Monthly Archives: September 2011

How should we disagree?

After just giving up on another argument with someone who decided I was a miss-informed liberal parrot for no other reason than I held a differing opinion than they, I’m sitting here wondering WTF I was thinking even responding. This person has already decided that their opinion is true and based on rational reasoning without providing any, and that mine amounts to nothing but vomiting of pundit nonsense without even asking what my reasons where. Where can a discussion go from there?

The more I think about it really the more pointless it seems to me to care one way or the other. The truth of the matter probably is that neither one of us actually arrived at our opinions via. reason anyway. We made our opinions, or learned them from our parents, and then invented reasons why those opinions were right. It’s apparently how human brains work, contrary to what we’d like to believe about ourselves. If this is true then clearly nobody is right through anything but accident, so what’s the point of arguing about anything?

Yet interestingly I do care a great deal and have a very hard time letting go of any opinion I might have. It must be admitted that it is very rare that I’m convinced out of any strong opinion. I’m clearly biased in certain ways but of course I also see most of these biases as completely reasonable. On the other hand, the more I think about the facts of human thinking the more I catch myself making decisions before reasoning. When I look back though I can’t find flaw with those reasons either most of the time and still believe what I believe.

Clearly there is a truth out there somewhere in that there are things that are and there are things that are not. Certainly also most people desire to believe in those things that are, and not in those things that are not. It also appears to be that being reasonable would lead one toward believing in more things that are than in things that are not. But if the truth of the matter is that not a one of us uses reason to arrive at beliefs, but only in order to justify them, how the hell are we supposed to figure anything out? Are we really better off with reason than total non-reason?

Yet worse, many of our most ardently felt beliefs, even the ones we consider most founded upon reason, have nothing to do with anything. For example, the topic of discussion was economics. This is an issue that is so complicated that nobody in the entire of human existence has a complete story. There are obviously facts that anyone can cite, but the interpretation of these facts is up for grabs. This is especially true of laymen like myself and my opponent, who would apparently disagree with my assessment that economics is hard. Yet to hear people talk about it you’d think everyone was an expert. So much so that to express an opinion that isn’t in line with another is likely to get you called ignorant or worse.

Another area that I run into even more often is actually an area I happen to be an expert in, software development. This field is littered with the strongest opinions about the most pedantic of issues. Some of them matter in that an agreement must be reached, but most of them do not matter so much in that WHICH agreement is reached is not as important as the fact that one is. Many times I catch myself believing that something should be done a certain way and that I have very good reasons for believing so. The more I look though, even here in my field of expertise, I find that many of my opinions were reached before those reasons were come up with and that when all is said and done…it doesn’t really even matter.

Obviously with regard to the original argument I still believe what I believed to begin with (big surprise, calling someone ignorant isn’t going to make them change their mind). I’m fairly certain the other party likewise still believes what they believe, including that I’m utterly miss-informed and just parrot what others think and say (another very interesting bit of human nature is how often we make absolute judgments about others based on very little information). Nobody gained anything. What has me bothered more than anything right now is not that I wasted all that time and effort arguing with someone like that, but the thought that perhaps nothing is EVER gained through argument or discussion….even under the best of circumstances.

What is more disturbing is that tricks work better than reasons when you want to change peoples’ minds. Experiments have been done in which someone gives another a coke and then asks for some amount of money later. Those who were given the coke are more likely to give money, even quite a bit more than a coke could ever cost. You can do this kind of shit to beliefs too. When psychology is more effective a convincing agent than reason, then how can reason ever win?

It is said that, “You cannot reason people out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.” If none of us ever reason our way into positions, then what’s that say for reason? Can there be a point to reasoning with others or even with ourselves if the only thing we do with it is convince ourselves of what we already believe? If there is no point in reasoning, is there any point in believing?


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