I’m a person who likes to do research on topics that interest me, but I like to do research in general even when it isn’t a topic that interests me too much. If I’m making specific argument in a discussion, I want to make sure that I’m not being biased and that I’m using confirmed data.
The problem is that I find few other people are willing to do the same kind of research. Most people just believe what they want to believe. Many people even seem to assume that the facts would agree with their opinions if they ever bothered to look at the facts. This kind of righteous self-certainty annoys me, but even moreso it just perplexes me.
I realize people have limited time to do research for themselves. That is fine. But if that is the case, then shouldn’t the person refrain from making any absolute claims. Instead of making declarations, shouldn’t they use language such as “I think…”, “I suspect…”, “My best guess is”…, “It would seem reasonable…”, or “I could be wrong, but…”.
Often, though, it seems that the less data someone has the more certain they declare their ‘knowledge’. What bugs me even more is that many people are willing to directly dismiss or generally act dismissive towards the data that another person presents. They’ll ask you to cite every fact you present all the while refusing to present any facts of their own. It’s easy to be dismissive.
In response, I’ll sometimes do the detailed research and present specific quotes from specific sources, but it usually doesn’t change anything. If the person truly wanted to know the facts, then they could’ve done the research for themselves. Or could they? I sometimes think that many (most?) people lack certain intellectual skills such as how to research data and how to think critically about it. Research takes effort and understanding it well requires much intelligence and education (which would include self-education).
I think, however, there is also a systemic failure of education in the US. I went to public schools. I can tell you that I learned very little of my intellectual skills from my schooling. Most of what I learned came from my parents and from simply reading and thinking a lot.
There is also would seem to be a cultural factor, but I’m not certain as my knowledge of other cultures is limited. What I’ve observed is that many people believe it’s more reasonable to deny something without facts than to claim something without facts. This is obviously wrong as any denial of a claim is simply another claim stated in the negative. To deny a belief in God is no more reasonable than to claim a belief in God. Neither theist or atheist has objective data, and so the only reasonable conclusion is agnosticism.
All in all, I do think atheists and scientific-minded people tend to be more reasonable than those prone to religious extremism (whether it’s Christian fundamentalism or New Age woo). Most scientists in the world agree that Darwinian evolution and Climate Change are accurate appraisals of reality. This is based on science from around the world funded by many different organizations. However, religious folk and other rightwingers are willing to deny the evidence without offering any of their own counter-evidence. To put it simply, this isn’t a rational response.
How can the rationally-minded educated class reach this large segment of society that gladly throws out all evidence without even looking at it much less trying to understand it? Even intelligent rightwingers will deny science which is even more bewildering. I guess it makes sense that unless you’ve been educated in science you’re less likely to understand science. Getting a college education (in business management for example) won’t necessarily make you any better prepared for understanding science. Most of the people who go into scientific fields are liberals (with independents being the next largest group and conservatives being a small percentage). The question is why do conservatives mistrust science? The only way you could mistrust science is by mistrusting objectivity altogether because science is the best method humans have in determining objective facts.
It might not be that most people are incapable of being rational. It could be that either they have psychological reasons not to use rationality in certain contexts. Psychological research shows two key factors: (1) People are good at compartmentalizing different cognitive functions and different parts of their lives, and (2) People are good at rationalizing their behavior and conclusions. The unconscious mind has more influence on us than does our conscious mind.
The question, then, is why do some people become more capable of intellectual skills or at least more identified with being an intellectual. What makes someone willing and able to question social norms and ‘commonsense’ assumptions? What motivates someone to look critically upon all statements? If this isn’t a ‘natural’ ability (i.e., not common), then why do a few people learn to excel at it? And why are some people willing to admit intellectual limitations (their own and that of the human species in general) and some aren’t? Will intellectual ability always be held by a minority? Is it possible to teach the average person effective critical thinking skills? If it is possible, why have we as a society chosen not to do so?