"Sometimes all of us just reason sloppily"
July 26, 2019 11:21 AM   Subscribe

In 2016, philosopher Eleanor Gordon-Smith decided to stop and persuade the men who catcalled her on the streets of Sydney to reconsider their behavior. She had mixed success, making for a compelling radio segment on This American Life. Ultimately her experience led to her new book Stop Being Reasonable, a study of the limits of reasoning, how we often get it fundamentally wrong, and how some of us change our minds.
posted by cross_impact (26 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
A philosopher’s witty, intelligent study argues that emotion, not hard reasoning, informs our beliefs and attitudes

alternate sub-title: "A philosopher's discovery of what the GOP has known for years"
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:33 AM on July 26, 2019 [10 favorites]


Yeah, this was interesting, but not really news to people who study communication or social psychology (or advertising for that matter). It's not clear from the review whether she is including any of that research in her book. But I guess the fact that her book exists at all shows how little interest philosophy has had in looking at research on actual human behavior.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:09 PM on July 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


DiscourseMarker, what would you suggest that's already out there as recommended reading for people interested in this?
posted by wildblueyonder at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Reason influences emotion. If you're scare of flying, being told how rarely airplanes crash can ameliorate that fear. Many philosophers and psychologists consider emotion a kind of rudimentary form of reasoning. At a very primal level, it's reasonable to be scared of flying. The idea of launching oneself into space should, at first, give you pause.
posted by xammerboy at 12:54 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


"...[P]eople are often unmoved by dispassionate logic, peer-reviewed research and statistics, but in fact are swayed by ego, emotion, self-interest and identity. If we want our public discourse to succeed in changing attitudes, Gordon-Smith insists, we have to ditch our idealised, sterile picture of persuasion and be more sensitive to how people behave in real life.

> DiscourseMarker, what would you suggest that's already out there as recommended reading for people interested in this?

I suggest this moving piece: "How to Kick a Guy in the Balls: An Illustrated Guide"
posted by not_on_display at 12:55 PM on July 26, 2019 [9 favorites]


Yeah, this was interesting, but not really news to people who study communication or social psychology (or advertising for that matter). It's not clear from the review whether she is including any of that research in her book. But I guess the fact that her book exists at all shows how little interest philosophy has had in looking at research on actual human behavior.

See if this is intended to criticize philosophy, it is nevertheless a primarily rational argument about some problem, which proves her point as to how pervasive this is
posted by polymodus at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Is there some kind of philosophical napkin I can use to avoid getting errors all over my pants when reasoning sloppily?
posted by delicious-luncheon at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also I know it's accepted on here to casually shit on philosophers, but the fact that Gordon-Smith talks about epistemic injustice is making my day.
posted by polymodus at 1:19 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Reason influences emotion. If you're scare of flying, being told how rarely airplanes crash can ameliorate that fear.

Are you by chance an economist?
posted by srboisvert at 1:20 PM on July 26, 2019 [6 favorites]


If you're scare of flying, being told how rarely airplanes crash can ameliorate that fear.

. . . Does it, though? That's an honest question. Does it help?
posted by schroedinger at 1:25 PM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


DiscourseMarker, what would you suggest that's already out there as recommended reading for people interested in this?

Butting in--you might want to look into the work of Antonio Damasio. He's a neuroscientist who studies the connection between emotions, decision-making, and the self. Basically emotions don't just drive decision-making--they're crucial for it. One of his findings is that people who've damaged the parts of their brains related to emotion are terrible at making decisions. They can list out the pros and cons of different options and reason the day away, but when it comes down to it they have great difficulty making a final choice.
posted by schroedinger at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2019 [10 favorites]


My fear of flying is of being trapped in a metal cylinder I have no control over and no way of leaving. Having people parrot aircraft crash statistics to me is at best completely worthless and at worst insulting. Just stop. I'm not stupid.
posted by sarahw at 1:50 PM on July 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


Even within philosophy, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Book II, and Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason leap to mind as sources on emotion in persuasion and the limits of Enlightenment dialogue, respectively. But this book sounds like it’s written to be an interesting/engaging set of empirical examples worth thinking about—almost an ethnographic approach, which usually turns up stuff that generalization doesn’t cover.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:54 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


schroedinger: . . . Does it, though? That's an honest question. Does it help?

As I understand it, cognitive-behavioural therapy is based on the idea that it can, and CBT has reasonably good evidence supporting its efficacy as far as treatments for anxiety go.
posted by clawsoon at 2:19 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


...although sometimes I suspect that CBT uses specious reasoning much of the time. It's mostly a good antidote for the even more specious reasoning and poorly supported assumptions that most of us use most of the time. It works for people who believe - perhaps incorrectly? - in the power of reason, or at least in the power of their therapist's reasoning.

I wonder if a book like this would make CBT more effective or less effective for someone who has just finished reading it.
posted by clawsoon at 2:24 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of my years on the INTP mailing list, in which a whole bunch of people who believed firmly in the power of rational reasoning never managed to convince each other of anything.
posted by clawsoon at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2019 [30 favorites]


From my corner of social science, you could start here (probably easily found if you have an academic library nearby).

