Saturday, July 15, 2017

Math and Passion

One of the things that has been bugging me lately. I have several close friends who are very passionate about certain issues... and they are wrong. Simply wrong. In some cases, the issue they are excited about doesn't exist. In a few, the words they use do not mean what they think they mean. In a very few cases, the words that they use originally meant the exact opposite of what they think they mean. Black has become white; dogs are cats; freedom is slavery.

Where do I get the right to say that they are wrong and I'm right? Fair question. This is the way my brain works: These are people I care about and generally, but not always, that means I admire their intelligence*. If they believe X and I believe Y, I assume I'm wrong. I then, depending on the question go to first sources (like the actual court case). Or go to the data (the Bureau of Justice Statistics, commonly). Or design an experiment (Who is more hateful, X or Y? Let's type "All x should die" and "All y should die" into google and see who is talking about killing most.)

I think that's pretty solid. Confidant that it is far more than the people I am disagreeing with have done.

But here's the question, and it's really two three questions.
1) Should I even bother to tell them I disagree? I know a few sense it, but as long as it stays submerged, the friendship continues fine. Understand, they are usually passionate about their position-- one even said it was important enough it was okay to be wrong. I can't even wrap my head around that, largely because I'm not passionate about the positions. I am relatively passionate about the path to those positions.
2) If I decide to have this disagreement, how? Facts don't actually sway people. For that matter, if we agreed on an experimental design and their position was mathematically proven flawed, my experience is that they would double down. And never forgive me.
Oooh. There's a third question.
3) Most of them are happy being passionate. It may come across in words as feeling outcast and beleaguered and under constant attack, but that belief makes them feel special and gives their life meaning. If someone is wholly invested in their enemies as a core of their identity, is pointing out that their enemies** are imaginary a dick move?

The challenge here is not winning the argument. My ego doesn't need the strokes of winning. The challenge is preserving the friendship and, possibly, helping a few friends avoid a path that will be hard to recover from.

*There are other virtues I admire besides intelligence. No one has to be perfect or superior in all categories to be my friend.
** And this is a really fine line because there are always a few real assholes. There are millions of good christians, but the 70 (or less) members of the Westboro Baptist Church make the news. There are tens of thousands of people working to make a better world, but the loudest, shrillest and stupidest two percent become the poster children for 'Social Justice Warriors.' As long as that worse 2 % or 70 individual or whatever exist, the enemies, just barely, miss being completely imaginary.


Anonymous said...

Considering how vague most of your arguments on this blog are, "modern protesters are bad", "people who complain about use of force by law enforcement are ignorant", etc., I have two questions:

1) Why should you believe these other people are wrong when you have such difficulty with specifics (which are the entire basis of argumentation)?

2) What use does it provide anyone to write this post, where the message is "I have some people that I like who are wrong, but I'll do nothing about it and play coy about the issues"?

Kamil Devonish said...

In response to Anonymous, the bot:

Not that Rory of all people needs an apologist but

1. If, for the sake of argument, Rory had previously never been right about anything or presented specifics when making a case, does that change the likelihood that his next decision/judgement is objectively correct?

2. Is not a blog both a means of interacting with an audience and a vanity project for the purpose of addressing one's own thoughts? Is any blog not both those things at the same time? This post seems useful if considered as the latter, but if even one person responds and offers insights into his deliberations, then it is also useful in as the former.

These seem like concerns that wouldn't merit leaving a comment.

Maija said...

Some people are motivated by their anger, some by injury and overcoming pain. Others by the past, or by trauma and recovery.
Some are motivated by curiosity and the joy of discovery, others by are and poetry, and some by wanting to fix the problems of the world.
We are all just doing the best we can.
Who are any of us to judge what is right and wrong? I think you are looking too much at the surface ...
Live and let live. Enjoy your friends and the ways their minds work, however seemingly irrational they are. Perhaps they make more sense than you think viewed through a different lens?
If you really want to alter their world view it will be a long game. The turning radius on life is very large...

Drew Rinella said...

Are they really your friend if you are not permitted to express your opposing view without invoking some kind of violent backlash?

Are you really their friend if you don't let them know that what they're doing is factually wrong and may lead to embarrassment?

barbara said...

I use language as a means to convey information. if the facts are right, is important to me. because of this, others have accused me of heartlessness several times. (There's this picture with a child with big innocent eyes and HOW CAN YOU TALK ABOUT STATISTICS?)

I know some people, who use language as a tool to convey emotions. If ever they cite statistics (correct ones or false ones, it does not matter to them), it's mainly to emphasize their feelings. So I translate their statements for myself. When they say "it is scientifically proven that X" I hear "I care very much about X, it touches me deeply". Since I started to react to my translation and not the factual content of their words... life has become a lot easier for me.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Lots of people say things along the lineS of... a real friend is a person you can say anything to... that's a therapist isn't it... I have found that a friend is someone you Know what Not to say to...

Tiff said...

Thanks for this post, Rory. Given my profession, you can imagine that this is a daily struggle. It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one facing this dilemma. Your friends (really all of us whose lives you've touched) are very lucky to have you.

