Sneaky Health Fallacies -- The Last One
(February 23, 2021)
My intention was to quit with the "sneaky health fallacy" thing for now, but there's one I forgot to mention that I think is crucial. So thank you for bearing with me one more time.
The first two newsletters I wrote on this subject were meant to help detect propaganda and fake arguments that subvert your thinking. This last one is about something that makes you stop thinking altogether. And here is how it goes.
Whenever you're trying to make a decision about anything, you eventually reach a point where you're satisfied with your decision one way or the other and quit thinking about it. If you reach that point before you've actually considered all the evidence, though, that's not good. Usually if that happens it's because you read or heard something that triggered your emotions or appealed strongly to a bias that you have. You might not even quite realize that you've not just made a decision prematurely.
We've all got some built-in biases. That is not in itself a bad thing. They derive from ancient lizard-brain survival mechanisms, and are intended to keep you safe when quick action is needed. If you're looking to take a nice walk around the veldt some summer morning, but suddenly run into some big-cat poop while you're there ("BAD!"), your lizard brain wants you to exit the veldt immediately without turning it over in your mind for a while. So that kind of thinking has some powerful emotions associated with it.
In the area of health and medical care, because they are so important to us and thus involve extremely strong emotions, those biases are particularly powerful and can therefore can lead you in some very wrong directions. Moreover, if you've got a strong enough prejudice in favor of, or against, something, not only is your decision-making impaired, but you're wide open for someone else to hijack the whole process and turn your decision to their benefit.
There are people who are married to drugs and surgery and wouldn't consider anything else, or vice versa will not touch those things under any circumstances. Anyone who falls into one of these categories is in big trouble, because I promise you that neither of those two groups has all the answers, and if anything that is an understatement.
You often here someone say about another person who has a chronic health problem, "s/he just doesn't want to get better". Well, that's not usually true. They DO want to get better. It's just that they want to take their own personal road to getting better, and because of that whole emotion-riddled lizard-brain thing, doing it their way is more important to them than actually getting better.
Anyway, back to the propaganda technique this is supposed to be about. It's called (a bit ponderously) the "thought-stopping cliché ". And it's particularly sneaky because the cliché referred to might be perfectly valid IF it's used when it suits the situation. It's when it's used to quell dissent or to subtly hijack the argument that it becomes a propaganda technique.
Here's a generic example; "it's all good". It's appropriate when you're trying to decide whether your vacation is going to be, or when you're talking about what flavors of cupcakes to have at a birthday party -- in other words, when "it" IS All Good. It's a propaganda technique when it's used to shut someone up because you don't like the uncomfortable points they're bringing up.
(Turns out Bob Dylan hated that expression as much as I do.
Its cousin "it is what it is" is just as bad. Sometimes it IS what it is. And sometimes it isn't. And if it's the latter, you'd better think about it some more or you'll be stuck with it -- as it is.
A couple more are "now is not the time" and "here we go again". All of them are sometimes accurate but more often are used to stifle discussion.
To get back to medical and health issues. Your drugs-and-surgery types might jump at something that's "experimental" or "high-tech". People who prefer alternative medicine might fall for "indigenous medicine" or "traditional medicine" instead.
And don't think that doctors are above using this kind of persuasion on you, because they most certainly are not. A favorite scare tactic with cardiologists appears to be "you could die right there sitting in your chair" if you dare to ask them if medication might not be just as good as that chest-cracking surgery they just recommended. (This was used to great effect on my late father, and is one reason that he is my LATE father.)
In advertising, buzzwords can play this thought-stopping role. In promoting "health food" products, they are omnipresent and shamelessly abused. "Vegan" CAN be a buzzword, but it's also descriptive of the product; you might have to mull it over a bit to figure out how it's being useed. "Local" means grown within 400 miles of where it's being sold; so if you want to buy local, you ought to find out HOW local. "Natural" has no real meaning whatsoever, but has emotional appeal to anyone who doesn't like to think that they're eating a lot of chemicals.
I've learned to be suspicious of arguments or solutions to a problem or really anything that immediately triggers an emotional response in myself. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I'm LEARNING to do that. The ole lizard-brain can be pretty loud. But it will shut up if you insist.
Ultimately, my intention with those newsletter (and indeed with this entire newsletter "thing") is to offer you tools to evaluate the health and medical information that comes your way. If you learn to spot things that get you to stop thinking, particularly regarding your health, I'll have accomplished what I hoped.
--dr. diane holmes
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