Happy New Year

To start the new year, a Facebook friend makes a resolution, with which I heartily agree:

Many years ago I took a course on Late Antiquity and we read a book by scholar A and then one by Scholar B. Scholar B totally opened by mocking the outrageous claims of Scholar A except here’s the thing: Scholar A never made those claims. Scholar B set up what is known as a strawman to attack and make his position seem less questionable. I took this to heart and have found myself saying “Don’t be a [Scholar B]!” before I think about re-sharing or reacting.

A lot of times on social media I see people share posts about how “so many people with belief X are posting this awful sentiment” and internally I’m like, “that’s weird – I haven’t seen anything that sounds like that or I saw one comment.” And here’s the thing: they aren’t or it’s one person but articles are written as if a whole group rose up and said one thing.

There are many outlets (media and otherwise) who want you to think that they other side is so outrageous that it isn’t worth doing your due diligence – but it’s always worth doing due diligence. And don’t let one comment replace the thoughts of many.

I fail at this a lot – it’s super easy to be Scholar B. It’s comfortable to be Scholar B. But we shouldn’t be. In 2020, let’s all agree to be skeptical when something seems too outrageous to believe and let’s also ask ourselves who benefits when we do believe it?

And then weigh that before we share an article or comment or post.

Related, from Vox.com:

Intellectual humility: the importance of knowing you might be wrong

Why it’s so hard to see our own ignorance, and what to do about it.

I’ve come to appreciate what a crucial tool it is for learning, especially in an increasingly interconnected and complicated world. As technology makes it easier to lie and spread false information incredibly quickly, we need intellectually humble, curious people.

I’ve also realized how difficult it is to foster intellectual humility. In my reporting on this, I’ve learned there are three main challenges on the path to humility:

  1. In order for us to acquire more intellectual humility, we all, even the smartest among us, need to better appreciate our cognitive blind spots. Our minds are more imperfect and imprecise than we’d often like to admit. Our ignorance can be invisible.
  2. Even when we overcome that immense challenge and figure out our errors, we need to remember we won’t necessarily be punished for saying, “I was wrong.” And we need to be braver about saying it. We need a culture that celebrates those words.
  3. We’ll never achieve perfect intellectual humility. So we need to choose our convictions thoughtfully.

This is all to say: Intellectual humility isn’t easy. But damn, it’s a virtue worth striving for, and failing for, in this new year.

Read the whole thing. All I would like to add is that opponents to Trump, not just Trump himself, can fall victim to false and unearned confidence…

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