I’ve started following some people I disagree with on Twitter.
Listening to people you disagree with is really quite important. I mean, I talk to hypothetical people I disagree with on this blog all the time, and I act like I’m expecting them to listen. So it’s only polite.
And I do get probably an unhealthy amount of my reporting on what “the other side” think only when it’s been filtered through someone on “my side” reporting on it, with all the expected disdain and righteous indignation that I find it hard not to share.
So I’ve added a few contrarians to my feed. I’m planning to find more blogs to achieve the same thing, too. Feel free to make suggestions. (I’m a libertarian socialist atheist humanist, in case you need a recap on who I’m likely to find utterly antithetical to every value I hold dear.)
Anyway, there’s a particular thought process some of these oppositional commentators seem to spark in me. It goes something like this.
1. This opinion contradicts my understanding of the way things are!
2. I am more rational than to simply dismiss it out of hand, however. I shall follow the attached link and look a bit more closely into what the assertion actually is, and how well it stands up.
3. Well, it isn’t immediately obvious to me what’s wrong here.
4. But something must be, this person’s a tit and clearly on the wrong side of everything.
5. Okay, that’s definitely not a rational conclusion. Can I actually find any holes in this piece of analysis?
7. But it doesn’t mean this person’s right; really, I just don’t understand the subject well enough to have an opinion either way. It’s quite intricately political in an area I’m not well versed in.
8. Is that a cop-out to avoid admitting that I was wrong about something, because this person made a good point?
9. No, I think I really honestly don’t have a clue one way or the other. This seems like a good point, but so did the other stuff I’d already read from the other side. Apparently I can’t reliably tell which of these two opposing viewpoints is making the best points. I really should conclude that I just don’t know what’s going on.
10. Y’know, I probably should’ve started with that before even deciding I had an opinion worth defending.
I’ve also provided myself with a few examples of how a little intelligence and rationality can be a dangerous thing, if they’re deployed and placed strategically so as to continue reinforcing one’s own biases.
In particular, this comes up in my reactions when somebody not part of my “in-group” makes a claim about a contentious subject, as opposed to when somebody who is identified as being on “my side” makes a similar claim, when I don’t have time to fully examine either of them right now.
The contrast between “Hmm, I should study this more carefully later, and also find an informed rebuttal from someone who disagrees, to make sure I’ve got both sides of the story and can fully and rationally assess the truth of the situation” and “Yep, makes sense!” is quite stark.
So I’ve learned some things about my own rationality, and the way my brain works when confronted with ideas and individuals I tend to find unreasonable and infuriating.
On the other hand, I’ve also been reminded that, sometimes, people whose political opinions happen to differ significantly from mine are also horrible. Just unbearably, viciously, despicably horrible.
So there’s that.