Two Roads Diverged In A Wood

The internet is a fount of ill-considered opinions loudly proclaimed (a statement that sadly does not exempt some opinions I have been known to express from time to time). It is not my intention to talk about any specific brainless opinions expressed online that I have encountered, except to note that I definitely was inspired to think about this by looking at particularly ignorant opinions expressed by someone who is self-professed as wise and learned in dealing with various matters of contentious contemporary debate. I should say, rather, that I was merely irritated with the stupid opinion, but I was intrigued by the path which led to that dumb opinion from behavior that is itself not particularly wise but which, through the magic of cognitive dissonance, encourages further opinions along those lines.

None of us, least of all myself, are immune to the issue of cognitive dissonance. As human beings we all have the inborn tendency to wish to justify ourselves and our behavior, and this nearly universal tendency to wish to defend ourselves and our behavior from just or unjust criticism and censure is one of the surest paths that leads to changes of belief. It is not that we rationally come up with beliefs in a vacuum, but rather that very frequently our beliefs are shaped by the behaviors that we wish to justify. Proper habits encourage proper beliefs, and misguided practices lead us to mistaken opinions meant to justify and defend those actions from scrutiny and criticism. Where we find violent and hostile disagreements in opinion and belief, what we tend to find at the base of those arguments are divergences in behavior that need to be justified in the face of criticism, because we all like to justify ourselves and to tear down those arguments that are raised against our practices.

Indeed, one of the things that stands out as particularly obvious in any kind of discussion about those things which are doubtful is the way that people who hold their views particularly fiercely will be very assiduous in finding and sharing “evidence” that backs their strongly held beliefs and opinions and views. This is often done despite the fact that this evidence often seems laughably inadequate to those who do not hold such views, which makes such efforts frequently self-defeating at deceasing the amount of criticism that would attach itself to those strongly held views. Today, for example, I got an e-mail that sought to defend a view that spanking was necessarily evil (and should have always been seen as such) that made a pathetic appeal to mothers who had “always felt” that spanking was wrong. I am sure that I can think of at least one mother I know who would find such views ridiculous, no doubt influenced by different practices and different commitment to the views that animated those practices. I also saw a couple of videos posted by a Drake fan that sought to make the fallacious ad populum appeal by pointing to the musical favoritism of football players for the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos for Drake’s latest album as opposed to Kanye West’s album, a false dilemma if there ever was, given that I am not interested at all in listening to either album in this futile and pointless turf battle.

It should be notable that many of these attempts to justify our opinions involve local fallacies. Where we find stupid opinions online, or anywhere else for that matter, these stupid opinions are often built from rickety scaffolding involving terrible logic. Bad practices, justified by terrible (and often self-serving and inconsistent) reasoning, leads to terrible beliefs. If that path is stopped at all along the way, there is a chance to avoid beclowning oneself in public by expressing idiotic views. But once the process starts it tends to be self-reinforcing. All of us tend to have at least a few practices in our lives that do not withstand scrutiny, and this tendency to want to justify our actions leads us to adopt fallacious reasoning practices in order to avoid the difficulty of having to admit we were wrong. And this desire not to be wrong then leads us into wrong beliefs that serve to bolster and support those wrong practices that we are justifying with bogus reasoning. Feeling right often precludes being right.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Two Roads Diverged In A Wood

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    I enjoyed the blog that proceeded from your title. I’m a fan of trees, as you know, and the paths of cognitive dissonance certainly have their own root systems, don’t they? Man’s own nature is rooted in the self, after all; a point well reflected upon in your message.

    I would like to believe that sincere, introspective people would like to know about this type of self-rationale in their own lives, for it is a form of hypocrisy that they would find difficult to live with. It is hard to look in the mirror after doing so in the spiritual one, only to realize that one is guilty of the “plank-in-the-eye” reference. You are right; the initial impulse is to think that one’s case is different, but we deceive ourselves when we follow that path. A heart that earnestly seeks to walk the Godly one will recognize his personal truth and change course as these things are revealed. A Christian’s walk is not the “feel good” path; it is the “do good” one.

    • Yes, I would think that self-aware and introspective people would have a difficulty with that sort of hypocrisy, but I wonder how common it is for people to truly examine themselves.

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