As a rule I won’t talk about politics or religion with anyone. Both, I feel, are entirely too personal and it is unlikely you will ever change someone’s opinion about those topics, let alone make them understand your view-point.
I had speech and debate class in middle school. We covered topics such as landfills and animal testing. There was no name calling, there were no personal attacks. No matter how heated the topics were, the point was to stay calm and counter facts with facts in the hope of swaying the audience to your side.
Most folks never had this class and therefore don’t know how to compile and present an argument, wait their turn to hear and understand the opposing view-point, calmly rebut their opponent, then listen to their rebuttal. This stops no one from attempting to do so and they are generally not interested in changing their opinion.
The Dunning-Kruger effect boils down to people thinking they are good at something they have never done or have very little knowledge of. For example, the first couple shows of American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance are spent weeding out the people who are just terrible. Some people aren’t good, but they try thinking it’s worth a shot. Others have a lot of experience, but aren’t good enough. Ah, but then the people who have no experience try to get on the show and are completely blown away when the judges say they are terrible after the performer thinks they nailed it. Some even get defensive about their “talent” when they have proved they suck and tell the judges they are out of their minds for not realizing the performer’s genius. You can actually see the delusions wash over their faces.
Ever study for a test, take it and think you failed, only to find out you got a B? Me too. This is the other side of the Dunning-Kruger effect. People who are actually good at something can think less of themselves because they have nothing to compare to.
After reading about the theory I see it demonstrated everywhere. Today I saw the effect in a list of authors’ query letters who said they wrote the next genius great American novel and yet they can’t write a simple sentence, complete a coherent thought or punctuate it correctly. They get terribly offended when you call them out on it.
The Dunning-Kruger effect shows sometimes people think they can have a rational debate without having experience debating or having limited knowledge of the subject or very little skill.
Say you’ve presented a rather flawless example of why the other person is wrong and you have evidence showing why you are right, will they believe you now? It depends on how attached they are to the idea. Cognitive dissonance actually prevents people from acknowledging the truth.
Cognitive dissonance describes the problem the brain has when holding two conflicting pieces of information. Only one piece of information will win and it might not be the one that is factually correct. It might be the next easiest answer to accept.
For example, you absolutely loved that new movie that just came out and you ask your friend if they saw it. Sure, it was terrible, they say. Wait, how can your friend not like that movie? It was so good! Obviously your friend didn’t understand the movie. No, no, the obvious answer is they didn’t like it and that’s perfectly OK. They don’t have to like it. You probably won’t convince them it was a great movie and they won’t convince you it was terrible. Hopefully, the two of you can talk it out like rational adults and come to a middle ground, learning what your friend likes about movies and they in turn learn what you liked.
What if they can’t be reasoned with?
Submitted for your approval, one Harold Camping. Harold is an 89-year-old man who used the Bible to calculate when the world will end. The date? September 6, 1994.
Clearly the rapture didn’t happen.
Cognitive dissonance caused him to rationalize why the world didn’t end. He must have made a mistake in the calculations. Rather than quit the foolishness, he tried again. This time the world is going to end on May 21, 2011. That’s right, only a few more days left till the end of the world.
This time he has it all figured out. When he isn’t taken in the rapture on that day and the world keeps spinning, he must be one of the unsaved. He’s not even going to accept he was wrong.
This happens often with end of the world predictions. Aliens are coming to destroy the planet. They didn’t destroy the Earth? Ah, they must have taken mercy on us. No. Just no.
“I don’t understand! My calculations were correct. I don’t know why the monster is attacking the city! Maybe he can still be reasoned with…Argh!” – Every mad scientist ever.
Is there any hope for the human race? Yes. I’m not saying give up debating or trying to convince people of facts. I’m saying you are probably not going to have an easy time of it, or even fail completely. At least there’s a good reason for it.