They think I'm a smug know-it-all...are they right?

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They think I'm a smug know-it-all...are they right? Empty They think I'm a smug know-it-all...are they right?

Post by Andrew Corvero on Wed Jun 10, 2015 3:00 pm

Here's what happened: a friend of mine and I had what I thought was a civil debate where we disagreed about an argument which happens to be one of my pet peeves (superstitions). Since I'm a skeptic I tend to try and challenge people's opinions about horoscopes, tarots or any claims of supernatural events with scientific data, evidence analysis., statistics and quotes from critical thinking/skeptic articles and books.

I do my best not to offend the person I'm talking with, but this is an argument where my inner bullshit-o-meter just forces me to go through a long debate where I try to change someone else's mind. I think that superstitions or belief in supernatural in general is an insult to the intelligence of those people and they deserve to know better. I actually think that leaving bullshit unchallenged is offensive to the potential they have for their critical thinking skills.

Usually those debates remain civil, but after I engaged a recent common acquaintance of ours in a way that I thought was perfectly polite and civil and I got him to challenge their ideas a mutual friend came to me and said that she and others were getting sick of debates, they thought I was "showing off" and being "a smug know-it-all" and that sometimes I should just pretend to agree with people to get along with them instead of turning conversation into debates.

While I recognize that she might have a point if people are getting annoyed of my explanation the problem is that I really can't force myself to pretend to believe in something that I know to be bullshit.

I also have the same problem with religion but at least with religion people can say that their beliefs aren't testable, which puts them beyond rational criticism and allows me to agree to disagree. I simply cannot agree with superstitious people who believe that the supernatural is real and can be proved to be real (this includes creationists and most religious apologists).

Are there any ways not to look as smug as some of friends think I am other than being hypocritical for the sake of the group?

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Post by reboundstudent on Wed Jun 10, 2015 3:18 pm

The thing is.... you are kind of being smug. Even if you are super civil and polite in your tone and your language, the underlying message is still "Something you believe is crazy, and I know it and you don't, so change your belief to see things my way."

I think the "know it all" probably comes from what your friends read as you believing that your assumptions about their beliefs are logic, valid and even worth discussing. If your friend is otherwise an intelligent, ethical, well-meaning individual, does it really matter, really, at the end of the day, if they like to get their tarot fortune read?

You say that you can't let it stand because it's an insult to their intelligence. But if that's the only illogical thing they believe in, if they are otherwise intelligent, why does a single "insult" to their intelligence really matter?

I think you're also working from an assumption that illogical belief = stupid. I get my tarot fortune read sometimes, and sometimes I actually kind of buy it. I know, from every logical position (evidence, analysis, statistics) that it's absolute nonsense. But... it's kind of fun. It indulges an emotional part of me somewhere. Helps soothe my existential soul, shall we say. It might not speak to my cold, logical side, but it speaks to my fuzzy, emotional side that sometimes feels bruised by facing an uncertain future. By insisting that an illogical belief is an insult to a person's intelligence, you are essentially discrediting what emotional benefit that person is getting. Maybe that belief is helping their emotional intelligence. Intelligence is not a binary, hard-coded thing; people can be both highly intelligent and incredibly stupid (the whole joke about book reading versus street smarts.)

I heard once that everyone, absolutely everyone, even you, has at least ONE belief that everyone around them thinks is bat shit insane. Even the most rational, skeptical scientist has at least one superstition that is scientifically absurd. Friends function by letting each other have their handful of nutty beliefs, especially if those beliefs aren't hurting anyone. If you believe that you are the only one who lacks at least one crazy belief, but you have the authority to call out others, that does indeed kind of make you a smug know-it-all.
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Post by Caffeinated on Wed Jun 10, 2015 3:19 pm

Andrew Corvero wrote:Are there any ways not to look as smug as some of friends think I am other than being hypocritical for the sake of the group?

I think there is a way to be honest and not hypocritical without looking smug, and that's to say "I don't believe in that" when a superstition comes up. The key is not to follow up with arguments or demonstrations of why you don't believe unless and until you are specifically asked. I think that if you present arguments, you're almost always going to risk being seen as smug. Very high risk if they don't ask for arguments, and medium risk even if they do ask. You basically have to decide if arguing this particular case with this particular person is worth the risk.
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Post by eselle28 on Wed Jun 10, 2015 3:39 pm

I think the question here is whether someone else wants to debate you, and then whether the two of you can have a debate on reasonable terms.

