Believe The Evidence

Like many people, I have an interest in celebrity trials. This is not because such trials are consequential on their own–they are not–nor because celebrities are often worthwhile people, because most of the time they are not, but rather because they present something that is culturally significant in how ordinary people are treated. For example, seeing what happens to a man like Johnny Depp who is falsely accused and struggles even with his immense resources to have his story fairly heard makes it clear to men everywhere (and fair-minded women, it must be admitted), that in the current cultural climate it is extremely hard for men to get a fair shake even when they are victims of domestic abuse from a violent partner who then has the gall to accuse them of what they are themselves guilty of. Not only that, but to verbally attack him by claiming that no one would believe a man could suffer domestic abuse at the hand of a woman.

Why would this be impossible to believe? When we look at how people treat others, we know that all people have at least some evil tendencies within them. There is no identity that will, on its own, make someone immune from either suffering harm from others or causing harm to others. We can spout off cliches about the desirability of judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, but what is obvious about good and bad people being able to be found across the board is often denied given the contemporary mania for judging people by their identity and not their character. There are obvious reasons for this–where alliances are made by matters of identity, and where identities are fairly easy to determine, it is easy to judge people by their identity and harder to figure out their character. This makes it far easier to make mental shortcuts that divide the world into good guys and bad guys based on these easy and superficial factors while neglecting more important information.

The same is true given our desire to be in a hurry about how to evaluate things. If we are in a hurry to accept and push the current thing on others, we will neglect the need to withhold final judgment pending evidence. Those of us who are temperamentally conservative and have a good understanding of history (and those two things are often closely correlated) understand that one must sometimes wait and see whether the new thing and current thing end up being good things or deserve instead to be rejected. Waiting to see how things are to be evaluated in light of side effects and consequences before being approved of is acting too slowly for many people who want to push whatever is new, but it is necessary to see how things turn out before an experiment is judged as a success. Unfortunately, as we have seen, those who urge others to trust what is new are often unreflective of the way that people may be harmed by too much hurrying to adopt certain behaviors or take certain actions that do not end up, in retrospect, to have been the unmixed good they are often promoted as. The positive side of things can be hyped ahead of time, but consequences and side effects often take a while to appear, and sometimes overwhelm the positives that are quickly seen and touted early.

What attitude do we best need to have if we want to believe the evidence rather than simply falling prey to endless hypesters and other sorts of fraudulent charlatans who are always pushing some sort of new answer to solve the problems of our world but who end up only making things worse? First, we need to adopt a critical but not cynical attitude towards weighing and balancing techniques, recognizing the sorts of appeals that we find to be more or less appealing and doing our best to be fair-minded about hearing what different people have to say about it. Some things will resonate more with us, but recognizing where we get good advice and good perspectives and whose perspectives are consistently wrong is a good way of weighing and balancing would-be authorities. Similarly, being aware of our own biases both for and against things helps us to better receive good evidence that helps us to make sound decisions. Similarly, paying attention to the need to withhold final judgment while one is in the process of collecting evidence can help us from making rash decisions about what is good that often turns out not to be the case when one gives enough time.

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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