Julia Galef has a video about the commitment effect, one of the many ways that our ability to think clearly and rationally is easily undermined. Many studies show that once we commit to a position, it is much harder for us to think critically about it. We devote more of our energy to defending it than evaluating it. Rationalists in particular have to guard against this, especially because we tend to think that we’re immune to that effect and we’re not.
I think this effect is often compounded by our tendency toward tribalism. Especially when it’s an issue we feel really strongly and passionately about, it’s all too easy for us to draw very black and white lines. Everyone who agrees with me is on my side and everyone else is on the other side. And if someone agrees with us 95% of the way but quibbles with one small part, we often quickly put them on the other side. And once we do that, we tend to ignore the 95% agreement and presume that they agree with what everyone else we’ve put on the other side believes — which too often means what the worst person on that side believes. We do this in politics and religion and, all too often, in blogging.It can also be compounded even further if we have a following, as on a blog. It becomes very easy to play to the crowd instead of giving due consideration to criticisms of our position, especially when most of our readers agree with us. And I say we because I’ve been guilty of this behavior more than a few times. I’m sure I will be again. As Julia correctly points out, it takes real effort to avoid these cognitive pitfalls. The commitment has to be made not to the position but to the process by which we come to those positions.