My last wife had the most annoying habit. We had different political backgrounds, and she would make statements about mine that were false. When I would try to provide her with correct information, she would say “I don’t want to hear it,” and put her fingers in her ears. In a sense, I suspect this was the reason we divorced. She couldn’t handle constant reminders that the world did not revolve around her. I could not fathom a refusal of information, learning was part of why I loved her; she routinely presented ideas I had never considered, a few of them made sense.
Recently I found myself in something resembling her position. A person presented a thoughtful collection of data and studies that I refuse to entertain. The data was too well recorded and interpreted to throw it away out of hand, it may very well be true, or it could be false, I don’t wish to investigate. It is knowledge I refuse to possess.
The young (42) man who presented the information did so in a sincere manner. Having been inundated with claims of institutional racism being the cause of poor test scores among people of color, he sought out and collected data indicating that differences in intelligence are genetic, racial by nature, and not caused by environment. Were I to entertain this train of thought, it would tarnish my relationships with people of color (by the way, when did white stop being a color?). Certainly anecdotal evidence refutes the claim, I have known white people who were barely in possession of survival skills, and people of color who were brilliant, but I know anecdotal evidence is meaningless in the larger sense.
We discussed my refusal at length. I defended my thought process, which perhaps is a bit esoteric. He did not understand my position, and I realized I could not offer an argument he would understand. He rightfully sees himself as a victim, and seeks defense. For him, the facts are important, because they refute the false claim he (and all other people of his color) are racists. I am older, and simply don’t care what names I am called, because I know who I am.
In contrast, someone else said to me “Do you know that scientists have discovered a traumatic marker in mostly all African descendants in the U.S. that started in slavery in our DNA?” As preposterous as that concept is, I was curious. Was it possible that some incredible leap in genetics happened that I had not heard about? I asked for a reference to the data, but folks don’t really understand how to provide references so he sent some screen shots of the headlines of articles making the claim. From those I was able to find the name of the scientist who published the study which had been twisted into the claim. Rachel Yehuda, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, had done a study in 2015 of thirty two holocaust survivors and their offspring, coming to the conclusion that trauma can be passed on genetically. The idea was briefly popular, and then soundly debunked.
I wanted to believe this was possible. I looked farther than the initial claim, even without references. I could see the flaws in her initial study, but continued to look for supporting research. It just isn’t true, like many other ideas that are accepted because they sound like something that could make sense, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Another friend, reflecting on Matthew 26:11 ( For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.), brought up reasons for fighting an unwinnable war. We cannot eliminate poverty, but we can provide comfort for its victims. There are many fights worth fighting, as long as we don’t lose sight of the goal. When the goal becomes impossible, we are fighting the wrong fight and need to reevaluate the goal. By providing comfort to victims of poverty, we are fighting poverty.
I see these unwinnable wars overtaking civil society. For starters, can we de-escalate the rhetoric and stop calling them “wars”? As war like as many people wish to appear, they just don’t make good soldiers. Good soldiers fight to restore peace, most folks today fight for an opportunity to keep fighting. There was the war on drugs, the war on crime and the war on poverty; then suddenly everything was a war. Women, Blacks, Truth, Science, you name it, any difference was framed as a war. The main enemy being “people who don’t think like me.” The civilian, having been assigned the role of warrior, responds in the way he imagines a warrior would respond. The fights never end.
“What about” has become such a popular argument ruse that it has its own new word, whataboutisms. The idea that misdeeds can be mitigated when preceded by misdeeds of someone else. Two wrongs still do not make a right, and it is off putting to have to inform adults of this fact. This image trades on whataboutisms, but instead of continuing an argument it attempts to soften one.
I don’t think many people respond well to attacks. They become defensive and any exchange of ideas comes to a halt. We can disagree without insulting each other. No solutions are reached through snarling, one has to respect the person they disagree with in order for anyone to change their mind.