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July 13, 2009

It's been two months since my last blog, mostly because of a lot of things keeping me busy. I now begin my latest series, "Listen!" I promise will not be as long as my series on accuracy.

Bad listening means selectivity is at work. There are three types of selectivity:

  1. Selective listening. This was covered in a number of college courses I took. This happens when you take what supports your idea and either ignore the rest or scream at whoever is pushing it. (No small number of politicians need to understand this.) The result is a lack of information that causes people to believe crap.
  2. Selective knowledge. This is when you know something but will not admit it because it contradicts your argument. If you want to see selective knowledge in action, watch any debate. There are pros and cons to any argument, but the trained debater will not address the cons unless specifically asked, and many will then dance around the question.
  3. Selective speaking. This is more common than most people realize. Selective speaking happens when the speaker chooses specific words to make the statement sound like something other than it is. For example, someone might say they "have" something. If they do not own it, the listener may assume they do.
The series will end with a post called, "The Good Listener".

Here, in Part I, I will deal with selective listening. This is when people seem to miss anything that disagrees with what they already believe.

The problem here is three-fold. First, preconceived notions work their way in to block the given information. This means, simply, that if something disagrees with what someone already believes, they ignore it. This is because they are afraid of admitting they are wrong. There are a number of reasons for this, which I will not go into here.

Preconceived notions are formed by taking a lack of information and assuming what that information is. Most commonly, this is because someone is impatient and does not want to wait for the information. Another reason is because they use previously preconceived notions to draw their conclusions.

The second issue is that of bad source selection. This happens when you are confronted with something that seems to go against what you believe and can't get past it, then go to a source who is trained to dismiss it. These people are in all occupations, from doctor to carpenter to economist to priest. Their sole purpose at that point is to destroy the argument, even if it is correct.

A good source is one who has no interest in the answer, but is able to tell you what it is. If it is about the U.S. Revolution, a Frenchman with a Ph.D. would be less likely to be biased than an American or Englishman, who would each be instructed with their own nation's bias about the story.

The third problem is that of arguing. This happens when the supposed listener begins asking questions about their own preconceived notions in a way designed to attempt to trip up the speaker. At the first word that they take as so much as beginning to imply a contradiction, or a disagreement with what they claim to be right, they jump down the person's throat and reject what they say.

Arguing is far too common in this country. People have learned to pay attention for anything that disagrees and assume it is "wrong", and thereby conclude the speaker is wrong. The problem is that in most cases, not all the information is out. For example, the common belief among Protestant Christians in "faith alone" is rebuked by James 2:24, "You are saved by works, not by faith alone." Most Protestants will not wait for the second half of the verse before beginning their argument.

This method of producing an argument that something cannot be right is called debunking. Though the term is most common among UFO enthusiasts and conspiracy nuts, the term is validly used in many other situations. Debunking means producing a false refutation through ignorance, inventiveness, and insolence.

Next time, part II: Selective Knowledge.

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