Tag Archives: subjective

Intellectual fraud

I’ve run into this issue in a number of places – in books, and when dealing with professional people who should know better. There is a form of intellectual fraud called circular logic. It occurs to me that one of the reasons it happens is that people using it do not realise it is inherently fraudulent as a way of thinking. It is a fraud because it so readily supports wrong answers, and if you employ it, you can run off down the wrong track without even knowing your are committing a fraud against yourself. My other thought is that if I share the method, it may help other people recognise books and authorities that are trying to manipulate them with circular logic, and thus defend against it.

As soon as we move from observation to asking what it means, we shift from fact to speculation. There are always multiple interpretations available for anything. Some may be more right than others, some may depend on circumstance or the observer. Good thinking holds the possibility for lots of interpretations. If more evidence comes in, it may be possible to see patterns or trends, or a balance of probability. There may even come a time when it is sensible to assert an interpretation as proven, or as fact. However, if you start with a theory, and interpret all of the information in the light of that theory, all you can ever get is ‘proof’ that supports the initial theory. You cannot be proved wrong, and you cannot perceive other interpretations. This is intellectual fraud and it is very dangerous.

For example, we dig up a body from the Celtic era where there is evidence of violent death. We assume sacrifice. We then look for reasons as to why that person would have made a good sacrifice, and whatever is a feature of them becomes a reason. We look at why their location was relevant for sacrifice, and we see some kind of feature and latch onto it as being relevant. We look at the manner of death and interpret it as being sacrificial, and then find something to associate it with that makes sense. We then take all the results of our work and present them a proof that the chap was sacrificed. There is no reason why he couldn’t have been murdered or executed, but we never looked at that.

I wish I was making this up, but I’ve just read the Ross/Robins ‘Life and Death of a Druid Prince’ and it’s like this all the way. When it comes to unpicking history and getting a realistic view of the past, this is bad enough.

It also happens in our day to day lives. We assume that someone is getting at us, so we interpret everything they do and say in this light, and thus we always feel threatened and offended by everything they do and say. We cannot hear the possibility that we’ve got something wrong. We assume we know a person’s motives, interpret accordingly, and never move from our initial assessment to true understanding. If we start out by thinking we know, and making the facts fit, it is impossible to learn. There is no way of seeing something we hadn’t thought of, of making real discovery or of having proper relationship.

What is most frightening, is when someone in a position of power and authority settles on a theory and will not let it go no matter what the evidence. When you watch everything being twisted to fit the other person’s story and are powerless to stop it. I have no idea how you fight that, but it looks like I am going to have to learn. I’m reminded of something I heard on the radio, years ago. A woman who had been diagnosed with severe mental health problems, and sectioned. When she told her doctor that she thought she was making progress and might be able to recover, this was written down as further proof of her being delusional. For people dealing with mental health issues, fighting this kind of intellectual fraud in the circular logic of authority figures, is terrifying and really hard.

I would imagine that if the medical profession, police, or social services, or any other such body make an assessment and then will only interpret new information in the light of it, your life rapidly becomes a nightmare. I’ve been lucky on that score, doctors, police and social services have been open minded, receptive and supportive in my life. But some years ago I dealt with teachers who had decided that bullying was not happening, and made themselves blind to all evidence. Some years on one boy is in a special school, one has an autism diagnosis and one needs a lot of help to rebuild self esteem and social skills. A willingness to look at the evidence objectively would have spared three families a lot of grief.

Sometimes the cruellest and most destructive thing we can do is cling to the idea that everything is fine and normal. By bending all evidence to fit that belief, we distort lives, keep victims powerless, support mistreatment, remove the scope for change, healing or progress and fail to uphold our own honour.