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Critical Thinking

07 - Acceptance and Centrism


This isn’t easy by any means. When you’ve come from polarisation, extreme opinions, heavy biases, deep ignorance, subjective belief-based world views, and belong to a tribal group, this is not easy. It is my view that in order to be accurate and evidence-driven you should do two things: 


-Accept how things are, and root yourself in centrism.




By acceptance I mean that you have to come to terms with some very unsettling and disappointing realities:

-You can never truly know something

-You might be wrong at any time

-The world doesn’t have to make sense

-You don’t have to have an opinion

-Opinions aren’t equal and shouldn’t be protected

-Objective standards of evidence exists

-There will always be people who know more than you

-The world is extremely complicated and simple answers don’t usually exist

-You are always going to be prone to biases and ignorance

-You will always be part of a tribal group


This might seem like a hopeless position to hold seeing as you essentially never know anything, there are always problems, nothing is for certain, and everything seems chaotic and unknowable. The funny thing is, is that that’s actually the complete opposite of how it is.

Accept that objective evidence exists

When you acknowledge that objective evidence not only exists, but is learnable, then you can not only take steps to learn what that is, but you can learn to become better at both spotting and evaluating it. Belief-based systems of subjective realities such as global conspiracies, an “agenda”, religion etc offer a comforting world-view-based outlook and easy generic sweeping explanations, whereas objective-based outlooks do not. 


What they do offer, however, is a reliable system for evaluating information. Information goes from something to be believed or disbelieved to something you can analyse, evaluate, and scrutinise. This puts the knowledge and power of information in your hands. You hold the means to accept or reject good and bad evidence, and the ability to see reliably what those things even are.


If someone claims something is a conspiracy or something “doesn’t feel right”, then you are able to test the claim, analyse it for its factual merit or accuracy, and decipher whether it’s true, false, or somewhere in between. With belief-based systems, this doesn’t happen. Indicated conspiracy = true, countering conspiracy-theories = false and that’s the end of it. You either believe it or you dont; you either see it or you don't. You’re a mental slave to your beliefs at that point. Objective evidence provides mental independence.

Accept that you are fallible

You don’t know everything, in fact, in the grand scheme of all possible subjects and specialisms in this world - you don’t really know very much at all. It is an ignorant position to think that after hearing a talking point or spending a few days on Google searches that you are now fully informed on a subject.


Even seasoned experts are capable of being incorrect in their assessments. This is why taking one person’s word isn’t reliable or useful. Experts in virology will still be prone to the fundamental human biases which cloud our judgement. Psychology students were prone to (but less so than average people) the conjunction fallacy. We are all fundamentally human, and as such, we are all fundamentally flawed.


Take myself for example. I used to believe conspiracy documentaries and the word of chiropractors at face value. I knew virtually nothing about science despite having really good grades in school. I was ignorant to a huge amount of things in this world - I didn’t even know what left and right-wing were while repeating far-right conspiracy theories. I turned that around. I still make mistakes. Science is difficult - it’s really difficult. 


Sometimes I misread things and got things wrong, and that’s ok. It’s part of learning. Never assume you’re unquestionably correct - you can always be mistaken. That’s the point in my alterations page: to show transparency. If your base for opinion is evidence and proper reasoning, then your opinion will change as the evidence evolves. This is the nature of evidence-based views.


Accept and recognise your own biases and ignorance

You are prone to biases and ignorance on many subjects - it’s just how humans are. We are fundamentally flawed creatures, many of whom don’t even understand or realise these flaws. It’s not a self-defeating proposition to recognise your errors as it allows for error correction. Error correction shows you understand your flaws but are above, not beneath them. 


We are all and will forever be ignorant to many of the things in this world. We hold and will likely always hold biases towards one thing or the other. We will likely always be a part of a tribal group in some fashion. What we need to do is minimise these things as much as possible. We do that by accepting and recognising them, so they can be minimised. 


Recognise and accept your ignorances. Recognise and correct for your biases. Recognise and correct for your tribal group. This goes perfectly into the next section.


Accept that things don’t have to make sense

Sometimes things don’t make sense. This might be because they are chaotic acts of randomness. It might mean that we simply lack the insight and knowledge to understand what is going on. How do you know which is which? If you don’t already know and lack the tools to find out, then you won’t know. This is why it’s important to accept that things don’t have to make sense.


If you lack the knowledge to decipher current events, or events are chaotic and random, then I think it would be best to hold off having an opinion. If something happens and I haven’t verified things myself or looked into it, I make it very clear that I don’t have an opinion. What does this achieve?


Opinions are treated like possessions which is why they are defended from scrutiny. They are your opinions - they’re your own thing. They’re unique to you, and you own them. This is why opinions aren’t helpful. Once you have them they’re hard to change if your goal isn’t to change your opinion based on evidence.


