Imagine Being Wrong

I felt myself wince recently when I wrote “I imagine that if I were a racist.” I realized that I’m not supposed be able to imagine being a racist. Even though a most folks in history have believed, often reasonably given their evidence, that races differ substantially on important qualities. And even though historians, sociologists, etc. regularly study and understand racists.

Apparently one is supposed to believe that racists are so obviously and extremely crazy that it is impossible for a reasonable person to see things from their point of view. Pretending to believe this signals to your associates confidence in your shared anti-racist position, and so is a signal of group loyalty.

But it seems a bad habit to get into, if you want to believe the truth. No doubt many positions are hard to understand, at least without some practice and preparation. Being rational in disagreements is hard exactly because it is so much easier to see one’s own reasoning than to imagine the reasoning of others. And we have only a limited ability to overcome this barrier. But to go out of your way to make it hard to see things from another’s view, that suggests one is more interested in showing loyalty than in discerning truth.

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