Thursday, 16 April 2015

So You Think You're A Reasonable Person. Why?

Me debating with a young man
One thing I pride myself on is that I value truth above everything else, even cherished opinions. As a result I've changed my opinion on IPR, the War on Drugs, legalising prostitution, and a host of other issues because the arguments presented were backed by overwhelming evidence. So, if you're prone to doubling down on a cherished opinion or policy, why do you do that? I'm trying to understand it.

Be credible or begone

Meme: Game of Thrones Ned: Brace Yourselves, Automation FUD is comingIf you want to gain credibility with me, and maybe even change my mind about something, your statements must stand up to scrutiny. If you answer my questions fully and completely and you can back up your assertions with empirical evidence, you've got me. If, however, you resort to logical fallacies and ad hominem attacks, you lose me. If your entire philosophy rests on an inflexible premise, a stack of logical fallacies, and you expect dissenters to go and dig up evidence that supports your assertions, you're not going to gain credibility with anyone. It helps to NOT cite articles that contradict your points.

How not to do it

Don't use a carrot-and-stick approach to promote your theories, that's what conmen do. If your premise has any value, it will stand or fall on its own merits, not whether This Important Person, This Group Of People, or Some Scholars are in favour of it. You will NEVER see me do that with my own opinions on anything. I don't double down on debunked assertions because I'm not afraid to admit to being wrong. If you're more interested in saving face than in being honest, on yer bike.

Meme: shocked cat says, "You disagreed with me. How could you?" I don't understand that black-and-white for it or against it thing. I presume it's about forcing people to take sides, in which case you don't have a credible philosophy, you've got a gang. Disagreeing with a person or position doesn't make them your enemy or anything so don't pretty much tell people you won't be their friend and they're not invited to your birthday if they don't get on board right now, no questions asked.

Don't make fun of people if you want to win them over. If you want to play to their audience, go ahead; there's no point in trying to win over an ideologue; when ideology trumps all, you're wasting your time if you make the effort. Don't project: be self-aware. People who disagree with your ideology might not necessarily be doing so because they're set in their own ideology; perhaps you are talking out of your hat, after all. Leave that possibility open if you want to have a healthy dialogue.

Truth bombs sometimes don't explode

Annoying but true: you carefully craft a blog post with evidence to support your position and post it on Twitter, which also links to your other social media accounts. Great, you think, I'm about to change the world. But the world rolls over and goes back to sleep. What I'm asking here is why people seem to be more fond of bovine bowel movements than in truth.

People are emotional creatures

Like it or not, given a choice between gratifying a physical desire or a metaphysical desire, people generally go for what they think they can get. If you thought you would become more special as a member of an elite group or be put in a position to receive [free] stuff (or money), and all you have to do to get that is to promote a particular agenda, would you do it? Let's be honest, I would. I'm as subject to mortal passions as anyone else but I'm also a firm believer in the American saw, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." The man will take you out to the fancy dinner but he's going to want something in return, am I right? Pointing this out to people seems to annoy them more than make them wake up and go, "Oh, yeah!"

People are social

One of the main reasons why people get on any bandwagon is the "My party, right or wrong," thing. Sometimes it's just an identity thing: if you're American and self-identify as conservative, you may find yourself repeating the American conservative party line for cheerleading purposes, not because you actually understand what you're saying. If you have an emotional, intellectual, or social interest in a particular group, contradicting its tenets is going to be hard as you risk being ostracised for dissent. If you're trying to influence someone who has invested their personal identity with a particular philosophy, good luck with that. If you think you're being reasonable, ask yourself what would happen if you contradicted your philosophy in public. That's your answer.

People are fearful

We all feel fear sooner or later, the trick is not to show it. I'm aware that I'm not among the cool kids, but then, sense and sensibility is not sexy, is it? I'm not a non-conformist for the sake of it but because I'm not some kind of lemming. If everybody else wants to leap off a cliff because the man in the hat is doing it, great. I'm not joining in. I'm not afraid of being left out, of not being invited to the party. What I am afraid of is being dragged into situations I don't like against my will. I've read a lot of FUD about mob rule. Democracy is a civilised process in which people have a say in what happens to them and minority views are taken into account. In a mob rule situation you have no say and must conform to what it wants or risk being attacked. That FUD is often effective as a means to getting people on board is annoying but it is a fact and we need to address it.

People are selfish

One of the oldest con tricks in the book is to convince people that if they go along with it they will gain some kind of advantage, usually financial and/or moral or social. This is why lottery and chain mail scams tend to catch people out. If a Nigerian prince blathered some religious platitudes and appealed to your hypothetical prejudice about governments being inherently corrupt, would you give him your bank account details so he could transfer his money into it and give you a share of his vast fortune by way of thanks? 'Nuff people fall for that one! However, the notion that people fall for scams because they're greedy isn't always true.

People also fall for scams that promise to enable them to project an image of saintly virtue by helping worthy causes, etc. I got scammed by a man who claimed to have had his bike stolen. I gave him the tube fare to get back to Brixton but a few weeks later I saw him again, pulling the same shtick. He denied having ever seen me before in his life. The point is, when you fail to question the Shiny Thing, whatever it is, because it promises to provide you with something you want, you're being selfish. So if you're promoting or supporting a particular philosophy because, "Screw you, I want this!" you've already lost the argument, along with whatever credibility you think you had because the most important consideration with regard to this is your desire for the Shiny Thing.

What can we do?

Not a lot. That people haven't actively tried to take Middle-out on (with one exception) either here on my blog or on Twitter doesn't necessarily mean I've won the argument. However, I do challenge false assertions wherever I see them in the hope of influencing the people who see my posts. Whether or not I'll be successful in the long run remains to be seen, but a girl can dream.

If you want to help me out, please by all means discuss this and other ideas, drilling down to find weaknesses in my arguments so I can either patch the holes or find a better way of dealing with the situation I'm trying to address. As I've said before, over-simplifying things can often make them more complex because nuance needs to be taken into consideration every time. Let's face it, I'm fairly prejudiced where my pet positions are concerned so I'm pretty sure I miss important issues from time to time.

Who says I'm right? I won't be able to find out until someone calls me out on a position I've taken and I have to back down because I can't answer the question without admitting I'm wrong or that my assertions lack merit. I won't mind, honestly, because I'm a reasonable person.

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