The Ability to Reason is Dead

The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight.

In “The Enigma of Reason” scientists Hugo Mercier of the French Research Institute in Lyon and Dan Sperber, from the Central European University in Budapest attempted to make the point that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. Man developed the ability to reason they claim, not to enable us to solve abstract or logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, reason developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an intellectualist point of view often prove shrewd when seen from a social interactionist perspective.

Reasoning, in the real world, is the capacity for consciously making sense of things, establishing and verifying facts, applying logic, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It is something truly rare in today’s world, especially on the left, but in some instances on the right as well.
How did we get to the point where a large portion of society is no longer interested in learning or debating all political philosophies, economic theories or moral principles that challenge their existing worldview?  I vote for 12 plus years of government indoctrination but psychologists have their own explanation.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, led by Jeremy Frimer, a psychologist at the University of Winnipeg, essentially tested this very question and concluded that avoiding facts inconvenient to our worldview isn’t just some passive unconscious habit we engage in – we do it because we find these facts to be genuinely unpleasant and as long as it remains unpleasant and easy to avoid, we’re just going to drift further and further apart.

It is what Matt Motyl, a co-author of the study, called Motivated Ignorance. “People on the left and right, are motivated to avoid hearing from the other side for some of the same reasons: the anticipation of cognitive dissonance and the undermining of a fundamental need for a shared reality with other people,” which often overshadows incentives to weigh evidence or to be objective when it comes to political discussions. This ring of motivated ignorance, in fact, becomes the refuge of those who, in the face of intellectual challenges, avoid critical reexamination of their sacred beliefs at all costs.

Dan Kahan, a psychologist at Yale believes this detachment from reality is caused by pressure to live up to our “groups” expectations. As long as people can curate what they see, and create their own content, there will be a small voice inside motivating them to stick with what they already know – They do this out of love for their in-group, and out of fear of the out-group.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but lack of curiosity is a dangerous thing for humans. Look around you! Shutting ourselves off from opposing views creates a bubble where we remake the world into our own image, where reality only exists in our minds, where anyone that doesn’t follow our line of thought becomes the enemy, an enemy that must be silenced. And of course the left is prolific in the art of demeaning their opponents to silence them into submission.

The war against reason only serves to dumb down political debate. Non-leftist views are silenced while progressive arguments need never be thoroughly presented because intimidation and name-calling proves to be much easier and satisfyingly self-righteous. History proves such trends lead to ugly outcomes, outcomes that we are beginning to see on our local news. 

Lack of exposure to other viewpoints may help explain why so many leftists can muster no greater argument than “shut up, racists.”

Source: Motivated Ignorance is Ruining Our Political Discourse by Brian Resnick, Vox; The War on Curiosity, by Brian Balfour, Mises Institute

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