Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why you should always practice humility if you are in the majority position

In my opinion one of the most important additions to Freethought Blogs has been Natalie Reed. At least it's been important to me, and the reason is because her opinions and her life circumstances very much challenge me. No, I don't stand up and cheer at everything Natalie says, the way I do with a lot of the other FtB bloggers. While I've been comfortable with the idea of gender as a fluid concept for quite some time, there are some trans issues that Natalie brings up which are foreign to me, are difficult for me, cause me to sometimes react by saying, "No no, that can't be right."

And what do I do when that happens? I just listen. And today, it struck me exactly why that is the right thing to do.

You know how annoying it is when a theist thinks they've got some knock-down argument for the existence of God, and it turns out to be some dumb crap that we've all heard a thousand times before and was refuted a million times before any of us were even born? The reason the theist does this is a unique property of being the majority: They don't realize that we've heard all of those arguments before.

It is a feature of being in the minority in regards to a controversial topic that -- independently of whether one is actually right or wrong -- one has probably heard all of the majority's arguments ad nauseum. Again, this does not automatically make the minority position right: The majority may have a knock-down irrefutable argument, and you've heard it but for whatever reason don't accept it. But the idea that someone in a distinctly minority position hasn't even heard the majority's arguments? Pretty silly.

Sometimes Natalie writes something and my initial reaction is, "No no no, that's not right at all! And here's why..." But before I say anything, I try to remember that she's almost certainly heard all of that before. And sure enough, more often than not my objections wind up being addressed at some point.

Trans issues are pretty frikkin' complicated (check out this mind-blowing post from Natalie on how the issue of "coming out" relates so differently to trans individuals than it does to cisgendered gay people, for example) and sometimes it is just too much for me to wrap my head around from the isolated position from which I sit. The best I can do sometimes is to just sit and listen. I don't always agree. But you know what? Natalie all the time brings me enlightenment in regards to these issues, whereas the odds that I am going to say something that will "enlighten" her in regards to trans issues are approximately zero.

So yeah, if you're in the majority... try to be humble about your great insights. Those in the minority have almost certainly heard them all before, and won't find them particularly clever.


  1. What you say is true if the question is genuinely unsettled, with good arguments on both sides. But I take the majority view (among scientists) on both evolution and global warming. My feeling is that the minority, who deny those theories, may well have closed their ears to the evidence for those theories or at least failed to take the time needed to understand it. Science works and it's wrong to be too humble about it.

  2. Yeah, good point on that one. I was thinking there are cases where this doesn't apply, but something as clear-cut as that hadn't occurred to me yet.