For “close-minded,” you can substitute ignorant, knee-jerk partisan, misguided, arrogant, stupid, reckless,naive, easily-manipulated, or just stubbornly wrong.
I owe Ethics Alarms expatriate Barry Deutsch for pointing me to this; on weekends I often check out the blogs and websites, and sure enough, on his own blog Alas! Barry was once again discussing the issue that was in part responsible for his contentious departure here—the issue of how comfortable on-line forums should be for participants. Though Barry has his own—typically nuanced, too-equivocal for my tastes—views on the topic, the post I want to feature is one he linked to, a blog called Apophemi. In a post about why the blogger avoids participating on the so-called “rationalist” forum “Less Wrong,” which appears to be a major source for the writers of “Big Bang Theory,” he argues for, as translated by Barry and others—he needs a translator—“safe places,” meaning web forums where certain ideas, topics and positions will not or cannot be discussed. He writes (I warned you, remember);
“I am reasonably confident (insert p value here) that this attitude is self-replicating among people who are accustomed to being at risk in a specific way that generally occurs to marginalized populations. (I cannot speak for people who may have a similar rhetorical roadblock without it being yoked to a line of social marginalization, other than that I suspect they happen.) This would mean that rewarding the “ability” to entertain any argument “no matter how ‘politically incorrect’” (to break out of some jargon, “no matter how likely to hurt people”) results in a system that prizes people who have not been socially marginalized or who have been socially marginalized less than a given other person in the discussion, since they will have (in general) less inbuilt safeguards limiting the topics they can discuss comfortably. In other words, prizing discourse without limitations (I tried to find a convenient analogy for said limitations and failed. Fenders? Safety belts?) will result in an environment in which people are more comfortable speaking the more social privilege they hold. (If you prefer to not have any truck with the word ‘privilege’, substitute ‘the less likelihood of having to anticipate culturally-permissible threats to their personhood they have lived with’, since that’s the specific manifestation of privilege I mean. Sadly, that is a long and unwieldy phrase.) Environments for discourse which do not allow/encourage what I’m calling “discourse without limitations” are frequently (that I have seen) trash-talked in the context of environments which do allow/encourage that type of discourse.”
I guess this would be “trash-talk,” then: Apophemi is rationalizing echo chambers, close-minds and intellectual laziness.
Essentially what the post says is that there are some beliefs so treasured by individuals that any challenges to those beliefs, even incorporating powerful and persuasive facts, constitute violence to those individuals’ belief systems and self-esteem, and thus can and should be avoided. As I noted in the post about a majority of Republicans choosing to ignore the reality of evolution, everyone in a democratic form of government has an ethical obligation to be as objective, educated, rational and competent in dealing with the world and its problems as possible, or they are a detriment to the system and society. This obligation means, obviously (and perhaps primarily) engaging in the difficult ongoing inquiry of trying to determine what is right, what is wrong, what works in society, and what doesn’t.
What Apophemi, and by extension, Alas!, are endorsing are stress-free opinions that never have to confront the painful, jarring, guilt-inducing and emotionally unpleasant experience of being proven dead wrong. Yes, human beings are programmed to automatically protect themselves against this trauma, as indicated by the confirmation bias that is such a foe of rational thought, and the cognitive dissonance that warps our values daily. It is our shared ethical duty, however, to fight against that tendency which inevitably makes us rigid, wrong, and destructive. It is impossible to be right about everything, but we must never stop trying to be right, which means taking a big gulp and testing our beliefs– half-baked, hastily assembled or passed along to us fully-formed by parents and role-models—against contrary conclusions arrived at be others who just might be better informed, clearer, less biased and more astute about the topic than our cherished beliefs can withstand.
Of course, this is why ideologies are so popular, and why they are so destructive. These are pre-packaged templates to explain a world too random, chaotic and complex to be competently explained by any ideology, but having a belief system with lots of adherents that permits us to reach opinions on a variety of dilemmas and problems without thinking too hard is convenient and comforting. It also can make us immune to learning, and encourage us to avoid the perceived peril of encountering someone who understands things better than we do.
When someone is in this mindset—and I am beginning to think that 95% of America is either in this mindset or completely apathetic—facts and persuasion often aren’t enough to dislodge it, even on the rare occasions that the belief-holder allows himself or herself to be exposed to them. David Horowitz is a smart, doctrinaire, extreme, outspoken and abrasive conservative. He used to be a a smart, doctrinaire, extreme, outspoken and abrasive Sixties liberal—indeed, he was a Marxist. What caused him to swing from one extreme of the political spectrum to the other? It wasn’t a the result of his careful consideration of ideas, facts and arguments from a balanced and objective perspective. No, Horowitz became a conservative because a woman he cared about was murdered by the Black Panthers, and then Horowitz was ready to read and listen to reasoned criticism of leftist ideology. It took a measure of shock, anger and hate to make such ideas that challenged his long-held ideology endurable…”safe.”
The marketplace of ideas in a pluralistic, democratic society shouldn’t be safe, as in immune to sudden enlightenment, slaps in the face, disillusionment and nasty surprises. The internet has hardened ideology, abetted intellectual laziness and facilitated those with like biases reinforcing them together without benefit of articulate dissent. We are most valuable to our culture and society when we are wise, and wisdom is not achieved easily, quickly, or pleasantly. If there are safe places to hide our cherished biases and half-baked beliefs in a womb of guaranteed agreement, the natural human instinct is to go to them.
The ethical instinct is for us to assemble the courage and fortitude to go some place where we can discover we are wrong, or perhaps convince others that we are right. The former isn’t pleasant, and the latter isn’t popular. But if you are not willing to meet your obligation to objectively seek the truth, whatever nasty places it leads you to or where you have to go to find it, no one should care what your opinion is.