Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

On the need for balanced thinking

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During the last half year (or so), I have done extensive readings on politics, issues in society, religion, and similar, through the lens of the blogosphere. Notably, this gives a very different perspective than when keeping to newspapers, what individual parties say, etc. Difference include not just opinions (a much wider spectrum and more freedom for those who do not adhere to the Official Truth or PC propaganda), but also very different quantities. For instance, I have read or been involved in more discussions concerning immigration issues since delving into WordPress than in my entire previous life—in fact, without actually being very interested in immigration per se, but mostly in intellectual honesty and critical thinking, I find that even my own blogging has had a disproportionate focus on this topic (including a long entry currently in preparation).

One central observation is the need for balanced thinking: We humans are naturally imperfect in knowledge and understanding (and certainly lack Sybillic skills). The implication of this is that it is very hard to say what opinion amounts to being clear-sighted and what to being paranoid; when a “slippery slope” warning is justified and when a fallacy; when a perceived danger is real and when a result of undue pessimism; whatnot.

Consider e.g. the privacy issue: With the recent behaviour of Facebook, the enormous amount of data available to Google, and the possibility of espionage through governments (at least here in Germany), it is quite possible that we stand at the brink of losing any reasonable informational self-control and will see our rights as consumers and citizens severely reduced. It is also possible that we will in ten years time notice that life has gone on more or less as before. Here it is important to be aware of both possibilities and to try to make an informed decision on how to proceed and react. For my part, I recommend that we err on the side of caution and remove the temptation for abuse by removing the ability for abuse (e.g. by blocking referrers, unneeded cookies, and similar when browsing; or by running servers for Tor or I2P—noting that there already are people, e.g. political dissidents in dictatorships, who will legitimately benefit from our doing so). Others may see the risk as sufficiently small that such efforts are not warranted. Others yet believe that I am overly optimistic, and that more drastic measures (e.g. surfing exclusively with various anonymity services) is a good idea. Irrespective of personal belief, they all benefit from gaining an understanding for the other side and its arguments, and from making an informed and unprejudiced evaluation—explicitly bearing in mind the possibility that their current opinion may be naively over-optimistic or ridiculously paranoid.

(At the same time, I must warn for the gut reaction many of my fellow Swedes seem to have: The blanket assumption that the truth is half-way between two opinions, without in any way investigating the plausibility of the individual opinions.)

In other cases, we have conflicts of interest, where one perceived threat has to be compared to an other, while considering questions like whether the threat is real, how great the potential damage is, what the probabilities are, which issue is the more urgent in what time-frame, etc. Immigration is an excellent illustration of this: Looking just at my own perspective (let alone those of others), I am caught between, on the one hand, the ideological view that each individual should have the right to himself decide where he lives, the knowledge that emigration from some problematic countries can be a necessity to enable a reasonable life, the belief that exposure to different cultures can be highly valuable, the conviction that many immigrants bring a net benefit to their adopted countries (I hope to belong to this category myself), etc.; and, on the other, complications like rates of immigration that makes integration impossible, significantly higher crime rates in some immigrant groups, the many immigrants that abuse the welfare systems (at least in Sweden and Germany), etc. Again balanced thinking and openness to others viewpoints are of paramount importance.

I would, in particular make the plea that debaters in all issues try to avoid the moral high-horse, try to understand both sides of the issues (note that understanding does not automatically imply agreement), and focus on argumentation ad rem. Above all, that they stop generalizing about their opponents, and realize that there is a spectrum of opinion in all groups. The last thing a debate needs is “You X are all Y!”—in particular, when this is abused as an ipso facto “proof” that the opponents are wrong (e.g. by the calls of “Racists!” or “Misogynists!” that are so popular in the PC communities). Achieving these items is not easy (certainly, I occasionally err myself), but even just starting with the right mentality could lead to an enormous improvement.

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Written by michaeleriksson

May 23, 2010 at 1:30 am

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