I was not particularly trying to criticize philosophy, nor was I attempting to make any sort of argument. I was really just expressing frustration at something I see a lot, which is when Discipline A starts talking about [Phenomenon] that Discipline B has been covering for a very long time, as if Discipline A had just basically discovered it. This seems to particularly happen to social science, from my perspective as a social scientist.

Again, I have not read the book, so perhaps she does actually delve into existing research from other disciplines on emotion and persuasion. But the Guardian article did not make it sound like that. Perhaps they have grossly over-simplified Gordon-Smith’s Work?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 2:48 PM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Reason influences emotion. If you're scare of flying, being told how rarely airplanes crash can ameliorate that fear.

I'd like you to meet my wife.,

No, she's not scared of flying, she's just heard me try to reason her out of emotionally-held positions enough times that she won't hesitate to tear you a new one in front of god and country.
posted by Mayor West at 4:38 PM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also: I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but liberalism officially died the night of November 8, 2016. It was preceded by its parents, Discourse and Reason, into the cold abyss of the beyond some years before. There are limits to the power of communicative theory, and I can assure you that arguing misogynists out of their primal hatred of women is not one of them. If you're still trying to apply classical theory to catcallers in this the year of our lord 2019, you are manufacturing buggy-whips while Henry Ford schemes against you from the legislature.
posted by Mayor West at 4:43 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mayor West: It was preceded by its parents, Discourse and Reason, into the cold abyss of the beyond some years before.

I was watching that video in which Ben Shapiro is interviewed by a British conservative, who asks Shapiro whether some of the new state abortion laws might not be barbaric. I think that what the interviewer was trying to prompt was a Reasonable Discourse in classical conservative style explaining why this barbaric practise was not barbaric, why it was in fact the most civilized possible thing, in the style of centuries of British conservative justifications for all the barbaric things that needed to be done to create the British Empire.

Shapiro, who advertises himself as a paragon of Reason and Logic, disappointed.

I suppose that the point of this comment is to say that you are right about the departure of Reasonable Discourse from the public sphere, but also to say that Reasonable Discourse was used in its heyday to cover for plenty of horrid things.
posted by clawsoon at 4:53 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


If you're scare of flying, being told how rarely airplanes crash can ameliorate that fear.

. . . Does it, though? That's an honest question. Does it help?

I think it certainly can, but the reason fear of flying is so common and so resistant to the usual therapeutic approaches is starkly physiological:
altitudes, anxiety, and panic attacks: is there a relationship?

Abstract
People exposed to high altitudes often experience somatic symptoms triggered by hypoxia, such as breathlessness, palpitations, dizziness, headache, and insomnia. Most of the symptoms are identical to those reported in panic attacks or severe anxiety. Potential causal links between adaptation to altitude and anxiety are apparent in all three leading models of panic, namely, hyperventilation (hypoxia leads to hypocapnia), suffocation false alarms (hypoxia counteracted to some extent by hypocapnia), and cognitive misinterpretations (symptoms from hypoxia and hypocapnia interpreted as dangerous). Furthermore, exposure to high altitudes produces respiratory disturbances during sleep in normals similar to those in panic disorder at low altitudes. In spite of these connections and their clinical importance, evidence for precipitation of panic attacks or more gradual increases in anxiety during altitude exposure is meager. We suggest some improvements that could be made in the design of future studies, possible tests of some of the theoretical causal links, and possible treatment applications, such as systematic exposure of panic patients to high altitude.
When you fly in a typical jet, cabin pressure falls relatively rapidly to a level equivalent to about 8000 ft., and some people develop a minor version of altitude sickness indistinguishable from a panic attack, and often a fear of flying thereafter.

And I think something similar is going on here, to the effect that sexual arousal and even sexual thoughts precipitate a state of consciousness in some men in which they are resistant to rational argument.
posted by jamjam at 4:53 PM on July 26, 2019


to the effect that sexual arousal and even sexual thoughts precipitate a state of consciousness in some men in which they are resistant to rational argument.

In my thankfully limited experience of being in a group of men where one of them catcalled, the men are being perfectly rational, but they are applying their rationality to the most salient issue for them in the moment: Their status among the men they are with. "These guys all think you're a jerk when you do that, but they're too polite to say so to your face," is, if it's true, the basis for both a powerful and a rational argument.
posted by clawsoon at 4:59 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Do you mean to imply that you think being part of a gang or a mob does not give rise to an altered state of consciousness, clawsoon?
posted by jamjam at 5:03 PM on July 26, 2019


. . . Does it, though? That's an honest question. Does it help?

It doesn't help some people, but many people experience some relief just knowing that one's chances of experiencing a fatal crash are greater when they take a car ride than an airplane ride.
posted by xammerboy at 9:52 PM on July 26, 2019


"Sometimes all of us just reason sloppily"

There exists a time t, such that at time t, there does not exist a y such it is false that y is reasoning sloppily?
posted by thelonius at 1:47 AM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Just read it, thought it was ace: certainly references enough philosophers to be convincing to this layman as to her bona fides.
posted by alasdair at 2:12 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


« Older Nice Tall Glass of Weinstein and Kumquat Trees   |   Reader, She Married Him * Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments