Don’t get your back up over this

7 09 2011

I’m less clear about how we “get people to meet an obligation to inform themselves before offering an opinion is both to reward such information and punish its lack”. Online and off it has been my experience that people generally don’t appreciate it when you point out (even if gently with leading questions) that they don’t have much of a basis for their not so considered opinions, they feel certain and righteous about their position and have been told over and over that they have a right to their opinions as if that in an of itself justifies the opinion at hand, they may even have a one-line answer from some undergrad class they took in support of it. Whatever the reason people seem to have a hard time separating judgment of the basis of an idea that they may hold from judgment of their persons, even, maybe especially, with strangers, so how to bring some of the philosophical ethos of pushing the ideas, fleshing them out, and testing them and their implications from the seminar into the public realm. and what rewards are there to share with people who don’t yet have a taste of how such demanding work/research can be.rewarding?—dmf

Just when I thought I was done (for now) with this question, you pull me back in. . . .Ha, no. Really, d, Imma stealing from you to feed my blog.

I think it helps to classify one’s interlocutors. If you’re dealing with adversaries—those who seek to get one over on you and vice versa—then it’s anything goes. If they’re shifters, you punish them by not letting go of a single thing they say and not giving in on a single point they make. You point out all the ways they’re wrong, admit of no wrongs on your side, and go after their credibility. “You were wrong on this, and you were wrong on this, and this, and this. . . why should anyone take anything you say seriously?” Attack attack attack.

Despite my vociferousness on this matter, it’s actually not my preferred way of doing things. I like rules, like the notion of “keeping one another honest”, and prefer not to cheat in order to win an argument. If there are no rules, however, then you’d be a fool to act as if there were. The best you can hope for is to diminish the shifter’s sphere of influence.

Or, if you’re not in the mood, you simply walk away—preferably laughing the whole while. (This is how I deal—or don’t deal—with Objectivists.)

Not all adversaries are shifters, however, so some standards apply. If the argument is “staged”, as in, we both know that the real person we’re trying to convince is not the other but neutral others who are listening in, such questions may take on an edge, and some shortcuts in service to the performance are acceptable, but you can’t go too far in upending your adversary. You can’t get mad and you don’t want to make the other person mad, as that would ruin the enjoyment for onlookers, and you have to know when to shrug and let something go. You want to appear reasonable and creditable to those onlookers, so while light jabs are acceptable, garrotting is not.

But if it’s not a performance, if I’m simply trying to suss something out, I find it best simply to ask questions. My forte in verbal combat is in going after the other person’s argument, so I get as much information as I can about that argument. I ask real, not gotcha, questions, and allow the person a full answer. And if their information is or appears incorrect, I’ll ask about that, as well.

If it turns into a fight, I’ll use their words against them, but a lot of times the mere process of asking the questions leads away from the gladiatorial arena. Because I don’t twist their words or mock them or sneer at their views, if I offer them the benefit of the doubt, they’ll often open up, both in expanding upon their views and in their willingness to hear my concerns. And I don’t try to convert anyone, not overtly, anyway. I just ask questions, ask them to think about x from the vantage point of y, and then let it be.

It’s the soft approach—something which I would have abjured when younger—but now I can see the possibilities, and not just the threat, of such softening up.

The Old Man knew this long before I did:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

There is a crack, in everything/That’s how the light gets in.

_____

(h/t Zoe Pollack, The Daily Dish: Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”)

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2 responses

7 09 2011
dmf

glad to be of some use.
“Kierkegaard’s central problematic was how to become a Christian in Christendom. The task was most difficult for the well-educated, since prevailing educational and cultural institutions tended to produce stereotyped members of “the crowd” rather than to allow individuals to discover their own unique identities. This problem was compounded by the fact that Denmark had recently and very rapidly been transformed from a feudal society into a capitalist society. Universal elementary education, large-scale migration from rural areas into cities, and greatly increased social mobility meant that the social structure changed from a rigidly hierarchical one to a relatively “horizontal” one. In this context it became increasingly difficult to “become who you are” for two reasons: (i) social identities were unusually fluid; and (ii) there was a proliferation of normalizing institutions which produced pseudo-individuals.
Given this problematic in this social context Kierkegaard perceived a need to invent a form of communication which would not produce stereotyped identities. On the contrary, he needed a form of rhetoric which would force people back onto their own resources, to take responsibility for their own existential choices, and to become who they are beyond their socially imposed identities. In this undertaking Kierkegaard was inspired by the figure of Socrates, whose incessant irony undermined all knowledge claims that were taken for granted or unreflectively inherited from traditional culture. In his dissertation On the Concept of Irony with constant reference to Socrates Kierkegaard argued that the historical Socrates used his irony in order to facilitate the birth of subjectivity in his interlocutors. Because they were constantly forced to abandon their pat answers to Socrates’ annoying questions, they had to begin to think for themselves and to take individual responsibility for their claims about knowledge and value.”
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/

7 09 2011

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