Why is it so hard for we happy little human beans to think objectively?
When confronted with something we disagree with, why do we feel an urge to think, respond and act defensively?
These thought occurred to me when reading a popular science magazine (i just realised how silly ‘popular’ sounds in this context… science magazines – even glossy picture versions – are hardly sitting in the middle of mainstream, so popular doesn’t really fit, does it?). You see, this magazine included an article which put forward some of the issues surrounding religion as a basis for decision-making in the political arena. The article was putting forward the proposition that science is a better base on which to make decisions. None of the arguments were new and, even though written in an accessible and fluent manner, the overall tone was ‘anti’ religious processes.
Similarly, when reading articles on the issue of ethics, the usual assumption is that the lack of a religious code will lead inexorably to a moral abyss, as decision-makers stuggle to identify solid footing on which to make decisions.
In other words, when presenting an argument, most folk will do so through denigrating ‘the opposition’ in some form or another. When that happens, the differing viewpoints assume a competitive stance and advocacy takes the field, while Truth has to sit at the back of the room, hoping for an outcome that will allow it some say in matters.
Obviously, i am not really talking about theism very atheism but rather about situations in which differing views are aired.
Here is another example…
Dwell for a moment on the very public belligerancy (i may have made that word up) between the United States and Iran. Each ‘side’ is at pains to point out the pitfalls and inadequacies in the others’ views and actions. From my little cloud over here, it really is quite difficult to make sense of anything that is being said or done. It would appear that each is keen to see the other discredited rather than simply identifying commonalities and differences.
Critical thinking requires us to attempt to identify facts from feelings and opinions, to limit assumptions or to be open to the room for error when using them. Critical thinking allows the benefit of the doubt to test the validity of any issues raised, which at least allows those with differing opinions to see where agreement can be reached or identify areas that agreement would be difficult or impossible to obtain.
Let’s say that the United States doesn’t like Iran having nuclear capabilities. The public stance appears to be one where the US representatives and officials use escalating levels of threats in their language as the perceived threat of Iran having those capabilities increases. Iran appears to adopt a ‘you threaten me and i’ll threaten you’ approach. There does not appear to be any common ground and eventual conflict seems inevitable.
It is almost like watching children in a playground, except this stuff is really truly ‘ruly important. People don’t just get hurt when countries argue, they die.
Are the options limited only to diplomacy or belligerance?
Surely there is room for clear and open statements of whatever common ground may exist?
I certainly don’t mean this in some overly gentle ‘brotherhood of man’ sense. These ARE important issues and the outcomes of countries negotiating important issues are serious. Some people use the term ‘straight talking’ but many of those same people really mean strident statements of positions, and are pretty much the equivalent of George Bush’s “you’re either for us or agin us” cowboy rhetoric.
What i am suggesting is simple talk that clearly outlines the areas of agreement and contention, and offering areas where there may be room for discussion or negotiation. You may move to the immediate extreme and ask what use that is when each party sees no room for agreement without changing ‘non-negotiables’. This misses the point. If, and only if, all possible negotiating areas have been fully dealt with then straight talk would set out what steps would result in what actions, and each of the parties can then see whether this more extreme scenario alters the playing field a little.
And so i return to the original concept. Whether we are dealing with religious issues, country relations or family disagreements, why is it that most human beings find it so difficult to simply listen objectively, consider analytically and discuss the issues openly and honestly? Why is it so common (almost mandatory) to move to a defensive stance?
Here are a few possibles to get the thinking happening…
- Vested interests
- Commercial interests
- Emotional inadequacy (ie, the need to ‘save face’ or avoid embarrassment)
- Fear of being seen as a failure
- Fear of ‘the other’
- Stupidity (highly unlikely, as most folk are not stupid)
Perhaps the question should be restated… Perhaps it should be “why are people so unaware of themselves that they have difficulty considering alternative views and opening themselves to those possibilities?”