Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas

I just read a fantastic essay by Scott Berkun on “Why smart people defend bad ideas.” This is something I’ve thought some about and it is something I am guilty of often: intellectual bullying even if my logic doesn’t add up. Scott attempts to answer “How can smart people take up positions that defy any reasonable logic?” Print it out and read it when you aren’t rushed. Excerpts below:

Proficiency in argument can easily be used to overpower others, even when you are dead wrong. If you learn a few tricks of logic and debate, you can refute the obvious, and defend the ridiculous. If the people who you’re arguing with aren’t as comfortable in the tactics of argument or aren’t as arrogant as you are, they may even give in and agree with you.

The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death….

Simply because they cannot be proven wrong, does not make them right. Most of the tricks of logic and debate refute questions and attacks, but fail to establish any true justification for a given idea…

People worry about the wrong thing at the wrong time and apply their intelligence in ways that doesn’t serve the greater good of whatever they’re trying to achieve. Some call this difference in skill wisdom, in that the wise know what to be thinking about, where as the merely intelligent only know how to think. (The de-emphasis of wisdom is an east vs. west dichotomy: eastern philosophy heavily emphasizes deeper wisdom, where-as the post enlightenment west, and perhaps particularly America, heavily emphasizes the intellectual flourishes of intelligence). BC Note: That was a very interesting point.

Smart people, or at least those whose brains have good first gears, use their speed in thought to overpower others. They’ll jump between assumptions quickly, throwing out jargon, bits of logic, or rules of thumb at a rate of fire fast enough to cause most people to become rattled, and give in. When that doesn’t work, the arrogant or the pompous will throw in some belittlement and use whatever snide or manipulative tactics they have at their disposal to further discourage you from dissecting their ideas.

At the end of the article there are additional resources, and you better believe that those books have made it onto my Amazon wish list!

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