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I read an article arguing that if you oppose dehumanizing fetuses, you should oppose dehumanizing anyone. Call them evil people. Never call them animals.
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Almost two years ago I read about twenty-one Coptic Christians whom ISIS beheaded. One of my Facebook friends shared the list of the martyrs’ names, and, as I read through them, I noticed that one of them, Samuel Alham Wilson, happened to have the same first and last name as one of my closest friends. Somehow that coincidence strangely humanized these brave Christians for me. I wrote on my own Facebook wall, “I work full-time trying to help people humanize the unborn, and yet until I read their names, I didn’t exactly think of them as human. They were mere statistics.”
Unfortunately, there’s an ugly side to this story that I didn’t even realize until recently. I was so appalled at the evil of the people who killed the twenty-one Coptic Christians, I referred to them multiple times as “animals” and “monsters.” I consciously humanized the Christians, and then turned around and subconsciously dehumanized their murderers.
I’ve seen many others make the same mistake. We have to stop doing this.
Are you frustrated with political polarization? Have you noticed that conversations between the opposite ends of the political spectrum are getting harder and harder? Do you wonder why it has gotten so ugly, and do you wish you could do something about it?
The human mind is naturally ordered toward making sense of things. It wants to come up with explanations. When we observe something we don’t understand, we go through a mental process of thinking about possible explanations for it. This is something you can dwell on consciously, but even if you don’t, you come to basic conclusions without even thinking about it.
For any weird phenomenon, there are many possible explanations. How do we narrow down the list to settle on something to believe? There’s no perfect formula for this, but there are some healthy tendencies that we should all have. For instance, Occam’s Razor (Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected) is a good place to start. Also, we should seek explanations that explain all of the data, not just some of it. There are certainly other principles of rationality for evaluating the plausibility of various explanations, but there is one in particular that is severely underrated. I think anyone who adopts it will have more accurate beliefs and much better dialogue and understanding of people with whom they disagree.
Philosophy majors can be incredibly obnoxious. I should know. I was one.
Philosophy is a tool. Like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. In the hands of a surgeon, a scalpel can be used to save a life. In the hands of a murderer, the same scalpel can be used to end a life.
Philosophy can be used to help people to believe true things. Not all of the topics that philosophers are interested in are terribly practical, but some of them have a significant effect on how we should live our lives. To give just a couple of examples, philosophy can help us come to more reasonable beliefs about whether God exists or not and what he is like if he does. Philosophy can also help us to understand ethics, how we should treat each other.
Unfortunately, philosophy can also be used to deceive people. If you study ideas enough, you can become very adept at bluffing. One of the particularly annoying ways that philosophy majors bluff is name-dropping philosophers they’ve read, sometimes subtly (but usually not).
For clarity, name-dropping is mentioning the names of famous people you know with the intention of impressing others. It isn’t name-dropping to quote something from someone and appropriately credit them.
Name-dropping can be frustrating and intimidating to some pro-life students, so here are my three suggestions for how to deal with name-droppers.
You can’t dialogue well about abortion or anything else unless you learn to listen well. It should be obvious to anyone that if you want to listen well you shouldn’t interrupt people when they’re in the middle of a sentence. Something much less obvious is that you shouldn’t interrupt people when they’re in the middle of an important thought. An excellent listener should develop both the wisdom to recognize and the patience to allow space for a thinking pause.
There are two types of pauses that can take place after someone finishes talking: 1) a conclusion pause, and 2) a thinking pause. A conclusion pause takes place when the person has concluded his statement and is ready for you to jump in with your thoughts. A thinking pause takes place when the person hasn’t actually concluded; when he intends to continue but needs to stop to think.
The problem is that these types of pauses strongly resemble each other. When someone needs a five to ten second pause in between sentences, he doesn’t usually tell you, “Hang on, give me a second to formulate my thought.” You can’t count on everyone to be that articulate of a communicator.