Where Logic Meets Love

6 Red Flags that You've Stopped Seeking the Truth

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

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6 Red Flags that You've Stopped Seeking the Truth | Faith Permeating Life

There are a lot of complicated questions in this life that don't have straightforward answers and are worth having intelligent, respectful debates about.

For example:
  • Is there a higher power, and if so, what does that mean for how we live our lives?
  • What role should a government play in supporting its citizens to lead healthy lives?
  • What does a quality education look like, and how can we ensure the opportunity to have that for the largest number of people possible?
  • What is the best approach or combination of approaches to have fewer unintended pregnancies?
  • Which actions should be considered crimes, and what consequences to those crimes are appropriate?
  • How much responsibility should a country have for the well-being of another country's citizens?

I enjoy hearing or reading intelligent, respectful, evidence-based viewpoints on topics like these. Particularly for topics I don't know much about, I appreciate opportunities for those with different viewpoints to debate an issue directly so that difficult questions can be asked and answered, and the evidence for and against certain suggestions can be presented. I think that if we as humans want to make decisions that best benefit us and our world, it's worth having discussions about what will get us there.

This is why it drives me nuts when people use unproductive and unhelpful tactics to try to argue their viewpoints.

When I see these tactics used, it's a sign to me that someone has prioritized winning an argument over seeking the truth. Or as this tweet put it, "You're not really interested in believing THE TRUTH unless you take seriously the possibility that what you presently believe is NOT TRUE."

If you have to resort to these tactics in order to make your case, then that should be a red flag to you that maybe you need to reconsider whether the argument you're making is actually accurate.

Here are some clues that you might be on the wrong path:
  • If making your case requires knowingly lying -- that is, continuing to share theories or statistics that have been unequivocally refuted by all available evidence... you are probably wrong.
  • If your argument is supported primarily by facts or statistics that you or your organization made up... you are probably wrong.
  • If you go to great lengths to avoid being exposed to opposing viewpoints (and to prevent your children and/or followers from learning about other viewpoints)... you are probably wrong.
  • If your only way of responding to an opposing viewpoint is relying on logical fallacies -- exaggerating the other viewpoint, bringing in irrelevant information, or otherwise misrepresenting what you're responding to... you are probably wrong.
  • If sticking to your viewpoint requires ignoring or downplaying other people's life experiences -- denying their feelings, insisting they're exaggerating, or assuming they're lying... you are probably wrong.
  • If you must comment anonymously to respond to an article or blog post... you might be right, or you might not, but chances are you're not expressing your viewpoint in a way you're proud of.

I am not of the belief that "the ends justify the means" when it comes to seeking the best way to function as a country, as a religion, or simply as human beings. I believe that if something is right and true, there is no need to fear tough questions or thorough investigation.

It's certainly possible to engage in a civil and evidence-based debate and still be wrong. Sometimes it's just a matter of not having all the relevant information; in other cases, what's being debated is entirely theoretical or future-based and no one yet knows what the answer will be. And sometimes disagreements about the right course of action come down to fundamentally different definitions of what is "good," "right," "healthy," "beautiful," "loving," etc.

But if making your case requires habitually stretching the truth or outright lying, avoiding disagreement, dodging direct questions, or denying responsibility for your own statements, then it's time to take a good look at whether you like the side of the fence that you're on.

What do you think? What other argument tactics inhibit the search for truth -- or just drive you nuts?

9 comments:

  1. Amen to this!

    I remember a few years ago, one of my classmates was writing a letter to the university, asking for toilet seat covers in the bathrooms. In order to make a convincing argument, she was researching whether it was possible to catch a disease from a toilet seat. I remember thinking "I hope it is possible" because that would give her a convincing argument.

    Then I realized, that was kind of silly, for me to WANT toilet seats to spread disease. And that if I was thinking along these lines, then I wasn't being honest about the real reason I agreed with her.

