Some years back, I remember one right-winger arguing that liberals who refuse to accept evolutionary psychology’s proof about gender differences are as anti-science as creationists. Science says women have evolved to stay home with babies; you may not like this, but you can’t argue with it and pretend to believe in science.
As I say at the link, believing in science doesn’t obligate me to believe in every scientific theory, or even every evolutionary theory: Lamarck, Lysenko and countless others believed their theories were sound science, but they were wrong. Nevertheless, lots of sexists and racists take this tack: it’s not that they’re bigoted, it’s just that the evidence — science, statistics — is so damn conclusive. They hate saying it, but it’s true, men (or white people) are just superior.
Some of them, I’m sure, don’t believe their own words, they just figure it’s a trap for us: you libs value logic? You think science is the guide to truth? Well, then here’s some damn science and logic in your face! You’ve been owned (See this Sartre quote).
Some people find the lure of believing logic is on their side irresistible. This excellent article, for example, points out that guys who’ve been “redpilled” — their eyes have been opened to all the ways women oppress men in the modern world — are convinced their positions are irrefutably logical. The author, Aisling McCrea, makes the same point about some atheists: they see logic not as a system of thought you can use to find truth but a kind of instant cosmic awareness: I’m using logic, I must be right!
Not that I’m arguing against logic: it’s a good tool and often a valuable one. In some circumstances, a gut reaction or a wild-ass guess may be better. As Gavid deBecker says in The Gift of Fear, if you get a gut-reaction that you shouldn’t trust this nice person offering to carry your groceries and that you, are, in fact, creeped out, there’s probably a good reason. Play it safe and trust your gut.
As McCrea details, though, screaming that you’re using logic doesn’t mean that you are, in fact, logical (the same is true of people who insist something is Just Common Sense. Sometimes it isn’t). It doesn’t mean the person you’re arguing with isn’t also being logical. Two people can reach different logical reasons for multiple reasons. For example, if you start from the premise that women don’t like sex or that date rape is just buyers’ remorse, you’re going to reach different conclusions than someone who knows both those statements are untrue. If you “know” all women want kids, ditto.
Or as Cathy O’Neil says, if someone looked at the post-college life of graduates back in 1960, it might seem obvious that men put their degrees to good use, women just stay home with the kids — maybe there’s no point in letting women attend school, right? If they don’t see the problem lies in discrimination against working women rather than women’s desires, they’ll reach the wrong conclusion.
We may be completely unaware of our own bias. Cordelia Fine says our performance on gender-linked skill tests can vary depending whether the skill is presented as male or female. And most of us (myself included) are inclined to believe science that supports our side over studies that don’t
We may be choose to cling to “logic” and “facts” even when we don’t have them because we want to believe, as Fred Clark discusses about one old urban legend.
I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t use logic or that we sit around unsure about everything we believe. But the more extreme our conclusions — anything that says violence is the only option or that other people shouldn’t have rights — the more careful about acting on “logic” we should be. As the writer G.K. Chesteron says, life is a trap for logicians: it looks more logical than it really is.