Activism, Features, Long Read, Politics

Escaping Conformity

Recently, the following screenshot of a 2016 Tumblr post showed up in my social media feed, with a lot of responses in various states of violent agreement and disagreement gathering beneath it.

The person who reposted the screenshot also included their own message about not wanting “those” kinds of allies anyway, and adding for good measure that people who felt insulted by such sentiments should go fuck themselves. This isn’t a new kind of public attitude, particularly among identitarians. One doesn’t have to look too hard to find hundreds of additional examples of people demanding only the ‘right’ kind of allies for their cause.

My initial response to this post was not disagreement (although there’s the obvious vilification and over-simplification of people turned off by this kind of thing), but a familiar kind of frustration. Of course ugly rhetoric shouldn’t change whether or not I hold an ideological stance. Of course the behavior of some people who hold that ideological stance should not change my thoughts on its validity. Of course.

But, unfortunately, we simply do not live in that world. “Shouldn’t” is not the same as “won’t” or “doesn’t.” Human beings are regularly persuaded by behavior, rhetoric, and perception far more than they are persuaded by actual ideas, evidence, or arguments. And this isn’t just a “white, cis-gender male” thing; members of any and every identitarian group and sub-group will predictably be turned off by certain kinds of rhetoric and behavior.

Besides which, the author of the above quote is making an error in believing she understands her own movement. She has very little idea of who is on ‘her side’ and why. It’s not just identitarians who are making this mistake. We can see it in every kind of religious, political, and social culture. Publicly broadcasting this kind of ‘true believer’ miscalculation not only further estranges allies we don’t want, it also further alienates the allies we never had but assumed we did and loses countless allies we once had because we didn’t understand the people on our side in the first place.

Acknowledging this reality is essential to any person or group hoping to have a real cultural impact. This reality requires a reconfiguring of what we think about and how we speak about our “allies”. In other words, if we want to change the minds of those outside our group, we’d better get a firm grasp on who, exactly, is in our own group, and why they joined up or maintained their membership.

On Conformity

Conformity, broadly defined, is a tendency to act or think like members of a group. In psychology, however, conformity is defined as “the act of matching behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs to group norms.” Psychologists label the three main motivating factors for conforming to the views of others as compliance, identification, and internalization.

  • Compliance is the kind of agreement offered in pursuit of social approval. ‘Virtue signaling’ is an example of this behavior that has recently gained some notoriety. In order to demonstrate to others that we are good people or the ‘right kind of people,’ we espouse certain views. This kind of conformity is rewarded with a kind of cultural cache. We do it to gain access to a tribe we want to join, to gain power we want to possess, or to defend ourselves from social harm.
  • Identification is the kind of agreement that’s offered in pursuit of a kind of identity for oneself. So, for example, person X holds viewpoint Y. So, if I am motivated to be like person X, I may espouse viewpoint Y. We do this all the time, often conforming to the ideas of people we admire in our workplaces or ideal jobs. We often do this unconsciously, and we don’t necessarily do it for cultural acceptance. If I want to be, for example, an independent, powerful thinker, I might mimic the viewpoints of others I consider to be such thinkers, even when I haven’t given their opinions much thought. This is so I can tell myself a convincing story about who I am.
  • Finally, internalization means you conform because you agree with the ideas of a person or group, and believe in them, too. In other words, you conform because you have been convinced by someone’s arguments and ideas. These arguments aren’t always rational or good; they just have to be convincing to you. In other words, internalization has no inherent good or bad value — it takes being convinced by thorough, rational, evidence-based arguments to turn internalization’s value toward the positive.

These three motivating factors are not mutually exclusive. They work together, and they change over time. For example, I may be primarily motivated towards a group because we share viewpoint X. But then, over time, I come to care more about staying within the group than I do about viewpoint X. Which means that, as the group shrinks and grows, and as its priorities and viewpoints and activities start to change, I may actually begin to engage in behavior Y, which is likely to frustrate my attempts to make viewpoint X a reality.

In other words, even if I am a ‘true believer’ and/or I conform for rational reasons, that is no protection against illogical and counter-productive behaviors on behalf of my ostensible cause.

