The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Irrational Rationalists

Earlier this week, the New York Times put out an editorial about something called the "Intellectual Dark Web". It's quite a good summary of some increasingly influential academics, pundits, and intellectuals; I recommend reading it if you have time.

Sure, I'm not sure what I think about the name, the website it's taken from, or how we determine who is and is not part of this group. However, I think there are enough similarities between these people and some of the positions they hold to make a few statements about what they believe as a group and what my opinion of them is.

As you may be able to guess from the post title, that opinion is not particularly positive. I may like the editorial, but I don't think it's quite as critical of some of the people it profiles as they deserve.

In particular, I think the ways in which most of these intellectuals have faced criticism for their ideas makes them more sensitive to criticism than is warranted, makes them more likely to assume someone who has been criticized for their beliefs should be taken seriously, and makes them less likely to look for the best versions of their opponents' arguments. For one example, Sam Harris' reaction to some of the criticism he faced following his interview with Charles Murray had a number of problems. Also, the editorial itself notes that it's surprising how many of these people, who one would think would have no problem saying whatever happens to be true, don't seem to criticize some conspiracy theories, racism, or pseudo-intellectual thoughts even when it's obviously warranted. And my reaction to many of Ben Shapiro's videos has been to note that the things he says liberals believe or the arguments he says they use don't seem to resemble what I and the liberals I know actually believe.

To be fair to most of these intellectuals, none of the problems I've described are particularly unusual. As much as we all try to be rational, basically all of us will fall prey to biases or fallacious thinking from time to time. The problem is that the only way to avoid that is to be careful about checking one's own thought for errors, and I'm not convinced that most of these people are doing that - or even agree that it's necessary. They accept some criticism, if it's framed in the right way and presented by the right people, but tend to automatically assume that anyone they associate with the "regressive left" can't possibly have a valid point. 

All that does is ensure that they, and those who agree with them, won't be able to see any valid points when the other side does come up with them. That's not exactly the sort of search for truth at any cost that this movement is supposed to be building itself around.

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