It sounds like your friends don't want to debate or have their beliefs challenged. Of course they have critical thinking skills, but they might not want to be pushed into applying them right at that moment, and they might be happier with some beliefs left unchallenged. Now, I think this is different when the anti-scientific belief is one that could cause harm to others or alter public policy, though even then it's often more effective to appeal to people without strong opinions than to try to challenge someone who doesn't want to debate. It sounds like most of the things your friends believe in aren't likely to affect you, though.

I also think it's unlikely you'd be able to have a reasonable discussion that changed one of your minds, because you're relying on different kinds of proof. Even the more scientific leaning sort of creationist starts by having faith that the Bible is the Word of God, and then proceeds to look for scientific evidence to support those premises. I suspect people defending superstitions are the same. I mean, have you ever actually talked anyone out of these beliefs?

I don't think you have to pretend to agree with these beliefs. A simple, "I don't believe [thing you don't believe in]," will register your disapproval. If it's the same set of friends who keep bringing up these subjects around you, " think something like, "Guys, we already know we're in complete disagreement about [thing]. Can we talk about other stuff when I'm around?" Then change the subject to something you can all discuss happily.
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Post by PintsizeBro on Wed Jun 10, 2015 4:07 pm

I agree with Eselle. Did the friend actually want to debate you? If yes, you're fine. But if not, then you were acting like a know-it-all.

Simply mentioning that they like or believe in tarot readings isn't an invitation to debate. Neither is inviting you to get a tarot reading done. If you politely decline and they press the matter, at that point you can be more pointed in expressing your distaste for tarot/mysticism/crystals/whatever.

If you can't respect someone if you know they believe in tarot, even if they don't try to convince you, I'm afraid your best option is to pull back from the relationship.

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Post by Dan_Brodribb on Wed Jun 10, 2015 4:33 pm

It sounds like the idea your friend suggested "pretend to agree" annoys you because you don't think you should have to agree with something you don't believe in and if that's what you're saying, I totally agree.

I wonder if the issue your friend is trying to address is in these quotes:

Andrew Corvero wrote:Since I'm a skeptic I tend to try and challenge people's opinions...

Andrew Corvero wrote:my inner bullshit-o-meter just forces me to go through a long debate where I try to change someone else's mind.

Here are some questions I found myself asking. I wonder if they'd be helpful for you to ask them of yourself.

What 'forces' you into these long debates? How do these 'civil' debates play out for you, the person your debating, and bystanders? What's the difference between a 'civll' debate and an uncivil one for you? Is it possible to have conversations about these sorts of things WITHOUT trying to change someone's mind? If so, would you approach the conversation differently and how do you think that would play out? Do others share this definition? How does the idea of not challenging people's opinions sit with you? Have there ever been times your inner bullshit meter has gone off but you HAVEN'T challenged people's opinions? What happened there?

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Post by Andrew Corvero on Wed Jun 10, 2015 10:43 pm

Thanks to everyone for all the answers!

reboundstudent wrote:If your friend is otherwise an intelligent, ethical, well-meaning individual, does it really matter, really, at the end of the day, if they like to get their tarot fortune read?

Not really, no, unless they want to talk with me about that and ask me my opinion on that matter. I usually try to avoid the argument, but if everyone is talking about that and they ask for my opinion I can't help but offer it at length and in details. I know I should probably learn to let go, but although I may respect and like someone who believes in tarots or Nostradamus or the Loch Ness monster there's always something nagging me about it. It's more along the lines of "why do otherwise intelligent people believe in something so patently illogical?"

As I said, it's different with religion. Religion is by definition non-testable, beyond human comprehension, and although I'm not a believer in any kind of religion it doesn't seem wrong for me if someone wants to believe in an order beyond nature or a creative mind behind the universe. But some things just look a bit....childish? silly? I don't know, they just rub me the wrong way.

reboundstudent wrote:But if that's the only illogical thing they believe in, if they are otherwise intelligent, why does a single "insult" to their intelligence really matter?

It doesn't matter unless they bring it up and want my opinion on the matter. I try never to bring it up, or say that I already answered it, but if they really ask for my opinion on the matter I find it hard not to speak my mind at length.

reboundstudent wrote: By insisting that an illogical belief is an insult to a person's intelligence, you are essentially discrediting what emotional benefit that person is getting. Maybe that belief is helping their emotional intelligence. Intelligence is not a binary, hard-coded thing; people can be both highly intelligent and incredibly stupid (the whole joke about book reading versus street smarts.)

