Saturday, May 23, 2020

Are you part of a cult about abortion, or anything else?

How people engage the issue of abortion can be indicative of general patterns of inquiry, thinking and communicating about controversial and challenging issues. Some of these patterns of response are good but others are bad.

One bad response to issues like these is to engage in what can be called "cult-like" thinking and behavior. To be part of a cult is similar to being part of an "echo chamber" or - a newer related term - an "epistemic bubble."

So if someone engages in cult-like thinking, or is part of an echo chamber or an epistemic bubble about abortion, what's likely true of that person? 
  1. they tend to enthusiastically affirm just about anything and anyone that agrees with their own position, without asking whether that source of potential support is a good one or not; 
  2. they generally don't engage with people they disagree with on the issue, and these people are often "demonized": they are called stupid, or dumb, or evil or worse, although not in any kind of direct engagement that might wind up being productive;
  3. if they engage with people who they disagree with, it's from a distance and doesn't involve an attempt to reach out in good-will to increase understanding and have productive engagement: they are "drive-by critics";
  4. they don't really engage the materials (writings, videos, etc.) that people who disagree with them produce;
  5. they are unaware of questions and objections that other people have about their own views: that is, they are unaware of what their critics say, much less whether their critic's objections have any merit;
  6. sometimes their engagement of the issue is mediated through someone that they view as an expert or "prophet" on the issues: they agree with this person's conclusions on the issues, but aren't really up on the support for those conclusions, and so they leave it to this person to do that thinking and engagement for them;
  7. in that way, their position on the issue is driven by the conclusions they antecedently accept, not so much their own reasoning towards that conclusion that starts from a place of neutrality or lack of bias (or at an attempt at seeing things from this neutral starting point, as best they can). This relates to the "If you agree with me (on the correct conclusion on this issue), then I agree with you, no matter what!" attitude mentioned above. 
  8. likewise, they are generally unable to distinguish rejecting a conclusion on an issue from rejecting a reason or argument given for a conclusion on an issue: so, e.g., someone (even a pro-choice person) who says "This one reason is not a good reason to think that abortion is OK (although there are other good reasons to think that abortion is OK)" somehow gets seen as a threat by some pro-choice people, even though they are both pro-choice;
  9. they consider themselves very knowledgable on the issue, despite not having read widely on the issues, taken classes on the issues, or engaged with a variety of potential experts on the issues: so they think they are experts when they are not; they do not know that there is a lot they do not know about the topic;
  10. they think the issues are simple, when the experts know that there are genuine complications, challenges, and subtleties to be addressed;
  11. they do not wonder about whether there is any "common ground" between them and the people they disagree with to use to make progress on the issues; 
  12. there is often an unwillingness to "compromise" on anything, even when that compromise is reasonable. So this involves "black and white" thinking: it's either "all this" or "all that." Now, sometimes this response is appropriate - there are many things we shouldn't compromise on and there are not legitimate different perspectives on! - but compromises are sometimes reasonable and justified; 
  13. people in cults and echo-chambers don't allow any member of their own insider group to question any aspect of the group's beliefs or ideology: you are either all for it or not and, if not, well, you aren't "one of us": self-critique isn't allowed. This is related to the phenomena of "groupthink."
This is just an incomplete and quickly-made list of some common features of this type of engagement. (What is missing?)

Looking at this list, do these seem to be good ways of engaging issues, or not? Are many issues engaged this way? Why is this?

Finally, do many people exhibit these tendencies in how they engage the topic of abortion, both people who are pro-choice and people who are critical of abortion?

If so, why is this? And, more importantly, what can be done about it, on this issue and any other? 


  1. Thanks. I went through this article with a question in my mind: did you write the article with an assumption that cult/echo-chamber/bubble thinking is any more endemic to the abortion issue than to any other political issue? I found no indication that you did.

    It is an excellent breakdown of the characteristics of the cult/echo-chamber/bubble phenomenon, with good links. Thanks again.

    I would like to humbly offer as well an article I wrote for Life Matters Journal, "The Psychological Morass of the Abortion Issue"

    As I read a number of your points, particularly 4, 5, 8 and 9, I was reminded of a talk by Monica Snyder of SPL that I had the opportunity to attend and the video of which I re-watched recently. It's very entertaining, at least for anyone who will not be compelled to take it personally.

    Your 7 reminds me of a paradox that occurs among pro-lifers (and I'm sure among other groups also). A pro-life group may offer to help other pro-lifers hone their philosophical skills for the sake of winning, and yet REALLY honing one's philosophical skills would entail temporarily dropping one's pro-life commitment and becoming neutral without certainty that the quest will lead them back to a pro-life position. I wrote a small article about this, "Can a Pro-Lifer Be Both Open-Minded and Confident?"

    "And, more importantly, what can be done about it, on this issue and any other?"

    I think that a lot of meditation is the best thing. When you spend a lot of time in an inner space of contentment – or even bliss – that does not depend on the fortunes of your tribe, you lose your anxiety about the fortunes of your tribe, and lose all the self-deception that the anxiety creates.

  2. Replies
    1. They work! Thanks! Does that prove that big tech discriminates in favor of pro-choicers?

    2. No, it's that URLs must be entered as these comments here using basic HTML to make them work. URLs don't automatically turn into links.