Conforming for the Wrong Reasons

So what about conforming for apparently ‘irrational’ reasons such as compliance and identification? Perhaps surprisingly, conforming for these reasons isn’t necessarily correlated with positive or negative behaviors, either. Conforming for social approval or a sense of identity often means that a person will behave in the same way that their group is behaving. If most of a group is behaving inconsistently with their stated goals, then these faux-believers will follow. But, by extension, if a group is behaving in a productive way for the accomplishment of a goal, these same faux-believers will be infinitely valuable. Not just because they add raw numbers, but because they will take positive action for a cause, even if it’s one they joined for ‘irrational’ reasons.

So being a true believer in a cause doesn’t necessarily mean we’re any more effective in fighting for that cause. Often, it’s just the opposite. Our righteous indignation at outsiders’ disbelief can make us particularly bad at convincing those outsiders. And this self-righteousness is hypocritical, because we are all misguided faux-believers about countless ideas. We all sign onto ideologies with irrational or poorly-reasoned motives.

As human beings with limited capacity and attention, we cannot hope to enjoy limitless expertise and knowledge on every issue. So we choose what we pay attention to based on our priorities and interests. And we choose who and what to believe based on the types of people, systems, and behaviors we are drawn to. If I don’t know a lot about a particular topic, all that’s really guiding me to a certain viewpoint is a sufficiently convincing surface-argument, what I want others to think of me, and my sense of my identity. And how do I decide which group coincides with who I want to be or what I want others to think of me? By looking at group behaviors, group expectations, and the reactions of outsiders to that group. I look for those people to whom I’m already drawn and well-disposed.

For example, I don’t have anywhere near the knowledge necessary to prepare a thorough, scientific defense of climate change. What I do have, however, is a deep understanding of how science does (and sometimes doesn’t) work. I care deeply about this and try to stay knowledgeable about new pitfalls and problems in the system. I also know how scientists and thinkers I trust on other issues feel about the topic. So I feel safe conforming to the consensus viewpoint of these sources. And, because the stakes are high, I feel comfortable advocating strongly for the existence of climate change and the need to combat it.

I’m also drawn to people who, by default, treat others with respect, who value different ideas and who try to find some common ground. Those who debate and discuss instead of fight. I am drawn to people who believe different things from me, people with new or strange or crazy ideas. I want to hear them and consider them carefully.

What’s more, just as I am drawn toward trusting in the reality of climate change by my knowledge of science as an enterprise and by the views of specific scientists, I am pushed away from ideas based on my revulsion to specific or even “types” of people who hold other ideas or behave in other ways. These impressions of other people or groups don’t have to be accurate; they are just as often formed by the prominence of, or my proximity to, representatives I don’t like or trust. In other words, fear and loathing are just as powerful (and probably more powerful) than attraction and trust.

These cultural and identity-focused motivations are magnets, and they can repel as easily as they attract. The phrase, “I’m offended,” for example, is often just a culturally acceptable way to say “I’m emotionally repelled by that.” But that emotional pushback is selective and often misguided. It has very little to do with the truth or rationality of what is being said or done. And it ignores the fact that the truth, to unfamiliar ears, is very often ‘offensive.’ There are undoubtedly truths I am missing because I fear or loathe the conservative or progressive representatives of those truths who are the loudest or closest to me.

But, as disheartening as those facts are, there are even bigger hurdles to jump in order to accept new ideas. We also have to overcome the discomfort of confronting that we were wrong in the first place. In a 2010 paper, social workers Elizabeth Sullivan and Robert Johns forwarded the notion that,[t]he impact of new learning is traumatic because it challenges previously held attitudes, feelings and knowledge, with which the person defines who they are, and results in feelings of loss of present self-concept prior to the formulation of a new self-concept which embraces the new attitudes and knowledge.”1

And so we are, yet again, mostly resistant to changing our views or beliefs due to our emotions, not our rationality.

What this means is that we are often swayed by things that should be tangential to any rational ideas or arguments at hand — things as potentially peripheral as credibility, likability, what our group thinks of an idea, what our identity ‘allows’ us to believe, and so on. The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has said that “our minds are pattern matchers that make very quick judgments and then we use our reasoning afterwards to justify what we’ve just done.”

He compares our decision-making to a person riding an elephant; you can talk to the person — the logic/rationality — all you want, but if you don’t influence the behavior of the elephant – the gut/intuition – you’ll never ever persuade someone. As Abraham Lincoln observed:

[A]ssume to dictate to [a man’s] judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and though you throw it with more than Herculean force and precision, you shall be no more be able to pierce him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.