This may also be true but (please forgive me if I offend you) on some deep level some things just irritate me. The idea of believing in something that you logically know isn't true just because it makes you feel better looks very hypocritical to me. It looks like deliberately lying to yourself. I know that this is only my opinion, and there might be some parts of this enjoyment that I really don't get, so as I said, it's more of a pet peeve than something else.

reboundstudent wrote:I heard once that everyone, absolutely everyone, even you, has at least ONE belief that everyone around them thinks is bat shit insane. Even the most rational, skeptical scientist has at least one superstition that is scientifically absurd. Friends function by letting each other have their handful of nutty beliefs, especially if those beliefs aren't hurting anyone. If you believe that you are the only one who lacks at least one crazy belief, but you have the authority to call out others, that does indeed kind of make you a smug know-it-all.

The thing is that if someone else showed me that one of my beliefs is simply false I'd thank them for pointing it out to me. I consider gradually getting rid of all your nutty beliefs a form of self-improvement. If someone proves me that I'm wrong with evidence and facts, they're doing me a huge favor! I know this is a view that isn't shared by others, though, so I should try to hold back my tongue.

It's just that when they ask me for my opinion I find it very hard not to offer citations and engage in debates. For me it's a bit like watching your friend doing something harmful to themselves and not doing anything.

Caffeinated wrote:I think that if you present arguments, you're almost always going to risk being seen as smug. Very high risk if they don't ask for arguments, and medium risk even if they do ask. You basically have to decide if arguing this particular case with this particular person is worth the risk.

I never offer arguments unless they specifically ask me what I think about a specific argument. If they just talk about the subject I usually keep my mouth shut until they move onto a different subject.

Unfortunately many of my friends are enthusiasts of one irrational thing or another and they ask me for my opinion rather often.

eselle28 wrote:It sounds like your friends don't want to debate or have their beliefs challenged.

The difficult thing is that the person I was having the debate with was perfectly fine with it. It was another person who complained to me that I was being a "spoilsport" and a "smug know-it-all" and that I should have just pretended to be into tarots like everyone else in the group.

eselle28 wrote: I mean, have you ever actually talked anyone out of these beliefs?

No, but that's not my intent. I just want to challenge other people's beliefs, it's their job to check out the answers for themselves.

eselle28 wrote:I don't think you have to pretend to agree with these beliefs. A simple, "I don't believe [thing you don't believe in]," will register your disapproval. If it's the same set of friends who keep bringing up these subjects around you, " think something like, "Guys, we already know we're in complete disagreement about [thing]. Can we talk about other stuff when I'm around?" Then change the subject to something you can all discuss happily.

And this is what I should always do. Changing the subject isn't always easy, though, especially if they ask me "Why don't you believe in X?" or they say "You're just not open minded enough". I find it very hard not to answer those questions/statements with a full exposition of my ideas.

Pintsizebro wrote:I agree with Eselle. Did the friend actually want to debate you? If yes, you're fine. But if not, then you were acting like a know-it-all.

The situation is: "Friend A" didn't seem to mind the debate. "Friend B" was annoyed and told me she found me smug although I wasn't debating her but with "Friend A". I just didn't see it coming.

Pintsizebro wrote:If you can't respect someone if you know they believe in tarot, even if they don't try to convince you, I'm afraid your best option is to pull back from the relationship.

I can respect anyone who believes in anything, it just seems extremely odd to me that someone that I think is otherwise intelligent and likeable believes in something so illogical. But it isn't an issue unless they ask me for my opinion.

When I'm asked "Do you believe in thing X?" I try to be as polite and respectful as I can in my answer, but I usually answer "No, I don't, and this is why: [insert argument]".

Dan_Brodribb wrote: What 'forces' you into these long debates? How do these 'civil' debates play out for you, the person your debating, and bystanders? What's the difference between a 'civll' debate and an uncivil one for you? Is it possible to have conversations about these sorts of things WITHOUT trying to change someone's mind? If so, would you approach the conversation differently and how do you think that would play out? Do others share this definition? How does the idea of not challenging people's opinions sit with you? Have there ever been times your inner bullshit meter has gone off but you HAVEN'T challenged people's opinions? What happened there?

