Comments from NoodleFood

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Comment #1

Monday, February 12, 2007 at 3:01:26 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin

At this point, I don't have a comprehensive strategy to offer. I do have elemental suggestions.

- First, I try to ASK myself and the other person: Is this situation a discussion or a debate? I hold that only those who have mastered a subject should debate it. Very few people have mastered the subjects they attempt to debate.

- Second, I try to ASK myself and the other person: What is the issue here? If there is more than one issue, then which, if any, is more fundamental? If the various issues are not hierarchically connected, then what *does* connect them? If they are "accidentally" connected, for example, by a history of personal conflict, then which is the most important to consider first?

- Third, once I am engaged in a discussion or debate of the substance of an issue, a dialectical approach often works well. By that I mean I try to ASK: What *is* your position? And then: What is your evidence and what is your argument for your position? Many times I have seen the other person fold-up at this point, as long as I haven't put him into a corner that makes him defensive.

In conclusion, I have found that in talking to reasonable people, I can ask these and other questions and make a little progess -- at least in understanding the other's position(s). Of course, *only* asking questions -- and especially in the form of a philosophical skeptic's flurry of questions without order -- is not a reasonable approach. It creates confusion from which no exit is possible. (That is the philosophical skeptic's purpose -- to disintegrate the mind.)

Once answers are forthcoming to these questions, then a discussion or debate can proceed. Without answers to these questions, a cat-fight is inevitable if the two parties persist.

Comment #2

Monday, February 12, 2007 at 4:27:14 mst
Name: Sasha Volokh

I just saw the correct response to this particular Philosophy 101 gem in David Mamet's play "Bobby Gould in Hell": The devil wants Bobby to admit that he's a bad man. Bobby says nothing is black and white. The devil responds (showing an appropriate photograph): "Oh yeah? Well what about a f***ing panda???"

Comment #3

Monday, February 12, 2007 at 5:12:52 mst
Name: Nicholas Provenzo

Sasha wrote:

>Bobby says nothing is black and white. The devil responds (showing an appropriate photograph): "Oh yeah? Well what about a f***ing panda???"

I'm laughing so hard I'm $%^&#$% crying . . .:-P

Comment #4

Monday, February 12, 2007 at 5:51:40 mst
Name: John Dailey


~ These are all wonderful specifics to keep in mind when getting into any 'casual' conversation with others. Bravo!

~ I also especially liked Burgess' distinctions 'tween mere discussions vs bona-fide debates, and identifying when one turns into the other.

~ However, there is one prob-area that frequently pops up, even if not usually (though, I've experienced it more than once with 'friends'!) in any face-to-face meeting: When one side or the other starts injecting negative evaluations (smirking condescension, contempt, name-calling, smearing, out-and-out [or, merely mis-perceived?] insults, etc), whether generally of a group or directly personally, upon any disagreements, is there a sensible method of handling being on the receiving end? Further, is there a proper 'moment' for indulging in or initiating such?

~ I'm printing out what you've given. Good stuff (but for that 'checklist' contract to hand out. Been through that 'verbally' elsewhere a while ago on IRC. Funny idea though!)


Comment #5

Monday, February 12, 2007 at 11:20:42 mst
Name: Bearster

That contract idea is pretty funny. :)

On a serious note, too often I have seen (online) the response "lol" to an important point. I used to ask, "do you really find this funny, so funny that you're laughing aloud?" Now I use it as an indictator of when to stop.

Comment #6

Monday, February 12, 2007 at 13:24:34 mst
Name: Mike Hardy

:: I agree to not be offended and angry,

If anyone agrees in advance to that clause when
speaking to a stranger, his organs should be
transplanted into patients who need them.

Comment #7

Monday, February 12, 2007 at 20:30:48 mst
Name: Peter de Laat

I think your expectations when you enter a discussion are mistaken.

Your assumption is that someone should be able to integrate any truly novel ideas instantly.

The purpose is indeed that the other person will digest the points you make, but how do you think this works out?

If he does indeed listen to you and he hears things that are new, any attempt to digest will mean that his subconsciousness will be throwing things at him. He will not be able to weigh all the consequences of what he is hearing, so instead he will utter what comes up.

In fact, when you are discussing something with someone, you are in discussion with his gut, which is his past.

You should not view digressions or changing arguments on his part as unfair or mistaken, but a natural consequence of any attempt to digest.

So, never show any contempt for anything someone says, nor for the person saying it, if you intend to keep the discussion going. And yes, I admit this is difficult and yes I plead guilty too, but it is a mistake nonetheless.

