Earlier I wrote an informal essay arguing that the act of direct confrontation with evidence runs counter to the ability of the human mind to account for new information. The argument is, in short, that humans will not accept something contrary to what they already believe and that attempting to persuade most people with evidence will just make them feel threatened and will only reaffirm their current beliefs.

This phenomenon is known in psychology as the Backfire Effect and is related to the much better known Confirmation Bias. This bias argues that people have a tendency to seek out and pay attention to information that confirms their existing belief, while interpreting and valuing new information in a way that does so as well.

These aspects of human thought are clouded in the fact that most people, when they are being genuine, believe themselves to be very logical individuals. The problem in this thought appears when we try and argue that those people with beliefs that contradict our own are non-logical. If you ask these ‘non-logical’ people about it they will argue that they are ‘logical’ and the ones accusing them of being it are the ‘non-logical’ ones.

In this situation, anyone who is making a serious attempt to argue something they believe to be logical, and believe to be morally right, must concede that attempting to persuade through direct confrontation is itself often ineffective at achieving their ends. As with every instance where a rule is proposed about human behaviour, this may only apply to a majority but not the entirety of people. If hearing that last part makes you immediately believe yourself to be part of the minority there is a good chance you are not, as that’s what the majority already believes.

For example, and because it is relevant to this argument, me attempting to convince the two evangelicals, who are sitting beside me while I write this, that the god they are so fanatically talking about does not exist would be almost certainly a fruitless affair. I could write an essay illustrating every single logical reason why I believe that and every reason why their evidence is worthless and I wouldn’t be able to convince them of anything (and I trust my own beliefs to an extraordinary degree).

In fact, if we consider the Backfire Effect, I would likely just reaffirm their piety. This applies to every instance in which there are two or more views that are contesting for the moral right.

Some who read my previous argument against directly confronting people made the assumption that this necessarily means publicly protesting against what you consider to be an injustice is useless and that I was arguing against doing so, this is not the case. Protesting against injustice is not an attempt to make an argument, it is a statement against what is happening by those protesting.

This statement is not, and should not be, an attempt to convince those in power that what you are fighting for is the right thing to do. Instead, through numbers and presence, it serves to prove to whatever authority is calling the shots that something has to change, whether they agree or not.

Protesting serves as a threat to the establishment that they must change policy. In instances in which the threat is not heard it will hopefully be carried out through legal activities, like electing representatives or referendum.

Though each individual can name an instance in which extra legal activities appears justified we can also imagine the horror we would feel if a group, who has opinions we think to be illogical, changed something in this manner. If we understand everyone thinks they have the logical position and the moral right, then it stands to reason that we should save such action for a last resort and situations in which the action is approved with near unanimity.

 

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