My Journal

Oct. 25th, 2037 01:29 pm
improperlyhuman: (Default)
[personal profile] improperlyhuman

This journal used to be called The Theory of Everything. It was imported from livejournal because livejournal started getting on my nerves.

Within lies several years of navel-gazing goodness.

Artwork is a painting by Magritte. The acronym ADOAS stands for American descendant(s) of African slaves.

The following is my guide to productive debate and other intellectual discourse:

Know Yourself

  • Do not engage with anyone whom you do not respect.

  • Know you own motivation. Under no circumstances should you engage in any sort of ideological exchange if your primary motivation is to vent your emotional reactions. If you want to talk about your feelings, say so; do not pretend that your enthusiasm, shock, anger, disgust, etc. forms any sort of argument or counterargument. They do not. Nothing is wrong or right, valid or invalid, purely because it inspires certain emotions.

  • Launching off of the previous item, do not expect respect for opinions that you hold primarily for emotional reasons, except in matters of personal taste (such as food, music, or clothing)

  • Do not engage if you are completely unwilling to change your mind, can't handle being wrong, or will not consider others' perspectives, and I mean actually consider them, not just get a rough outline preparatory to firing off a rebuttal.

  • Do not engage if you do not have the intention or ability to justify your position(s). You are likely wasting others' time, and possibly your own as well. People will not believe things just because you say that they are so.

  • Be aware of the value judgments that you place on certain things, that value judgments are subjective, and, therefore, that others may not share them. You may consider calling someone an animal to be an insult. I, for example, do not. Default to interpreting the denotations of words rather than the connotations, and seek clarification when you suspect that connotations were intended.

  • Distinguish between your reactions to statements and the motivation behind them. That something saddened you does not imply that whoever said it intended to make you feel that way.

  • Periodically re-evaluate your own beliefs for accuracy, precision, etc.

  • Be aware of the assumptions upon which your beliefs are based, be aware that others may not share them and probably cannot infer what they are, and be able to state them if you intend to discuss the matter.

  • Cultivate devotion to what is right, not to what is most pleasant, expedient, etc.

Do Not Assume

  • Do not assume that any given adherent believes the same things as previous adherents you may have interacted with. Ideologies are more or less open to interpretation, and interpretations may differ between adherents. Do not hold adherent #2 accountable for something that adherent #1 said.

  • Do not assume that an adherent of ideology X also adheres to other ideologies that tend to be associated with X. Not all U.S. political/social/economic conservatives are fundamentalist Christians.

  • Do not assume that strangers are acquainted with the terminology associated with your ideology, and avoid using this terminology in conversation with them unless you provide accompanying explanations, link to a glossary, or have ascertained their level of familiarity (by asking, for example). Do not put the burden on others to ask for definitions if YOU have initiated the discussion. Strive for the clearest communication possible.

  • Do not assume that people who question you about your beliefs are challenging those beliefs. Some people just want information.

  • Do not be quick to try to infer tone via the Internet. Lack of interpersonal cues makes this prone to more error than it would otherwise be.

  • Do not assume that silence implies agreement, disagreement, or anything whatsoever, especially over the Internet.

  • There is no necessary connection between any belief and any emotion. Do not assume that belief in a given idea is accompanied by any particular emotion. That people disagree with you does not imply that they dislike you, even when it comes to matters that affect you directly. That others agree does not imply that they care about you. Know that others vary in their emotional investment in ideas.

  • Do not assume that questions imply ignorance. Questions only imply precisely what they are: requests for information (except in the case of rhetorical questions). Sometimes, people ask them to verify something they already know, to avoid making incorrect assumptions.

  • Avoid premature assumptions about the cognitive abilities of others. People who use unusually refined language are not necessarily just trying to "look smart." People who use simple language are not necessarily dumb.


  • Be acquainted with informal fallacies, make sure you fully grasp why they are fallacies, and actively avoid them. This simply requires a bit of browsing of a Logic 101 text.

  • If you ask someone whether or not she believes X, and she responds negatively, it does not imply that she believes not-x. Disbelief in something is not equivalent to belief in its opposite. Disbelief in Allah is not the same as believing that there is no Allah. People can disbelieve because they don't have enough information to make up their minds or simply don't care enough to have considered the matter; a lack of opinion is also a form of disbelief.

  • Distinguish between facts, fact-based opinions, and largely or purely subjective opinions. Do not begrudge others their refusal to adopt your subjective opinions, especially if you can provide no personally relevant reason to do so. Be mindful of differences in personality.

  • Distinguish between statements of personal taste and statements of belief. Dislike of something does not imply belief that what is disliked is somehow "wrong", ought not be practiced or allowed, etc.

