Learning is Painful

This is my first blog in a series of blogs I will publish over the next thirty days. I will post one blog a day starting tonight to open up my ability to create content on demand, and to easily articulate what I’m feeling and thinking.

Today I’m writing about speaking about controversial opinions. Before the 21st century, I think people felt free to say whatever they wanted, and didn’t really care about the feelings of people around them. Talking with people whom you disagreed with was also civil and respectful. But since 2010, people walk on eggshells trying to not offend people, and they also try to be sensitive to others. Correlated with that is a terribly polarized sphere of public dialogue. These are bad for democracies and for our society because (1) whatever you repress ends up growing into a monster and devouring you, and (2) you actually live alongside people you disagree with, so you better negotiate with them.

Your best bet to improve this situation, like other things, is probably speaking the truth. But what exactly does that mean? When something is truthful is not obvious, because it turns out that the truth (and all other speech) comes out of humans, and humans are complicated, with messy motivations and personalities and desires. People tell the truth for many reasons, just how people lie for multiple reasons.

Today, trying to say something is like walking through a minefield. It is impossible to say anything without raising a few eyebrows, if not being immediately ostracized, because it’s as if your opinions place you firmly into one side of the political spectrum, one camp of morality, or another. So here’s a guide to speaking I’ve thought of. It’ll insulate and protect you when you’re talking about controversial opinions, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get out without a scratch. I think this advice can extend out to all speech you emit, not just the speech of controversial topics. Some plan is better than no plan, because with a plan, you have something to modify and make more sophisticated. If it works, good! If it doesn’t, I’ll update it!

Here’s the goal: what you’re aiming for, along with these rules, is to get into as many arguments as possible across vast spans of time so that you can (1) engage with other people, (2) reveal and/or convince other people of your position, (3) update your arguments when others point out the holes in your thought, and (4) avoid violence. It needs to be permutable to be reliable. This idea is exactly like “playing fair” in a game. What matters is not whether you win or loose, what matters is how you play the game, because you want to be invited to play more games, forever!

So trying to bludgeon and dominate the people around you is like playing dirty. The gains that you reap from winning last for only one game, if you get them. If you don’t get them, you’re a loser. Even worse, people won’t invite you to play with them again because you play dirty, and then you’re no fun to play with. Similarly, you can’t discuss controversial topics with the sole intent of winning all of the arguments that you get into, because otherwise people won’t argue with you. But then you’d object and say that this means that you’re right. Nobody wants to argue with you because you’re right and they don’t like to be challenged. The problem with your first objection is that you don’t really know if you’re right if you’re not arguing with the other side. Mill said “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… ” You’ve got to know what the other people think in order to know that you’re right, or that you’re even in the ballpark. The problem with the second objection is that while it’s true that most people don’t want to be challenged, it’s because if all you’re aiming for is dominance, then you’re not ready to change your opinion, which is what others want to do with you, and what you implicitly want to do with others, except you’re not willing to commit to the same risk. It’s like asking to play Russian Roulette, except you demand that you use a bullet proof helmet while the other person remains vulnerable. Nobody wants to play with odds like that. SO, the point is that you need to be willing to change as a consequence of the discussion. You need to be willing to give up beliefs or opinions that you have about a certain topic if what you want is to get into debates with as many people as you possibly can. Okay. So I hope I’ve addressed one side of the extreme, which is never backing down while always seeking a fight. You will accomplish nothing and get nothing that you want using this model of people and yourself. Now lets go to the other extreme.

In junior high, and I guess in elementary as well, I used to play soccer and basketball with my peers. Let’s focus on soccer for now. It was fun, it kept us busy, and we enjoyed playing. But nobody ever passed to me. That wasn’t fun. It wasn’t that there was one person who never passed to me, it was that everyone didn’t pass to me. And if everyone doesn’t pass to you, the problem’s not with everyone, the problem’s with you. The reason nobody passed to me was because I wasn’t exercising a mode of being that was permutable. What I would do was almost always pass to other people, and let them score. I did it because I thought that (1) being nice was the right to do, and (2) always passing other people to give them a chance was nice, therefore it was the right thing to do. The problem here is with both of my premises actually. The thing about always passing to people is that you’re never scoring goals, which means that nobody ever passes to you! So you set yourself up in a position to be used by others, basically, and people don’t like that. If all you’re doing is being used, it means you’re not having fun (while everyone else is), and that brings everyone down, so better to just marginalize the person not able to have fun alongside everyone else than tell them to shoot some goals for themselves. The equivalent for speech is not as direct as the first example I gave you. So this is kinda a shot in the dark. I think the equivalent of this is the person who avoids conflict at all cost. They’re like those political centrists that you meet, who just don’t actually take a position and so act as if they’re amoeba. Haha:

Person 1: Genocide is great! We should have lots of it.

Person 2: Genocide is evil! We should have none of it.

Centrist: Guys, I think that like everything else the right answer is in the middle. Let’s have some genocide. Problem solved.

That’s one example of the person who only passes to others. It’s a stupid way of being because you actually don’t contribute anything to the discussion and the people around you. If you try being friends with everybody then you end up being friends with nobody. Another way of being the character who only passes to others is by not saying anything. It turns out that there’s more to talking than just dominating someone else: when talking to someone else, you can also tell them information that could be really useful; life saving even! Something else, your assumption that not saying anything will not lead to conflict is wrong. Your silence may be seen as you hiding something, or it may be seen as you unable to stand for anything. In this case, why should anyone talk with you if you’re just a pushover? What chance is there that your beliefs are right if you yourself won’t believe in them? When you’re speaking about controversial topics, or topics where there is bound to be immanent conflict, you can’t seek to pacify everyone, and you can’t seek to dominate everyone.

Oooh, just thought of something. So I had a thought that politics was really all just about morality: different people see different ways of living in the world, and so when people question and criticize your politics, they’re just criticizing what you want and value. So for example, if you say the wage gap is false, people would criticize you for being a sexist and for believing that men and women are inherently different from each other, etc etc. But the thing is that if this were true, then the pacifier would be accepted by both sides in the debate. In reality, this is not what happens. What happens is he’s criticized by both sides, and I think it’s because the issues actually matter to people.

It’s 12:29 am right now, and I started this yesterday at around 10:30 am, so I’m running out of content to write about right now, and I need to wake up early tomorrow morning, so I’m going to sign off for now and continue tomorrow. Next up, I don’t actually know, because I am just thinking as I write and it happens at the same time. Ciao!


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