Thoughts on Haidt’s elephants and rider analogy, and the idea that reasoning occurs retrospectively.

*Thoughts I had after interviewing Jonathan Haidt for the Star. http://www.thestar.com.my/Lifestyle/Books/News/2015/03/17/Jonathan-Haidt-Man-on-a-mission/

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As we try to make sense of life, we seek solutions and answers.

There is a special confidence reserved for those opinions we espouse with particular conviction, the kind of matters we feel most strongly about.

Take our reactions to the Charlie Hebdo shooting, which sparked many a long Facebook thread.

Robustly constructed arguments about why we should or shouldn’t exercise our right to freedom of expression; were the cartoons which apparently sparked the attacks indeed irresponsible and insensitive and partly to blame for the – granted, grossly disproportionate – wrath that they incurred?

One strand of reasoning that found a gathering audience on the Internet postulated that to continue publishing such cartoons as an act of solidarity and defiance in the face of bullying – in fact reflects an ignorance and arrogance attributable to a mass liberal-western blindness to the hypocritical double standards we hold…we wouldn’t be defending the cartoons with such ferocity had it been about the holocaust would we?

Other reactions were strongly in favor of the freedom to publish, and of the opinion that no matter how tasteless..in a world were freedom to express comes hand in hand with freedom to criticize — the only way yo combat terrorism of thought is to to ensure it we are in no way stifled or cowered..

It was all one big melting pot of opinions, a grand mess of a moral dilemma….

Both arguments when considered independently for me seem as convincing as the other… I don’t know where my feelings fit along this moral conundrum…

In short, I don’t have a real opinion, I just don’t know.

Even if I made it easier for myself and tossed personal principles aside and judged the situation by seeking the most purely practical outcome ( the best strategy to prevent further occurrences in the future)…I still have no idea which would be the ‘righter’ stance.

What if there is no right stance? And …. both have but a 50:50 chance of leading to comparatively favorable outcomes ( avoiding escalation / minimizing future terrorist occurrences / societal tensions)

The complex mixture of random occurrences and sequences of events playing out in vast geographies across continents, individual influencers and incidents, in short there are a million things that could impact the tide of sentiment that’s coming….

Far too many factors and variables for anyone to be informed enough to be certain of having the right answer….

But one can see how there are practical advantages to coming up with a stance or fighting for collective consensus moving forward…

How perhaps, we are wired to come up with a conviction and work hard at proselytizing others to be invested in our stance, because it is the more dominant an idea within a collective consciousness, the greater chance it has on influencing the outcome?

Within the dynamics of an interactive society, having the critical mass to make your maneuver count would be helpful, increasingly its likeliness of having an impact of some sort.

So arguing for it, and having strong opinions make sense, as something we would have evolved to do.

This instinct of trying to figure out where you should stand, what stance seems ‘right’ even if that is an impossible and ridiculous task reminds me of Haidt’s perspective … That reasoning generally occurs retrospectively.

Really, I think life is just a big mess, a maze or gloopy soup of events that are near impossible to keep track of, which we wade through, trying to navigate as best we can.

It’s ok that I don’t know the answer, I don’t think anyone does. It’s like a chess game, and we are just watching where the pieces fall, and making up our own strategy as we go along.

But choices must be made… and my suspicion is that given two options that make sense…. ( like the example above) …. Choices are perhaps arbitrary… However our retrospective reasoning aids in proselytization that strengthens whichever side it is we happen to have ended standing on.