Thursday, October 27, 2011

Your Arguments are Invalid

 About 15 times a day I read something so good and fun I think, "I wish I had written that," and then I share it with the world.

Here's one of those occasions.

Over at The Last Word on Nothing, Christie Aschwanden looks at the business of blog commentary in a post humorously entitled, "You've got mail, you Idiot!"

Read the whole thing

Seriously, it's good stuff

That said, here's a long quote that more or less summarizes a few core points (but without the humorous graphics, hint, hint):

[T]ell readers that they’re wrong about something they know in their heart to be true, and they will send you hate mail...

Now it’s tempting to dismiss these angry readers as a bunch of idiots. But they’re not, and the truth is, I know where they’re coming from. I’ve been that person.

I’m married to an amazing guy. Dave is like those honeybees that always know the way back to the hive. Me, I’ve gotten myself lost in the Hearst building.

We’ll be hiking and we’ll come to a split in the trail and I’ll point one way and say, we need to go here. And Dave will say no, actually, this is the right way (as he points in the opposite direction). And I’ll insist that, no, this is the way.

And then he’ll point out that my way peters out below some cliff face. Which only pisses me off. The more evidence he shows me that I’m wrong, the more insistent I become — I’m right and he’s wrong....

... So when Dave tells me that his way is right and mine is straight up a cliff, I think, oh yeah? Well I’m smart, independent and capable, so therefore I’m correct. I would never point us in the wrong direction.

See, it’s never really about the hiking trail. It’s about some bigger story you’ve told yourself. I’m not taking issue with Dave’s direction. I know he’s right. But the factual mumbo jumbo he’s showing me clashes with the story I’ve told myself. I don’t like what it says about me.

The idea that I could be giving wrong directions contradicts the vision I have of myself as a competent person. I’m sure that I know the right direction, because I’m too smart to lead us astray.

When Dave points out that I am directing us to a cliff face, here’s how I process the evidence. Dave’s way = I’m a helpless, dumb blonde. But I’m not a dumb blonde, I know I’m not, and so I reject his facts.

Which is the same thing that happens when the vitamin takers read my story.

They see the vitamin headline and they hear: your vitamin pill is a worthless scam, sucker! And then they think, no way! I’m no sucker — therefore this article is wrong. They reject the evidence.

Because the story they’ve told themselves is that they’re smart and “proactive” for taking the vitamin. In that story, it’s possible to protect yourself from scary diseases by taking a vitamin pill. And honestly, who doesn’t want to live in that world?


Fantasy is comfortable, and we all like to hear stories that support our core frame, which is that we are pretty smart, pretty well-informed, quite experienced, and that the world operates exactly as we think it does all the time.

And so one party tunes in to MSNBC and the other tunes into Fox, and fewer and fewer people bother to color outside the lines or even consider getting all the facts, much less tease through the competing explanations for all those facts.

Of course, people often know when they are driving faster than their headlights.  They may not slow down, of course, but they know. And so what do they do?

On the Internet, they post comments anonymously, or they create "sock puppets" to agree with themselves, or perhaps they attack on a minor issue, claiming (for instance) that if someone got one small fact wrong, then the entire train of what is being said (or has ever been said by their opponent) is wrong.

But are they really arguing about the issue here, or is this all sound and noise being driven by ego, denial, fear of being found out, and outrage that someone, somewhere, might not share their world view which they perceive (somehow) to be a direct attack on them?

Christie Aschwanden thinks it's too often the later, and she understands.   She really does. She feels your pain.


Seahorse said...

Loved it! But, do I love it because I think it's true and therefore I must be as smart as she is? If only there was a God perhaps I could know the answer!

Seahorse ;)

creynolds said...

This is why talking to most about religion is like beating your head against the wall… I will be using this article as a lead in during my debates.