Here’s Why We Keep Having Arguments Online

Here’s Why We Keep Having Arguments Online January 10, 2018


Whenever we look out at the world, everything registers on our retina except for one area known as the blind spot. When it comes to perceiving reality, the biggest and most common blind spot is our self.

“Ever notice how everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot and everyone who drives faster than you is a maniac?” – George Carlin

This little observation perfectly describes the blind spot that almost everyone suffers from. Those who agree with us are rational, intelligent and possibly even genius-level savants, but those who disagree with us are morons, buffoons and sheeple.


Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

This phenomenon – known as “Naïve Realism” – was observed and categorized by two scientists, Lee Ross and Andrew Ward, back in 1995. They concluded that since most people believe that their ideas and opinions have only been arrived at after careful and thoughtful study, [which isn’t usually true], we then falsely assume that a simple statement of facts which support our position will “fix” anyone who disagrees with us. When it doesn’t work we then assume that these people must be idiots, blinded by their worldview, brain-washed, or possibly even subversive agents who oppose “The Truth”, [which is also usually not true either].

Essentially, we all fail to recognize our own biases and, at the same time, are acutely aware of everyone else’s biases.

Jesus called it having a log in the eye.

Naive Realism has three tenets:

One: You tend to believe that you arrived at your opinions after careful, rational analysis.

Two: Since you are devoted to sticking to the facts, this must mean that you are free from bias. Anyone who reads what you have read or experienced the same things you have will naturally see things your way.

Three: If anyone disagrees with your opinions it must be because they simply don’t have all the facts yet.

Simply put, this is why we have so many arguments on Facebook.

It goes something like this:

You read something and disagree with it.

The other person cuts and pastes from their sources to prove you wrong or to defend their logic.

You cut and paste, or quote from, your favorite sources to advance your unbiased perspective.

They ignore that and post links to other sources that should convince you – if you were rational and unbiased as they are – and when it doesn’t convince you they begin to go down their list of reasons why you must be so blind – you’re stupid, you’re brain-washed, you’re lazy, etc.

Eventually, someone gets un-friended or blocked.

Post. Argue. Repeat.

The problem comes when we assume that we see the world objectively, as it truly is. Therefore, we assume that those who see it otherwise are not simply seeing it differently, they are seeing it incorrectly.

We are right. They are wrong. That’s all there is to it.

But that isn’t reality.

See, none of us is without bias. Not you. Not them. Not even me. We all believe that our beliefs are the right beliefs – otherwise, we’d believe something else. But if we’re honest, we are much more critical of other people’s arguments than we are of our own. Which is what a recent study discovered.

In the experiment conducted by Professor Lee Ross, University students were asked if they would be willing to walk around campus wearing a large wooden sign. About half of them agreed to do so. When asked to guess about how many others might also choose to wear the sign, or not wear the sign, both groups guessed that “a majority” of other students must have decided to do as they had done. [Actual results were 50/50].

Then, they asked both groups this question:

“For those who chose differently than you did, what do you think their choices reveal about them?” 

In each case, students said that those who chose not to do as they had done were probably fearful, foolish, or otherwise abnormal. However, when asked what their own choices revealed about themselves, every student felt that their decisions revealed nothing about them; because they had simply made the “normal” choice that any rational person would have made.

Or, in other words, those who drive faster than me are maniacs and those who drive slower than me are idiots, but those who drive the same way I do are normal, rational and wonderful human beings.

So, now that we’re aware that we all do this, what can we do to mitigate against it?

Well, mainly it means that we have to recognize that we are not perfect. We are capable of being wrong. We all have our own inner bias, and we need to have grace for others who also have their own set of biases.

In our house church family, we’ve come to the same conclusions through other methods, but the essential concept is the same: We’re all in process.

Because we all recognize that we are in process, along with everyone else, we tend to have grace for one another, especially for those who don’t happen to see things the way we currently see them – because not so long ago we saw things in a totally different way than we do now.

This also means that we are less focused on trying to get others to see things our way and more focused on allowing Jesus to transform us into His image.

In other words, we seek a consensus of heart – which is about how we put the words of Jesus into practice – and we’re not seeking a consensus of opinion – which is about getting everyone to conform to a set of doctrines and beliefs.

In fact, we actually value the ability to fellowship with those who see things differently. How else can we learn if we only associate with those who already agree with us?

This works beautifully, as long as none of us decides to impose our views on everyone else. As long as we can all hold loosely to our ideas and adopt a posture that says, “I might be wrong”, or “I have something to learn from the rest of you”, we’re in good shape. It’s only when someone demands conformity that we’re in trouble.

This “Naive Realism” phenomenon exposes our inherent narcissism. We all have a version of reality that places ourselves in the center and elevates our ideas as the standard to which everyone else should conform.

If everyone who drives slower than me is too slow, and if everyone who is faster than me is too fast, then only those who are doing what I am doing – or thinking like I am thinking – are in the right. This means that only those who are like me are worth listening to and those who aren’t like me are inferior.

Does that sound like a way of thinking that Jesus would advocate?

Certainly not.

But it does illustrate why Jesus commanded his disciples and followers to do one thing right off the bat: Deny yourself and follow me.

Jesus knows that men and women are selfish at heart. He completely sees how we all live in our own little universe – or kingdom – where we are at the center and everything is oriented to conform to our way of thinking.

Instead, Jesus says that we have to put Him at the center of our lives and we must conform our way of thinking to His. This is what he means when he says, “repent”, which means “to think differently.”

So, what’s our only way out of this trap of self-deception?

I think we have to let go of the idea that we are the unbiased standards for excellence. We have to surrender ourselves to Jesus, allowing Him to be our center and our standard. We can’t lean on our own understanding. We must orient ourselves towards Jesus and allow Him to guide our thoughts, and actions, and attitudes.

As one friend pointed out to me, Jesus said “Follow me and I will make you…”, which means transformation is built into the deal.

We have to admit that we need to change, and then we have to confess that we cannot change ourselves apart from Jesus. He makes us into the people we need to be; conformed to His image and filled with His Spirit which is brimming with love, and life and hope and peace that passes understanding.

Put Jesus at the center and then let go of that steering wheel. You’ll like where He wants to take you.

I promise.


NOTE: This blog post was inspired by an  interview with Lee Ross by David McRaney over on the “You Are Not So Smart” podcast.
Listen HERE>
Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast and lives in Orange, CA with his wife and two sons.
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  • R12.18

    I’ve been in the middle of a lot of Christian vs atheists/Democrats vs Republicans/left-wingers vs right-wingers online debates and grudge fests. I’m not very proud of my behavior at times, but working on getting better. Your 3 tenets are spot on.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Religion is boring. I know this, I’ve proved it, by going to church and always falling asleep/wanting to leave.
    And I’m watching rates of religious affiliation and attendance decline all around me-so I’m not alone in this.

  • Matthew

    Church can very well be boring … the kingdom of God certainly is not.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    And how can I get a ticket for this kingdom?

  • Matthew

    Why do I get the feeling … Ivan T. Errible … that you are asking a rhetorical question :-)?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    I don’t know-I’m not. I don’t need to ask rhetorical questions.

  • Matthew

    Thanks for the clarification.

    It begins with understanding the Jesus story as it both relates to and completes the story of Israel.

    A good place to start (I think) is a book that was very helpful for me. It´s called “The King Jesus Gospel” and it is written by Scot McKnight.