So, to return to the example at the top of this essay, a person claiming that their group isn’t being treated humanely should probably consider that they will lose a great deal of credibility (and likability) by refusing to treat others humanely. This kind of public unkindness doesn’t just alienate members of the specific group you’re insulting, but anyone who cares about even a single member of the insulted group. It also alienates anyone who believes that treating other people humanely is important for its own sake (in other words, the very people who might otherwise have sympathy for the group’s arguments).

And when members of a group hurl such insults and start demanding ideological purity, it’s often a sign that they aren’t very confident in their ideology, or don’t even believe in the ideas they’re professing, or at least not as much as their desire to exclude out-group members. This is a recipe for stasis, and it is often the antithesis of what the group claims to be about. For example, as I mentioned in a previous article:

[O]nly around 20 percent of the American public refers to themselves as either a “strong feminist” or a “feminist” (YouGov Poll, Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Poll). But when asked in these same polls if they believe that men and women should be social, political, and economic equals, the numbers flipped. Around 80% of the respondents answered in the affirmative, and only 9 percent said no.

This isn’t a problem for people who conform because of their compliance or identification with the feminist tribe — for self-definition or social-definition. It’s only a problem for those who really want men and women to be social, political, and economic equals and who think feminism is the best vehicle for accomplishing those things.

In other words, when people become puritanical, exclusionary, angry, and defensive, they probably aren’t true believers, either. They’ve probably got some other reason to cleave to their group and entrench a bitter status quo. After all, if things really changed as they say they want them to, their group would lose its reason to exist.

We find tribalism like this right across the societal and political spectrums. This is something about which we should all be more aware. We can’t allow ourselves to become so mesmerized by our identities or our warring tribes that we can’t accomplish the collective goals we say we believe in or recognize better ideas, even if they come from people or groups we don’t like.

How to Override Our Conformist Selves

Of course, we can’t simply stop being conformists, either. We are all members of a tribe, whether we announce it publicly or even acknowledge it to ourselves. And these tribes often have very little to do with ideas and more to do with reacting to another tribe’s very existence in proximity to our own. We are social animals, and we will continue to seek out groups that become a family to us. And these associations will corrupt our ability to think rationally if we’re not careful. Joining any group makes us resistant to other groups and ‘their’ evidence.

One reason for this group-based evidence resistance is the stories we tell ourselves about the world around us and its players. Michael Shermer has pointed out that these narratives can play a huge role in our ability to change minds. In other words, we tell each other (and ourselves) carefully constructed (often-false) stories about the villains and heroes in our society who we think embody the qualities we love or hate.

Religious people, for example, are nowhere near as stupid as many prominent atheists seem to think they are. And knowing the veracity of evolution is not a mark of any great intelligence, either. Conversely, atheists are nowhere near as arrogant as religious people think they are. There is plenty of arrogance in both groups to go around. Yet these are stories that get told a lot and are widely believed, not least because they flatter group members and disparage opponents.

And these powerful stories can make us resistant to good ideas that those groups may have. And the ugly stories we tell contribute to those other groups’ resistance to our ideas. Instead of engaging with each tribe’s actual ideas on any given point, these encounters often become an ever-escalating “rage-storm” over symbolic memes that each group has created about the other, and which have very little to do with the actual ideas or attitudes of either.

A recent study by Sam Harris, Jonas Kaplan, and Sarah Gimbel demonstrated just this point, by showing how heightened emotional states in the brain play a large role in evidence resistance. Finding a way to recognize when our emotions are overpowering our reasoning capabilities — and why they are doing so — is essential if we are to think more rationally.

Anna Salamon tells an illustrative parable about this type of emotional thinking. The little girl in the parable wants to be a writer, so she writes a story and shows it to her teacher:

“You misspelt the word ‘ocean’,” says the teacher.

“No I didn’t!” says the kid.

The teacher looks a bit apologetic, but persists: “‘Ocean’ is spelt with a ‘c’ rather than an ‘sh’; this makes sense, because the ‘e’ after the ‘c’ changes its sound…”

No I didn’t!” interrupts the kid.

“Look,” says the teacher, “I get it that it hurts to notice mistakes.  But that which can be destroyed by the truth should be!  You did, in fact, misspell the word ‘ocean’.”

“I did not!” says the kid, whereupon she bursts into tears, and runs away and hides in the closet, repeating again and again: “I did not misspell the word!  I can too be a writer!”

