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Monday, February 12, 2007

Love the sinner, hate the sin?

In Internet and other debates a distinction is often drawn between attacking a person’s ideas and attacking the person themselves. The first is seen as healthy, objective criticism, while the second is merely an ad hominem attack designed to rouse tempers rather than provoke discussion.

But can the distinction be so easily made? Can we draw a line between a person and the ideas they hold? I don’t think we can.

Consider the following: “It’s not you I’m calling hideous, just the clothes you wear!” Or, closer to home for a lot of us here: “I didn’t insult you, I just called your blog a mess of infantile, badly-written drivel!”

Both would be perceived as attacks on us by association: I choose the clothes I wear, I write my blog, etc. The same can be said for more ideological matters: Can we really separate criticising a religion from criticising those who believe in it?

Our ideas often have an emotional investment simply because they are our ideas. They reflect who we are and our ability to think. Suggesting that someone’s political views are misguided, for example, is inevitably to suggest that they themselves stupid enough to hold such views.

If we were purely rational beings, selecting ideas purely on a cost-benefit type basis, then we’d have no trouble adopting or abandoning them in light of new information. But we’re often more emotional/instinctive beings. The ability to rationally determine which political/economic system is best for 60 million odd fellow-citizens living in an increasingly connected world is beyond most of us, so we rely on gut-instinct and the emotional impact of certain events to guide us in what’s hopefully the right direction: a simple distrust of government, or experience of poverty can have more influence over our political thinking then the works of Smith, Marx, Keynes and Milton combined a lot of the time. Rational arguments are then drawn up after the fact to support our own beliefs and attack those which are different.

Human beings crave certainty: we like to think that our ideas are correct and that the life we’ve chosen is the right one. To this end, we wrap ideas and concepts around us like a protective cloak. To have someone start pulling on a loose thread can be an uncomfortable experience.

26 comments:

Stran_ger said...

I have to agree with you. It is impossible to attack beliefs without attacking the believer itself. I believe that debate is healthy. It shows you that someone else have a different point of view, that chose a different value giving you a different view of the world and thus broadening your mentality. To cover this attack (that some people can consider too offensive) sometimes people tend to create “alter egos” which will facilitate the debate (the idea is that they don’t attack the person but his/her “alter ego”).
As for me I don’t mind when a people attack my beliefs, it is always a opportunity to question myself and my beliefs and proof my self if I took the right choice.

Ewout said...

Can we draw a line between a person and the ideas they hold?
Yes I think we can.Ultimately you can drop your idea and you can drop yourself. But if you drop yourself there is no idea anymore to.As you yourself have the ability to drop ideas, you should see other people likewise, what does not mean you can argue to drop them people.Its a question of curtasy/politeness.Logic is build with components and components make the idea.To change ideas you need new components.Which can be handed by others in talk, books etc.I think the tone in your posting is prety negative, because of words as; stupid, attacking, rouse temper, provoke, hideous, insult, infantile etc.This makes me think, do you go about in discusions in the same way?

Speakers, Listeners, Thinkers, Do-ers,
They come in all sizes, right?
But seldom one can see,
Speaking, Listening, Thinking and Doing UNITE.

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