I’m just trying desperately to understand how it is that you are not a jackass

February 4, 2013 § 35 Comments

As a long time Internet veteran, I have a few suggestions about how to have a productive discussion.  They are worth what you paid for them and you are welcome not to follow them; but I make every effort to follow them myself, so if you want to have a productive discussion with me you should be aware that this is my approach.  Furthermore, at my own blog my personal approach can sometimes achieve juridical force when in my view a discussion has gone too far off the rails.

First, there are really two kinds of discussions to have.  In some we hash out unattributed ideas.  In others we hash out attributed ideas.

When hashing out attributed ideas, it is important to quote or at least link to the text which is the source of the idea so that it can be evaluated accurately.  If I say “Bob says that Hitler was a great man!” I ought to at least provide a link to where Bob says that, so that readers can assess for themselves whether or not it is a fair representation.  Ideally I would actually quote in-line the specific part where Bob says “Hitler was a great man!”

When hashing out unattributed ideas, we should feel free to make general characterizations (e.g. “some people”).   It is important for readers of such discussions not to take things personally.  There is nothing out of school about discussing unattributed ideas, trends, etc.  There is also nothing out of school about considering them to be straw men.  The veracity, pervasiveness, etc of unattributed ideas, attitudes, etc are up to each reader to discern for himself.  If I say “many traditional conservatives give female bad behavior a pass” or “many manosphere commenters seem to think that women are not moral agents” it is perfectly fine to refuse to believe it without specific examples.  At the same time it is unreasonable to demand that every writer spend every moment documenting every contention to your personal satisfaction.  Trust me: you can’t afford my hourly rate.

Second, I personally find most discussions which focus on the personal attributes and psychology of discussion participants to be a waste of time — at least for me.  That kind of stuff isn’t my cup of tea.  That doesn’t mean I am passing judgment on people who like that kind of thing.  But if I can die without knowing everyone on earth’s dirty laundry in detail and without having psychoanalyzed every person I’ve encountered on the Net I’ll die that much happier a man.  I prefer to discuss substantive content, whether attributed or unattributed.

Third, if your approach to having a discussion with me is “Zippy, I’m just trying desperately to understand how it is that you are not a jackass,” be aware that I am unlikely to treat you as an adult interlocutor; because you aren’t acting like one.

§ 35 Responses to I’m just trying desperately to understand how it is that you are not a jackass

  • buckyinky says:

    What are your thoughts on the distinction between accusing you of “pseudo-Catholic chauvinism” and calling you a “pseudo-Catholic chauvinist?”

    Red Cardigan did the former, but not (as per my search) the latter. The latter has more force, in my opinion, because it attaches the accusation to the person, whereas the former merely attaches to the behavior. I noticed that you frequently, if not always, referred to her statement as calling you a “pseudo-Catholic chauvinist,” even though she never actually did use that exact word, and I wonder whether there is any significant difference in your mind.

    (For the record, I consider either accusation unfounded)

  • Peter Blood says:

    But if I can die without knowing everyone on earth’s dirty laundry in detail and without having psychoanalyzed every person I’ve encountered on the Net I’ll die that much happier a man.

    I was reading some comments at one site about X (some political activity or movement), and someone (pro-X, too) characterized the dreary situation in that discussion as, “X is not a movement, it’s a bowel movement.” It doesn’t even matter what X is, it’s that X is being discussed on the Internet.

  • Zippy says:

    buckyinky:
    One is more passive than the other, but they both make me rather than a specific idea the focus of criticism. The difference between accusing someone of racism and calling someone racist is a distinction without a difference. “I’m trying to understand how the idea that X is anything other than chauvinism” would be in bounds, but of course that would leave discussion of specific ideas open.

    This was in the domain of attributed ideas, obviously, along with an explicit statement that things were going to be attributed to me even though she knew they were things I don’t believe.

    I don’t want to make Erin the focus here yet again. She is one of the good guys, and folks can profit from discussion with her. She just happens to have provided the most recent example of how not to talk to Zippy, and I thought a post to help people avoid the pitfalls was in order.

  • hmelon says:

    “Trust me: you can’t afford my hourly rate”

    A. example of an unattributed statement
    B. my time is more valuable than everyone else’s
    C. just a little “potshot” to gain the high ground when you discuss something
    D I am really, really, rich.
    E. all of the above

  • Zippy says:

    Mostly I give my time away for free. All of it that goes into blogging, for example.

