Jason Green’s response to the readings for Week 1 of the Downes&Kop Critical Literacies course concludes with the question “how does one think critically without it coming across as a baseline of distrust?”
I actually think that a “baseline of distrust” is appropriate, but that social harmony often demands that the level of distrust not be fully expressed. This phenomenon (of people taking offense at any hesitation to accept their assertions and beliefs uncritically) is presumably related to the importance of trust in building a social network but ironically we appear to have evolved a need to be trusted that exceeds our need to be trust-worthy.
One of the puzzles of life as a mathematician is how proud many people are of their incompetence in the discipline, but perhaps it really is a social advantage – after all the one who can claim to have “never been any good at math” is less likely to bring the threat of unequivocal exposure of error which all of us in the field have to live with (and suffer repeatedly), but which most others would rather, it seems, avoid by various kinds of waffling, ambiguity, and evasion.
Perhaps the same psychology motivates those who accuse the so-called “new atheists” of stridency and belligerence where I only see bluntness (and perhaps admittedly a bit of smugness as well).
In my comment to Jason’s post, I suggest that “perhaps the key in such cases is not to deny the validity of a proposed conclusion, but just to provide enough feedback to allow the proponent to re-consider”.