Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Letting Your Opponents Save Face

The other day, I was driving on the highway and I witnessed what was almost a very bad accident. The car ahead of me was driving normally when suddenly, a large pickup truck to his right turned right at it, apparently shifting lanes without looking. The car swerved evasively to the left, rocking back and forth, almost spinning out and just barely maintaining control. It was clear to me, an unbiased observer, that the truck driver was entirely at fault.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the truck driver screaming and gesturing furiously at the other driver. The car driver, with his great reaction, saved them both from a terrible accident at 70 mph, but the truck driver instantly convinced himself the other guy was at fault.

The fact is, people don't want to be wrong. They'll lie to you and even to themselves to maintain the illusion that they're right, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Early on in my blogging career, I tried to get people to admit that they were wrong. This was almost always counterproductive as people will often do everything in their power to avoid admitting that. They'll spin, bend, contort, and outright lie in order to save face.

Now I just make my points and move on. I know that people aren't going to admit I've changed their minds, but that maybe in the future, they'll accept my argument. They might maintain, of course, that they've always believed my argument, in order to preserve the illusion that they were never wrong while bringing their beliefs more in tune with reality.

We see this transition often in theists who begin to think for themselves. Their views change radically, but they find ways to pretend they've been consistent throughout. Maybe it's a good thing that someone can go from worshiping Pat Robertson's Big Daddy in the Sky to Bishop Spong's atheism-with-a-different-name or from young-Earth creationism to barely-theistic evolution while thinking themselves consistent.

For a long time, I was frustrated with the slipperiness of the word "God." Now I'm thinking maybe it's a good thing. Better reasonable people who believe in "God" than a nation of fundamentalists who believe in "God." If defining words so loosely they barely mean anything is the price we pay for such improvement, it might be worth it.

19 comments:

Stephen said...

We see this transition often in theists who begin to think for themselves.

I think your point is a good one, but I'd just like to add that "unthinking theists" aren't the only group you might have used by way of illustration.

There are all kinds of unthinking people in the world: people who are blindly loyal to a political party, radical feminists, academics who belong to a specific school of thought, etc.

Ideology is the proper target of criticism, not theology.

I dare say there may even be some unthinking atheists in the world, who were born to atheist parents and have never attempted to look sympathetically at another way of viewing the world. The case for atheism is not a slam dunk, in case some of your readers have missed that point.

"First, why is there something rather than nothing? How is it possible that there is anything at all? Second, how is it possible that among the stuff that exists there is life? Third, how is it possible that some living things are conscious?" (Owen Flanagan, The Science of the Mind, chapter 8.)

Jewish Atheist said...

Stephen:

I agree.

B. Spinoza said...

>Better reasonable people who believe in "God" than a nation of fundamentalists who believe in "God." If defining words so loosely they barely mean anything is the price we pay for such improvement, it might be worth it.

ah, so now your seeing it my way :)

XGH said...

You were'nt thinking of me with this post were you?

Jewish Atheist said...

XGH:

Nah, Spinoza and Orthoprax much more closely fit the bill. But also some Christians I've been corresponding with lately. Your technique is different -- you seem to attempt to believe in the same God you always did despite your changing beliefs about other things.

dbackdad said...

JA said, "Early on in my blogging career, I tried to get people to admit that they were wrong. This was almost always counterproductive as people will often do everything in their power to avoid admitting that ...

Now I just make my points and move on. I know that people aren't going to admit I've changed their minds, but that maybe in the future, they'll accept my argument."
-- Now, see, there you go making sense. We can't have that. lol

Your point is one that I frequently forget. Here's to me making a better effort. Nice post.

dbackdad said...

JA said, "Early on in my blogging career, I tried to get people to admit that they were wrong. This was almost always counterproductive as people will often do everything in their power to avoid admitting that ...

Now I just make my points and move on. I know that people aren't going to admit I've changed their minds, but that maybe in the future, they'll accept my argument."
-- Now, see, there you go making sense. We can't have that. lol

Your point is one that I frequently forget. Here's to me making a better effort. Nice post.

dbackdad said...

