October 23, 2005

Overviewing/skimming through debates which, although covering a wide diversity of subjects, each individually tightly focussed on its selected theme: with a reluctance bordering on terror/hostile defensiveness at any attempt to tangent (let alone cross-discipline). Some degree of focus I can understand, even appreciate -- call it staying on-topic -- but never to allow any kind of straying whatsoever? An increasing reluctance, even, to hear anything that has not already for all intents and purposes been pre-vetted with the group?

Are so many social discussion groups so weak, these days, that a single good debate on a possibly controversial subject might threaten to tear them apart?

The curious thing about a point-by-point debate is that each side chooses which points to answer -- and can ignore those points which they do not choose to address. What I see happening in current debates is starting to remind me of another public debate I attended a decade or so ago, over certain academic research which had ventured into some (racially) politically incorrect areas. The one defending the academic research was defending the methods of research and the findings. The other was attacking the researcher's right to carry out the research in the first place. Both made reasonable arguments (although one tended rather more to emotion than rationality) -- and neither at any point addressed the core issues in the other's argument, and thus neither argument was truly tested. The two sides in the debate had diverged into skew lines: and could not possibly meet.

Interestingly, one primary reason for the skewing was because both sides entered the debate convinced that they were "right": as opposed to the alternate reason of entering debate for both sides to use the tension of dialogue to uncover something new to both. But, when the "truth" is already known, what can possibly be learned? Each raised point of one person's argument in the context of that earlier debate was thus inevitably re-interpreted within the other's framework. Not surprisingly, even the two sets of definitions of the same words did not match.

And so I try to stick to plastic tools -- not always successfully! -- and very important that they be plastic (in the sense of malleable) too: rigid tools themselves are a tool of debate-to-win, not a tool of analysis. The measuring instrument alters that which it measures: but some things do so more than others.

What is the purpose of a two-way mirror? Identity comes both from our own "self" awareness and in the way others see us. To rigidly limit to one or to the other is respectively to assert the illusion of individuality or to oneself become an endlessly reflective, endlessly distorting hollow mirror.

I speculate, yes, and constantly -- and constantly with the willingness to make mistakes in the speculation, and constantly with the hope that others, reading, will argue with me, test my points, perhaps to destruction and a more solid re-building. After all, I may not be "right"; and I would not wish my speaking to drown out or silence another point, perhaps more valid than any I might have raised. If I am to build at all, I have to be willing to be wrong. (In some things, I only hope I am wrong.) The tallest, most beautiful buildings are worse than useless if they are built upon sand. I try, rather, to raise a question: and see how others (re)define their thinking in considering that question. Sometimes, consideration of the question offers an alternate perspective for insight. More often, the question is answered within the answerer's contextual framework, with no attempt to step outside. In both cases, any more times than not, I learn things I never knew before -- which, of course, only creates new questions.

Questions are inevitable. It is the answers which blur. Perfection is a moving target.

To speak is not to listen. There is an old saying about conversations in the United States: that one person is talking, and the other is waiting to talk. Two individuals, each firmly escounced within their personal perspectives, each evangelistically (and often unconsciously) attempting to sway the other away from their deluded thinking and convince them of what is "right".

Where, here, is the listening?

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