Wednesday, May 07, 2014

I Disagree, But Don't Hate On Me

Why do some people get so upset when you disagree with them?

Blaise Pascal references a question by Epictetus: "Why are we not angry if someone says that we have a headache and are angry if someone says that we are arguing badly or making a bad choice?" Pascal's answer is that we are certain that we don't have a headache, but we're not sure that we aren't arguing badly or making a bad choice. Indeed, it seems that the more some people fear that they might be wrong, the angrier they are.

It's been noted that disagreement and argument, rather than bringing about compromise or a search for common ground, actually polarizes the contestants further, making them argue in even more extreme terms.

To return to our initial question: Why do some people get angry when they face opposition or challenge to their assertions? Here are some possible reasons.

1. They are upset by what they view as error.  Having perhaps arrived at their stated conclusion only after long and hard thought, or having adopted a position that seems to be the only one that corresponds to their other, deepest beliefs, to hear someone contradict them is a source of frustration, as if they are afraid that the long set of reasons and arguments must be revisited, to their distress.

People who invoke ideas such as "settled science" or "historical fact" are sometimes hoping to quash a rehash of what they consider long concluded arguments.

2. The introduction of a contrary fact or claim upsets some people because they believe it will result in confusion that would require a long discussion to clarify. Speakers (professors, presenters, etc.) who are attempting to present the basic ideas or arguments about a topic sometimes react with heat when one of their hearers raises a conflicting idea or an idea that shows the speaker's thesis to be oversimplified.

3. The disagreement is a misunderstanding, which, to the angry presenter's mind, shows a lack of understanding, knowledge, or expertise on the part of the objector. For example:
Presenter: "The circumstantial evidence convincingly points to the guilt of Frimpson."
Objector: "But Frimpson passed a lie detector test.  He said he didn't do it and he passed the test. He therefore wasn't lying. He was telling the truth."

Here, the presenter gets upset because he perhaps was lecturing to an audience he assumed knew that passing a lie detector test is not an absolute guarantee of truthfulness. He is frustrated with the objector because a lengthy explanation would derail the presentation.

4. For people who are advancing a point close to their strongly held ideological framework, anyone who disagrees with their position is not just wrong, but is evil. This is especially true of leftists, who see many political, social, and economic ideas in moral terms of good (their position) versus evil (their opponents' position).

All of these reasons should be considered in light of Pascal's Headache. Is the degree of anger commensurate with their degree of self doubt?

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