Bullet points for a Tuesday lunch hour

  • We fundamentally don’t understand our own reasoning. Or, another way, people don’t know why they think what they think. This is pessimistic, I know. But this is (my understanding of) the scientific consensus. I’d go for far as to say that most of “why do I think what I think” is post-hoc rationalization.
  • I tend not to take folks too seriously when they frame stuff a certain way, or spell out their reasoning on a certain issue. This isn’t to say I doubt they think that way; I assume, probably too generously, good faith on the what. I just think the why is inaccessible.
  • Turns out, though, the why is pretty important. For instance, you’d expect that a lot of the folks vigorously supporting the Hong Kong protests would be as vigorously supporting the Portland protests, since they have similar features. But not even a little! A lot of folks might enumerate a list of differences about what the protests are actually about, etc. But I suspect that list would be a list of stuff they found after they’d already made a gut-level decision. A post-hoc rationalization.
  • (The real reason is probably something along the lines of political affiliation, by the way. I suspect a lot of the support for Hong Kong was anti-China, not pro-democracy.)
  • The natural pushback to this is that being suspicious of these post-hoc rationalizations is just an easy way to discredit someone’s position without having to deal with the actual content of their position. The short answer is, yes. That’s true. That’s a danger, and I’m certainly not immune to it. The longer answer is I’ve been alive for a long while now, and on the internet talking with folks about stuff for a good part of that. And I’ve seen so much inconsistency between what people say they believe and what positions they end up taking, I just have a hard time believing any of it.
  • Take for instance the evolution of the Evangelical position on how exemplary their leader’s moral behaviour should be. When their guy’s a creep, suddenly the overall opinion changes. Not for everyone, of course, but for enough people that it’s statistically significant.
  • My take on these sorts of things is that personality, media, politics, and community (respectively and in decreasing order) play a much larger role than we like to acknowledge.
  • More fundamentally, people aren’t rational in the way that economists would like, or that the Enlightenment assumes.
  • This is also another nail in the coffin of non-situational ethics. In-group ethics in particular become an exercise in community interpretation, especially when filtered through politics.
  • I have a special affection for folks who are weathering the current (acute) political crises without abandoning their ethics. If you’re going to be a fundamentalist at least be a good one and don’t jump ethical ships per election. If morality and ethics are fixed, let them be fixed.
  • I’m not even going to touch on “reasons” that most people know are straight up bullshit, like the NRA’s “guns === freedom” defence-of-liberty bullshit. The only way you can take that kind of stuff seriously is if you switch out all the dogwhistley words for what they actually mean. This is why I appreciate “I like shooting stuff” over “I need to defend my family”.
  • Or even worse, standards that only apply to folks I disagree with. Imagine how quickly an editor at an Evangelical publications would be shot into space for publishing an editorial in support of abortion rights, yet the same sort of thing at a liberal publication is met with howls of outrage. Rank bullshit. Why are liberal publications required to both-sides everything, while conservative publications get to have airtight editorial control? Absolutely rank bullshit.

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