Dave’s awesome post from a few days ago, along with the ensuing discussion, got me thinking a bit more about the virtues of humility in reasoning (the Kahan paper he cites calls this “aporia,” but for all I know that could really be Greek for “platypus” so I’ll just stick with good old English). I’m a fan of the approach to discourse that Dave describes in the post, which I will refer to herein as rhetorical coolness (to contrast it with overheated rhetoric, and because it think it actually is cool, in the sense that Fonzie is cool).
By “rhetorical coolness,” I refer to a style of reasoning that entails respectful consideration of opposing arguments, evinces due humility about the inevitable limitations of one’s capacities to reason, and avoids the kind of hysterical tone that characterizes much public dialogue these days, especially cable news and the blogosphere.
It doesn’t seem to me particularly surprising that people should give carefully articulated reasons for their positions rather than engage in all-caps, red-faced, Nancy-Grace style ranting. But then again, if you take a look at the viewership of cable news or the readership of blogs, it often seems like the hysterical style is what really moves people, so I may be in the minority on this.
Hence my encouragement at reading Dave’s citation to literature suggesting that while people may feel gratified by (and hence seek out) inflammatory information outlets that tend to confirm their preexisting positions, what tends to persuade people to change their minds is balanced, non-hysterical reasoning that evinces rhetorical humility as I’ve described it above.
I haven’t done the kind of empirical research that Dave Hoffman or Dan Kahan have on cultural cognition, but I still wanted to advance a pair of non-quantitative (but still empirical) reasons in praise of the cool style. I articulate these reasons below the fold. Fair warning: in the ensuing discussion, no one will be compared to Hitler.