  • Do not expect people to refrain from criticizing your opinions, even if you specify that they are "only your opinions." Opinions are not immune to criticism. No one owes it to you to keep quiet about your opinions, even if you don't want that criticism.

  • Do not discount "extreme" beliefs out of hand. The apparent oddness of an idea and/or the small number of people who hold it is no guarantee that it is invalid. For perspective, note that plenty of mainstream beliefs were considered extreme at some point and widely rejected.

  • Do not project your own beliefs onto other people. The Sunday drinker is not necessarily willfully "disrespecting the Sabbath;" maybe she's just not a Christian at all! It's impossible for someone to willfully transgress a rule that she doesn't even recognize as a legitimate rule.

  • Do not reject the validity of ideas just because they come from people with whom you've previously disagreed, consider to be untrustworthy, etc. The validity of ideas is not dependent upon the identity of person(s) who think(s) of them or believe(s) them.

  • Do not reject the validity of ideas just because they have not been communicated in a way that you prefer.

  • In the course of conversation, do not reject the validity of ideas just because you can't see how they are correct. Ask the other person to explain how they are correct. You may have blindspots. Even if you aren't convinced at that point, be open to being convinced UNTIL THE END OF YOUR DAYS; NEVER become closed-minded.

  • The failure or otherwise undesirable outcomes of particular implementations of an idea do not necessarily reflect negatively on the idea itself. A different implementation might result in success.

Potentially Annoying

  • Do not approach with defensive statements:
    "I know you probably won't agree with me, but..."

  • Avoid sarcasm. Never begin a statement with, "I'm sorry, but..." unless you are genuinely apologizing.

  • Overcome or at least sublimate your urge to snark at and try to pwn other people, even if they seem dull-witted or uninformed. If you can't control yourself, if you haven't the patience to work at the other person's level, excuse yourself from the conversation, with a helpful explanation or reference if possible.

  • Don't gloat over being correct. Do not attempt to make others feel bad about being wrong or ignorant. In fact, do not attempt to make others feel anything. Debate and question matters of ideology for information and intellectual stimulation ONLY.

  • Know your audience. Avoid culture-specific references when communicating with a worldwide audience.

  • Your passionate feelings about the subject are not license to address others any way you feel like addressing them. Avoid expletives.

  • Avoid repeating yourself.

  • Incorporate your conversational partner's ideas as you communicate with her. Do not repeatedly talk to her as if X is true if she has indicated that she doesn't believe that X is true, even if you are absolutely certain that X is true. Conform your discourse to the individual person and situation; do not indulge in one-size-fits-all diatribes, ignoring your partner's specific concerns.

  • Do not make a big deal out of errors of spelling or grammar, and what could be honest mistakes in comprehension.

Best Practices

  • Do not discuss matters you barely know anything about.

  • If you have questions, try to gauge how basic they are before asking them. Attempt your own knowledge-gathering with books, articles, FAQs, and lurking on forums and blogs; in fact, actively seek them out to improve your own position (if it is at odds). Do not blindly trust "knowledge" that is communicated by hearsay, even from those close to you.

  • Be aware of common or likely objections to your ideas, and have responses to them. Do not expect people to abandon mainstream ideas or "commonsense" without good reason.

  • Do not get too caught up in the culture of any group of like-minded people; maintain your individuality. Beware of over-valuing and over-estimating people on the basis of mutual agreement; do not have expectations of them that go beyond the ideology you share. Do not parrot their slogans, do not be swayed by their passion, do not ignore the mistakes in reasoning upon which their beliefs (agreeable or disagreeable) may be based, and do not overlook toxic cultural elements such intolerance of disagreement or mistreatment of those who abandon the group or even the ideology. Do not be so desperate for belonging that you'll put up with bullshit.

  • Avoid controversial discussions with strangers or certain intimates altogether, especially if the discussions are minimally structured/moderated. You may be the politest, most knowledgeable debater on the face of the Earth, but you will still sometimes (if not often) be repaid with stupidity, shocking levels of ignorance, abuse, and emotionally immature refusals to concede points that you've proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. You can avoid such things by exercising greater control over discussions (by hosting them on your own blog or joining a debate club, for example).

  • Do not ignore abuse, snark, passive-aggressiveness and other unproductive conduct early in the conversation. It will likely continue, no matter how kind you are.

  • Seek more fruitful avenues to exercising your ideology than convincing others to adopt it.

Actually, don't even bother. Many, many people can't grasp or construct a logical argument to save their lives, and they operate on pure emotion anyhow. Seek instead to eliminate their power over you and yours, then their ill-formed opinions won't even matter.
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