Railing Against a Black-&-White World: The Merits of Minority Opinions


Welcome to The Third Rail.

The Third Rail is a weekly series that will run here on this blog as an experiment of sorts.  The inspiration for this series was our observation that nowadays it’s become very popular to bandwagon onto a particular majority position that’s in vogue.  While this behavior is certainly fashionable –who after all doesn’t enjoy being on the winning side of an argument?– we’ve discovered some disturbing trends in the public discourse that concern us greatly.  As David French pointed out to Ezra Klein recently:  There is a thoroughly studied, well-understood psychological group-think polarization phenomena:  When two people who have the same opinions converse, they will tend to affirm and validate each other in a way that leads to a strengthening, “amplifying effect,” of whatever positions they already previously held.  So let’s take for example Joe and Sally who both already believe in affirmative action, say, on a scale of 1-10, they both sat at 7.  Simply by conversing with each other over that topic, by the end of their conversation, Joe and Sally will very much have increased their conviction in affirmative action up to an 8.  Repeated countless times across a population of likeminded individuals, this groupthink effect becomes a dangerous sociological phenomena.  Without the minority viewpoint reigning in the snowballing of conviction, we become enamored with a particular perspective and narrow our field of what we believe to be right, moral, or just.  And if we are increasingly trapped inside “filter bubbles” or “echo chambers” nowadays of our own creation, this on the stage writ large is a recipe of disaster and eventual, inevitable conflict.

To confront and counteract this increasingly alarming trend, we looked to a text and faith tradition over 2,000 years old:  The Jewish Talmud.  The Talmud, written between 2nd and 5th centuries CE, is the compilation of historic rabbis discussing and debating the Torah (what others call the Old Testament or the Five Books of Moses).  In total, the Talmud consists of 63 tractates and is over 6,200 pages long when printed in book form.

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Four Rationalizations to Confirm Kavanaugh

We now enter the second week of the Shakespearean drama that’s gripped Washington and the nation writ large:  The confirmation hearings of Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court.  And while all this drama plays out, two thoughts keep recurring in my head:  I wonder what Kavanaugh’s two daughters (10 and 13 years old) are going through in school?  I hope they’re okay. And then followed by, I wonder what thought processes are whirling away in the heads of the Republican Senators?  How are they processing all of this?

It’s become a popular parlor game nowadays to get on the Internet, usually Facebook, and write hot takes taking umbrage at the current circus that’s ongoing in Washington.  And while I fully admit to enjoy launching rhetorical broadsides at complete strangers on social media as much as anyone else, today I thought I’d take a deeper, more empathic dive into a perspective that I don’t think has been explored as much:  What are the Republican Senators currently thinking?  Why are they currently still supporting Kavanaugh?

After watching her testimony last Thursday, the general sentiment has been –a sentiment I agree with– is that Ford is highly credible.  At this point, I don’t think many people believe Ford is outright lying, trying to thwart a SCOTUS confirmation for the Republicans, a political party that she opposes.  The fallout for her after this will simply be too high.  She has already received death threats for her and her family.  She’s already had to change her name online and move locations.  Couple this to the fact that before this flaming dumpster mess fell into her lap, she was already a successful researcher, a professor, and widely published and respected in her field, the odds are slim that she would throw all of that away in a heartbeat to try sinking Kavanaugh’s confirmation.  For the rest of history, she’ll now be remembered by most people not for the years of research that she’d meticulously performed, compiled, and published; not for her tenure as a professor teaching the hundreds of students that she has taught; but she’ll now be a footnote forever, to most people, in someone else’s story:  Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation process for a SCOTUS seat.

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