Friday, November 27, 2009

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

Now, thinking back on my last post, I want to make one thing clear: this highfalutin' religious analogy probably isn't true for all gun control advocates. I honestly think most of them are just stubbornly mistaken.

Think about it. Gun control makes an enormous amount of sense to the hindbrain. 30,000 Americans a year are killed with guns. Obviously if you remove the guns and you save 30,000 lives per year. Humans are built to make snap associations between objects and events--it's how all animals learn about the world. What makes humans wonderfully unique is our ability to look so far beyond our instinctive associations and to discover where the obvious is wrong. The idea that removing the guns saves the lives is demonstrably false, but it comes so naturally that it has a chance to take root before higher thought kicks in.

We've all met that guy. The guy who takes a strong stand for something, invests himself in it inwardly and publicly, invests his ego in it... And when that something's proven wrong, he digs in and fights even harder, reaching ever farther for elaborate arguments that justify his belief. It's just a part of the human condition that some people respond this way to core beliefs being threatened with better evidence. Maybe it's the gun banner insisting that even as statistics show increasing gun ownership and decreasing rates of violent death, the death rate would be decreasing faster without all the guns. Maybe it's an outdated biologist insisting that, even though the boiled broth doesn't cloud, it's because air circulation is an active principle in spontaneous generation. The principle is identical; it's been with us forever, and it ain't going anywhere soon.

In short, people aren't always rational. And many, many irrational people really do value reason, and think they're drawing conclusions from the evidence, even as they draw out more and more tenuous lines of reasoning to rationalize a discredited belief. Trying to reason with these people is generally fruitless. Every time you disprove their latest argument, they want even more transitional fossils between the ones you've just provided. And their sincerity can show clearly, because they really aren't lying. But fortunately, they can be beaten in the long run. Ultimately their arguments will get so long winded and elaborate that they'll either make third parties skeptical or fail the attention span test.

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