Irrational Neutrality

Do you have any people in your life who, in the face of today’s many social storms, will say things like this?

  • I just prefer to remain neutral.
  • I like to see both sides.
  • I’m not into hating people on either side.
  • The media makes everything look bad.

How does this land with you? Do you think it’s a valid perspective?

I agree that there are some issues where intelligent, rational, and compassionate people will come to different thoughtful conclusions. People have different values, so this is to be expected.

Some examples include:

  • Where the government should spend more or less money
  • Abortion rights
  • What to do about illegal immigrants
  • Crime prevention
  • How to fix the educational system
  • How to reopen the economy during a pandemic

For instance, I’m pro-choice regarding abortion rights. I can understand that some people will disagree with my position, and I don’t fault them for it. If other people want to swear me off because of my this (including the fact that I’ve paid for an abortion before), that’s their choice. But I wouldn’t hold it against someone for having a different well-reasoned opinion on this. To me it’s mainly a value judgement.

There is some rationality to consider here, however, which is that in places that outlaw abortion, crime surges significantly about 20 years later. Forcing people to have babies they’d prefer not to have causes bigger problems for society down the road. So I do consider these ripples. Outlawing abortion actually does a lot of measurable harm where it’s been tried.

If someone is anti-abortion, and they base their concerns on valuing and protecting that new life, and they see this as being more important than an adult’s right to choose, I think that’s honorable. I can see that POV as a rational stance too, even with the negative ripples this could cause to society.

But if someone bases their stance on what the Bible says, I’d dismiss them as being irrational. It’s not rational to obey an old religious text that’s full of self-contradictions. I don’t respect this kind of non-reasoned approach, which is based on obedience, not intelligence.

There are other societal issues, however, that seem a lot more straightforward to me in terms of the intelligent choice. It’s harder to imagine a genuinely rational argument against these.

These include:

  • Creating a less racist society
  • Decreasing the wealth gap
  • Moving the world away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy
  • Curing diseases
  • Making new scientific discoveries
  • Advancing LGBTQ rights
  • Increasing global happiness
  • Providing people with clean water

For several years now, I’ve been donating money each month to Charity Water. Their mission is to help provide clean water to the hundreds of millions of people who still don’t have reliable access to this precious resource. For instance, Charity Water builds new wells in Africa.

Is there a rational POV that would make this look like a bad idea? Is this even controversial? Do you know any intelligent person who’d claim that so many people shouldn’t have access to clean water or that we should do the opposite and make more people drink dirty and disease-ridden water?

I’ve shared before that I’ve been donating to this charity, and not a single person has objected to it. But if I were to share a more controversial charity, some people would complain. Of course if a charity turned out to be corrupt, that could become a source of objection, but I think it would be hard to find intelligent people who’d object to the stated mission to bring clean water to people who don’t have it.

When someone wants to straddle the fence on genuinely controversial issues where rational people may disagree, I don’t see that as such a big deal. When people claim to see both sides here, I don’t fault them for it.

But when someone tries to straddle the fence about issues where it seems really tough to stretch rationality to validate a clearly irrational perspective, I lose respect for them. I find much less value in friendships with such people. I think their stance is cowardly and lacking integrity.

I think one reason people do this is that they’re trying to preserve their relationships across a wide spectrum, but when they cross into irrationality do so, they sacrifice their integrity. They become part of the problem. They enable more stupidity in the world because they’re too afraid to call it out.

For instance, Trump recently stated publicly that he wants to reduce testing for coronavirus. He blamed testing itself for the rise of new cases. Reducing testing during a pandemic is idiotic, which is why Trump’s own advisors have been cringing at the idea. Moreover, you can’t blame the media for sharing videos of what he actually said himself.

Are there really multiple sides to this that are equally valid? Maybe if you’re really dumb, you might think that way, but if you have at least half a brain, it should be obvious enough that more testing, not less, is the rational and intelligent way to go here.

Are honesty and lying just two different sides? What about rationality and irrationality? Should you maintain friendships with people all along the honesty and rationality spectrum? Are you just being extra friendly, kind, and forgiving when you do that? Ha! I don’t think so.

At some point people are clearly going too far here and turning their backs on truth and rationality when they pretend that there are equally valid sides to consider. Such a posture is just delusional.

Here’s a quote from long-term Republican Steve Schmidt, who’s been a key strategist for some major Republican campaigns:

Donald Trump has been the worst president this country has ever had. And I don’t say that hyperbolically. He is. But he is a consequential president. And he has brought this country in three short years to a place of weakness that is simply unimaginable if you were pondering where we are today from the day where Barack Obama left office. And there were a lot of us on that day who were deeply skeptical and very worried about what a Trump presidency would be. But this is a moment of unparalleled national humiliation, of weakness.

When you listen to the President, these are the musings of an imbecile. An idiot. And I don’t use those words to name call. I use them because they are the precise words of the English language to describe his behavior. His comportment. His actions. We’ve never seen a level of incompetence, a level of ineptitude so staggering on a daily basis by anybody in the history of the country whose ever been charged with substantial responsibilities.

It’s just astonishing that this man is president of the United States. The man, the con man, from New York City. Many bankruptcies, failed businesses, a reality show, that branded him as something that he never was. A successful businessman. Well, he’s the President of the United States now, and the man who said he would make the country great again. And he’s brought death, suffering, and economic collapse on truly an epic scale. And let’s be clear. This isn’t happening in every country around the world. This place. Our place. Our home. Our country. The United States. We are the epicenter. We are the place where you’re the most likely to die from this disease. We’re the ones with the most shattered economy. And we are because of the fool that sits in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk.

Now that’s refreshingly direct and honest. I have a lot more respect for this tell-it-like-it-is statement than for someone who pretends that Trump’s over-the-top incompetence are just a matter of perspective and that they “see both sides.”

I see both sides too, but they aren’t political sides. One side is rationality and honesty. The other side is bullshit. When people pretend that these are equally valid perspectives, I lose respect for them and tend to regard them as having low integrity, low intelligence, or both.

Trying to preserve your relationship with me at the expense of your own reason and integrity doesn’t score you any points with me. It costs you points. If you don’t respect honesty and rationality, you lose my respect. Trying to straddle this particular fence just makes you look weak and spineless.

I’m surely not alone in having this low opinion of people who try to straddle the rationality-irrationality fence, as if it’s just a political issue. Defending bullshit isn’t a political issue. It’s an issue of being a complete idiot. Your politics aren’t the issue. But if you descend into idiocy, that will put a damper on our relationship.

How do you honestly feel about people who try to straddle the fence between truth and bullshit? Do you feel they’re just being open-minded, accepting, and tolerant? Or do you feel they lack integrity?

It’s fine to have genuine differences about real political issues. We can still respect people with well-reasoned views different from our own. But I don’t think we should extend this courtesy to those who treat bullshit as if it’s a valid perspective. I don’t think this kind of attitude serves society. It just encourages the spread of more irrationality and indifference towards genuine issues that could use well-reasoned solutions.

When I see people doing this this type of fence sitting, I’m inclined to shake the fence (or perhaps set it ablaze) to see where they’ll land. And if they land on the side that’s full of shit, oh well!

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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