    Kind of a silly story, but it showed me I need to be honest about the real reasons I believe what I believe, instead of hoping bad things happen so I can have a better argument.

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    1. Yup, exactly.

      Your comment made me think about school assignments and how we might actually learn to seek only the evidence that agrees with us / supports our case. I think it was pretty rare to get an assignment saying, "Explain the arguments for and against this policy." Instead, the assignment was usually, "Pick a side and write a paper defending your position."

      In my freshman year English class in college, we were asked to pick a topic on which to write a persuasive paper. I chose to do it on the effectiveness of social norms campaigns for preventing college alcohol abuse. I had to keep putting aside article after article that offered evidence in the opposite direction -- that the campaigns were ineffective. Eventually I realized that almost every article saying they were effective was written or co-written by the same researcher! So I had to go back to my instructor and tell her I was switching my topic to write about how social norms campaigns were ineffective, and then go back and find all of those articles I had put aside previously. But I think there are many people still who want to believe that these campaigns have a big impact on college campuses, so they refer to this one guy's work without seeking out what the entire body of literature says on the topic.

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    2. Oooh this is a good point. Being able to understand both sides of an issue should definitely be emphasized in school.

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  2. A popular panel-discussion TV show here in Aus had a Protestant Archbishop on this week and while he was very calm, polite and respectful to everyone's viewpoints, one other panel member consistently interrupted and spoke over him. This person also was extremely insulting to him and was unwilling to listen. It was very frustrating to watch. I definitely think this falls under your category of 'going to great lengths to avoid being exposed to opposing viewpoints'. The sad thing is, it was a great opportunity for a calm and rational discussion about important topics that don't often get much balanced airplay, but this wasn't able to happen.

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    1. That's unfortunate :( I saw a quote recently that communication problems can be traced back to listening only to reply, not listening to understand. When people only want to share their viewpoint without wanting to hear another's, it has stopped being a conversation.

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  3. You're right about the red flags! Another is if you refuse to read anything new on the topic but frequently reread the articles/books that best support your point of view.

    Anonymous writing, though, is something you might do in order to speak truth. If your honest experiences include behaviors for which some people would harm you if they knew, then it may be safer to speak anonymously, and you actually can be more honest.

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    1. That's true that anonymous writing isn't always bad -- I mean, that's the reason we typically run anonymous surveys, so people will be encouraged to be honest. In the blogging world, I have occasionally seen people use anonymity to share something personal about themselves, but unfortunately more often than not I see anonymous comments used to disagree in a less-than-civil tone. I think it's worth reminding people that if they're unwilling to attach their name to their viewpoint in a debate or controversial discussion, perhaps they should rethink what they're saying or whether they're being too defensive or combative.

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  4. I don't exactly know how I came across your blog here, but I very much enjoy your insight. In your "Clue" portion, I love the statement about relying on logical fallacies and the comment about ignoring/downplaying others life experiences.
    On the other hand, I have to ask about the anonymously (anon) point. Is there a gray area in that or do you believe that it's dichotomous? I ask from experience (full disclosure) by being in a situation that enables you to speak up with the advantage of anon. Example, on a company's internal web-chat, you're able to address sexual harassment/discrimination and in doing so get others feedback, anon or not, either way you don't have to feel out of place or like a walking target at work the next day.
    Or, do you feel like that isn't an appropriate means to acknowledge the situation?

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I responded to this in the comment above. To reiterate, there are definitely situations were anonymity is warranted. But in the specific situation I mentioned (responding to an article or blog post), I rarely see anonymity used as a means of sharing personal experiences and far more often as a mask behind which to criticize someone's ideas in a way that's not helpful or constructive.

      I don't often see things as black-and-white / dichotomous so I wouldn't say there's never a place for anonymous comments, but I think it's worth reminding people that if they aren't willing to attach their name to their comments, they should probably think twice about how exactly they're phrasing their comment.

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