So, in this parable, the little girl is conflating a bunch of separate questions in her head: “Is ‘oshun’ spelt correctly?”; “Am I allowed to pursue writing as an ambition?”; “Will I ultimately succeed as a writer?”; etc. To the girl, the answers to all these questions will be the same. If the answer to the questions is yes, all is well with the universe. If it is no, then everything she wants and believes about herself and her world comes crashing down around her.

But we must learn to ask and answer such difficult questions separately. For example, “Do you believe in feminism’s stated goals” and “do you agree with [representative feminist]’s tactics/rhetoric?” do not necessarily have the same answers. Similarly, saying that you agree with feminism’s stated goal of equal gender status, rights, and opportunities does not mean you’ve somehow betrayed your declared tribe of rationalists, scientists, and independent thinkers. It does not mean you have signed on for rioting about college speakers or advocating genocide on social media or assaulting people who say or believe things you don’t like. And saying that you agree with a single point that an unpopular or controversial speaker has expressed does not mean that you agree with anything else he or she says or does.

I think that maybe, instead of simply trusting the ugliest narratives that our groups tell each other about other groups, we should do what the social media post at the beginning of this essay suggests; we should try to separate the ideas themselves from their actors. This separating isn’t something that will happen automatically for most of us; it’s something we have to will ourselves to do. It is hard, and as soon as we think we’ve done it properly regarding one idea, we have to start all over again with another. And again and again and again.

And perhaps this is why we should all make it just a little bit easier for those in other groups to see our groups’ best qualities. If we really believe in the importance of our given cause, then we should be hungry for almost any allies that will help us advocate for it. Even if they have some objectionable qualities. Even if they have some objections about our qualities. Even if they’re only a half-hearted conformist with some reservations. Like me. Like you.

 

Jacob Little is a PhD Candidate at Ohio University. You can find his creative work at jacoblittle.net or follow him on Twitter at @Little_Jaycup

 

Reference:

[1] Elizabeth Sullivan & Robert Johns (2010) Challenging values and inspiring attitude change: Creating an effective learning experience, Social Work Education,21:2, 217-231, DOI: 10.1080/02615470220126444

 

17 Comments

  1. Andrew_W says

    To make life easier I take the short cut of mentally separating an aggressive speaker from the group they claim to represent. That doesn’t work so well though when you get a large group acting together to cause disruption, as we saw for example when J.B. Peterson spoke at Queens University.

  2. My next loan application will begin “Darling Fascist Bullyboy, Give me some more money, you bastard. I mean, I need the money.

    • That just didn’t work. I did a cut and paste and my post (original post) is not what I wanted. How do you delete, or edit a post?

  3. What this kind of rhetoric (“fuck white people”) makes clear is that you will not be welcome as an ally. It makes clear that you are identified as an “other”, less than human, enemy. With this type of person, there is no where that a white person can go to get a certificate of ok-ness. How can one not react negatively to that?

    • TarsTarkus says

      What we’re really talking about is not just group identity but group ideology. To belong, you must not only have the proper physical appearance but hold wholeheartedly every belief and opinion of the group, no matter how radically or frequently they change.

      Dissent=heresy=ostracism/expulsion/annihilation. Utter obedience is the only good. Those slow to respond to the shifting winds will be cast out.

  4. Caligula says

    If you approach me with a hostile “You owe me!” attitude and then lard an “And I owe you nothing but contempt!,” well I’ll probably do my best to ignore you.

    Because I really owe you absolutely nothing beyond recognizing that your civil rights are equal to mine.

    “Should” all men be feminist? Well, that might depend on how one defines “feminism.” My own definition would be, “advocacy for women and girls”; yours might differ.

    Although your screaming “I hate men!” will probably not change my attitude toward or definition of “feminism” or “feminists,” you might recognize that a political movement is not (and should not be) judged by what it claims to be its ideals but by only what it actually does. And what it does depends mightily on what those who march under its banner do in its name.

    Hey, have a nice day. Or not: that’s your choice, not mine.

  5. ga gamba says

    The irony of the claimed anti-racist defending “fuck white people” on moral principles. Then s/he (I’m betting it’s a she) ends with the plea for “treating all humans with equal respect.” The equally respectful reply is “Fuck you ____.”

    A person like this is too far gone. The battleground for hearts and minds is the audience. There are a few ways to handle the instigator. Being equally bombastic may give the responder an emotional thrill, yet doing so only establishes the responder to be as caustic as the initiator in the audience’s view.

