Privilege, Dialogue, Harassment, and the Anti-Availability Heuristic

The Availability Heuristic is a well-known cognitive bias that primes people to more readily believe something when they can easily come up with examples. Of the cognitive biases that I’ve encountered among rationalists in the skeptical and atheist communities, this bias is the one I’m most capable of coming up with examples. I am therefore primed to believe more readily that atheists and skeptics are not immune to this bias — myself included.

But there’s a little-discussed inverse to this bias, where examples are generally filtered out of one’s daily existence because they don’t impact on you directly, and thus, you are less ready to believe someone claiming to experience them. I call this the anti-availability heuristic, though I’m sure there are better names for it.
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Martin S Pribble on “The Hyper-Skeptic Problem”

Sorry. It’s shaping up to be another one of those weeks. Seems a lot of us around these parts are being struck with Real Life all at once. I don’t have it as bad as some, certainly, but I’m pretty swamped out at the moment. So I’m more than happy to spread around what few hits I can direct to others who are out there taking and throwing the punches that I wish I could be.

Like Martin S. Pribble, and his fantastic treatise on the “hyperskepticism problem” that I’ve touched on myself a number of times.

Hyper-skeptical viewpoints give rise to conspiracy theories, paranoid delusions, and, surprisingly enough, misinformation. The hyper-skeptical mind will not accept facts, much in the same way a religious mind cannot accept facts. The hyper-skeptic is so deeply entrenched in the idea of “not believing in anything” that the world becomes a huge bully, just trying to feed them falsehoods in order to make them “part of the system”.

It’s difficult to know how someone can arrive at a hyper-skeptical viewpoint. Could it be that there is no way to “know” anything, as all information is presented from information from another human mind (which could also be a delusional mind)? Added to this is the concept of “irreducible complexity”, one where a person may look at a situation, and step-by-step, ask questions that are increasingly out of the realm or scope of the original question or statement. Bill O’Reilly is famous for such questions, able to flippantly throw aside all claims by asking “But how did it get there?” when talking of unrelated topics such as tides.

The main point here is a concept known as “reasonable doubt”. It is an evidentiary concept, used both in courts of law (“A standard of proof that must be surpassed to convict an accused in a criminal proceeding”) and in scientific discovery (where enough evidence is presented that doubt is diminished beyond consideration). It is the standard of evidence to which we must hold all claims in order to evaluate their efficacy.

It applies in a lot of ways to the internecine warfare we experience in our atheist and skeptic communities. Every time one of us employs a sociologically sound and evidence-based scientific concept that conflicts with someone’s dearly-held point of view about some topic or another, you couldn’t hit the buttons on a stopwatch fast enough to measure how long it takes before the person presenting the concept is decried as dogmatic, shrill, or some other pejorative term that amounts to a shorthand for “they disagree with me, therefore they’re being mean to me, therefore they’re wrong”. The main examples that spring to mind immediately are the so-called “race realists”, the climate “skeptics”, and (yes, definitely) the anti-feminists and MRAs and misogyny-apologists.

While we call them “trolls” as shorthand, they certainly don’t think of themselves as such. Sure, they use troll tactics to derail and damage conversation, but they really, truly believe that there’s a scientific reason to be racist, that the evidence for global warming isn’t overwhelming, that Schrodinger’s Rapist and the concept of privilege are dogmatic and the real problem with gender. So while there’s no “for the lulz” aspect, these people are definitely trolls in the exact same way as the average conspiracy nutter with tin foil hats demanding that Obama prove he’s not a Bigfoot reptiloid from the alien planet of Kenya.

At any rate, go read Martin’s post. It’s top-notch.