideas) but the megaphone thing just doesn’t work.
Yep this feels right to me! I think we agree on pretty much everything about this.
My main concern is that your post as-is could be misinterpreted as being along the lines of “Don’t try to influence groups—only try to influence individuals manually, one at a time”. It’d take a pretty extreme misinterpreter to take this to the full extent, but it could still be a negative influence on peoples’ ability to deal with groups of people in effective ways.
Perhaps a good way of putting this is;
Mob & Bailey scenario: I am talking with X social group, which can consistently be modelled as a person-esque agent
Potential misinterpretation of your post: I am talking with individuals one at a time, and modelling these discussions as being part of a broader social structure is bad
A modelling I’d propose: I am talking with X social group, which can be modelled as a machine, with components of varying functions, comprised of people