Bryan Leed, Dayton, OH said...

I think this post is about disagreeing with close friends. Don't argue as a deal breaker on the friendship, if possible. Try to find a good time to gently bring up the topic, openly discuss the pros and cons. They might be permanently stuck, or you might be sowing the seeds for them to percolate on. Maybe they will be more open in the future after having heard their good friend gently expressing the opposing viewpoint.

I had similar thoughts about popular, famous thinkers whom I do not know personally, can I learn anything of value from them in one topic area, though I am entirely in disagreement on a different topic? I say yes, paraphrasing better thinkers, "Take what is useful, discard what is not useful."

We can't really agree with anybody on 100% everything, so we just have to humbly accept a certain amount of differences. The only question is at what point are the differences becoming the deal breaker on the friendship?

Rory said...

I think Maija and Drew, the two people here who know me best, hit the two ends of the argument. Thanks.

Danny Martin said...

I have to think that having difficult conversations with people is something you have a lot of experience with, so, and please correct me if I am wrong here, I would think that the real issue is how do you correct their line of thinking without damaging or destroying your personal relationship with them. For me, I have found a 3 prong approach tends to work really well.
1. Make your OWN position on the matter clear and no secret. This sets up any future conversation you may have about the matter from a place of honesty.

2. Don't push your position on to friends, just have it there for them if the subject comes up. If it's a subject that they are passionate about, it will come up again. No need to rush if the personal relationship is important.

3. Try to understand the root of their feelings on the matter and address that specifically. For example: If I have to speak to someone about abortion, for example, someone who has had an abortion is going to have different feelings and a different source for those feelings than someone who has simply heard about it at church.

For the rest, it's stuff you already know and teach every day. Stay calm, use facts whenever possible, though try to link them to feelings as well.
It's a slow process. You won't convince anyone overnight usually. Not if you want to stay friends with them. The real trick is to convince them, not that they are wrong, but to start questioning what they believe and why. Everyone should do this on a regular basis, but not enough people do to avoid certain vulnerabilities in our society.

Danny Martin said...

Now, to more directly address your questions as you stated them, because I was in a hurry at first and now have a bit more time.

1. Yes you should. If it is important enough and bothers you enough that you are writing about it, and they are wrong enough that this isn't a shades of grey issue, there can be no question about the need to address it with them. The when and the how without messing up the relationship are the tricky bit.

3. If people have imaginary enemies as a core part of their identity, making sure that they are at least aware that the enemy is imaginary is the mental health equivalent of a vitals check when you see someone unconscious. NOT doing so would be far worse.

Bryan Leed, Dayton, OH said...

I don't think Rory is being too vague in this blog post about disagreeing with close friends. I think Rory is trying to discuss the concept while protecting the folks who he disagrees with. The whole concept is about how to constructively disagree with close friends without damaging the friendship, so it would be bad to name them online in this particular post. Maybe even naming the topics of disagreement might be too obvious for the close friends in question.

Rory is a great thinker, very balanced and reasonable, with lots of patience and a sincere desire to help folks do better. Rory also points out interesting points to ponder, that's why we read his blog, Rory makes interesting points. Many of Rory's blog posts have helped me to understand martial arts better, also how to understand real life violence more accurately, also how to live a balanced life better.

This blog post reminds me of disagreeing with my family members about religion. I don't want to create a family feud, but both sides have argued strongly and sincerely for years over religious details. We have eventually come to the standard agreement: we agree to disagree. Both sides have stood their ground, though their choices worry each other, we worry that each other will end up in Hell because we disagree about the proper focuses within Christianity. We can't come to agreement over the religious views and choices, but we still try to keep the family relations reasonable. I could post more details of our religious views, but that would go beyond the basic concept of how to disagree and still keep a relationship going.

Anonymous said...

Too late. I'm pretty sure I just burned a friendship down due to political differences.

Josh K. said...

Does them believe what they do brake my leg or pick my pocket?

Tiff said...

I recall a now-distant post from Rory regarding how people argue from different levels, specifically the example of people arguing from their beliefs, which cannot be changed by logical rational debate. Wish I could find the post now; Rory explains the futility and emotion inherent in these situations very succinctly.

barbara said...

I read an interesting thing in "The Yoga of Eating" by Charles Eisenstein. He talks about addictions - and I believe, ideas and positions can be addictive too, like tobacco or alcohol. it is the same principle at work.

His argument goes: the drug or behaviour an addicted person uses is an attempt to self-medicate - a strategy to cope with a world which seems too painful, too hard, too cruel otherwise.

He admonishes caution: if you want to take away a sick's person medication, you should only do it if you have very good reasons to do so. It is not a thing do be done lightly. It comes with a lot of responsibility.

Kai Jones said...

Agency, agency, agency. Did they ask you to correct their thinking? Or is your agency expressing yourself about it? Are you acting from compassion? Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind? (Buddha)

I had to teach myself that not everybody examines the bases of their identity for fun. I do! But some people don't like to be challenged and will receive it as an attack. What gets triggered by an attack? Defensiveness, and emotional reactions, rather than logical thinking.