Monday, February 9, 2015

Labels are a trap. And a look at the backfire effect

Are you a liberal? Are you a conservative? Are you a feminist? Are you a men's rights advocate? Are you Christian? Are you Hindu? Are you atheist? Are you a driver? Are you a gamer? Are you a sports enthusiast?

Labels! They're the word by which we simplify the notion that someone belongs to a group. For the sake of keeping things simple, let's focus on political affiliation! When you're ~20 years old, you have a number of political ideas even though you probably don't know much about politics, how it works, and the political philosophy or political-historical background of the past 70 years that explains the current dynamics of political parties. Anyways... you have ideas and you will probably choose to associate yourself to 1 of the 2 biggest political parties in your country.

After you have associated yourself to a party, after you've decided to endorse this party as part of your identity, you will tend to develop beliefs that are aligned to this party. Not because you independently develop new ideas that naturally align with your past ideas and your chosen party, but because having heretic ideas, not in line with your party would challenge your identity and the label you associate with.

When new ideas emerge within your party, embracing these new ideas will make you feel comfortable and secure within your identity and within your group. But if you face someone who presents actual evidence that your party's new ideas are wrong or misguided, you'll go defensive and you will fight against the truth of the evidence handed to you. Being defensive, the wrong or misguided ideas you've gotten from your party will even reinforce within you. This psychological effect is called the backfire effect.

When you're caught in a hot-tempered discussion or debate, the backfire effect may arise. It may arise when you're confronted with a controversial subject in relation to one of the labels you identify yourself as. Maybe your ideological opponents are wrong but maybe you are wrong! You should go and check what the other side is saying and evaluate if they have good evidence supporting their point of view. Don't believe that your side will give you a fair and accurate representation of what the opposing side's point of view!

If you find yourself agreeing 100% of the time with what your group is saying, then there is a problem with you and with the way you form your judgment. You should evaluate information coming from all sides and then conclude independently, even if that means that on some issues, you'll be at odds with your party and with some of your friends within your party. It may hurt you and them in the process, but that's the normal way that things work when you're looking for the truth and that you want to make the best informed judgment possible. Some people might be less informed than you, or informed through unreliable sources, and they might not be able to spend the extra effort to evaluate the sources that you may want to suggest to them. Also, diplomacy and being able to convincingly present arguments in a way tailored to your audience is not easy ...not easy for me, at least.

So, no matter if you're left-wing, right-wing, feminist, anti-feminist, sports-enthusiast, sports-hater, or any other label, you now know one danger of choosing a label for yourself.

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