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Get Thee to a Nunnery!

Why do so many resolute “defenders” of democracy and freedom seem convinced that freedom is a one-way street? Three examples from my own small community in recent years:

• People should be able to say or display “whatever” in public places without restraint or complaint and if some don’t want to see or hear such expressions of freedom then they are free to go elsewhere or free to practice virtual blindness/deafness or perhaps free to not even go out in public, if their values are so sensitive.
• People should be free to shop on Sunday if they wish and if others would like to be free from having to work on Sunday, the brief and simple answer is “Feel free to get a different job.”
• Freedom of speech is sacred until the freedom lover has heard enough of the other-side’s opinion. Then the cry is, “ENOUGH, ALREADY!!!” (Forgetting their own advice, that they are free to stop reading, seeing, or hearing at any time.)

Whenever there is the least hint of “values-based” constraint, these emotional, local defenders decry the death or denial of their rights and freedoms. They rage against the tyranny of imposed standards and against the sanctimonious supporters of such standards. Or as one man extrapolated, mothers complaining about lewd magazines at the grocery store checkout were dishonoring the sacrifice of soldiers fighting for freedom in Afghanistan. And almost always, the advice of these freedom enthusiasts to their opponents seems to devolve into a version of “Get thee to a nunnery!” As in, “If you don’t like what’s in public, then don’t go there!”

Accommodating democracy and differing views is not easy, but why are we so prone to extremes; so prone to discounting others’ views and opinions; so dogmatic; so emotional; so often irrational? Perhaps science has the answer. In Sharon Begley’s Newsweek column of August 16, 2010, p. 24, entitled “The Limits of Reason: Why evolution may favor irrationality,” she outlines some findings that help explain our propensity to emotional irrationality. In short, we like to win arguments—and so “effective argumentation” becomes the goal, not truth or justice. We abandon “reason” for persuasion and self-validation. The tools/ploys we cultivate in this endeavor are:

1) confirmation bias: that is “seeing and recalling only evidence that supports [our] beliefs …”;
2) “not [testing] our beliefs against empirical data” (that is, being “blind to counterexamples”);
3) “not [subjecting] beliefs to the plausibility test”; and
4) “[being guided] by emotion.”

Thus we “mislead [ourselves] about what’s true and real, by letting examples that support our view monopolize our memory and perception … .” We ignore flaws in our position, but actively seek flaws in evidence that “undermines our point of view.”

Perhaps this helps explain the dismal state of politics and the proliferation of endlessly reiterated, fallacious talking points! Is anyone looking for truth anymore or is it all about persuasion (rhetoric), winning arguments, and pursuing hegemony?

Woe is us. We seem to have forsaken reason, rationality, fairness, balance, justice, and truth for the mere sake of appearing “right”! And for all those who are wrong? Well, if you ask the winners, these losers should just go cloister themselves so the “right ones” can be free of irritating counterexamples, parallels, and plausibilities!

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