theGECK wrote: ↑
Wed May 09, 2018 10:20 am
Just to build on this statement, this is an argument I've had with my parents, spouse, other loved ones, etc. Even if I have brain things going on (parents are unwilling to accept that the scientific studies might have merit) that doesn't mean I should change things about my body. It means that I'm unique and wonderful. Instead of taking any steps toward transition, I should find those qualities and embrace them. That would fit the natural order of how I was born and also not make things awkward and inconvenient for everybody else. Because they don't know how to just tell people that I'm doing fine when they want to gossip about me instead.
Even if they agreed with the science, they would still disagree with the actions and the morals I'm presenting as being the way to go through things. The science has no impact on their day to day actions. No matter what the science says, it reinforces the beliefs and the actions they had already decided upon.
I know this is an old post, but I found this to still be relevant. On a personal level, since this is the exact argument I got from the psychiatrist I saw back at the end of August, and also on a more objective level.
There is a way to look at cognitive dissonance that has come to be known online as the backfire effect
. As defined by the person who coined the term:
David McRaney wrote:The Misconception (Maddie note: bold text is carried over from the original source): When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.
The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.
McRaney wrote:Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.
I don’t want to quote more of the article, since it should be read by anyone who hasn’t read it yet. It may be 7 years old, but it may be even more valid today.
You can look at the backfire effect as a way in which confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance combine in the mind and cause a knee-jerk reaction wherein we assume our initial beliefs have been validated, regardless of what the evidence says. Or, to put in $1 words instead of $5 words, we see something that says we’re wrong, and we double down instead. At some point, you’re bound to hear someone say that we all see ourselves as the heroes in our own stories. There’s a decent chance you’ve heard it many times over. The sentiment is true enough. Even someone who might revel in their own capacity to hurt others is still going to see themselves as the primary actor in their own lives. With confirmation bias, our own viewpoints seem logical and correct to us. This may be one of the few times where there is no option but to say “both sides,” or indeed “any sides at all,” are all doing the same thing.
So that’s how confirmation bias comes into play. Our own viewpoint is always the one we see as natural. It can be based on empirical fact, inference, deduction, emotions, or whim. It’s irrelevant for the sake of this explanation whether we’re right or wrong about anything at all. We don’t go into an argument or debate or into reading or watching an opinion piece expecting to be proven wrong. Cognitive dissonance demands that we see ourselves as good people, or at least as morally and ethically justified in our beliefs, and it’s going to trip the moment we see evidence that contradicts our beliefs. I can’t be a bad person, even if the X I hold dear is false and it’s Y that is true. Nope, our first instinct is going to be to reassure ourselves.
Now it’s possible for someone who is open to be proven wrong to change their minds at this point. Maybe a life experience forces them to reconsider their beliefs. Maybe someone they care about and empathize with is hurt by X. People aren’t always afraid to change their minds, though there’s emerging research that suggests that some kinds of people are much more open to changing their minds than others based on both life experience and brain structure. Neuroscience is such a rapidly developing field that this hypothesis could either be disproven or be repeatable enough to become theory at some point, so it’s a good idea to wait and see what develops of this idea, or if it becomes a dead end.
But it isn’t rare at all to double down on our original beliefs. If someone tells me that I’m an abomination for existing, well, my feelings will be hurt (understatement) and it will inevitably lead me to question myself in private, but I am certainly not going to instantly accept this contradictory idea. Nor should I. The backfire effect should not be seen as an invitation to fall into a mineshaft where every idea has equal weight. There’s evidence to show that gender non-conforming people have been around for a very long time in cultures all over the world, which signals that it isn’t some sort of modern cultural aberration. There’s the emergent information coming from psychology and neuroscience mentioned in this thread that points to there being a biological basis for gender dysphoria. Psychology, sociology, and philosophy can all support solid arguments that gender exists as a set of performative norms unlinked from chromosomal sex. Science and the humanities are in basic agreement that trans people are a real, normally-occurring subsection of humanity. So while I might be doubling down on my own feelings, I can at least look to empirical evidence as well as solid arguments to,support my position. I don’t have to fall back on my own feelings to make a case for trans people.
Some beliefs are going to have more weight behind them than others. Anti-vaccine people have an entire system of beliefs to support the idea that currently existing vaccines are more harmful than beneficial to children. They don’t deny that the basic idea of exposing a child to an illness in order to give them immunity from it is a solid one. Instead, they focus on the ingredients of a vaccine, its chemical makeup. Vaccines are often seen as the cause of autism by people in the anti-vaccine community. Others simply do not trust the medical community. That mistrust of medicine and science isn’t wholly unjustified. Think of all the falsified studied paid for by tobacco companies to tout the health benefits of smoking or dispute the dangers of cigarettes so that they wouldn’t have to pay out settlements to the families of lung cancer victims. Think of the Tuskegee experiment, in which people of color were used as guinea pigs and infected with syphillis without their knowledge or consent, and then were left untreated. It is possible to at least see how people can come to develop their beliefs.
