Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Coddling Your Interlocutor

I don't have many opportunities to have discussions with conservatives anymore--I think I only know approximately two IRL. And, obviously, I'm particularly down on the left now that political correctness is back, crazier than ever...and, as in the '80s and '90s, more mainstream liberals seem to be backing the PCs up / refusing to criticize them. (And what are "progressives," anyway? I tend to think of them as roughly an intermediate case between liberals and PCs/SJs...but God knows.) Anyway, I'm sure that what I'm about to say goes for conservatives as well, I just tend not to encounter them anymore.
   It seems to me that it's very difficult to make any headway with liberals unless you start off with some epistemic coddling. And what I mean by this is saying things roughly like: I'm on your side...I share your basic ideas...I'm mostly a liberal myself...and so on.
   Obviously, if you want to persuade people, that's a good tactic. I don't think it's much of a mystery why that is. 
   Jesus, I hope nobody is actually reading this dreck.
   Look, I'm not unsympathetic. But I have two reasons for--often, at least--crankily refusing to preface my ranting and raving with epistemic coddling:
   First: I'm not concerned to persuade. I'm just yelling at the television and articulating arguments. I tend to think that it's none of my business what other people do with them. If I state arguments for a position, and do it straight, then I'm inclined to think they're roughly sound. But I think of it more like telling you there's beer in the fridge than like trying to entice you into taking one. I make them available--you do as you will. I don't have all that much interest in persuasion...usually, anyway. Trying to persuade seduces us into bullshitting. State the arguments and leave it to your interlocutor what to do with them, I say.
   Second: I think liberals have taken a very bad turn. Many of them now (or so it seems to me) basically refuse to listen to arguments they perceive as conservative, or as originating in conservatism. You can convince them by telling them they're not left enough. But you can't convince them by arguing that they're too far left. This is obviously a blueprint for disaster in the form of radicalism. It's a disposition that makes it easy to move people left, and extremely difficult to move them right. (This is roughly why so many people who are trying to persuade liberals tend to convert their points into counterproductivity points--and it's why I detest counterproductivity arguments.) Liberals need to GTF up and learn that sometimes--by which I mean: somewhere in the vicinity of half the time at least--they're likely to be too far left, and need to listen to points from the right and correct rightward. 
   (Again: I'm sure conservatives do this too. I do sometimes get into it with conservatives on the internet...but it's such a small percentage of my interactions that it's hard for me to keep it in mind. Conservatives are crazy in their own ways...and crazy in many of the same ways liberals are. But seriously...at least they don't think that language is magic and you can change what something is by calling it be a different word... (Of course, few on the left really disagree...they just, partially for political reasons, and partially because they're bad at thinking, work themselves into a gray area between believing that and believing a couple of other superficially similar things...) The right's analog of this kind of magical thinking manifests itself in religion. But, honestly, a magical guy in the sky (an unsophisticated but seemingly popular version of the theory) is far less crazy, in my book, than the idea that we can make things true by saying they're true. If you're going to be a creationist, at least attribute the magical powers of creating things to something you can't see and don't know much about. Attributing those powers to something you can see, and which manifestly doesn't have that power...e.g. humans and human thought and speech...that seems about an order of magnitude crazier to me...)
   OTOH, I do recognize that at least some of the issues that piss me off are important, and that a decent respect for the opinions of mankind might should drive me to minimize the psychological clutter that make it difficult for people to think clearly. My typical array of attitudes...which include:  (a) Here are some goddamn arguments; take or leave 'em; (b) you can't be serious; and (c) f*ck you, that's idiotic...obviously they don't make it any easier on people. Even when I happen to have a point, it's usually packaged in an attitude that would make it difficult to accept if you didn't already agree. (Jay Rosenberg once said, when I was in grad school, that one of his main goals before I finished was to teach me how to disagree with people without saying 'f*ck you'...)
   It's also bad for me, and makes it more difficult for me to see things clearly. I very much believe that it's difficult to admit that you're wrong about p if you've said F*ck you p is clearly true and anyone who denies it is an idiot. You're far less psychologically committed to p if you've said something like Hey...how about p?
   I don't actually have a point.


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