The Tyranny of Niceness

This post is inspired by reading this post from the The Advice Goddess Blog. I stole some of Christina’s lines directly and the general trend of the piece but I’d like to think my elaboration is of interest.

Our latest generation can’t argue. They think that creating tension is bad and a sign of something wrong or that something has gone wrong. It is part of the Tyranny of Niceness in which rocking the boat is the greatest sin and tolerance is the greatest virtue.

If you can’t argue then you can’t think.

One of the best ways to refine your ideas is to fight. A good vigorous debate between friends is a blast as well as a passionate argument between rivals. As long as your goal is to enhance your own understanding and delve into the truth such arguments are one of the best ways to enhance the mind. Those who argue with no intention of changing their mind and who openly state that no evidence will ever possibly convert them to any other view are already lost to reason.

If no one challenges your thoughts and opinions then the ruts of conventional thinking just grow deeper and stronger until you’re unable to critically examine your own beliefs and knowledge. Thus, the extreme polarization in America today where those who have the most extreme views are unopposed by the sensible majority and exist in an echo room listening only to those thoughts that agree with them. Those who dare challenge your paradigm are the enemy and whatever the enemy says is suspect as you already know and believe that passionately that your ideas are superior and correct.

The tradition upholding the ideals of free thought, liberty, and speaking your mind are quintessentially american. The latest generation has been raised without this and don’t know it and don’t appreciate it. One of the largest polls ever conducted on high school students showed that the vast majority think that the government should censor the media and those with unpopular opinions should be prevented from sharing their thoughts rather than being argued for and against in the free market of ideas. The ideas should just be quietly shut down and censored by central authority so as to avoid upsetting anyone. Again the tyranny of niceness rears its ugly head. As mentioned in the link Ethics Professors can’t find a single topic or ethical conundrum that their students will find objectionable and will actively stand up against! They just want SOMEONE else to make the decisions and shut up unpopular or divergent thoughts so they don’t have to critically apply their reason or make anyone uncomfortable.

The education system is partly to blame for this. An anecdotal story from an article in Newsweek I read years ago tells how a boy stood up and yelled at his teacher to stop being mean to a girl in their classroom. The girl had asked a question and the teacher mocked her calling her stupid and saying the question was dumb. The boy continued saying that in the first day of class the teacher had said to ask any questions you have and don’t worry there are no dumb questions so she was being mean AND being an hypocrite…the school’s response was to expel the boy for being intolerant and showing a lack of respect for authority.

Reminds me of a great speech given by Al Pacino in a Scent of a Woman.


The Debunking Handbook

This is pretty amazingly well done.  Here’s a boiled down version of its advice:

1.       Don’t lead with the wrong view you’re trying to debunk, but rather, with the correct view you want to instill.

2.       Don’t overload people with information. Be “lean, mean, and easy to read.”

3.       Don’t attack worldviews—either find more persuadable audiences, or defuse deeply seated ideological resistance through practices like framing and self-affirmation, which reduce defensiveness. “Self affirmation and framing aren’t about manipulating people,” write Cook and Lewandowsky, “They give the facts a fighting chance.”

4.       Don’t leave someone with nothing to believe—if you want to unseat a myth, you’d better provide a better real explanation in its place. “When you debunk a myth, you create a gap in the person’s mind,” reads the Handbook. “To be effective, your debunking must fill the gap.”