When I was in my first year of law school, exams were terrorizing. This was a new realm and the usual rules didn’t apply. Law exams are unlike any other really, since absolutely different and opposed answers can both be correct. It’s all in the analysis. Critical thinking remember?
So, I’ve finished a brutal exam in property. I’m walking out, down the sidewalk, heading to car or whatever, when I hear behind me folks discussing question four. I start to hear an answer that has nothing to do with what I wrote.
I panic, and begin an ever growing nanananananananana, hoping to stamp out the voices behind me. My motto is and was, never discuss with another a test that is over. It can only upset you, and you can do nothing about it.
My point, is that we are all very guilty a lot of the time, in deliberately blocking out information if it conflicts with what we take for granted as true. The degree to which we succumb, is directly proportional to how dearly we need to believe what we have up to then believed. We stop investigating too soon, and turn to justifying our position.
In this we err badly it seems to me, and as I said, we are all guilty to one degree or another. Most of us have the good sense to stop when presented with fairly overwhelming evidence (read most of the world disagrees with us). Some of us do not. This suggests that the reality we have adopted is so important to us that we dare not even think it might be wrong. Bad things happen to those whose trust is wavering.
Yesterday, I was led by link to a disreputable site, but one that is in business as a far right rag. Even the crazier right has never quoted from it as far as I have seen, but it does represent a small fringe belief, and so I dutifully read such swill, if only to see what the other side is using to justify it’s position. And it is not outside the realm of possibility that I might learn something I need to know.
It basically said, that because “some locals” were of a mind to “to think” that the murdered census taker might have stumbled upon a drug lab, he “might” have been murdered by drug dealers, who “might” be illegals. Illegals meaning people from countries who have come here without benefit of papers, i.e., bad people.
Now that’s a mightily lot of mights, and maybes and thinks, in there. To anyone who thinks at all critically, it is fraught with error, and laughable. I mean it’s not the greatest stretch to think that the man might have stumbled on a moonshine operation up in the mountains, but how likely it is it that Latinos are in charge? In Kentucky? I mean seriously.
What the story points up is not the ludicrousness of the “report” which is utter nonsense to any thinking person, but that someone posted it as “better look at this!”, thinking it evidence that we should have a more stringent border policy. It is the result, I would argue of the person who is afraid to actually think past their worldview and investigate the truth of other ideas.
We move too quickly often from investigating that which threatens our comfort zone to searching for ANY report that will bolster what we want to be the truth.
It has been said of me, that my faith is weak, in some part because I don’t hold much of anything as written in stone. My faith is strong, but my beliefs are fluid. I try to be open to proofs that take me in new directions, even when it means I must seriously alter my theology. I try, which is why I read a lot of dissonant material, to read stuff that I know going in won’t agree with what I think. I look for kernels of truth, but sometimes, I admit, I look more for holes I can exploit.
The trick is knowing when to do either. When can you safely set aside what the opposition says as bunk and when are you honor bound to actually pursue their line of thinking? I suspect there are no hard and fast rules here. But I have a few ideas.
- Be sure to read what you don’t like from time to time. And read the more reputable of that genre. William F. Buckley and William Safire were surely more likely to have truth in some measure that a Michele Malkin will.
- Pay serious attention to the words being used. Are there lots of “some people” “the folks” and such that it is clear that there are no actual people but a a vague “some.” The writer usually hasn’t researched and so has no idea if there are 3 people are 300. Thus the word “some.” Qualifiers that are wide open make for suspect conclusions.
- Pay attention how many “ifs” have to be met before you can get from A to F. With each “if” a thing becomes more statistically implausible.
- How much ad hominem do you find? One report I just read, said that the right wing religious tend to use the word “Darwinist” as if it meant worship of a man and his principles, rather than conscious logical adherence to a well-proven theory of science.
- How important is it that you’re right? Will you belief system crumble and leave you adrift if it’s not true? It shouldn’t you know. Truth shouldn’t scare people. If it does, then something more psychological is at work than correct thinking.
- How much of a minority are you in? If it’s great, and especially if you are picking and choosing within a area as to what fits your belief system or not, then beware. You may well be stuck in what you need to believe. Case in point the creationist who picks what science he can accept and what he can’t. Science is science and demonizing any subsection of it means something else is at work.
- What are the credentials of the source you have chosen? Does the person have any training, education, or long term life experience in the field in question? Are the degrees from diploma mills? Is it difficult to learn of the credentials? Honest specialists usually want you to know these things.
What amused me and caused me to write this, is a little parody that I found on the census taker’s murder. It is every bit as irrational as the first one I told you about, but this one is done as parody and not put forth as explanation. Hopefully, you will see the point.