But the weight of the evidence is against anti-vaxxers. The study which claimed to show a link between autism and the MMR vaccine turned out to have been tainted by its editor, Andrew Wakefield
, who outright fabricated the supposed evidence of the connection in exchange for a £55,000 payout from lawyers connected with the Legal Aid Board who were hoping to cash in on lawsuits. Not only that, but Wakefield had patented a rival vaccine, and his own tests disproved the findings of his paper. There is no scientifically credible evidence that shows the MMR vaccine to be harmful to children, and there is no link between any vaccines and autism. All the supporting evidence to the contrary comes from Wakefield’s fabrications. Even the supposition that it “causes” autism is harmful to people with autism, because it stigmatizes them and can make it harder for them to get any effective help.
No amount of debate has caused most of these people to back off their anti-vaccine position. They double down on their beliefs even when it means losing their jobs, which recently happened to an anti-vaxx nurse who saw a child with measles in person for the first time, brifefly wondered if she might have been wrong, and then openly doubled down on her social media, all in one post. There isn’t any logical argument or factual evidence that will force her to change her position if she could be confronted, in person, with an actual suffering child who needed medical care, and still stick to her beliefs.
So, in the case of the trans “debate:” there isn’t one. The evidence is on the side of trans people. But people have very strong feelings about it, and it is admittedly difficult for me to be fair or objective about that. From my perspective, these feelings seem irrational and based wholly on fear of the Other, with a dash of homophobia and a lot of misogyny mixed into the soup. But my own feelings are irrelevant. No matter how I present my argument, the backfire effect is going to kick in with a lot of people in the audience. Many of them won’t ever change their minds.
In the past, I’ve done regrettable things to try to convince people that they could accept us and that we only wanted to be allowed to live our lives. The first mistake I made was in assuming we needed to be allowed in the first place. No one gains civil rights by politely asking for them. It hasn’t ever worked. The answer is always going to be that change takes time, and that we have to wait. At this point, I might as well link the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
, because there is zero chance that I can argue half as well as Dr. King did. And yes, the reality is that the American government is not geared for swift and rapid change by design. I do not see this as a reason to lay down and let people be trampled into the pavement while they politely wait for fearful people to change their minds. People gain rights by demanding them and by being willing to fight for them.
The second mistake I made is that I didn’t realize I had made the first one, and so went about tone policing other trans people. I was afraid that anger would cause people to stop listening. Sometimes they do stop listening. Sometimes the people who say they stop listening are acting in bad faith and were never interested in listening. People can be angry sometimes, whether it’s politically convenient in the moment or not. You go about convincing the people who do want to learn, and show them patience and compassion in turn, and you stand up to the people who won’t listen. Sometimes that necessitates being angry in order to show that you won’t passively let yourself become a victim.
In the context of debating with the alt-right, it’s important to recognize that they have no interest in honest debate. They see themselves as trolls and provocateurs who are going to save the West from a threat which is simultaneously nebulous, incompetent and weak, and all-powerful. That is how fascism operates. It empowers people who feel weak and helpless by telling them that they are strong heroes. It’s an appeal to emotion dressed up as reason. For them, the point of a debate is to undermine the opposition and make it look as weak and foolish as they imagine it to be. It’s more important to them to look decisive and strong than to be logical or factually correct. And indecisive people are often more swayed by people who seem confident and in control than by logic.
Debates, then, are pointless in this context. A person who is open to learning more about trans people despite their doubts can be swayed by evidence and logic. A person who has been shocked out of their previous beliefs might become open to learning. A person who is doubling down thanks to the backfire effect is never going to,listen to anything you say and most likely has a vested interest in making you look like a fool so that they can maintain their feelings of superiority. And no group should ever have to feel like their existence is contingent based upon their ability to convince people that they should be given civil rights. No one has a right to take your identity away from you or make you feel less than human, even if they have the force of law on their side.
Standing up for yourself can be hard but there isn’t any other way to do it. You have to demand your rights. You can’t afford to wait and hope majority opinion swings your way someday, because anyone who isn’t personally affected would probably put it off rather than have to think about it. It’s unpleasant, but that’s what happens. So if you feel like charts and graphs and studies and videos are going to help, maybe it will sometimes, but it’s not a tactic that can be relied upon. Some people won’t listen no matter what, because their self-perception as good and even heroic people depends on refusing to accept your arguments and they will of, you and try to make you look weak. They may even try to hurt you. The only option is to stand up and make noise.