Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Synthetic Process Decoded

A friend (lover, sister, I'm not sure exactly what term to use, doesn't fucking matter for the sake of this blog post, the point is I value her opinion a great deal) pointed out to me the other night that I "do a thing" when presented with a counter-argument to a point that I've made. That is, I further explicate and defend my position and simultaneously seek to find the flaws in the argument of the counter-position. She said this after reading some of my more recent posts on this blog, such as my "attacks" on Karma, Christianity, and etc.

This is what anyone with any background in debate is taught to do. Though I have a background in philosophy, I wasn't in the debate team -- though my Mother told me throughout my childhood "you should be a lawyer or join the debate team!" -- usually her way of saying that I was frustrating the fuck out of her. Even if you see the other side of things, and if you're smart you should because everything has many different sides, there's an element to making a case where you minimize those and maximize what supports your argument. It is an inherent flaw in the scientific process because only robots can truly remove this from their process of debate.

Among other things, this approach can quickly lead to ad hominem attacks on the part of the other person if they misunderstand my process. That is, mistaking the idea or the position for the person. Even if the discussion doesn't collapse in that way, it is very unlikely in the course of a debate that any one side will ever relent to the other. We are taught that it is a sign of "weakness," of "losing." Plus, in positing a seemingly one-sided position, we are effectively preaching to the choir and maybe even intentionally antagonizing people who feel otherwise.

And yeah. I do that. I even get a sick satisfaction out of it sometimes. I guess I'm just a bad, bad man.

But there's something else going on, for me.

Let me give the example of a sometimes-writing partner of mine. We have been friends for a long time. When we are working on a project together, sometimes one of us will make a decision the other questions. It could be an approach to dialog or plotting, it could be method of effectively setting up a scene. For this example, it doesn't matter.

This is how it usually goes- the other one proposes what is wrong with that course of action. They will usually then find other "established writers" who support the claims they are making. The other party will consider the positions posed and then do the defense/attack strategy I mentioned. Never once has this process ever gotten personal. We know and respect each other. There is no need for us to. (Though we often do make sure to tease the other mercilessly at some point. One time he told me that dialog should "generally have seven words per speaker" so I went through a number of popular books, counting the number of words in each speaker, and made an average - which was not seven, I actually would propose it varies based on genre, reading level, and the publishing date, those 19th century authors sure loved their verbiage - and meanwhile, contemplated writing a book where every piece of dialog always contained seven words whenever they spoke. No matter what.)

A curious thing always happens. I defend my position and in the process realize the reasons why I made decisions I did, which I might not have even known originally. I see the flaws and strengths of his argument. Usually we hit a point where we stop, and we seem to be in the same position that we were in at the beginning of the argument. It would seem that it served no purpose. We seem to be at an impasse. We quietly go back to work.

However, fast forward three hours. I show him the draft revisions. Chances are I've either found myself agreeing with him, upon reflection, or more commonly, I came to realize the flaws in both of our opinions and came up with a new solution.

This is simply the Hegellian dialectic. Thesis, Antithesis = Synthesis. Which then becomes the thesis for a new dialectic.

The point in this whole post. Please people: if you see me challenging you in a comment thread here or in another place on the Internet, do not assume I am challenging your position because I think you're an idiot (if I think so I will probably not reply at all- or at least I'll have the decency to just come out and say it.) No, I am working "my process." Work your end of it.

Maybe we'll come up with something interesting, upon later reflection.

And if I make a blog post that seems to be utilizing elements of hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point. Guess what, I probably am. These posts are already too long by the standards set by most "professional bloggers." If I tried to give an even and balanced view of the topics I try to wrestle with...believe me. You wouldn't have time to read it, anyway.


  1. From a philosophy background myself - I understand the frustrations of when trying to defend/ attack an argument others get personal about it.

    The dialogue is meant, to as you have pointed out, to show flaws, weaknesses and strengths of a position.

    It isn't, "accept my belief or I hate you": that's just tyrannous dogma that's rampant in the world.

    But I feel this is itself is a belief in many people's mind. Maybe they feel that "devour or be devoured" intellectual property is one among them


  2. Yes.

    Though part of the issue here- and it is true for any of us really- is that belief is essentially an emotional commitment to a position. This is why it feels like a personal attack when someone challenges some element of our belief, I think. If that emotional commitment is strong enough, the belief actually becomes part of our identity. I'm sure you know people who happen to be gay, and then people who have made their "queer" ideology such an intrinsic part of "who they are" that you simply can't enter into conversation with them about those topics without risking some accidental personal affront. I say this as the son of a lesbian, I've seen a whole gamut of perspectives. Obviously some of this reaction is a defensive one, against the abuse and rejection, real or imagined, that someone is subjected to. But when a belief subsumes identity to an extreme degree, it locks out the possibility of even considering alternate perspectives. For instance, ask really die-hard lesbians what they think about bisexual girls.

    Anyway, I don't mean to make this a topic about sexuality but chose that one because it's a good example of a topic that can be discussed ideologically, but where those ideas are so obviously connected to emotions that logic is at best an afterthought. The same thing occurs when debating creationism vs evolution with a fundamentalist Christian. You are both wasting your time.

    I've been told the trick is to try to "speak their language" and come at the issue from the inside. I see the value in this perspective, though I'm simply not convinced it can be done with some beliefs. But that could be my own emotional bias showing itself.



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