Good questions!

The thing that forces me is being asked to give my opinion.  Civil debates are ones when I offer evidence for my point of view and debate evidence for other points of view without anyone attacking either side with personal arguments, insults, or interrupting each other and generally being rude. Uncivil debates are the ones where what is discussed aren't opinions and ideas but people and their worth, or in general when someone is being rude or disrespectful to someone else. It's really hard for me to have a conversation when I'm asked to give my opinion and not try to challenge someone else's opinions if I know I have the evidence on my side. The idea of not challenging other people's opinions if I'm asked my own opinion sounds very insincere to me, almost like a betrayal of what I think should be done. My bullshit meter goes off all the time but unless I'm asked to speak my mind I let others say whatever they want, and nothing happens.

Again, thanks to everyone for their input. Lots of food for thought and helpful suggestions in here.

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Post by Enail on Wed Jun 10, 2015 10:51 pm

It strikes me as kind of odd that they'd keep asking your opinion on similar topics when they must have figured by now what your opinions would be and how you would likely express them - I wonder if they believe that persistent asking will get you to change your mind or soften your views out of peer pressure.

This might be the kind of thing where, after the first time discussing it, you'd do better just to say "we've talked about this before, you know what I think. I don't think there's any point in rehashing it."
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Post by Andrew Corvero on Wed Jun 10, 2015 11:05 pm

Enail wrote:It strikes me as kind of odd that they'd keep asking your opinion on similar topics when they must have figured by now what your opinions would be and how you would likely express them - I wonder if they believe that persistent asking will get you to change your mind or soften your views out of peer pressure.

The more I think about it the more I realize it's mostly one person, "Friend B", who does that, and she's the one who thinks I'm a smug know-it-all. I really want to clear things with her before this becomes an issue.

Enail wrote:This might be the kind of thing where, after the first time discussing it, you'd do better just to say "we've talked about this before, you know what I think. I don't think there's any point in rehashing it."

You're probably right. I'll try to use this script more often in the future.

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Post by Caffeinated on Wed Jun 10, 2015 11:58 pm

Ah, yes, if they're pressing the conversation on you, that's a different story. If someone presses beliefs on you that you don't believe, and won't let it drop if you say you don't believe and try to change the subject, then that's on them. Of course, that could be cold comfort if you end up in a fight with friends. If it were me, I would probably try to change the subject, and if it couldn't be changed, take the opportunity to get up and go refresh my drink/check my messages/use the restroom/have a smoke (not any more, but those were the days)/etc.
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Post by PintsizeBro on Thu Jun 11, 2015 12:05 am

Yeah, if they're asking for your opinion, I'm not sure what they expect you to say.

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Post by Andrew Corvero on Thu Jun 11, 2015 5:17 am

PintsizeBro wrote:Yeah, if they're asking for your opinion, I'm not sure what they expect you to say.

It's mostly just one friend actually. She thinks that by not even pretending to believe in some superstition she believes in I'm kind of spoiling the fun. She says it's not a huge deal and that I shouldn't be so uptight. The problem is that for me pretending to believe in something I don't believe in is kind of a huge deal.

But all your pieces of advice are pretty useful to come up with scripts and reasons to avoid pointless fights or looking insensitive should people signal me they don't want to debate the question, so I'll keep them in mind should the right time come.

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Post by BasedBuzzed on Thu Jun 11, 2015 6:23 am

If she keeps wanting to talk about it because it's a fun indulgence, why not shift the topic towards the Forer Effect and the psychological mechanisms behind horoscopes? It's at least as interesting and fun as discussing why there's maybe more out there.

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Post by reboot on Thu Jun 11, 2015 9:19 am

Funny thing is the placebo effect is very real and can have clinically measurable effects (as does the nocebo effect - if you tell people something will make them feel worse it will). Here are some links on current research (sorry not all free text)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17550344

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21747102

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/placebo

So maybe that is what your friend is talking about? Or perhaps it will irritate you less if you think of it in that light?

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Post by Guest on Thu Jun 11, 2015 2:18 pm

I can't remember where I read my favorite placebo effect study, but it basically went like this:

Researcher: This pill is a placebo.  It contains no medicine at all, just sugar.  But science shows that placebos can actually make people feel better with the power of their brains.
Patient: *feels better*

ETA: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/dec/22/placebo-effect-patients-sham-drug

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