Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Preconceived Notions and Police Brutality

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about how a growing number of people these are more and more inclined to dig their heels in and defend core beliefs defiantly, regardless of any facts or situations presented to them. Not that people are using their beliefs to inform their judgement, but are doubling down on their belief systems as the only contributing factor that matters. This morning, I find this in my news feed:

In the social media dominated culture that we find ourselves increasingly immersed in, my immediate reaction is to share this with other people. This need to share it isn't just about internet Memes or Viral Videos: it is part of our natural human need to bond with others by giving them the opportunity to share in our emotional response. But in doing so, I am also assuming that those I share this video with are going to share my emotional response. Which brings me back to beliefs informing opinions, instead of the other way around.

I have the great misfortune of having a large group of online friends with diverse philosophical backgrounds. I say misfortune because I often find myself dragged into social, political, theological or ideological debates when either making posts or commenting on the posts of others. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy the debates, and actually have an unnatural inclination for intellectual head-butting. But an overabundance of unplanned online arguments can be time consuming and exhausting.
A silhouette showing a police officer striking...

But that's neither here nor there. However, when I consider posting this video, I do so with the clear knowledge that I am able to fully predict the responses this video is going to illicit from a decent number of my online posse. There are those I know will express outage at an obvious example of police brutality, and there are others that will gladly support the actions of a law enforcement veteran doing what needs to be done in order to quell an unruly mob. Without even exposing them to the video, to the actual physical evidence of the topic at hand, I can safely predict their responses.

Now, is this necessarily a bad thing? Maybe not. Obviously, those inclined to side with law enforcement are more likely to give police the benefit of the doubt, while those more fearful of government restriction are going to be less understanding. But how reality-based can either position be if the conclusions are drawn beforehand? I'm not questioning the validity of either argument, but rather, the validity of an argument that might possibly be impervious to outside influences. If our minds are made up before even approaching a situation, how objective can we truly consider ourselves? And if our initial reaction is always to accuse the other side of doing just this, how sure can we be that our own judgement is just as clouded?

I'm not saying we shouldn't trust our own opinions. What I'm suggesting is that we be more aware of what is informing them.
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Monday, October 1, 2012

You Can't Fix Stupid

I just turned a year older recently. I won't underscore the actual age, but I will say that I've reached that sad point in an individual's life in which the act of documenting birthdays becomes less an exercise in counting up and more an act of counting down. The "Best" of my years may not necessarily be behind me, but it is now becoming painfully possible that the majority of them are definitely accounted for.

Dare to Be Stupid
Dare to Be Stupid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This isn't meant to gripe about aging, even though that is still rather high on my list of pet peeves. But age tends to bring with it some modicum of wisdom or insight, and I've been debating with one that I have difficulty coming to terms with. I've always been of the mind that you can't change a person's firmly held beliefs, as belief usually defies logic, and stands firmly on the unshakable foundation of moral or ideological stubbornness. A person doesn't believe in something because they think it is true. They believe in something because they need it to be true, and need will win out almost every time. But again, I've always believed that, and have never had trouble with that realization. Lately, however, I find myself vexed by a continuation of this thought:

You can't make stupid people smarter.

Let me clarify. You can educate the uneducated. You can inform the uninformed. And you can most certainly convince the unconvinced, if their lack of belief can be traced to a sincere deficit or error in logic. But there are a large number of people in the world today who are beyond the point of no return intellectually, where no thought processes or information will no longer take hold. Now, I'm not going to claim that this is news to me, but where I find myself at odds with myself is the line where I'm willing to allow that beliefs stop and stupidity starts.

Yes, political and religious differences tend to be a common source of this concern, but the line didn't start shifting until I realized that stupid people are more prone to regard their own ignorance as belief, hence blurring the lines even further. The phrases "That's your opinion," and "I'm entitled to my opinion," for example, seem to pop up more and more often in defense of otherwise idiotic or indefensible stances taken. Whereas this reply usually makes the most sense when used after all logical debate still results in an intellectual stalemate, it now tends to be thrown out haphazardly whenever an argument is countered by a fact not readily refutable. There is no consideration, there is no weighing of points and counterpoints, there is simply "This is what I think!" No more ground will be given, regardless of the argument presented.

Maybe it's a good thing that people are becoming more and more willing to stand up for what they believe in. Then again, if their belief is earned by nothing more than convenience, then what is the true value of the belief being fought over? What good is defending a political or religious belief when the motivation of the conviction has more to do with your comfort level than it does philosophical analysis. Americans continue to praise belief and morality, causes and ideologies, while at the same time rejecting education or higher learning as just an intellectually elitist way to obscure the truth rather than reveal it. We've embraced the life of the mind, but rejected the notion of developing or nurturing its usage.

I'm not going to give into typical middle-aged paranoia and claim that the number of these people is on the rise. But there is a large number of them out there, enough so that they not only manage to have an effect on popular culture and social norms, but in public and civil policy as well. And this, as they say, is where we're screwed. Polarization between portions of the country along religious and political lines becomes more and more commonplace as information sources cater more and more to these clashing factions, producing selective information meant to pacify and coddle, and not inform or improve.

I hate reducing some of the world's problems to such a simplistic viewpoint, but everyday I interact with people and observe the world around me, I see less willingness to turn to reason or logic, and more importantly, even less demonstrated ability. And if reading this leads you to believe that I am just stroking my ego by including myself in the rational minority my world-view has assembled against a see of slack-jawed imbeciles, and this is just another case of an elitist jerk looking down of those he disagrees with, well... feel free to dismiss this as my opinion.
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