Baseless Elitism: The Dangers Of Inductive Reasoning
You know what really bugs me? Elitism. Not all of it, only the unjustified kind. Justified elitism is your basic meritocratic thinking: “I have achieved/accomplished/finished this, I therefore hold in a higher regard those who can do this than those who can’t.” That’s one thing. Then there’s unjustified elitism, such as “I am an atheist and he isn’t. Because there is no proof of god, this means I’m smarter than him.” Or “I’m ‘progressive’ and he’s ‘conservative’. He doesn’t support government-mediated social welfare and entitlements. Therefore he is a petty-mined, unintelligent, uncharitable bastard.”
It’s not quite the same thing as racism or prejudice. Instead it represents a failure of inductive reasoning. Person A takes a position on a specific subject. Person B takes this position and then generalizes it into an overall assessment of Person A’s character, intellect, or other personal characteristics.
In other words, it’s like trying to figure out the composition of an entire forest by looking at a single fir tree.
Overgeneralization and Oversimplification
Other than the fact that I’m sick of this false elitism being perpetrated all over my backside, what’s really scary about this mode of thought is that it hampers open communication and understanding of the complexity and nuances of ideas. So let’s leave behind elitism for a minute and focus on the twin foibles of overgeneralization and oversimplification.
Nothing illustrates this better than the idea of the Party Line. ‘Oh you voted Republican? You must not be a conservationist.’ Or ‘Oh you’re a Democrat? Gun-grabbing hoplophobic eunuch…’
You can see the problem already. It’s attempting to impute an Either/Or where none should exist. Can you link conservation, gun control, drug legalization, and social welfare together logically? Not especially. Which might explain why I see no problem with supporting two of them and being vehemently opposed to the other two (guess which ones).
Whether it’s the two party system or the innate desire to label someone either ‘us’ or ‘them’, I couldn’t say. What I do know is that this tendency destroys our ability to question our own stance and understand the other guy’s, whether political, scientific, personal, or professional. This tendency to oversimplification means that instead of the four positions mentioned in the last paragraph, we see only one, whether referring to ourselves or to our political opponents. Attack one, attack them all. To put this into context, say Person A attacks Person B’s position that all handguns should be banned. ‘A’ presents a well-reasoned argument that may have had some sway over Person B if he hadn’t gotten all defensive and closed himself off to the merits of Person A’s case immediately. Why did Person B get so defensive? Because when Person A attacked one of Person B’s many political opinions, Person B felt like Person A was attacking not only his entire political ideology, but also his personal character. Person B was oversimplifying his own political views into a single artificially monolithic construct.
Turning this around, imagine that Person A expresses a distaste for the Intelligent Design. Person B then makes some remark implying Person A is of a decidedly leftist persuasion, like himself. Person A takes umbrage and decides to start a movement called Conservatives Against Intelligent Design (launching at the end of the month-ish). In addition to making a total ass of himself, Person B has alienated a lot of people who, like Person A, aren’t particularly socialist, but aren’t ID supporters either. Best case scenario is that people like Person A no longer voice their opinions, fearing they’ll be lumped in with people like Person B. Worst case is that people like Person C, who was on the fence about evolution-creation but was definitely conservative, and Person D, who’s a political opportunist, throw their hats in the ring in support of ID (I’m pretty sure this is the real reason for the strength of the ID movement). They’ve taken advantage of Person B’s conflation of one issue with an entire ideology and used this as a weapon against B. They’re not taking the opposite position on that issue in order to say ‘Hey we’re different from this guy.’
Oversimplification and overgeneralization are bad no matter how you look at it. But ignoring all the strategic pitfalls you may find yourself in by engaging in false induction, at its most basic it is a crime against reason: It prevents you from being honest in your assessment of the beliefs, opinions, and contentions of everyone including yourself.
The Sin Of False Pride
I’ve got no problem with pride, so long as it’s deserved. As my best friend and I used to say back in high school “It ain’t cocky if you can back it up.” Of course, that was our excuse for being egomaniacal twerps who deserved a good ass-kicking and never got it. But anyway, the thing about pride is that it’s generally contingent upon a perception of achievement or superiority. The problem I see today, the problem I mentioned in the first paragraph, is that either the perception is false, or the achievement/superiority is much smaller in reality than it is in the individual’s mind.
People who possess otherwise fine minds allow unreasoned and often silly propositions to piggyback their way into their ideology along with one well-reasoned. As is seen all to often in scientific circles, a man can develop one of the most important theories in sociobiology while simultaneously supporting crackpot conspiracy theories. The brilliance of one does not somehow invalidate the wrongheadedness of the other. Granted, that was an extreme example, but many scientists seem to not dwell even a second on the many inconsistencies between the various philosophical theories underlying leftist concepts (’the collective’ and ‘Maslow’s hierarchy’ being foremost among them) and what science actually says about individual behavior. They imply that being ‘experts’ or ‘having proven themselves’ by getting a PhD, their political stance must be as reasoned as their professional and scientific opinions, when nothing could be further from the truth. These are the same people, after all, who don’t understand the distinction between positive and negative liberty, or that between a classical liberal and a conservative.
Or a leftist may imply that because he voted for social welfare, he’s a more charitable person than the next man. He’s taken a simple proposition; that he supports government-mediated charity whereas the other man doesn’t, and extended it to imply that the other man doesn’t believe in charitable works whatsoever.
Or the conservative might look upon my own stance on marriage, drugs, or freedom of expression and declare that I am an immoral hedonist while he’s a sparkling beacon of tolerance, brotherly love, and non-judgmentalism. He’d be just as wrong as the men in the other two situations.
So long as we allow this false pride in ourselves and in others to go unchecked, we will never have a free exchange of ideas, we will never be able to argue on the merit of the positions themselves, and we will never find our way past the flawed positions that all political ideologies flow from.
** Vindaloo Diesel is alternately known on the internet as a meathead, intellectual, geek, or giant troll, which he uses to disguise the fact that he’s actually an amazing guy who helps people he should probably ignore. His friends find equal amounts of consternation and amusement in the fact that he’s incapable of dating women who aren’t evil gorgeous blondes who treat him like garbage. When he’s not ranting about life, the universe, and everything; he’s either lifting weights, looking for fights (but they keep running away!), engaging in juvenile humor, or making homoerotic jokes with male friends who may or may not actually be straight (because Gay Roulette is even funnier than Gay Chicken).