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ETpro's avatar

Can you explain to an ideologue the difference in their thought process and that of a pragmatist?

Asked by ETpro (34247 points ) October 21st, 2011

In a discussion or debate, it’s not uncommon for each debater to think the other is an ideologue, frozen immovably into a positing by ideology rather than evidence, and only willing to accept “facts” that agree with and support the conclusion their ideology requires. Sometimes that’s the actual case. We’ve probably all seen two ideologues from opposite poles duke it out in words here.

However, it’s often true that one is not an ideologue. Even an empiricist who weighs all evidence for its value and lets the facts guide them to the best solution will appear to the disagreeing ideologue to be applying fudge factors and rejecting the “important” evidence for that which, unfortunately, conflicts with the outcome the ideologue desires. Is it possible to get past that, or is debate with ideologues just a useless waste of time?

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9 Answers

tom_g's avatar

I have been lax with this process recently, but I used to have a policy of doing the following…

(Ignore the details. This topic is just for example.)

If you’re in a debate about gun control, and the person advocating for gun control is fighting with you over statistics that supposedly show that stricter gun control laws result in lower gun deaths, then it might be wise to ask the following: If I am able to show you that statistics do not support this claim, would you change your position on gun control? If the answer is “no”, then the conversation is probably not worth it, or it’s time to ask the question, “What facts would change your position?” It’s possible that nothing will. Save your breath.

wonderingwhy's avatar

I’ve found asking why they hold so zealously to their concepts, why they discredit one set of “facts” in favor of another, and finding common ground slowly a grain at a time can work well. The idea is to understand the logic they have used to develop and support their beliefs. Once you do you can craft your arguments in ways able to encourage critical thinking along the same lines they used to establish their position to begin with. Sort of like trying to find a common language.

Keep in mind two things though: 1) being an ideologue does not mean you aren’t open to alternate points of view, you’re just less easily swayed; 2) sometimes people aren’t interested in changing their point of view and will simply processes any argument through the lens of their position.

As @tom_g said, essentially what I mean in 2, if they aren’t willing to even consider other possibilities it’s not usually an argument worth having. Although sometimes you can eek out a little something if you’re not hoping for too much (say for example laying the groundwork for future arguments or getting an acknowledgement that your position isn’t “crazy” in their view).

thorninmud's avatar

I recently came across an interesting article about the emotional basis for ideology, and how intransigent those ideologies are, even in the face of strong evidence. Some key excerpts:

”...our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds — fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of them…We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators but to data itself.

“We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers. Our ‘reasoning’ is a means to a predetermined end — winning our ‘case’ — and is shot through with biases…Plainly put, if I don’t want to believe that my spouse is being unfaithful, or that my child is a bully, I can go to great lengths to explain away behavior that seems obvious to everybody else.

“Modern science originated from an attempt to weed out such subjective lapses — what Francis Bacon, that great 17th-century theorist of the scientific method, dubbed the ‘idols of the mind.’ Our individual responses to the conclusions that science reaches, however, are quite another matter. Because researchers employ so much nuance and disclose so much uncertainty, scientific evidence is highly susceptible to selective reading. Giving ideologues or partisans scientific data that’s relevant to their beliefs is like unleashing them in the motivated-reasoning equivalent of a candy store.

“And it’s not just that people twist or selectively read scientific evidence to support their pre-existing views. According to research by Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues, people’s deep-seated views about morality, and about the way society should be ordered, strongly predict whom they consider to be a legitimate scientific expert in the first place — and thus where they consider ‘scientific consensus’ to lie on contested issues.”

I’ll stop there, but there’s much more good stuff. Bottom line, though, is that this ideological entrenchment is probably too deeply rooted in the psyche to respond to mere evidence, or even self-reflection.

Keep_on_running's avatar

@thorninmud Very interesting article, and so true.

ETpro's avatar

@tom_g Good suggestions. Thanks.

@wonderingwhy While it doesn’t sound that easy to implement, particularly in the midst of a passionate debate, those are sound strategies. I can see how they might help someone to examine their beliefs to see how they stack up against reality and reason.

@thorninmud Great Answer! Thanks for a thought-provoking. And we just got a current day example of the doomsday prophet recalculating. 90 year old kook Pastor Harold Camping’s has repeatedly proved wrong in his prophecies of the date of doomsday. He
s jist isssued a new date and it’s this month. :-)

Ron_C's avatar

Two ideologues cannot properly debate, an ideologue and empiricists cannot have a debate. Only two empiricists can have a debate with a real outcome where one of them would change their mind. I notice the Republican debates add an additional factor because they are now also adding the insane and the sociopaths in the mix.

There is no apparent place in today’s environment where a pragmatic person, like the president can work to bring consensus. I expect things will stay that way until there is a tragedy that makes the 9/11 bombings seem mild. Apparently, Americans can’t work or even discuss ideas unless there is a “recognized outside” danger.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Sure I can. Some ideologues do understand they’re such but they can see the pragmatist as a coward giving in to the system, as a traitor. I think many ideologues do become pragmatists out of sheer exhaustion of trying to deal with life.

HungryGuy's avatar

As I’ve said a few times before, I used to be a Libertarian ideologue (believing that any government interference in the mutual consensual activity between any people for any reason is the root of all evil in the world).

However, I’ve always also been an empiricist, and so the facts of the events leading to the Great Recession have demonstrated that nearly unfettered free-market capitalism has its, ahem, imperfections.

Plus, add in a few of the times I’ve personally interacted with corporate higher-ups that left me with a sour taste in my mouth for their ilk.

Thus, while I’m still largely a libertarian, I believe that regulation of commercial trade (as opposed to one-of trade between private individuals) needs to be regulated for fraud, truth in advertising, etc.

ETpro's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir If that’s so, there is hope for them.

Ideologues work the scientific method in exact reverse. Instead of starting with a postulate and observing evidence, making predictions, then asking others to point out the flaws before arriving at a theory; ideologues start with a Law, then look for whatever fragments of evidence they can find that would support it, and reject all evidence that says their Law isn’t true.

@HungryGuy My guess is we are both libertarian in the same sorts of ways.

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