If you only hold opinions and vary the strength of your opinion based on the strength of objective evidence, then you can be sure that the opinions you do have are likely robust enough to be correct. What’s the point in holding an opinion on everything if most of them are inaccurate? It’s like the phrase “pick your battles”. Pick your opinions. In many ways we are a slave to our opinions through our biases to hold onto them and our tribalistic tendencies. Choosing your opinions gives you control over this and gives you independence of opinion.


Accept that nuance is vital

A little dramatic, but nuance is one of the most devoid elements of public discourse. Nuance is acknowledging the fine details and minute factors that influence a situation. It is recognising complexity through insight. It is understanding that this world and the situations in it are almost never simple and affected by a wide range of factors with their own impact and implications.


For example: If 2 people in a vaccine trial die after getting the vaccine, the antithesis of nuance would be saying “the vaccine caused 2 deaths, it’s poison”. The nuanced approach might be something like: “How did they die? What were their underlying health factors? How old were they? What is the background rate of death in that group? Is there a causal association? How many died in the control arm? Is there a realistic mechanism to cause the outcome? What does the evidence say? Has it even been investigated yet?”. 


We have a tendency to look for simple and easy-to-understand answers to questions, while what we should be doing is looking at the complex factors involved and asking specific questions about the details. We should be looking for the most robust answer we can gather instead of the easiest and quickest belief-based answer.


Being politically central is a bit of an oxymoron. What I’ve come to adopt is more a goal of centrism than actually being it. We all hold biases, including me. Sometimes they’re just natural to our personality or we’re predisposed to them. I don’t think we can ever truly remove our biases, we can only hope to minimise them.

Active centrism

Centrism to me is an active process - it isn’t simply being central by default. When a story or claim comes out about a political candidate you don’t like (such as a liberal hearing something about now ex-president Trump), then it’s very easy to accept the negative criticism without questioning it. That bias within us will make negativity and criticism of the other easy to accept. 


In a similar fashion, if you’re a Republican and hear good news about the now president Joe Biden, you’re likely to find it hard to accept and want to scrutinise it or be hypercritical of it. These are natural tribalistic responses and enforced by our biases and our ignorance of critical thinking. 


There’s a phrase that already exists for this: devil’s advocate. Put yourself in the shoes of your “enemy”, and see how you feel about each individual situation and its specifics. Swap the Trumps and the Bidens of this world with people you know and respect, or even yourself. Look at all sides of the argument. This doesn’t mean meet in the middle. Election fraud conspiracy theories and incitement of insurrection mobs cannot be met in the middle and is indefensible, however, it does mean acknowledging everyone’s motivations and intentions.


Or to put it simply: steelman your opponents - represent their views as strongly as possible as if you were defending them. You don't have to agree with them, and sometimes they're simply awful people with terrible ideas, but you can still make an attempt to understand their motivations and the influences guiding them.


Self-Guided Centrism

A good part of what makes centrism so difficult is sensationalist news and tribal groups like Occupy Democrats or Qanon. If you want to take the path of centrism, of balance, and of fairness, then give yourself the best help you can (you’ll need it).


Firstly, leave the inflamed and sensational groups you follow. Far right and far left social media pages - gone. You don’t need that kind of biased influence on you. Some media outlets who belong in the hall of shame for shoddy journalism, fake news and or heavy bias:

-The Daily Mail

-The Daily Express

-The Sun


-Fox News




-Huffington Post


-Natural News

-The Young Turks



-Occupy Democrats


-The Daily Star

-Before It’s News

-The Washington Times


There are far far more sources than this, but you get the idea (hopefully).


Secondly, pick your news for the journalistic accuracy and biases, not for if they say what you like. Some names might include:

The Economist
Business Insider
Wallstreet Journal
Fullfact UK

You’ll notice the list is smaller. It took time to pick this list. The hall of shame took no time at all. Unbiased and reputable news is harder to come by and is far less in number than their biased and fake news counterparts.


It can be kind of tiring constantly questioning yourself and seeing if your own views stand up if you approach them from the opposing opinion. This process I feel is quite necessary. Are you being too critical of this person? Are you being too lenient on that person? It’s a constant struggle to strive for fairness, equality of scepticism, and of centrist analysis. I can’t see another way of being as objective as possible without this. 


Sorry for not having a simple answer - life isn’t simple. This world is a complicated, complex, and often convoluted interwoven multi-layer mix of random chaos, coincidence, the mistakenly thought, the known, and the unknown. All of this is being communicated through media outlets and social media pages ranging from high factual accuracy and journalistic integrity with minimal bias, to outright fake news and misinformation ranging from the extreme left to extreme right. 


In this extremely muddy reality we live in, I simply repeat my two pieces of advice: practice active centrism, and accept how things are.


The next page will cover what standards of evidence means. A lot of people don't understand this and simply think information being out there is evidence. I will explain how I understand standards of evidence.

Next Page: Standards of Evidence

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