    But my rates for Internet research projects driven by other people’s priorities are very high.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    Second, I personally find most discussions which focus on the personal attributes and psychology of discussion participants to be a waste of time — at least for me. […] I prefer to discuss substantive content, whether attributed or unattributed.

    I buy your stated preference, but I don’t buy that it’s not substantive content to address a person’s past comments; make sense of them in a context (psychoanalyze), and believe them–or not–on those grounds.

    At the very least, the comments are like clothes: If a man comes to me in a clean modern suit, I would be stupid to assume he’s homeless. The farther my assumption gets away from homeless, the more room there is for error (I couldn’t tell from a Jos. A. Banks suit if the man was a banker, CEO, or accounting clerk, for example).

    This gets more stark when a man approaches me with his speech in drag.

  • Peter Blood says:

    The Internet, though, is a madness. I feel myself teetering on the brink every day. I had to stop reading Facebook. I liked my friends until I got to know them on Facebook. I stopped so I wouldn’t end up hating them.

  • Morticia says:

    I’m going to wade in here even though I said I wouldn’t..because I am a big fat liar.

    There are several types of discussion. One type is the kind of debate you host here…and another type is self-expression purely for the sake of communicating who you are and what you think.

    In the case of being called..ahem..a jackass (I don’t know what kind of person would use such fowl language???) the purpose isn’t to arrive at the truth that the person was a jackass..the purpose was to communicate that one person felt like the other person was a jackass.

    It is a way of arriving at a certain type of truth..the truth that a when you do Z, someone experiences Y. And that tells you something about their psychology, and their psychology tells you something about the human condition. The human condition points to theological truths.

    I agree that you have to choose between which kind of communication you are practicing. It isn’t fair to make people think they are doing one type and then suddenly flip the switch and you are experiencing the other type.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    I liked my friends until I got to know them on Facebook. I stopped so I wouldn’t end up hating them.

    Quit Facebook years ago for the very same reason. All the girls I knew in high school sent me friend requests, and at first my response was, “Sure, great, yes, good” about it. Then the first Twilight movie came out. Suddenly my feed was full of 30-year olds squealing about a fictional teenage vampire, and I was hating people I generally had–just moments before!–good feelings about. So I quit Facebook.

  • buckyinky says:

    I can find no reason to disagree with you Peter. Several valuable relationships (that existed before email, blogs, Facebook, etc.) of mine have been destroyed by direct or indirect means of the Internet.

  • Zippy says:

    I don’t deny that there are other kinds of discussion that other people find valuable. I even say as much in the post. This post expresses the terms under which I participate in discussions, and I’ve linked to it on my “About” page. That way folks know what they are getting for their subscription fees and PayPal donations.[*]

    “Jackass” is just a placeholder, really, for probably a limitless number of possible options.

    [*] Those who want to donate can Google “Little Sisters of the Poor” and donate there.

  • Zippy says:

    I also don’t do Facebook.

  • Morticia says:

    Yes, but you didn’t seem to recognize what the value was in the other type of discussion. I inferred that you were perplexed as to why anyone would find it edifying.

  • Zippy says:

    Morticia:
    Yes, but you didn’t seem to recognize what the value was in the other type of discussion.

    I think there is more than one other type of discussion. It is true that I see very little of value in uninvited mutual remote psychologizing amongst commenters and bloggers, even those who think they have known each other for a while. It seems to me to be a fount of acrimony, misunderstanding, and general fermentation of enmity. That doesn’t mean it never has value: just that the signal-to-noise ratio makes it akin to seeking gold in a cesspool.

    I can see the value in self-revelation and invited circumspection. It just isn’t my cup of tea, I do think it is tremendously overdone in the oversharing Oprah society, and I think it is better done as a private activity among friends rather than as a public activity done in front of Taiwanese six year olds.

    Those are my biases, and I don’t pretend that they are perfect.

  • Morticia says:

    I just think it is important to remember that good rhetoric means forming an emotional bond with people, and that requires getting a little personal.

    Most people are not high-brow abstract thinkers and many of their loyalties are formed from emotional connections. Vanessa can argue this better than me because rhetoric is her pet issue.

