Gruber on idealogues and zealots

Gruber's piece on Pilgrim switching to Linux resonated with me so much that I want to write about it some more. The key quote:
You’re doing yourself a disservice if you dismiss an argument like Pilgrim’s simply because you believe he’s an open source/open format ideologue; ideologues aren’t necessarily irrational zealots. (And even irrational zealots or fanatics aren’t necessarily wrong; cf. Henry Kissinger’s quip: “Even a paranoid has some real enemies.”) An ideology is an organized system of beliefs; just because you don’t share them doesn’t mean they aren’t valid.

Ideological conviction doesn’t necessarily imply a rigid, quick-to-judge closed mind (even though, admittedly, that is often the case). You can be an ideologue with an open, honest mind — to believe otherwise is to say that someone with an open mind can never reach an uncompromising conclusion.

This is an issue that I have faced many times lately. I have a tendency to make very strong opinions - if I'm not confident in my thoughts on a matter I will wait until I have enough information to come to a definitive decision, and even then I will always reassess my conclusions when compelling evidence appears. But I often run into the bias that because I have a firm conviction I must be an 'irrational zealot.' (Which is strongly compounded by the fact that many of my deeply-held beliefs run counter to mainstream society's and can really bother some people. I also still have a lot of work to do on expressing myself in a way that is accessible by my audience...) While it is certainly true that I have very strong and deep biases, the idea that I am close-minded couldn't be farther from the truth. I know my biases better than anyone, and the reason I keep them is because they have served me well - they are gross simplifications of my overall opinions, and serve as a basic guide in making new decisions - they are a gut instinct to listen to but not be trapped by.

I come to firm convictions specifically because I have considered the issue at hand in depth over a long period of time and am confident in my decision. I am the sort to deliberate over the simplest decision like whether or not to buy some trinket for way too long, but once I've come to a decision I rarely regret it specifically because I was so careful in my deliberations. I only have firm convictions about things I feel I know enough about to make an informed decision (in large part simply because why bother wasting the energy on things that don't matter to me). You'll note that while I can rant endlessly about government policies for railroads, why the UMass Sylvan dorms were designed wrong, or my thoughts on abortion, I have very little to say about, celebrity x, religion y, or whatever else. Are my opinions right for you? Of course not, we have inherently different priorities and values, but to dismiss mine simply because the are so firm, unwavering, and sometimes disturbing, is an insult to both you and me.

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