Sunday, July 01, 2007

Doggerel #107: "You Just Think You're Smarter Than Everybody Else!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

It's a common complaint woos bring up. Skeptics are arrogant people who won't concede an argument because they can't withstand personal failure. Or so they'd like you to believe. The problem is that woos who argue with skeptics will often go out of their way to avoid even talking about the issue. That's why so many of the entries in the index are subject changes. That includes this one.

One of the difficulties in dealing with arguments is that intelligence is not a guarantee to being right. Perfectly intelligent people are still capable of being perfectly stupid in an argument. This is especially true if they're going for popularity, where any subject change that evokes an emotion can yield a 'zinger'. There's a difference between politics and science. People don't like arrogance, and this defense mechanism can be used against anyone who's gained an advantage in the argument.

The fact that science has been so successful in the world whereas woo has only failure is plenty of reason for science's defenders to feel smart but, of course, that's irrelevant to how the argument turns out. The attitude and emotional state of the person making the argument is irrelevant to the argument itself.


Anonymous said...

I just spent almost my whole Sunday reading the Secret thread and the What The... thread. I'm exhausted, and completely baffled at how you and your regular posters could keep doing that without completely losing it, your minds, your manners, your lunch. I don't know how I did it, either, just reading, but the threads were closed, so I didn't have to try to respond.I'm a teacher, so I don't usually have time to dig so deeply or to keep at it, but, school's out. One of my students came up to me towards the end of school with The Secret, rather proudly, and she was a little miffed by my reaction. She said she thought it would be the kind of thing I would really like, since I was so positive a person and all, and since I was always telling my students to take charge of their lives. I didn't know where to start, because at the time I had only read about the book in Newsweek, and maybe on Pharyngula. At least next year, I will have some starting points.
Thanks for the read, although I feel rather depleted. I know you guys did those threads over a couple of months, so all in one day may have been an overdose.

Don said...

I was reading those threads and posting here and there as they happened and it was still an overdose. The Secret people especially are so dense it could possibly make your whole body explode.

Anonymous said...

Diana: It is good to see a teacher on the right side. It is also great that you encourage folk to take charge of their own lives. If there is one thing that really pisses me off about the Secret (and there is so much more than that) it is it advocates the total abdication of any personal responsibility. If you want x you don't have to work you just have to wish for it etc. It is the antithesis of productive positive thinking.

Unknown said...

It seems to me that a teenager won't see the "abdication of responsibility" in the book. My student seemed to thing that just because she was controlling and "aiming" her thoughts she was somehow being positive and responsible. I don't know how long it's been since you were in a classroom, but students are bombarded in every class they have with the "inspirational" posters that teachers favor, the "they can because they think they can" caption over a photo of two seagulls flying. I have recently argued with a friend about how wrong that is, in so many ways. Even the little engine that could, while thinking he could, worked, hard, to get up the hill. We already have schools full of kids who think that all they have to do is "imagine" how much they "deserve" whatever they want, and ta-da! I will have a lot more to say about this book next year, and I'm sure I will have a lot more of them reading it.

Bronze Dog said...

Certainly getting into one of my peeves. Something I wish they figured out when I was a kid: You don't praise children as being smart, at least not very often: You praise them for working hard.

Anecdotally, I was heavily praised as smart, and as a result, I don't like to be seen working: Smart people are supposed to do things quickly and naturally. At least that's the general idea of what gnaws at me.

Here's a few posters to counteract all the syrupy sweet stuff.

Anonymous said...

You don't praise children as being smart, at least not very often: You praise them for working hard.

Yes, absolutely. Praising kids for being smart rather than for working hard just teaches the smart ones to be embarrassed to be seen working hard (since that means they have failed to be smart) and teaches the average and dumb ones that they don't have to even try since hard work doesn't matter and there is no way they can succeed.

That said, it is still better than than the sexist treatment of girls (maybe not so much these days) in which neither "smart" nor "hard work" is worthy of praise, only pretty or nice or popular or good or some euphemism for "biddable."

Anonymous said...

See this post at Cognitive Daily for more on not praising children for being smart.