Why I may argue with you even if I agree with you

While many people see argument as a way of convincing others that your view is correct I try to take a different approach. I am much more interested in exploring and developing ideas. I see items that are posted on Facebook as being put up for peer review.

Here are a few examples of subjects of Facebook posts that I have argued against:

  • If someone makes a statement about racism (e.g. “no one is born racist”) I may argue against it, not because I agree with racism, but I think that their argument is flawed and unfounded.(see George Floyd, Racism and Police Violence)
  • I may disagree with people who say that the EU is a wonderful, benevolent institution that does no harm. This does not mean that I am pro-Brexit or anti-European.
  • If someone says that nuclear power is not low carbon I will disagree. This does not mean that I am in favour of nuclear power but if you look at any reasonable analysis nuclear power produces much lower carbon emissions than gas or coal – and that includes mining, enrichment and disposal.

While I understand that well-meaning people want others not to be racist, to get vaccinated and that generating an environment of conformity in relation to these topics can seem ‘effective’, this path can lead to undesired consequences.

Often ‘facts’ and ideas about a topic are shared and accepted not because they are true or lead to deeper insight but merely because they agree with what we (or our peer group) already believe. This lack of critical thinking and fact checking is often the very problems that such people are trying to fight against.

I Am Not An Anti-Vaccer

One example of this was posted by someone on Facebook today. I have seen similar images and texts many times before.

I am in favour of vaccination for COVID even though I think there are risks. However, the image and text is factually incorrect.

The decrease in the occurrence of childhood illnesses such as whooping cough, tuberculosis and diphtheria started many years before the introduction of vaccination.

Just because the evidence shows that there are many other factors involved in the decrease in childhood diseases other than vaccination does not mean that I am against all vaccination.

However, you cannot fight fake news with more fake news.

Herd Mentality

Although the term herd mentality has mainly negative connotations I would argue that it is essential to be a functioning human being. Most of our daily actions are not logically worked out from first principles. We copy and learn from those around us – following the crowd is often the simplest and best thing to do. This tendency is built into us through many generations of evolution. We do not need to understand the physics of pivots and forces to be able to open a door – we lean how to do it by copying others. We do not need a degree in psychology to learn what is socially acceptable behaviour – we are socialized into it and do it without thinking.

While we like to think of ourselves as logical beings, herd mentality is the norm not the exception.

There is plenty of studies in this area of psychology based around the Asch conformity experiment1.

Different Herds

While for the most part of our daily behaviour following the herd is the best solution there are times when there are conflicting ways of doing something and these can have important implications for ourselves and others.

At this point it is not wise just to follow one herd or the other – we need to have a look at the facts and various analysis – we need to discuss, to argue and to think. The history books are too peppered with tragedies when we have failed to do so.

The Madness And Saneness Of Crowds

One of the great victims of mob psychology is the belief in the madness of crowds. As Gustave Le Bon2 said:

Moreover, by the mere fact that he forms part of an organised crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilisation. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian—that is, a creature acting by instinct.

While there are undoubtedly times when the mob can act badly there are many counter examples3.

In Honiton in 1766 lace-workers seized corn on the premises of the farmers, took it to market themselves, sold it, and returned the money and even the sacks back to the farmers.

Despite the fact that one of the worse examples of mob mentality is when the ruling elite want to incite us to war they often make us fearful of mob rule. They depict the masses as an unruly bunch, prone to barbaric instincts and unable to make reasoned judgements. They have made us frightened of ourselves.

Many people do not feel that they have the capability to take part in developing ideas through reasoned argument. They merely feel their role is to support one team of the other – vaccer/anti-vaccer, labour/conservative. Without a real solid conviction they are fearful of anyone who has opposing arguments and treats them with ridicule and condemnation.

1 Asch conformity experiments (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments)

2 Gustave Le Bon. The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/445)

3 Thompson, E. P. (1991). The Making of the English Working Class. Toronto: Penguin Books. (https://libcom.org/library/making-english-working-class-ep-thompson)


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