    Better is to practice good allyship with the audience. Be their advocate. Mention how you think they’re good people and they’re wise the avoid instigator’s malice. The instigator will likely come back with more venom, which is fine because you want her to further marginalise herself with extremist statements. Again, you’re not looking to change her mind.

    Be on the watch for the dogpilers. There exist communities of allies who have declared their intention to fight online on behalf of “the marginalised”. They’re easy to spot because they’ll identify themselves with statements like “As a cis heteronormative white male/female, I (defence of instigator)…” These people are too far gone also, so you won’t be changing their minds. Also, you may find several of them swarming around because the intent is to overwhelm you. The way to neutralise them in the audience’s eyes is to mention they’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome after having been abused emotionally by people like the instigator. Certainly the audience doesn’t want to suffer the same fate. Talk to the audience and not the dogpilers.

    They’ll try to engage the responder with personal questions, hypothetical examples, etc. They’re looking for a battle because that’s what white knights do; they get their esteem this way. Ignore these gambits. Don’t speak to them, speak about them to the audience. Don’t give dogpilers the ‘you’. And don’t neglect to continue speaking about the instigator whilst advocating on behalf of the audience; the white knights are there to draw your attention away from her – it’s their professed mission. This drives them up the wall. All people dislike being disregarded, and those who intentionally look for these battles desire your attention. Deny them this.

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful, on-point essay. I’ve been a member of the Democratic Socialists of America since 2013, which might not seem that long, but we had a huge swell of new members after Trump was elected, and things changed. The pre-2016 members were largely critical thinkers who were there because they saw problems with our economic system and wanted to see if it was possible to do something about it; they also knew they were a minority and had to engage a skeptical audience if they were ever going to get people to listen to them as they spoke about something as maligned as “socialism.” When we quintupled in size, however, I started to see a lot more of the in-group signalling behavior that you’ve described here. I do think there are a lot of ordinary, non-radical Americans who would actually be open to our ideas if they were presented the right way; unfortunately, now we are doing precisely what the author describes as “los[ing] countless allies we once had because we didn’t understand the people on our side in the first place.”

    Of course, we still have our critical thinkers in our midst (including many of the new members) — people who know that our ideas are controversial and unproven, that we need to address people’s justifiable skepticism, and that we must have room for differences of opinion. And who know that if we do these things, we actually have a chance of building much more robust and powerful movement than the small, highly coherent in-group we’ve become! It is, admittedly, a daunting challenge, but I hope more of our members will seek to rise to it. I’m going to share this article with them. Thank you for writing this!

    • Jacob Little says

      Thank you for your thoughtful response! I’m glad to hear the article might be useful.

      I’m also glad you noted the positives and negatives of that large swelling in ranks. I imagine a lot of those new members are pretty motivated, maybe even more than the critical thinkers (sometimes the most thoughtful people are the least active people). But it’s also good to be aware of the risks, and it sounds like they’re presenting a real danger.

      Hopefully the group has leaders that know how to manage the different types of conformists in the group in an effective manner. Good luck to you!

  7. K.M. says

    I’ve seen that particular Tumblr comment before, and what amazed me was how they’re clearly expressing two contradictory ideas: “I hate men/Fuck white people” and “All humans should be treated with respect.” If I support the latter then how could I possibly join up with a group that says the former? Hearing “Fuck white people” does not make *me* stop believing that all humans should be treated with respect, but it does convince me that *their* group does not sincerely aim for humanity-wide respect as I would define it.

    I assume their complacency (an unspoken “If you believe that humans should be treated with respect, you have to join my group or are automatically part of my group”) comes from the belief that they have the monopoly on advocating for this particular goal. However, there is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I don’t strictly have to sign up with Group X just to support Goal A. I have options in Group Y and Group Z. As the article mentions, a lot of people support gender equality without being feminists. If I wished to support LGBT rights and safety, I could join Gays Against Guns *or* the Pink Pistols. For animal rights, I’m not just stuck with PETA, the list agencies I can choose from is huge. It would be up to the groups themselves to convince me which group is going to get the best results for my overall goal.

    It’s a given that any group will believe their method is the *best* route to achieve their goal, but when they believe it is the *only* route, they have an inadequate understanding of the situation and it will hurt their efficacy and ability to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

  8. “Religious people are nowhere near as stupid as many prominent atheists think they are.” At least you’ve acknowledged they are stupid.

    I’ll leave the corollary you followed with for the commenters on my comment.

    • Jacob Little says

      JA–

      Haha, that’s a loophole in my wording I didn’t foresee.