Your purpose is not to convince someone instantly. This is impossible. He will have to think things over. His interest has to be caught to think and read more about the ideas you are proposing.

It is up to you to either keep the discussion completely cordial, or to end it.

Comment #8

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 5:51:44 mst
Name: Greg Perkins

Thanks for the comments! Followup on some peoples' specifics:

Sasha: Thanks for the guffaw, that goes in my quiver. :^)

John: For the negative evaluations you list "(smirking condescension, contempt, name-calling, smearing, out-and-out [or, merely mis-perceived?] insults, etc)", all I have are various applications of justice which come to mind. It indicates avoiding smirking condescension and smearing (in my lexicon they are unjust by definition), and I work to make damned sure my partner has earned any contempt I express. And because evaluating the entire person is more difficult than evaluating their idea, and because most intellectual exchanges are focused on ideas rather than people, I generally default to eagerly evaluating the ideas and reluctantly evaluating the person. On the personal front, though, I do sometimes use various degrees of provacative identification ("name-calling"?) to shock/spur people into better engagement -- but only when it is correct and I can defend it, and only in degrees that seem likely to amp up their engagement to defend the honor rather than cause them to stomp off because I'm a reckless ass (this kind of thing involves complicated and delicate choices, so I try to be appropriately cautious and continue to work on being better at it).

Mike: I see your point about not blindly agreeing to "not to be offended or angry", but she did finish the sentence with "when I cannot do the same," which is pretty reasonable to sign on for. :^)

Peter: I wouldn't want to indicate that people must instantly integrate whatever new things they come in contact with, so if that is easy to get from what I wrote I'll need to adjust my language. In fact I *expect* that as they struggle to make sense of the shocking new facts/ideas they are being hit with that they will bounce around the topic looking at implications, as well as bounce around different arguments for their position and against mine (like my opening example started), and even go away with puzzles to consider. That is all good. My point about shifting arguments specifically regarded shifting to *sophomoric BS*, which is not good at all.

In fact, I expect that I *won't* bring someone to my viewpoint in a conversation -- if in a few minutes they went from talking like a cultural-osmosis socialist to talking like an Objectivist, something is almost certainly going very wrong. So the ultimate purpose of such discussions is to arrive at a better grasp of the truth as I said, but my immediate goal toward that end as merely showing them that there is another approach they haven't really considered, and which they should.

Comment #9

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 7:04:14 mst
Name: Bearster

Peter de Laat wrote:

"Your assumption is that someone should be able to integrate any truly novel ideas instantly."

I am not sure that Mr. Perkins was arguing this position (or arguing from this position). To add my own pair of copper coins, I don't expect people to instantly integrate either. However I equally do not expect people to offer up indefensible arguments. Learning is not a dialectic.

The following are not the phases of learning:
1) dogmatize a false idea
2) encounter a true idea
3) vehemently defend the false idea
4) throw mud on the true idea and the people who present it
5) go home and think
6) agree with the true idea

The above does not describe a virtuous man, nor the process by which he identifies or accepts true ideas.

Comment #10

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 9:54:18 mst
Name: Peter de Laat

Bearster wrote:
> The following are not the phases of learning:
> 1) dogmatize a false idea
> 2) encounter a true idea
> 3) vehemently defend the false idea
> 4) throw mud on the true idea and the people who present it
> 5) go home and think
> 6) agree with the true idea

For a non objectivist who enters a discussion with an objectivist, it is much more like this:

1) He has accepted a lot of false ideas.
2) He hears an enormous amount of new arguments which he does not and cannot properly understand at all. While many of the arguments do make sense to him, the overall conclusions that objectivists draw sound completely absurd to him. (He thinks that most poor would die under capitalism, and that morality and altruism are synonymous).
3) Even though he will learn new ideas during the discussion, and will discover that he does have mistaken ideas; he will hardly ever show this, especially during a heated discussion. Instead he will show verbally and non verbally that he thinks the overall view of the objectivist is absurd and immoral. And he will vehemently try to come up with any kind of argument he can think of against those 'absurd and immoral' conclusions.

But most people will learn much more during a discussion with an objectivist then they are willing to admit. And if they regularly discuss subjects with an objectivist, they will change their view about the world. I have heard many people make statements to others, even years after discussions, which clearly show that they understood and accepted much more then they had been willing to admit to me during any of our discussions.

But unless they actually study Ayn Rand and Peikoff, not read but study - which is extremely rare, they will never agree with the overall conclusions of objectivism.

