Abandon All Fear

What nobody else seems to be saying…

[Herding Sheep] Dismissive Responses

Posted by Lex Fear on January 22, 2006

Dismissive responses are intended to appeal to our sense of reason (I say ‘sense of’ since if it was a direct appeal to our reasoning then the dismissive response wouldn’t work). What the dismissive response is actually doing is appealing to our herd instinct. The ‘herd instinct’ basically protects us from free thought and the hard work of using our brains. So for example: Let’s say some verbally incontinent braggart is voicing a fact or opinion, and a counter-argument or plausible objection enters your head. You may even feel the urge to offer this thought up for the debate. So you speak what’s on your mind and immediately the pompous git dismisses your viewpoint with something that sounds like a reasonable explanation as to why your viewpoint is incorrect. In actual fact it’s simply a dismissive response to get you off the scent of their line of bullsh*t.

This is where the herd instinct comes into play. You have now been publicly corrected and whatever is left of your pride is at stake. Two opposing forces are now vying for your reaction. One is reason. Reason says I know that can’t be right, or I still don’t feel that explanation fits. You react by disagreeing with the reasoning offered and pushing the speaker for clarification. Most people choose not to do this. The reason is they feel they will be challenging the speaker to an intellectual duel, which will require them to summon all the power of their own knowledge and experience in order to defeat the arguments of the speaker. So instead they choose to listen to the herd instinct. The herd instinct saves what little pride they have, and wins with the reasoning that the speaker “must be right, otherwise they wouldn’t be saying it” or simply “I agree as I don’t want to get put down or engage in a duel of intellects”

The truth is it’s much more easier than that to challenge someone who is using a dismissive response, Jeremy Paxman for example, is very good at it. You simply need to empty your head of all knowledge and ask more questions, asking for clarification and facts. The people speaking bull and dismissively are soon put to shame, the people who are speaking sincerely will shine.

Which takes me to something I read last week in the news regarding the latest British Army abuses in Iraq revealed by The News of the World. In The Week, Patrick O’Flynn in the Daily Express was quoted as saying,

“The soldiers administered ‘some rough justice’ to youths who had been attacking their base. You can hardly blame the soldiers for being a bit pumped-up: eight of them had been sent out with plastic shields and batons to face a mob of a hundred armed with rocks and petrol bombs.”

and Colonel Tim Collins,

“No other army in the world would have reacted to this with other than lethal force”

These are both dismissive responses, given to make your herd instinct go “Oh, yes I suppose you’re right”. If I went out in any major city centre at between 11pm and 2am on a Friday or Saturday night, I’d expect to see a huge number of idiots “a bit pumped-up” far worse than any mob Iraq could offer, with all the self restraint of a not-yet house trained puppy. What we should not expect to see is this behaviour in fully trained and disciplined British soldiers. Col. Tim Collins remark is simply based on the philosophy of ‘at least we’re better than them’ on the sliding scale of goodness.

Homework: Listen out for dismissive responses in everyday life such as “That’s the way Mike does it…”, “No-one really wants/thinks/uses/etc…”, “Of course there’s no need to…”, “Well I’m/Mike’s happy with it…” and “Well, I can’t/hardly imagine…”

On a last note: I know I’m always late with bringing up current issues I’ve spotted in the press. This isn’t because I’m too cheap to buy my own papers, it’s actually a combination of reading too much. I tend to spot something then keep hold of the paper or magazine with the intention of blogging it here later. Sometimes I just get no chance whatsoever as my weeks tend to fill up with church/friend/work obligations.

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