Beware defensibility

[epistemic status: confident this is a thing, not sure if I’m framing it right]

I’ve noticed that my writing is usually better when I write it quickly and don’t edit it as much.  Continuously adjusting it results in something blander.  I think this is about defensibility.  Some examples:

  • Academic papers are more defensible than blog posts.
  • Public relations speech is more defensible that private speech.
  • Proofs are more defensible than intuitive arguments.
  • Slowly-written things are more defensible than quickly-written things.
  • “Literal” speech is more defensible than “metaphorical” speech.

Defensibility is about resisting all possible attacks from some class of adversaries.  The more you expect your expression to be picked apart and used against you, the more defensible your expression will be.  Slowly-written things look more polished and the flaws stand out more, so they get nitpicked.

Defensibility can be good.  In mathematics, a defensible argument (i.e. a proof) is more likely to be correct.  In science, a defensible statistical result is more likely to replicate.  Defensible results become blocks of knowledge that others can (and sometimes must) build upon.

Defensibility can be bad.  Academic papers are usually worse at explaining things than blog posts.  PR is usually highly misleading.  Fully formal proofs are usually harder to understand than intuitive arguments.  Defensible art is bland.

Defensibility requires conformity.  If anything you say can and will be used against you, it is better to say the same things others are saying.  Defensible expressions happen in a shared ontology, such as formal logic, or the “ordinary official speech” ontology that Wikipedia uses.

Some expression should be defensible (against different classes of adversaries).  Some shouldn’t be.  It is virtuous to be flexible about defensibility.

2 thoughts on “Beware defensibility

  1. I think that’s right. There’s also the thing where you are trying to get at some poorly understood part of experience and can only gesture at it vaguely, e.g. a lot of literature. If you force defensibility onto a process like that, you end up unable to communicate at all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s