Snidely Whiplash Is Not on Facebook

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?

Read on.

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.

Three Tips for Dealing with the Name-Dropper

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.

Learning to Allow Space for the Thinking Pause

Why Seemingly Little Decisions Can Make or Break Your Conversations

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.

How Should Conservatives Respond to the Disturbing Trend of Campus Censorship?

We experienced an aggressive protest at UC Davis, but this is part of a disturbing, growing trend of censorship of conservative speech on college campuses.

This is an extended version of an article from our last printed newsletter. Warning: This blog post includes strong language when directly quoting leftist protesters.

On February 29th through March 1st at UC Davis, we faced our most aggressive, persistent, and unreasonable protest yet.

As many of you know, our preferred way of doing outreach is to set up a simple poll table that asks questions like, “Should Abortion Remain Legal?” and provide options for people to sign Yes, No, or It Depends. While we do keep track of the results of these polls to pay attention to trends, they aren’t scientific and we don’t ask the question in order to track people’s answers. We just want to dialogue with people and give our volunteers an opportunity to use what they learned at our training seminar.

We don’t put up signs with abortion images. If you want to learn about how we use abortion images, go to EqualRightsInstitute.com/Images. In short, we think the images are valuable and sometimes persuasive, so we have them in our brochure and we train our volunteers to use them in their conversations. Our rule is that we don’t show people abortion images without their consent, which is purely for pragmatic reasons. We don’t think it’s evil to put abortion images on signs, but we have found it to be counter-productive if our goal is to have persuasive dialogues with people.

The pro-choice club found out that we were coming to do an event of some kind on Monday and Tuesday and they assumed we were going to do a graphic image outreach. They came prepared to protest us with umbrellas and signs that said “graphic images ahead” and “let us be your umbrella escort.” They were literally offering to escort people past the most unintimidating pro-life display they’d ever seen. To the casual observer, we could have been a pro-choice table, or a table run by people that were undecided but interested in people’s opinions.

The protesters eventually realized that we were having friendly and productive dialogues, so they got tired of protesting us by standing 75-feet away and holding their signs. In the afternoon, they figured out an effective way to actually interfere with our event: they formed a protest line in front of our table. This turned our table from a comfortable, inviting place for conversation into a place where people expected to be yelled at, and it effectively shut down our table. We asked the university administration to respect our free speech event and tell the protesters to give us some space. They refused to do anything.

Pro-choice protesters at UC Davis in a line in front of our poll table.

Pro-choice protesters at UC Davis in a line in front of our poll table.

Bodily Rights Arguments Necessitate Extremism

Bodily rights arguments for abortion are always extremist arguments, at least in the way people present them. No bodily rights argument that I have ever seen (or even heard of any pro-choice advocate making) leaves room for abortion exceptions.

Not all pro-choice people are extremists.

A 2013 Gallup poll found that 80% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester. A 2012 Lozier Institute poll found that 77% of their respondents believed sex-selective abortions should be against the law. Most people, even pro-choice people, believe there are circumstances when abortion should not be legal.

But almost all pro-choice people use extremist arguments.

What is an extremist argument?

By “extremist arguments,” I don’t mean “arguments that extremists often use;” I mean arguments that necessarily lead to an extremist position. I am not saying that having an extremist position means you must take extremist or violent action. I am just saying if you make an argument that logically requires an extremist position and you don’t take that extremist position, you’re being inconsistent.

For instance, suppose someone said, “Having dark skin makes you a non-person, but I really like lots of people with dark skin and I think people ought to be nice to them.” They’re advocating for being nice, but “having dark skin makes you a non-person” is an extremist argument. The logical conclusion of that argument is that anyone who has dark skin should not be legally protected, that it is morally justified to enslave or kill such people. It doesn’t matter how kind, compassionate, or well-meaning the person is who says it; the argument is extremist.

People are welcome to try to justify abortion with extremist arguments, but they should expect to be gently challenged to hold a consistent view. If you’re making an extremist argument, you should be consistent and hold the extremist view that comes with it.