IDEOLOGY BASED OPINION VERSUS EVIDENCE BASED OPINION Matter of Thought versus Matter of Fact

Ideology driven opinion is fundamentally different from evidence driven opinion. For the sake of this article, I will shorten these terms to IBO ( Ideology Based Opinion) and EBO ( Evidence Based Opinion). It is important to distinguish these two patterns when we engage in any meaningful debate. It is also important to identify individuals who consistently maintain IBO for two reasons: no meaningful debate or exchange of conclusions can be achieved if the debate is between two IBO positions. EBO is not an easy position to gain or maintain. It requires years of retraining to achieve the mental sanity to make EBO. This is because the human moral landscape is full of biases that are based on biological, social and cultural disposition. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt discusses the divide on social and political issues as being fundamental to the way humans perceive things across five standards: harm/care , fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty/tribalism/territorial sense, authority/respect/deference, purity/sanctity. Based on a massive database of cross-cultural comparison, Haidt found that ideological difference on social and political issues is based on the variations by which people grade these five standards of morality. For instance, liberals have a high grading on harm/care and fairness/reciprocity standards, while social conservatives have a higher grading for authority, ingroup loyalty and purity/sanctity standards. Libertarians – free economy champions – are like liberals on most standards, like in-group loyalty and purity/sanctity, but are low on indexes that signify compassion – the standards of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity.

Ideology-based opinion(IBO) is fundamentally different from evidence-based opinion(EBO). It is important to distinguish these two patterns when we engage in any meaningful debate. It is also important to identify individuals who consistently maintain IBO for two reasons: no meaningful debate or exchange of conclusions can be achieved if the debate is between two IBO positions. A sociological and psychological profiling of individuals need to be done before meaningful debates have a chance at a true exchange of ideas. The general population should understand these subtleties before concluding the facts of a debate. Indeed, it would be better that the audience themselves reflect on their sociological and psychological predilections before making conclusions about a debate. This is important because achieving consensus is critically important in achieving “peace” and “efficiency” in civil society.

Generally, opinions made by political party spokespersons, religious leaders, and middle-level diplomats are mostly IBO. Here a given fact is tailored to suit the ideological disposition of the opinion makers. As a part of their profession, while these individuals are supposed to maintain their IBO, a journalist, a scientist, a historian or a social commentator ought to be able to produce EBO. But more often than not this is not the case – many media commentaries are driven by hidden ideological considerations. This vitiates the environment of debate and makes dialogue meaningless. Such scenarios unfold grotesquely in the interfaces of many intractable conflicts, while it brews indolently in many other forms of apparently futile debates.

The fundamental difference between IBO and EBO is that EBO changes over time, while IBO does not. As evidence generally changes over time, the scope and depth of EBO change over time. All scientific statements are supposed to be evidence-driven opinions. They are “true” only for a given moment of time, based on the synthesis of the best evidence available at that point of time. As new evidence emerges, their opinion and position changes. While there may be skeptical resistance to such changes at different periods of time, by and large, the consensus generation in science is based on this fact.1 Statements in science are not “truth statements”, but consensus statements of the best available information at a given point of time. This consideration for understanding the nature of statements in science – the most successful enterprise that man has ever built – is important, to distinguish IBO from EBO.

IBO generally talks of “truths” and inviolable positions. This may be religious diktats or masked interests of the concerned parties. These interested parties employ individuals who are good at using language to construct facts to suit their predefined “truths”. On the contrary, people who tend to maintain EBO are not sure of themselves. They make tentative statements that are based on the available information at that moment of time. As there is a fundamental issue with our evidence gathering process, evidence at any moment of time is always provisional. Therefore, people who tend to maintain EBO do not make fundamentalist arguments. But they do maintain a fundamentalist position against those who make “truth statements”.

IBO is maintained by ordinary people persuaded to believe strong ideological positions. They selectively screen facts to substantiate their own ideological positions, and engage in a variety of logical fallacies to reach at that position. The whole gamut of knowledge acquired by logical fallacies to maintain IBO should be termed “counter knowledge”, because it is not knowledge at all, but “apparitions” of knowledge moulded using the tools of ideology and logical fallacies. This induces them to make socially insensitive ( low on fair/reciprocity standards), but economically liberal points of view. Left-wing liberals, on the other hand, make socially progressive, but economically regressive ideas that many a time runs contrary to prevailing evidence on the nature of economic progress. In Haidt’s study this phenomenon is consistent across cultures. Because of this divide, liberals experience difficulties in understanding conservatives and libertarians and vice versa. Each maintain their righteous position and steadfastly argue it out. Logical fallacies, counter knowledge and the slipperiness of languages of common use for logical reasoning sustain their view point.

EBO can make very limited inroads when people maintain a higher rating of in-group loyalty and purity/sanctity standards. These are inviolable positions, and cannot be argued out. In the same way, one cannot impress upon people who have a low grading of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity standards the importance of maintaining the social and political goals of fairness and justice.

The best bet in this context is to start training in EBO-making techniques early. This necessarily involves training students in EBO in the primary and high school curriculum. It also should involve avoiding a curriculum that explicitly promotes lessons that incorporate territorial behaviour and non-evidence based ideas of purity/sanctity. At the adult level, this involves peer group discussions that promote contrarian arguments that validate EBO stances, and demonstrate its long-term utility. Unless this is done, the divide that is maintained by IBO would be irreconcilable, and dialogues and debates ultimately futile.

 

 Footnote

 

  1. Philosopher of Science Thomas Kuhn described the resistance of the scientific community to change in his seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolution. But such changes nonetheless occur and give way to what Kuhn described as “paradigm shifts”.

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