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[personal profile] mrissa

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

The politics of the last year have clarified a lot of things for a lot of people. For me, it’s the futility of the argument that comes of the form “you should care about this thing I don’t. I can see why it feels like a winner. It looks like a slam-dunk! By my values, this person or thing is bad for x reasons–and by your values, this person or thing is bad for y reasons–and therefore even though we do not agree, we should both oppose this person or thing! Yay! Logic prevails and everyone emerges better off!

Here’s where this goes wrong: 1) Making an argument that something you don’t care about should be important to someone else is hardly ever convincing. Quite often you don’t understand the nuances of what it is they care about fully since it’s not your thing. Even when you do, it’s hard to put your back into the argument since it’s not your thing. “But you said!” does not sound sharp and politically savvy, it sounds like you are 6 years old and trying to get another 10 minutes before bedtime. “But you said you believed in family values, you said!” Even if they did say. Being technically correct that they did say does not change the other person’s position.

2) Let’s say you win! “You’re right!” says the other person. “I will bump this thing you don’t value up my priority queue for decision-making in future!” Oh…good…now you’ve reinforced that people should not be allowed to flee abusive marriages, or that we should all spend a lot of time angry about what color the president’s suit is, or any of a number of other things that you don’t believe.

I’ve seen people do this across the political spectrum, and it basically never works. When people say “find common ground,” this is not actually what they mean. They mean the points where you can honestly mean it when you say, “I think we can agree that this is important. I think this deserves your attention.”

When I was taking my first high school debate class, my debate coach (who was otherwise great) got really excited about gotcha questions, “when did you stop beating your wife” questions. He acted like they would be a key skill. But gotcha questions in debates were pretty rare, and they were only as good as your opponent’s willingness to run with them, which was usually pretty minimal. In real life they’re even less useful, because literally nothing forces any human brain–including mine, including yours–to be internally consistent. I suspect that this is what we find so appealing about the stories where robots and computers can be done in with a logical paradox: it’s because we can’t. Finding a gotcha where your sibling, your next-door neighbor, your co-worker has said they believe in one thing politically and then are supporting someone who does another thing–or are even doing another thing themselves–does not force them to say, “You’re right, I will change my position on one of these two things.” Let’s find things we really do value in common–or find ways to maneuver around the people who don’t. Because “you ought to react this way” has never once gotten a person to react in the specified way.

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