Quote, July 23 2012 — Only reading things you already agree with does not lead to robust thinking

I especially enjoy reading things that I disagree with, and that challenge my own beliefs. Strong ideas are made stronger, and weak ideas dissolve in the spotlight of scrutiny. People who are unhappy to read criticisms of their own ideas are opening the floodgates to ignorance and dogmatism.

– John Aziz, “The Real Testosterone Junkies”, Azizonomics, July 8 2012 (site last accessed July 23 2012)

I can’t say I especially enjoy reading things I disagree with — but I do go out of my way to read a lot of things from many different perspectives. And as a result of doing that, I’ve found some really excellent books, articles and authors.

Some of those works have led to me re-examining my own opinions and changing those opinions.

Some of those works have even lead the authors themselves to re-examine their own opinions and to ultimately change their own opinions and thoughts. I have a lot of admiration for an author who’s willing to admit that in the process of researching a book they encountered things that made led them to question their own opinions. That takes a tremendous amount of bravery and confidence — it would be much easier to just ignore the data that they don’t agree with and only publish the things that bolster their own arguments.

Sadly, I’ve encountered a number of people who not only don’t like to read anything they disagree with — or which argue views which disagree with their own — they actively avoid being around anyone who holds opposing ideas. So they will talk as though they are knowledgeable about the issue under discussion. And they may even be knowledgeable about things that support their own viewpoint. But as soon as you bring up arguments against their viewpoint, or any details supportive of other viewpoints, they are often very ignorant.

Which is fine — nobody can be an expert on everything — if they were willing to start out the conversation by saying “I can tell you my viewpoint, but I honestly don’t think this will be a very interesting conversation for either of us since I’ve really only read stuff that already agrees with my viewpoint and I’m not really familiar with the theory or arguments for other viewpoints on this issue.”

Demonizing anyone who has an opposing viewpoint, or picking the most obnoxious person who can be found and designating that person as being a “representative” for everyone who has that same viewpoint and then saying one person’s behavior justifies a dismissal of everyone who holds that viewpoint — these are not ways for a person to educate themselves about someone else’s viewpoint.

Or, as Aziz described someone who was substituting ill-informed derision for actual discussion:

Smith is spinning loose psychoanalysis spiced with conspiracy theories and schoolboy misunderstandings in order to generate pageviews.

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