February 28, 2021

Not Everyone Who Disagrees with Me is Irrational

Most of us would probably acknowledge that not everyone who disagrees with us is necessarily irrational for doing so. At least, I think most of us would probably acknowledge this if we paused long enough to give it some thought.

Not only could we be wrong, but the person who disagrees with us could have reached a different position than ours through rational means. Thus, both of us could have been rational and still arrived at different positions. And depending on the specific issues involved, it is possible that both of us arrived at our positions through rational means and neither of us is wrong. Many political positions fall into this category because they reflect preferences about the sort of world we'd like to inhabit and are not the thing that can be true or false in any meaningful sense.

One of the many instances in which we reveal our own irrationality is when hastily label everyone who disagrees with us on some issue as being irrational (or worse) for doing so. We don't pause long enough to inquire as to why they believe what they believe, how they came to their beliefs, or anything else that might permit us to evaluate their rationality. We see that they disagree with us, condemn them as irrational for doing so, and sometimes go so far as to remove ourselves from interacting with them. In short, we act like the Christian god.

When we do this, rationality is not what we are after. To be clear, our problem with the person who disagrees with us is not that they are being irrational when they do so. Our problem with them is that we have decided they are worthy of moral condemnation for the perceived offense of disagreeing with us. Very godly indeed!

Fortunately, we do not have to do any of this. We can seek to understand others' perspectives and learn from them. We can cultivate respect for people who hold viewpoints which differ from ours. We can recognize that we often benefit from interacting with others with whom we disagree, and we can learn how to do it more effectively. We can behave more like we say we'd like others to behave. And while I acknowledge that this may be especially challenging for some, I also think most of us are even capable of doing this on soical media.