02 August 2010

Words to live by

"If you're uncomfortable publicly defending aspects of your position, reconsider your position. In extremely oppressive societies, keeping your thoughts to yourself is common sense. But in modernity's largely open societies, your discomfort says more about the quality of your beliefs than the unfairness of the world."

I'm never very ashamed to hold a position or put it out there and see what happens. It can be very difficult to get other people to disengage from their own, and I assume at times I am no less a victim of this "I'm right and you are wrong" bias, but it is rare that I encounter people who hold strong and well-informed opinions that differ greatly from my own with which to argue and debate a topic of mutual interest. It is easy enough to bury someone who is uninformed in mountains of data points that contradict and let them wallow around in it. It is much harder to make that data stick or to even get people to accept it as a function of reality (they have their own assumptions about that reality that may be broken by accepting data like that).

But it still comes back to an essential set of points on debates. If you're talking to someone who won't change their mind under any line of questioning, and any line of philosophical reasoning and in the face of varieties of empirical contradictions to their core beliefs, you're probably not talking to someone who has a very useful point to make in the first place.

If you're talking to someone who doesn't understand your point, or who wants to twist it to suit only their ends, that also presents a problem, and requires clarity and transparency to avoid. Only happens if two parties engage, repeatedly to make their ends and purposes clear and try to understand one another.

And if you're talking to someone who makes a completely different point than the one under discussion, that may be a fun digression for the conversation to go in, but it's not very useful to learning anything about the position you're trying to engage and, ideally, defeat or be defeated by.
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