No action is singular in motivation and reason. If I put the fork in my room into the sink and wash it, there’s a whole bunch of reasons: one is that I want to keep my parents happy, another is because that’s how I’ve been raised, another is because I want to have a clean room, etc.
Here’s a better example: I want to turn Canada into a communist utopia. There are many reasons for why. One is because I actually care about the poor, another is because I think the people at the top have too much power, but there’s also that motivation of tearing everything down and killing everyone, that resentment that killed so many. This goes to say that any action has a plurality of motivations behind it
One of the things that happens when you’re engaging in dialogue with someone else is that these motivations can blow up like an exploding airbag, and derail the conversation into something completely different.
So for example, I was talking with a kind-of-stranger a few days ago, and I took the position that I liked Trump, that he wasn’t racist, that capitalism was the most efficient system we have to distribute goods to people, and that communism was a very effective killing machine.
Okay. What happened? I noticed that I got scared – my heart started beating, I couldn’t think as clearly as I could have a few minutes ago, I didn’t really think through my rebuttals, etc etc. The reason for that I think was because our conversation turned from an engaging back and forth into a dominance dispute.
What the other person started to do was question me in a way that was only done to gage my knowledge of the subject, and to attempt to exploit the holes in my knowledge. He failed to do this however, because I had reasons for everything that I said, and at the very end, he stubbornly and unselfconsciously admitted that he wasn’t thinking about my position and whether it was right or wrong, he was feeling. Then I knew that no evidence or argument could change his mind.
Ben Shapiro noted that when you are arguing with someone and they point out a flaw in your argument, what do you do? How do you respond? You have two choices: laugh, or get angry. The answer to that for the gentleman with whom I was speaking was he would get angry. And if you get angry it’s because too much of your identity depends on your arguments and your thoughts. But if it’s revealed to ‘you’ that your arguments and your thoughts are weak, it’s then taken personally, because you find it insulting because if the person is exposing your arguments, he’s also exposing you, and exposing someone is a type of insult because it makes you look and feel like an absolute idiot when you bring forward stupid ideas.
So then the question becomes: why would anyone laugh in the first place? And good ole Peterson has an answer to that.
“I attended this writer’s fortieth birthday celebration not too long ago in LA. He had invited one of the aforementioned SEALs. A few months beforehand, however, his wife had been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, necessitating brain surgery. He called up his SEAL friend, informed him of the circumstances, and indicated that the event might have to be cancelled. “You think you guys have a problem,” responded his friend. “I just bought non-refundable airline tickets to your party!” It’s not clear what percentage of the world’s population would find that response amusing. I retold the story recently to a group of newer acquaintances and they were more shocked and appalled than amused. I tried to defend the joke as an indication of the SEAL’s respect for the couple’s ability to withstand and transcend tragedy, but I wasn’t particularly successful. Nonetheless, I believe that he did intend exactly that respect, and I think he was terrifyingly witty. His joke was daring, anarchic to the point of recklessness, which is exactly the point where serious funny occurs. My friend and his wife recognized the compliment. They saw that their friend knew they were tough enough to withstand that level of—well, let’s call it competitive humour. It was a test of character, which they passed with flying colours.”
If you can’t take a joke, it means that you’re weak in a sense: you have a fragile ego and a fragile idea of who you are. It’s the exact same thing that I talked about in an earlier blog: if you are willing and readily willing, to ask questions when you’re being taught something, you have to be someone really comfortable with “looking foolish.” And that only comes when you realize that you are not the fool, but rather the person who can come out of that more knowledgeable than before. And that is what allows you to laugh along with the other people.
In a discussion that is solely a dominance argument: you trying only to make yourself feel smarter than the other person, or vice versa for the other person, you’re engaging in the above: you’re not taking your arguments lightly enough. Knowing that, what’s the best thing to do in that situation?
Well, I guess you should be the interlocutor you wish to see in the world. What I should have done, instead of get upset, is have a light touch. I should have gotten him to laugh. I should have tried to make him (and the best part of him, not the part that was attached to the arguments) see that his comments were funny, and that he could laugh at them because they weren’t who he was.
Truth and humour are often close allies, and I forgot that in this recent joust. Better luck next time.