hypoCRITICAL THINKING

One journalist's attempt to cut through partisan prejudices.

Don’t listen to the “experts”

text reactionYou know all those experts in your Facebook feeds? The ones who always know so much more than you do and are so well versed on the important issues of the day? Have you ever just stopped in order to consider how full of shit they really are?

There are a lot of people out there who are very well read and can offer extremely well-informed opinions on a variety of topics, but for every one of those, there are quite a few others who don’t know squat and are simply posting things to (a) validate their misguided opinions with support from their “friends,” or (b) trying to create illusions of expertise in their own minds, fueled by the words of encouragement from their followers.

The way you can separate these pretenders from those who really know their stuff is by challenging them.

True experts are willing to support their opinions and debate them as needed. The others won’t want to debate their opinions, primarily because they don’t feel they should have to defend the things they say because they’re either smarter than you, more morally sensitive than you are, or they’re just bullies. When pressed on their views, they’ll usually deflect the criticism rather than support their views.

In political discussions, a common deflection tactic is to dismiss the criticism by comparing it to something that often isn’t relevant. Say you had an opinion that it wasn’t very professional of the Prime Minister to lose his cool in public and somebody replies that at least he’s passionate and not mean spirited like the previous leader. The strategy is to counter criticism with criticism (the physics theory of every action having an equal but opposite reaction?), when really it does nothing to counter the original view.

In religious discussions, deflection is most prominent in switching the burden of proof to the person offering the opinion. For example, somebody questions the existence of supreme being and asks for proof that there is indeed a God. Quite often the reply is a request for proof that God DOESN’T exist. Really you can’t prove it one way or the other because both opinions are based on faith, which by its very nature is unquantifiable.

Another common deflection is to label the questioner as unworthy of formulating an opinion (or not intelligent enough to formulate one). An example is questioning somebody’s opinion and receiving the reply “if you really have to question that, then there’s really nothing I can say.” The person is essentially saying “you’re so stupid to not believe what I’m saying.” Other ways this manifests itself is in preceding comments with “you can’t possibly understand …” or “Let me put it simply …”

Essentially the person can’t support their opinion, so rather than making themselves look foolish by attempting it, they make it sound like the concept is beyond your grasp so there’s no need to try and explain it to you.

There are other ways to offer opinions without supporting them — dismissing the question with a personal comment so as to put the critic on the defensive (you may question a comment about the leadership qualifications of a woman candidate, for example, and the reply could be something like “spoken like a true misogynist”) or comparing the criticism to something vile in order to make the commenter give up the line of questioning (say you question the wisdom of admitting refugees without proper screening and a reply might be that we denied entry to a shipload of people fleeing Hitler and look what happened to them).

Finally, when they can obviously not support their points of view, pretenders will often give up with phrases such as “Everyone is entitled to their opinion” or “we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

And then there are people who simply post stuff based on a sympathetic headline and don’t really bother to find out if the post really does support their point of view, but that’s another story for another day …

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