Forcing change, alternative facts…

This article laments the problem of contemporary culture that people are too sure that they know things, and so instead of having useful conversations and coming to possible solutions, they butt heads and get further entrenched in their views. The funny thing about it is that the article itself ends with a point of certainty about how people simply hold the wrong position on gun control and vaccination, and that if we could teach them not to be so certain, we could convince them to have the right position.

This seems like entirely the wrong way to approach the problem, at least if the problem is this self-certainty. Putting aside what the right answer is, the key issue at stake is what the actual problem is. It’s not that some people are right and some are wrong. It’s that everyone is too sure of their side. That means the people who are “right” are too sure, too. If the people who are right actually are right, then there is no need to be sure about it. That’s the great thing about truth – it remains true even if you don’t insist on it.

So it seems like what everyone has to do is trust that whatever is true can be worked out if we all agree to honestly investigate what is the case. This is where the problem lies: words like honestly, agree and trust are not compatible with modern interactions that take place on a broad scale. They only apply to person-to-person exchanges, and that depends on the relationships between the persons involved. Large social level dialogue is full of distance and abstraction, which creates the possibilities for hidden motivation, suspicion, misunderstanding and unknown factors.

But we apply this sense of suspicion we’ve learned to more local discussions as well. When people hear someone say “I think you might be wrong about that”, they often believe that’s not what is really being said. They think the person actually means “I know more than you”, “I have a higher status than you”, or ultimately “I am better than you”. That means the response is going to be to think “No you’re not” – or, to reply, “No I’m not” – and the conversation will not be over working out what the facts are, but defending one’s honor.

And unfortunately, people often do mean “I’m better than you”, at least to a degree, when they think they have the facts and someone else is simply wrong. If we could all admit to our ignorance and seek truth together, there might be a chance for movement. But if either side begins certain that they have the correct conclusion and if only they could convince those dummies… then we set ourselves up for a tug of war.

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