Friday, June 16, 2006

Some fleeting thoughts on "civil" discourse

To me:

It's not about ideology, particularly. It's not about never swearing or never getting passionate or even never personally insulting anybody.

It's about: can you, ever, in any circumstances, meet the other person halfway? A quarter of the way? A tenth of the way?

Are you capable of grasping nuance, even a little bit?

Can you, even partially, even grudgingly, ever admit, in any circumstances, that you were wrong? About anything?

Would you, once in a great while, be willing to put aside your overwhelming need to have the last word?

Can you concede, even ungraciously, that even a loathed enemy might have a point, if you can see that sie does?

Are you aware that conversations take place over time, that they're about 90% about relationships, even of the most superficial sort?

Have you ever changed your mind? About anything? Do you think it's possible you might conceivably ever change it again? About anything?

Maybe that's not anyone else's definition of civil discourse. But those are (among) the criteria I use to determine whether or not I'm going to continue bothering to talk to someone.


Jennifer said...

I have similar views. There tends to be a fetishtic embrace of metaphysical "reasoning" at time -- you know, from long dead philosophers who thought they could create a stable spiritual realm with their metaphysical postulates. But the real world is more of a practical affair than that. And most of us are not monks or those who can merely walk around and meditate, "above it all" -- even the staunchest metaphysician also has practical affairs to deal with (and reason about), if he's honest.

Bitch | Lab said...

two words: golden rule

Bitch | Lab said...

jenn -- i love your icon photo!

Anonymous said...

you would never last more than 10 minutes talking to a politician then!! and thats simply because they would never give up having the last word..

The Goldfish said...

To be honest, it is my experience that this is not all that common. And if you are not being listened to treated with due respect yourself, then it becomes very difficult to do the same for others. Then again, that's probably the moment to walk away, whatever.

I have had some really informative discussions with those who have very different views to my own. But I have had a hell of a lot of heated circular arguments with people whose side I am basically on because I have inadvertantly challenged a point of view which has a great deal of psychological value to them.

belledame222 said...

Yup. And I've reacted in not-helpful ways toward potential allies too, I'm sure, when my buttons are pushed.

Someone had a good point about arguing from the gut versus arguing from the head; I think the gist was, both are perfectly valid; just, know how to tell the difference. and sure, it can be both at once; thing is, the language is different, the...rules of engagement? something...are different.

I am, for example, a big fan of the "I" statements, which comes out of group therapy. When it comes to something subjective--well, to use an example that's blowing up the feministosphere right now:

"I think [sexual act] is gross and vile, and I can't understand why anyone would do it"--perfectly fine.

"No woman likes [sexual act]"--not so much.

Or, well, go ahead and say it, but then don't be surprised when people take umbrage.

Because with the first one, sure, you can take offense at the "gross and vile," but really the only argument is "well, I don't"--and say-hey! both positions can exist!

But if one responds to

"No woman likes blahblah"


"I'm a woman and I like blahblah"

--then you're not just expressing a different sensibility, you're now in the position of having to defend an entire worldview. Which gets a lot more irritating when the original speaker, instead of saying, even something like:

"Okay, you're right, my bad. In my experience, blah blah is gross and icky, the very thought gives me a deep-down queasy feeling; it makes me feel soiled and degraded and objectified; and I truly don't get how anyone could like it, but, hey, if you do, you do, I guess"

instead goes, essentially,

"well, clearly you're just kidding yourself; this is How The World Works. [i.e. appeal to not-named authority]"

--big power move, not suave. (In My Opinion, it is not suave). Which is, I'm guessing, why people blow up in response.

Now, sure, there are times when the objective, universal viewpoint makes sense. You don't have to say,

"In my opinion, the phone is off the hook;"

either the phone is off the hook or it isn't. And any observer can easily verify whether or not it's true.

"The phone is off the hook."

Political shit gets more complicated, but this is where the fun world of statistic and citations and logical arguments and so on come in handy.

In other words, if you're gonna say, oh, for example,

"Blah blah is bad for women,"

then, fine; but bdon't be surprised when people want you to clarify and back it up with specifics. Define "bad for women." How is it bad for women? What evidence do you have that this is so? Then you have something to work with, at least.

The Goldfish said...

This is a very good point, and one I have fallen short on myself. I have expressed opinion as "This is like this" even when I have genuinely meant "I think this is like this."

Part of my problem is that in the (at least British) education system, you never say I think and you'd get an F if anyone found I feel in your essay. A good argument, I learnt, is expressed in terms of fact, not opinion - even when you know it is only your opinion.

Which is all very well when you are writing essays, but no good when you are communicating with dynamic human beings.

belledame222 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
belledame222 said...

Yeah. And of course even this can be abused.

"Without even looking at it, I believe that this study is a load of ferret shit. I feel strongly that you are a raging asshole for even suggesting that we look at such obvious bilge. I think you are wrong about EVERYTHING, EVER. It's my opinion that you are a shitsucking pustulent llama-raping spoogemonkey. Just my opinion! ;-)"

(goldfish, your domain name never ceases to crack me up. blobloblob!)

Fearless Leader said...

Are you capable of grasping nuance, even a little bit?

And with that, you have encapsulated the biggest problem in modern political discourse. Nuance is avoided at all costs and to the detriment of everyone involved. This is how complex situations are reduced to the depth of a nursery rhyme title.

John Kerry's evolved stance on the War in Iraq? Flip-flopping.

John Murtha's over-the-horizon strategy for remobilizing troops in Iraq? Cut-And-Run.

The list goes (ever) on and on. And as much as I don't want to justify our own razor-sharp tongues, after awhile the rhetoric starts to sound like the baiting of a playground bully. As much as we want to keep the high ground, all of the badgering breaks our resolve.

Which is, I suppose, the point.

So perhaps the question is: How do we elevate the conversation up from the playground?

belledame222 said...

My own current strategy, still subject to revision:

Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff (i.e. the ideologues/bullies/narcissists from the large majority of people who can actually be talked to in at least some context some of the time). Find ways to talk to "people who can actually be talked to" in contexts away from hot-button issues and away from ideologue/bully/narcissist who may be dominating the discourse and creating a toxic atmosphere.

As for the bullies/ideologues/narcissists themselves:

1) shun/ignore (Do Not Feed The Energy Creature)

2) if ubiquity of person (esp if a leader) makes this ineffective, arm self with facts and fearlessness, and confront person on hir shit: politely or rudely, but bluntly, and clearly, and (above all) in front of an audience. Only do this if you are sure you can do it without getting caught up or baited or are ill-prepared (also consider who your audience is going to be); or this can backfire rather dramatically.

3) Build a better mousetrap. Create your own spaces, start your own magazines/news channel/radio show/what have you. Promote the shit out of it, knowing that you have a good "product." And keep a beady eye on your own tendency to start being/doing what you loathe in the person(s) you're trying to create a counter to.

which brings us back to civil discourse. just keep listening. stay open while standing your ground.

it is a balancing act.