Sorry for the double comment. Blogger goofiness (or user error).

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"Nah, Spinoza and Orthoprax much more closely fit the bill."

I fully recognize that my beliefs have evolved. I was once a theist, though never was I a fundamentalist. For a time I was a skeptical atheist, but now I think I have a more sophisticated understanding of metaphysics and I'm not afraid to use the "God word" to describe them.

If you were to ask, which you have, I would explain what I mean when I use the term "God." It isn't your classical theist's definition, but I think it is apt nevertheless.

Jewish Atheist said...

Orthoprax:

I know. It's just frustrating that you use the same word as (traditional) theists do when you mean anything but the same thing. It lends them credibility which they don't deserve.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

The nature of God is as contested a field as is the very existence of God. Only superficially would it appear that I lend them regard.

Mark said...

JA,
You wrote:

For a long time, I was frustrated with the slipperiness of the word "God." Now I'm thinking maybe it's a good thing. Better reasonable people who believe in "God" than a nation of fundamentalists who believe in "God."

I think a slippery description of God is more accurate than you might mean (just as a slippery description of "matter" is necessary for accuracy). But slipperiness does not necessarily rob it of content.

Jewish Atheist said...

orthoprax:

The nature of God is as contested a field as is the very existence of God. Only superficially would it appear that I lend them regard.

As an atheist, I see that most people distrust us and I think part of that is that they see theism as a binary thing rather than as the continuum it really is. If people used different words than just "God," perhaps that continuum would be more clear.


mark:

I think a slippery description of God is more accurate than you might mean (just as a slippery description of "matter" is necessary for accuracy). But slipperiness does not necessarily rob it of content.

Perhaps for some definitions of "slipperiness." However, I can't see any commonality between Pat Robertson's God and orthoprax's (or Spong's) beyond the word itself.

dbs said...

Excellent post. Maintaining our positive image of ourselves is crucial to our psyches, whereas real is expendable. Some people are better at this kind of real-time re-writing of history than others.

But, except for the reletively few true scociopaths around, we are very invested in believeing that we are good, kind peopel. So even those of us who aren't as good at distorting reality will still fight for an acceptable rationalization.

My own beliefs have changed very radically (or maybe just that reality has changed), but it is very natural to struggle to try to connect the dots from where you were to where you are.

beepbeepitsme said...

RE stephen

I am interested in how you define a "radical feminist."

And be careful now, or this "radical feminist" might bite your poor little "male chauvinistic head" off. ;)

Just joking. Or am I? lol

CyberKitten said...

JA said: As an atheist, I see that most people distrust us and I think part of that is that they see theism as a binary thing rather than as the continuum it really is. If people used different words than just "God," perhaps that continuum would be more clear.

VERY good point. But then again I guess that when you have a concept that means all things to all people... you're gonna have problems getting any kind of clear(ish) definition across..

I'm also still struggling with the idea of living in a country were your atheism is a reason to distrust you.... Weird.

Stephen said...

• beepbeepitsme:
I'm not sure it's constructive to enter into a dialogue on what I meant by "radical feminist". First, it's not the topic of JA's post. Second, I don't know you, and you don't know me, and I'm afraid we'll project negative motives onto each other out of sheer ignorance.

The reason that I used the qualifier, "radical", is because I myself am a feminist. (Though some folks would deny that men can be feminists — a mistake, in my view.) I acknowledge that feminists have made a fine contribution to society, and advanced the cause of an oppressed group — women. It seems to me that younger women often take those gains for granted, and lose sight of how bad the situation was only a few decades ago.

But feminism, like any other set of convictions, however laudable, can be turned into an ideology. I think it's important for feminists to bear that in mind … but I will leave it at that.

Jack's Shack said...

Good post.

Gary McGath said...

Personally, I've changed my mind on several occasions when left with time to think about something without pressure, but hardly ever in the heat of an argument. You make a good point.