Time to realise there are idiots on both sides

Most people who disagree with you do so because they’re kind of stupid.

Of course, you knew that already.

But note I have no idea whom I’m talking to. Your opponents could also read this, and I’m also telling the same thing to them. You don’t agree with that, do you?

The thing is this: People in general aren’t experts on most topics. People in general are kind of lazy to find out more, and when they do, people in general are affected by confirmation bias and tend to see what they already believe. People in general tend to hang on to their beliefs for various irrational reasons. People in general, when they disagree, often think in such different ways from each other that they don’t even understand the other’s perspective and just fail to communicate. People in general are affected by the fact that there is so much false information generated and spread all the time. People in general don’t tend to appreciate how easy it is to be wrong for all these reasons.

Further, it’s much easier to see these kind of flaws in your opponents than those on your side. People tend to find far more fault than there is in arguments to conclusions they don’t like, and far less fault in those whose conclusions they do like.

What I’m getting at is this: To some extent, even when people are right, they are very often so by accident, not because they are overall smarter. The converse applies also: when they are wrong, the only difference is often bad luck. No matter what the debate, there will be people doing it badly on both sides.

(And no, it doesn’t really make them “idiots”. That’s just a quick and vulgarly effective way of putting it. Even “kind of stupid” is problematically oversimplified. For precisely the reasons above, it’s perfectly normal to be mistaken.)

So pardon me if I’m unimpressed at how dumb you find people who disagree with you and how little you think of their evidence — unless you’re looking at the very best representatives, and not just assuming so because you don’t know any better. In truth, you can’t go around being actually critical without finding flaws on your own side and, at least where there’s any actual room for controversy, something good on the other side.

PS. I should note that this also applies to being rude, intolerant, closed-minded, gullible, dishonest, and so forth. Being on the side that is right overall doesn’t make you immune to those things, and so they apply to some people on every side.

PPS. I have now written about a weird example of this.


Sometimes, it’s better to disagree only a little when you disagree totally

Consider arguments about how things are in the world or how things should be done — is there evidence of Bigfoot, is religion good or bad, is Obama a good or bad president, what we should do about conflict X in country Y, whatever. All too often, these involve people talking or shouting past each other, unable to agree about anything. The main reason for this is probably that they just start from such different positions that they can’t even understand what the other is saying or consider whether even some of it might be right; the opponent just sounds like an idiot that keeps saying obviously false things all the time. Another thing worth noting is that people tend to be emotionally invested in their basic, overall beliefs about the matter, and will not easily change those.

Here, I want to point to one thing that follows from this problem, one way of doing things that can improve the matter at least a little. If the conversation is to lead anywhere at all, you can’t try to do everything at once. Continue reading