    Regarding analysis of people..I agree that if it is uninvited then it is inappropriate.

  • Morticia says:

    BTW

    It seems to me to be a fount of acrimony, misunderstanding, and general fermentation of enmity.

    Is a great sentence. And proof that your not preaching to the average intellect.

  • Vanessa says:

    I just think it is important to remember that good rhetoric means forming an emotional bond with people, and that requires getting a little personal.

    Yes, but it’s not that simple. You can’t form an emotional bond with someone just by “opening up”, if they don’t want to hear it. Then they just think TMI and close you off.

    Direct, amateur psychoanalysis seems best for our closest friends and our greatest enemies. In the first case, it’s mutual back-scratching and bonding, of the type women especially enjoy. In the latter case, it’s an attempt to destroy their reputation by deconstructing their character, in order to undermine their argument. This can be a legitimate exercise, if you can prove a wider pattern, but it usually isn’t. Usually it’s just meanness, pettiness, and a crude dislike for dialectic.

    There’s always the danger of it slipping down into calumny, which should be avoided. Not to mention that it is odious to throw someone’s past mistakes into their face in public. Women do this to their husbands all the time and it’s very wicked. We’re not supposed to bring it up at all unless we can prove that it’s relevant and necessary. I sometimes get a bit weirded out when someone says, “Did you see what they said in that thread?” There’s just something creepy and underhanded about it.

    Furthermore, people often forget that People Who Never Forget and People Who Think They Can Read Your Mind can quickly make themselves generally unpopular. Feared by all, loved by few. Nobody likes a gossip and shrinks aren’t exactly high on the status pole, are they?

  • Morticia says:

    Yes, but it’s not that simple.

    Well yes, that is why I volunteered you for the discussion. Because my version is over-simplified. 🙂

  • alan says:

    @Vanessa: “[A]ttempt to destroy their reputation by deconstructing their character, in order to undermine their argument. This can be a legitimate exercise, if you can prove a wider pattern, but it usually isn’t.

    Well said. It’s a very small target of limited value. Even if you accurately identify a cognitive fault, or an intentional obfuscation, there probably won’t be much benefit to the conversation.

    Generally, I consider ideas separately from the person advocating them. It’s less complicated to me — and less provocative. Am I in the majority or not?

    “Not to mention that it is odious to throw someone’s past mistakes into their face in public. Women do this to their husbands all the time and it’s very wicked.”

    Think that this breaks down along gender lines? In the past, I would have thought so, but these days, I wonder. I see quite a few men arguing against an author first, and an idea second (if at all). “Let’s draw up sides and fight, nevermind the reason.”

  • Vanessa says:

    Yes, effeminate men have the same habit. So, I guess we could say that it’s a feminine habit, rather than make it the habit of a specific sex.

  • Vanessa says:

    It’s a very small target of limited value.

    I disagree. You are assuming that the audience is right-thinking, well-educated, and on a search for truth. Most people are just playing team sports in their minds, and are indifferent to the truth, so taking a pot-shot at the opponent is a persuasive argument to them.

    If nothing else, it provides a distraction and a chance to derail the argument. Then everyone gets confused and can only remember the derailment, rather than the point you were originally trying to make. That’s why it usually doesn’t even matter to your opponent that his accusation isn’t even relevant — relevance isn’t the point.

    And to your other question: No, you are not in the majority. Not at all.

  • alan says:

    “You are assuming that the audience is right-thinking, well-educated, and on a search for truth.”

    Yep, it’s a blind spot — 100% assumption on my part.

  • Elspeth says:

    Generally, I consider ideas separately from the person advocating them. It’s less complicated to me — and less provocative. Am I in the majority or not?

    Actually Alan, you are not in the majority. I take great pains to avoid personal attacks when I post or comment. If I am referring to someone specifically, I say so. If I don’t link or offer a name, I am offering a general observation. Despite the pains, someone almost always makes an accusation of passive aggressiveness, and I am still naive enough to be shocked by it.

    It is true that I see very little of value in uninvited mutual remote psychologizing amongst commenters and bloggers, even those who think they have known each other for a while. It seems to me to be a fount of acrimony, misunderstanding, and general fermentation of enmity. That doesn’t mean it never has value: just that the signal-to-noise ratio makes it akin to seeking gold in a cesspool.