      But I think you might be missing the point here, and not about arrogance or stupidity. I think it’s important to remember that “religious people” and “atheists” are quite regularly not primarily driven by true belief. And if that’s the case, then taking the more intelligent position isn’t a very reliable marker for determining who’s actually intelligent.

      True, there are people who are atheists primarily because of their reasoning. But this is also no great marker of their effectiveness for the “cause.” As I said above, true believers are often terrible persuaders.

      For example, you might be a “true believer.” But insulting people is an incredibly counterproductive persuasive tactic. So either you’re a foolish true believer (remember what I said about atheism and intellect) or you’re an insecure believer who wants to convince yourself or others that atheists are super-smart (conforming for reasons other than true understanding). Knowing that you’re a human being, it’s probably bits of all of those.

      All of this is predicated on using your single, humorous comment as a reflection of your real life attitudes, and that’s not fair. But you are speaking in a way that readers will assume you’re an atheist. And you’re making it really easy for religious people to reject any arguments against god based on your representation of atheists’ beliefs and behaviors. That kind of public behavior makes a lot of atheists’ lives harder, and it makes persuading (or even interacting with) religious people much more difficult.

      I’m against that kind of thing. Which was kind of the whole point of the article.

      • “… taking the more intelligent position isn’t a very reliable marker for determining who’s actually intelligent.”

        At least you’ve acknowledge atheism is the more intelligent position.

    • Lapsed Pacifist says

      JA – Go speak with a Jesuit and see how stupid you think they are. Your contempt speaks more about you than your targets. “An atheist comes into a comment thread… And everyone knows it.”

      • Lapsed Pacifist – I don’t actually think “religious people are stupid”. That is obviously a crass generalisation. I surely don’t need to hash these arguments in a Quillette comment thread (though I will pass on the meta analysis paper that needs acknowledging – statistically, religious folk are on average less intelligent http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1088868313497266). I don’t know much about Jesuits, and am willing to accept that their average intelligence may well be above average intelligence, and may well be well above.

        Also, I don’t disagree with the author’s article or his comment on my comment. (The opportunity of my subsequent comment was too tickling to pass up). But with a bit of a caveat. I agree that changing minds vs causing entrenchment is key to progress and a civil society. (I note that you resorted to the kind of attack you criticised of me, rather than the civil, persuasive way the author responded to me). But I also want to live in a society where ideological silliness is called out for being what it is (and where crass generalisations and arrogance are called out for what they are) and not in a society where we respect every nonsense and try to pretend we don’t think it is nonsense whist bending over backwards to try to have meaningful conversations with exasperating people. And when we do make those efforts, our true thoughts can slip out. That was part of the reason for my original comment. I started to write something more thoughtful about asymmetry but noticed the more amusing (to me) observation. I don’t know whether that really is a slip revealing the author’s true thinking (how could I?) but there was a chance it might be. But the asymmetry is interesting too – both “sides” are being accused of aggravating, coarse rhetoric, but the particular accusations differ. One side is accusing the other of lesser intelligence, whilst the accusation in the other direction is of arrogance. Now, I submit that accusations of arrogance are more likely (statistically speaking, because of course an individual accusation could be spot on) a defence to an accusation of lesser intelligence than an accusation of lesser intelligence is a defence to an accusation of arrogance. “No, you’re being stupid” (or something a bit more sophisticated) is a more appropriate childish response to the childish accusation of stupidity. Note how the accusations of lesser intelligence don’t go in the opposite direction, with the accusations of arrogance in return (ironically, the accusation of arrogance from atheists to the religious is not usually a retort to an accusation of dumb ideology, but as a response to belief without evidence).

        Quillette has excellent commentary that doesn’t descend to dumb rhetoric (excepting me and you, though I claim that mine had some redeeming features of humour and insight), and I think readers can stand a bit of barbed humour along the lines of Jim Jeffries’ “I respect your right to believe. But please know that you’re wrong. Stop being a f’ing child”.

        • I should add that one thing I do disagree with in the relevant bit of the article is that I don’t see prominent atheists calling religious folk stupid. On the contrary, prominent atheists seem to readily and frequently mention that highly intelligent (and informed) folk can be religious, but, from an atheists point of view, on the basis that they think that the stuff the religious are believing is not warranted from the evidence, it is something that needs explaining

  9. Diego Guillermo says

    “Do to others what you would have them do to you…” Sums this up & saves a lot of reading time.

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