Is it a moral failing to be horribly wrong?
When someone says something that I believe is wrong I don’t attribute malice. I assume they are missing a piece of information or have not thought through something. I also feel a sense that I may, in fact, be doing the same. There is a definite chance I have missed something and my sureness is a failure on my part.
When someone holds a position that is wrong or horribly offensive, how can you know why?
Reasoning with Wrong
Let’s take a concrete example. We’ll go with something that isn’t controversial, so the point comes across.
I’ll make up a person named Chad. Chad has some beliefs that are quite interesting.
Chad drinks from the back of every toilet he uses as he has since childhood. This is to inoculate yourself against the germs in the restroom. Chad always does this, and is quite confused by urinals. He refuses to use them.
When we are confronted by this, are we likely to assume that Chad understands that toilet drinking after shitting makes no sense? Do we think Chad understands that his presumption about it helping his immune system is wrong? Do we assume Chad just likes the flavor of the toilet water?
Assumptions of Others Thinking
How we reason with ourselves about Chad isn’t important. He is wrong with his reasons for drinking the toilet water. We can assume he has a moral failing or ignores logic. In this case, I doubt we assume anything other than Chad is an idiot.
We don’t think Chad is an ethically bad person.
People hold moral positions we disagree with. These moral positions offend us more than Chad’s toilet drinking.
I would go so far as to say that being offended by someone’s moral position in opposition to your own makes you wrong. This shows you don’t understand their position. If you understand their position, it is either justified or they are lacking the reason you don’t hold that position.
Correcting the Wrong
To correct someone’s being horribly wrong you have to first accept that they can be horribly wrong without being a bad person.
Things that are outrageous like Chad’s toilet water we will laugh at. If someone tells us that they are pro-choice or pro-life, our reaction may be one of outrage and anger. I believe this shows a failing with ourselves. Both positions are valid, depending on what you value or ignore.
If you truly believe the person who is taking a position is wrong, you must first understand where they are. You must then understand how they got to where they are. After doing these two first steps, you can hope to question their conclusions and path.
You can’t correct someone who is wrong until you can do that. You have to accept that they can be horribly wrong and not be a bad person. Even if their conclusions go against your morality, don’t assume the worst.
Assuming the Worst
Assuming the worst means that you are assuming too much from a simple statement or position. You should give everyone as much intellectual charity as possible.
If someone says they believe that slavery may be a better system than what we have today, don’t assume the next steps. They may mean that corporations pay for your education and take care of you. They may alternatively mean they want to own a black person and whip them while shouting at them for working harder.
I will always assume that someone has good intentions until proved wrong. I will always assume that someone is doing their best until proved wrong. Everyone who does the same helps to make the world a better place. It allows us to actually talk to each other.