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Doubling Down on Convictions

Carrie Rasak

Posted on June 24, 2019 17:43

4 users

It's good to have principles and moral values, but it doesn't make sense to be so rigid that there is no room to adjust your thinking.

I've noticed something lately.

In the past, as recently as five or ten years ago, I could be having a discussion with someone and disagree with them, but we could almost always either find common ground or understand where the other person was coming from. I don't mean something that is truly black and white--anyone who says something as egregious as, say, murdering children is not someone I wish to engage with--but something like health care or immigration policies could be discussed, perhaps colorfully, but we could still generally find something to agree on or understand the other point of view.

This is almost never the case today. I find people either agree with me or just say "you're wrong because X", with no attempt made to understand where I am coming from or why I feel the way I do.

This could be due to many different things. Many viewpoints today are very polarized. You cannot civilly disagree with someone who believes that certain people should have basic human rights whereas others shouldn't. That's a hard stop for me. And it may be that after the 2016 election here in the US, people who might have expressed themselves moderately in the past are now emboldened to convey their more hardline, extreme views. I think that's true sometimes.

I also believe that some people are just more likely to dig in their heels and hold fast to their beliefs, whether or not facts back them up. They'll say things like "the Left/Right created a narrative to make things look a certain way, and it's simply not true" or "the Church says we're supposed to believe this, so I do." Anything that doesn't fall in their worldview is fake news (how many times have we heard that?), made up by the other side, and simply not true, no matter what evidence there is. When confronted by the facts, rather than adjusting their thinking, they will dismiss the evidence as false.

This phenomenon is known as the backfire effect: doubt turning people into stronger advocates. It has been tested experimentally here and there and is fascinating to observe. Unfortunately, the backfire effect makes it very difficult for rational discussion to take place. You can't find common ground when opposing opinions are simply dismissed.

So, what's the solution? There are some ways to fight it, but I've not had much success with these techniques. When faced with the backfire effect, I'm more likely to shut the conversation down, which is a shame. We would all do well to be aware of this and be more open minded to other people's views, even if they are in direct conflict with our own-- as long as it's not something that amounts to "you think you deserve basic human rights and I don't think you do." I, for one, miss intelligent discourse.

Carrie Rasak

Posted on June 24, 2019 17:43

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