Sheeplock and Dachson were enjoying a leisurely afternoon stroll through town, having finally gotten some time away from solving cases. After a stop at a local coffee house (that coincidentally also had the best alfalfa cubes and smoked bones in town) they were ready to move on when a protester set up outside. Intrigued, they decided to see what the protest was about.
The gentleman began “Everyone, listen to me. We have a problem in this town. A severe problem. Our bushes, hedges and shrubbery are out of control. And this may shock you, but it’s part of a nefarious plan. These foliage fences are nothing more than a means to hide evil deeds. Why 3 of the last 10 crimes were committed in houses hidden behind shrubbery shields. We must act now and tear down everything. Only then can we stop the evil doers.”
Dachson stepped forward and asked “Excuse me sir, but what about the Rockingfella Estate just outside of town that maintains such exquisite landscaping? Must it’s immaculate foliage go as well?”
The protester responded “Well, no, um, I was just considering occurrences within our own town.
Then Sheeplock asked “Are you aware that some domiciles have obtained zoning permits to grow hedges so as to block streetlights or other visual pollutants from reaching the house? Are we to tell these people we are taking away the rights they have already been given?”
The protester started sweating at this point and stammered “Obviously, um, yeah, we shouldn’t take away anyone’s legal rights, of course.”
Dachson lifted his cane and pointed to a nearby yard with beautifully clipped evergreen yews in the shape of woodland creatures and was about to speak when the protestor suddenly shouted “OK folks, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. Thank you. And remember, trim your hedges!” before grabbing his soapbox and racing off.
What our protester here was doing is known as Hedging – yeah, pun intended. When hedging, a person will refine or revise their claim to keep it in line with competing evidence. As we saw with our protester, first he refined it to only in the town, then further by not including legal plantings. Apparently, he was worried he couldn’t hedge further as he ran off before Dachson could ask another question.
Let’s look at a more common example you might see. At a healthcare debate a speaker is saying that the government must stop paying for care because it’s bankrupting the country and individuals, corporations and insurance companies should take that burden. When asked what to do about people who can’t afford individual insurance and aren’t insured through their employer the speaker may hedge by saying “Well, obviously we would maintain provisions to continue to cover those in dire need.” Then when pressed on the inevitable climb in rates for many people our speaker may hedge further with “We plan to keep running until existing patrons can work out more affordable deals, which may be several years.” If asked about why government plans were better than private ones, our speaker is actively planting more hedges when he says “The government may maintain health plans for the needy while providing overlap for existing customers and can create more low-cost plans – but, and I emphasize this, we must get rid of government healthcare!”
We’re more likely to hedge when we are very attached to some item or idea and we’ll often jump through a lot of fiery hoops to keep our position. Let’s suppose that I think the movie Airplane is the greatest movie ever made (because I do, and it is!) Someone may tell me that it was great, but the jokes are based on the current events of when it was made. Ok, so I admit it was the greatest movie of its time. Then someone tells me some of the jokes were pretty off color and just don’t work anymore. Again I have to admit, minus a few bad jokes and for its time, it’s still the best. How much farther will I keep hedging to maintain my position? Oh, you’d be amazed, I really like this movie. I’m sure many of us would do this with one thing or another.
By now you should have some knowledge of what hedging is, how it works, and how it’s not actually horticultural landscaping. This is another fallacy that we should work on stopping ourselves from doing, or at least recognize when we are. Perhaps if we work to understand why we hold a particular position then we can explain those reasons, instead of revising ourselves after each counterclaim. This could possibly avoid the argument all together. Well, I’m off to watch Airplane again and if you try to tell me it’s not funny then “Surely, you can’t be serious.”