Friday, September 28, 2007

The Open-minded Fallacy

Imagine you are trying to have an intelligent conversation with someone. Maybe you have never had an intelligent conversation, in this case skip to the next article. For those of you still reading let me present a situation to you. You and "Bill" have been discussing an issue important to both of you. You believe one way and Bill believes another. The discussion or argument, depending on who you ask, was getting heated. Bill explains his side, then you explain your view. Instead of offering an intelligent counter, he pulls the trump card; with the assurance of a veteran debater he calls you close-minded. It is interesting that this simple retort can turn an audience against an otherwise sound argument and it's presenter.

How come this term often used in political debates of the highest level seems to be a win all strategy? An opponent may use that term when he is in a desperate situation and all of the sudden the crowd is on his side glaring at the opponent as if he is some bigot. Before we look at what being close-minded is and what it implies, we must first look at open-mindedness. To be open minded is to be willing to consider new arguments or ideas. It can then be inferred that calling someone a name because of their viewpoints is not very open-minded; in fact it seems quite the opposite.

Open-mindedness is not what you believe, but rather how you deal with people who have beliefs different then your own. It has been a common misconception that if you believe a certain way then you are close-minded. By now the reader may be thinking about the political ideologies; conservative and liberal. Liberals are stereotypically the open-minded party, and conservatives are generally thought of as being closed-minded (the catchy phrase closed-minded conservative). I do not disagree that there are close-minded conservatives and open-minded liberals. But, the stereotype is wrong for there are many open-minded conservatives as well as many close-minded liberals. Also, the term wouldn't properly fit even if the majority of conservatives were in fact close-minded.

Close-mindedness is not adhering to a set of beliefs, but rather the refusal to listen or respect other people’s opinions. So, back to your argument with Bill, who was in fact close-minded? Needless to say, let’s think twice before we resort to name calling.

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