In my experience it is typical though that they do learn, even learn a lot, and that they do stop echoing a lot of nonsense.

Comment #11

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 11:07:59 mst
Name: Bearster

Peter de Laat wrote:

"But most people will learn much more during a discussion with an objectivist then they are willing to admit."

I hope I am not taking this out of context, but not admitting that you know what you know is evasion. I suppose it might be possible to admit to yourself, but refuse to admit to someone else, but this would still be dishonest (and thus evasive on separate grounds)...

"He hears an enormous amount of new arguments which he does not and cannot properly understand at all."

Doesn't this describe a state of confusion? Is it honest to be confused but to convey through argument a false sense of confidence?

I can think of one factor that could mitigate, if not redeem. I think that most people have encountered a "little Ellsworth Toohey" type, a destroyer who is articulate and engaging. Perhaps a confused individual could be suspicious that his Objectivist debating partner is gaming him, and reject what he says out of hand. He could say to himself that there are lots of people who are skilled with words, but that doesn't make them right.

My guess is that such people would not walk over certain lines. For example, while they might act outraged if one said that welfare ought to be totally repealed, they would not resort to saying "lol" online or sneering face to face. They might refuse to concede a point, that all taxation is immoral because it's all based on armed robbery, but would not themselves advocate for looting beyond some minimum defined by what they assume is necessary. They might almost understand that reasons is how to know reality, but not shake their (moderate) faith in whatever cosmic smurf...

Comment #12

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 17:13:58 mst
Name: Bearster

oops, this was a bad place for a typo:

"...*reason* is how to know reality..."

Comment #13

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 17:59:50 mst
Name: Jeff Montgomery

It's difficult to have a debate about fundamentals, because there has to be some acceptance of the principles behind Objectivism to even have a productive debate. So, the most important ground rules I've found are: 1) to accept the idea of an objective reality, and 2) to accept thinking in principles. Most people can understand these things in common sense terms even if they are not philosophically inclined. If my opponent does not accept both of these tenets, I thank them for their forfeit and for relieving me of the necessity of debating them. :)

Comment #14

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 18:09:56 mst
Name: Rootie

Taking a somewhat humorous approach for what should go on the card. (several variations)

Version 1: "Fair warning"

Hi, I'm an Objectivist Intellectual. I will thoughtfully consider and usually challenge every potentially misguided idea you present and expect you to provide evidence or use logic to support your claims. Where you cannot provide evidence I will patiently help you understand what evidence may be available. Where you do not seem to use logic, errors in your method will be carefully and politely pointed out. If you aren't ready to have your personal philosophy put under a microscope and (for 90%+ of the population) your systems of belief turned completely upside down, you may be better off simply drinking your wine spritzer and gollyhooing with your other friends over how wonderful it is that George Bush has saved us from the terrorists in Iraq. For those of you remaining, this should be fun and educational.

Version 2: (Star Trek)

We are Objectivist. We will add your technological and biological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile. Pleas to irration are futile. Pleas to non-corporeal non-created non-existents are futile.

Version 3: (No card of rules, instead a stern looking gentleman in black and white striped referee shirt quietly and calmly follows Greg to all social occasions).
ref: "BobX, since this is your party, you have the choice of topic" (my apologies if there is a real BobX anywhere -- intent to be fictional)
BobX: "Sir, I choose proposition 2"
Greg: "an interesting topic, what do you think of it?"
BobX: "My congressman doesn't like it"
ref: (handing BobX a yellow penalty card) "Penalty on offense, argument by authority, still first response"
BobX: "It will put a gravel pit in my back yard"
ref: (handing BobX another yellow card) "Penalty on offense, non-sequitur"
Greg to ref: "I'll decline the penalty and see where this goes" (ref takes the card back)
Greg to BobX: "Why do you say that? What about this proposition promotes the installation of gravel pits?"
BobX: "uhhh...well the proposition repeats a bunch of existing text"
ref: (handing BobX a red card) "Inability to stick to the topic, conversational turnover. Greg please provide your opening statement"

Verion 4: (Star Trek Next Generation)

"Engage" (whoops, Greg read that one wrong -- we meant "engage your mind in the conversation") ;)

Version 5: (disclaimer)

Certain individuals should not engage in conversation with Greg. Side effects may include after hours google'ing, name calling, frustration, confusion, hopelessness, eye-strain from reading, and occasionally euphoria. Serious complications are known to occur in less than 75% of people talking with Greg. If you experience overt anger or severe drowsiness, please immediately discontinue the conversation and consult with your mental health professional and local philosophy department.