    This is important to note.

    What I have found in the blogsphere is that people (me included) take personal what is not personal far too often. I wonder if it is a function of the familiarity that is bred when the same people interact with one another on the same blogs for months and months on end.

    The level of discourse, no matter how flowery and well written, does indeed feel like a high brow high school gossip fest. It takes a great deal of discipline not to engage in it.

    Vanessa, a rhetoric teacher, has offered a lot of insights that have helped me to see the pitfalls inherent in engaging carelessly online.

    One of the biggest lessons? Engage far less, LOL.

  • alan says:

    If ideas are secondary to entertainment, then we’re describing interactive TV.

    A rhetoric teacher? Is this a course of study dealing with debating tactics, or public speaking, or marketing, or academic discourse? What is the actual definition?

    The classic formula was, “inform, convince, or persuade.” I don’t know what it is now.

  • Elspeth says:

    Vanessa can elaborate if she wishes but yes, she teaches a course to high schoolers on the dialectic and principles of rhetoric.

    I’ve read some her self-produced text and it is very good. I know because it sent me on a research quest to learn more on the subject.

    I still comment far too emotionally online, but at least I recognize now when I’m doing it and have stopped convincing myself that I’m arguing rationally.

  • Vanessa says:

    Rhetoric is persuasive speech and typical of debate (where there is a winner and a loser), as opposed to dialectic, which focuses on achieving agreement on a matter. It’s a one-year course covering Aristotle’s The Rhetoric, some of Cicero’s writing on public speaking, and Quinn’s Figures of Speech.

    Yes, I’d say the most important thing I’ve learned from Aristotle is the importance of holding your tongue. Everytime I get too chatty, mischief ensues. And once you begin to realize how few people are arguing in good faith, you quickly lose your appetite for engaging them at all.

  • Vanessa says:

    Aristotle doesn’t waste much time on logic, as he notes early on that it’s usually the least convincing mode of persuasion. Ethos (your character) and pathos (manipulating people’s emotions) are much more effective.

    You also have to remember that most people aren’t capable of higher-orders of logic, so half of what you write is probably incomprehensible to them. In the face of something they can’t understand, the natural human instinct is to fight or flight (attack you personally or leave the conversation). And if someone chooses to fight, and others arrive and find you equally incomprehensible or upsetting, then they’ll all pile onto the fight. If you continue to engage them, then you’re just being a glutton for punishment.

    I sometimes can’t resist, though, which is why I try to simply engage less overall now.

  • Vanessa says:

    I don’t mind arguing ad nauseam about a certain topic (in fact, I enjoy it), but what I simply refuse to do anymore is to argue about me personally. If I’m discussing a topic and people show up to complain about something unrelated, or just to take pot-shots at me, then the conversation is over.

    What I’ve found — and what most of you have probably experienced — is that the more convincing my argument is, the more people attack me personally. They run out of other ideas, you see.

  • Chris says:

    Zippy and Vanessa, I like arguing issues, obviously. I work in mental health, and leave my analytic mind set, with great relief, there.

    To the person who was talking about hourly rates, my charge out rate in private starts at $300 an hour (what the state will pay) and goes up.

    There is an asshole factor, used particularly when dealing with annoying lawyers. (I do not have a private practice: I occaisionally do reports).

    The local charge out rate, of course, will vary.

  • Chris says:

    I forgot to add V, that your last comment is an exempler of greshams law: if they insult you (call you a Nazi in the Gresham’s case) you have won the argument.

    Does not help when you are psychologically bleeding, of course.

  • […] Note that I am speaking generally. […]

  • […] welcome to publish what they want to publish and reject what they do not want published, just as I do here.  And some writers, to their great credit in my view, are willing to engage the possibility that […]

  • […] alone fit that interpretation into a correct understanding of reality. That’s one reason why actual citation is […]

  • […] interested in psychoanalyzing   individuals over the Internet.  In fact it is something I very much discourage both in myself and others, with varying degrees of […]

  • […] own words tend to dilute the usefulness of the text rather than enhancing it.  With all the usual caveats associated with paraphrase, I’ll sum it up as follows for those who don’t want to buy […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading I’m just trying desperately to understand how it is that you are not a jackass at Zippy Catholic.

meta

%d bloggers like this: