We’re confronted daily with competing demands and claims of people from opposite points of view. Conservatives rail against liberals and vice versa. Creationists fight Darwinists. Pro-life wrestle with pro-choice advocates. How do we decide? There isn’t a foolproof method that ensures everyone will come to the same conclusion. A lot of factors affect our ability to be objective. Since the theme of this blog is about thinking objectively I thought I’d share some ideas on how I try to practice what I preach. In essence I recommend taking the effort to check both sides. (In some cases there are more than two prominent positions.)
- How do they argue? Do they confront the opposition’s positions head on or do they skirt the issues?
- Do they fairly represent the arguments of the other side or do they “refute” these arguments by setting up easily-refuted straw men?
- Do they try to build a cogent argument based on empirical data or do they simply state their final conclusions?
For example, if you’re considering whether global warming is caused by humans or by other causes (assuming there is warming), you could go to a site such as http://climatedebatedaily.com/ which provides links to global warming advocates and skeptics.
Let’s say you want sort out the creationism-evolution debate. This web page at Cal State Fullerton - http://nsmserver2.fullerton.edu/departments/chemistry/evolution_creation/web/#1.%20INTRODUCTION - provides links to various sites on both sides of the issue.
On general political issues, check publications such as National Review (http://www.nationalreview.com/) for conservative viewpoints, The New Republic (http://www.thenewrepublic.com/) for the left and maybe Reason magazine (http://reason.com/) for the libertarian perspective. For detailed analysis of policy issues you can go to The Cato Institute [http://www.cato.org/] (libertarian), The Brookings Institution [http://www.brookings.edu/] (liberal), the American Enterprise Institute [http://www.aei.org/] (conservative), or The Atlas Society [http://www.objectivistcenter.org/] (Objectivist).
A relatively new site and promising has popped up, http://www.opposingviews.com/, which offers debates on a wide variety of issues: politics, society, health, money and religion.
Another good source of information is www.wikipedia.com. The main articles usually refer to other sources on both sides of an issue and provide links to articles in the media and links to related web sites. Be sure to click on the “discussion” tab to see the dialog among the various contributors to the wiki entry. However, you need to be careful with controversial subjects. For instance, an ardent Gore supporter fanatically guards entries on global warming and pounces on any added text that challenges or contradicts the Gore-thodoxy (that global warming is man-made).
As I said at the beginning, checking these sources won’t automatically spoon feed you with answers. What I have found, however, is that people who honestly and fairly look at more than one viewpoint before settling on their own tend to be more reasonable than those who only look at sources with which they already agree. If we are confident in our ability to think critically and objectively we won’t be threatened by exposing ourselves to opinions that might differ from ours. At the very least going through this exercise will better prepare you for counter-arguments.
My main point, which is a theme running through this blog, is that maintaining objectivity isn’t easy! It involves hard work and resisting the temptation to latch onto conclusions. If you work through issues like health care, global warming, abortion, and intelligent design by carefully evaluating the different viewpoints, by comparing the facts each side musters for their case and by looking at how they argue, you stand a better chance of reaching a sound conclusion. Who knows? You might even end up changing your mind? THAT, I believe, is the threat of checking your premises: the possibility of abandoning a position and even disagreeing with friends who share your overall beliefs. Another drawback is that objectivity doesn’t carry the sex appeal of being an ardent advocate of [insert your favorite “ism” here]. It might even sound boring and dispassionate. Yet the overall purpose of being objective is to get you closer to the truth which ultimately can improve the quality of your life. And, if you have done the hard work to sift and digest the facts and arguments you can be justifiably certain of your position. To me that’s the exciting part of trying to be objective!