Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What Offends Me Most in the Public Arena is Sloppy Thinking

What follows below began as a reply to a comment elsewhere. I expand it here, because there's a point to be made. During the next year, when political and social discourse is only going to get more and more heated, and stupid, and partisan, and uncivil, do think hard about what you're going to say, before you open your mouth and prove yourself to be an idiot. NONE of my friends are idiots; and occasionally some of them do look that way. Why? Read on. (I won't be offended if you don't; however, next time we disagree on something, I might not take you very seriously.)

Lots of folks get offended very easily these days. The interwebs are full of outrage, and manufactured outrage, and partisan political discourse, and angry rhetoric, and name-calling ad hominem attacks, and friends yelling at each other because of some political opinion. Its ridiculous. As if people cannot bear to be disagreed with, ever, for any reason. But the echo-chamber of complete agreement does not serve us in the public intellectual arena: you cannot go deeper into your own beliefs and understanding if they are never questioned.

I don't say I never get offended; I do. However, what I find offensive is rarely about the content of your argument, but rather about the consistency and logic of your argument. I get along perfectly well with people I disagree with on many issues; I get along poorly with people who throw half-baked aphorisms at me and expect to nod my head in instant agreement. Even if I otherwise agree with them on many points, I don't give their half-baked opinions a free pass just because I mostly agree. This does offend people, yes. Such friends do get upset with me when I point out the gigantic holes in their arguments; they need to get used to that, because that's not going to change. I think for myself, do my own research, and rarely take things at face value.

Because what offends me most is not the contents of peoples' opinions, no matter how bizarre, but the logical inconsistencies and contradictions that they present.

The main thing that ever strongly offends me is blatant hypocrisy. Inconsistent logic comes a close second, though. (Hypocrisy itself is logically inconsistent, of course, which is one reason it's so heinous.) Most of the comments I make in socio-political discussions are to point out where rhetoric and logic aren't being used correctly, or at all. Which does offend some folk who prefer that their prejudices not be questioned or exposed to the light of logic. Typically, ad hominem personal attacks come from those who fear that their argument doesn't have a logical leg to stand on.

Sadly, this is true for atheists just as much as it is for religious believers. It is as true for progressives as it is for conservatives—although experience teaches that progressives generally tend to do their research more thoroughly than do conservatives. Again, the point is logical consistency, not the contents of your argument. For example, if people claim to be driven by reason rather than prejudice or superstition, they must consistently apply reason to their own arguments, and expose their underlying assumptions to the light of reason. No pre-judgment and no underlying assumption gets a free pass.

No one should be tolerant of prejudice or unreason, not even their own. No one gets a free pass.

I am not required to tolerate intolerance, prejudice, stupidity, or poorly-informed opinion. In fact, as followers and fans of Mark Twain, it is a public service to skewer faulty reason and prejudicial thinking wherever one encounters it. Even, yes, amongst one's erstwhile allies.

For example, while it is perfectly possible to hate that abortions happen and still be pro-choice—i.e. in favor of women having the right to manage their own bodies and their own health, while also wishing that every child was a wanted child—you cannot pretend to be logically consistent if you want to defund Planned Parenthood and still claim to be pro-women's rights: those two positions are oxymoronic when placed side by side, and yes you do look misogynistic when you attempt to do so.

For example, you cannot use the inflamed rhetoric of your antagonist without looking like a mirror image of your antagonist. You cannot call your interlocutor an idiot without opening yourself to the same charge. You cannot insist that your opponent's argument be subjected to rigorous logic and scientific experiment without exposing your own arguments to the same requirement. No double standards are allowable, ever. Period.

What also offends me is when people repeat a meme without fact-checking it; especially if that meme came from certain sources. Always Consider The Source (CTS). For example, Planned Parenthood receives Federal funding, yes, but none of that Federal funding goes to support abortion services; furthermore, Planned Parenthood provides many services such as birth control—which prevents unwanted pregnancies, and therefore reduces the incidence of abortions as well—and the abortion services they provide are only a fraction of their services. If you believe otherwise, you have bought into the disinformation smear campaign of the political right wing, and you need to check your facts. For example, if you believe that right wing charities and ethically and morally superior to charities that are either political neutral or sponsored by generally progressive religious groups such as the Methodists, you again need to check you facts, and not assume that every piece of disinformation you read is accurate or authentic.

Data overrules half-baked opinion, every time. Fact overrules political prejudice, every time. Period. Know your facts before you open your mouth, or you can expect to be challenged.

People, you look really stupid and uninformed if you repeat a meme because it agrees with your prejudices, or your well-considered opinions, but is provable disinformation or lies. (CTS)

People seem to get offended whenever I present a nuanced opinion rather than total agreement with whatever their current bumper-sticker opinion is. People also get offended when I point out the holes in their arguments. Oh well.

Finally, we all can be wrong. I can be wrong, you can be wrong, people you admire and respect can be wrong. The history of politics as well as the history of science is littered with strongly held beliefs proven to be wrong at a later date.

But here's the problem with being wrong: If you never admit you're wrong, or apologize for making a mistake, you have no credibility. By admitting when you're wrong, and moving on, you both grow as a person, and your group grows in wisdom. If you are completely unable to admit you are wrong, as people of fixed prejudices are unable to admit the light of reason into their opinions, you are a hypocrite, and logically inconsistent, and everything wrong that I've been talking about here. When you discover you're wrong, admit it, and move on. There is honor is honesty. There is no honor is face-saving lies.

If someone disagrees with you, you TALK to them about it. You find out if in fact you substantially disagree, or if it's mostly semantic. Coexistence requires communication. And that requires getting outside the comfort zone of your dearly-held opinions. It requires you to let them be challenged, so that you can hone them, or change them if required.

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