For a very long time I have made the case that the only way we learn is by conversation. Sometimes with ourselves, but most often with other people.
Other people then quickly become the most precious resource we have - without them none of us would ever grow.
So, blogging is a conversation we are told. Asynchronous, perhaps, but a conversation nonetheless.
What we post in our blogs are elements of conversation, conversation objects if you will, that can be used by others in a variety of different ways.
I am currently reading The Universe in a Single Atom by the Dalai Lama. What I've been struck by in the first third of the book or so, is that he is quite clear that most of his knowledge comes from interaction with other people. Through conversation, through exposure. Here is a man who is seen as a spiritual and intellectual world leader - and he shows how his entire understanding of the world and spirituality is the product of many conversations over the years.
What's more, this book shows fairly well that he listens attentively, really thinks about what the subject is, and filters it through the lenses of his own psyche and faith. That element that makes him a wise person, in other words, is the fact that he values other people.
So I was thinking about conversation and how we manage it. When we are in it, do we realize we are learning? Do we know when our own biases and assumptions shut conversation down? Two (sort of) recent blog posts put a humorous but telling spin on this. The first is from Homesick Home:
Another woman I know: "Is that a J. Jill linen sweater?"
Me: "Yes, it is."
Her: "Did you get it online?"
Me: "No -- I got it at the Goodwill store in West Portal for ten bucks!"
The other woman could have taken the conversation as a learning experience in a few ways. First, you can buy expensive stuff inexpensively. Second, that the story teller was willing to share information like this even though she could have lied and put on airs. Either information would be of marginal value, but it would be some value over stopping the conversation cold.
Waiter Rant comes up with a gem of discounting your own history until someone discounts your history:
"What are you guys talking about?" Kylie asks, joining the conversation.
"Waiter was just telling me how he had a crush on Wonder Woman," Louis says laughing.
"Wonder Woman?" Kylie asks.
"Hey, I was like ten years old," I say in my defense.
"Did you like it when she tied guys up with the Lariat of Truth?" Louis asks.
"I don't know if I liked it," I reply with a sheepish grin, "But I remember feeling all funny inside."
Louis roars with laughter. "Now I understand you better."
Kylie looks at us. "You guys are so weird."
"What year were you born Kylie?" Louis demands.
"85?" I groan, "I was senior in high school!"
"Shut the hell up Kylie," Louis says, "You weren't even a gleam in your father's eye in the Seventies."
"Ok fellas," Kylie says walking away, "I'll leave you two alone in the Age of Disco."
Louis and I watch her walk away.
"Did she say 'The Age of Disco?'" I ask.
"'Fraid so" Louis mutters.
"What was the age of her childhood," I say, "The Nineties?"
"I'll take the Age of Disco any day," Louis says.
"Me too," I reply.
Initially this discussion talks about how awful it was to grow up with disco. In the end, the main actors accept their age of disco - due to an attack by an outsider.
People's attitudes, even our own, are complex. It is possible to hold both negative and positive feelings toward something. Anyone with a family should recognize this.
David Finch goes on at length about this. That seeming contradictions in delivery in a conversation should be invitations to deeper conversation, and not conversation stoppers. He declares the use of strict logic in a conversation for the purpose of silencing conversation as "guerilla logic."
He lays out a few logical arguments that, while logically irrefutable, are nonetheless destructive to understanding and growth. Meaning, the absolute logic of an argument may well be secondary to the message or intent behind it. Human beings are not dispassionate creatures. Language and discussion are not suitable for 100% air-tight execution of logically sound arguments.
Indeed, this may be bedrock of our internal discussions and what makes sound judgement. If you consider yourself decisive, but don't take the time to contemplate your assumptions - you end up with knee jerk responses which may be immediately logically defendable but lack wisdom.
One favorite move in guerilla logic is the "law of non-contradiction" often referred to as the "law of the excluded middle." Here the interlocutor attempts to find a contradiction internal to other's argument. You cannot say both A and -A. What some of my evangelical interlocutors fail to see when they use this tool is that it can be used violently to take another's argument and cast it in a way that cannot make sense in the argument's original sense. For example, when a Christian says to a Buddhist, you cannot both say there is a God and there is not a God, he or she has cast what the Buddhist is saying in a way that neither faithfully represents what the Buddhist means nor the internal logic of the Buddhist way of thought. The concept of absolute nothingness seems to resist easy translation into anything we Christians might understand and most Buddhist thought resists translation into a form of the law of non-contradiction. Issues of incommensurability are run rough shod by evangelicals who insist on using the law of non-contradiction as a weapon. It's a conversation stopper.
I like this as it shows that conversation is always an act of cooperation. At any moment in a conversation and actor can completely grind the process to a halt by maliciously employing a logical procedural call rather than actually engaging in real conversation. The respect for logic in the abstract outweighs the respect for discourse in the specific.
It is frustrating the be on the receiving side of this. The act of starting a conversation in good faith and then finding yourself responding to procedural calls for logical discrepancies that are independent of what you're trying to say is infuriating. This means that even if the guerilla logic is overcome, one is flustered and less likely to even want to continue a good conversation. We get into conversations to learn - learning requires some degree of respect - and guerilla logic is a massive inidicator of lack of respect.
In short, it's really effective.
David Finch calls for a moratorium or outright ban on guerilla logic. I would say that people should see it for what it is, and other conversation stoppers are -- an unwillingness to learn. They represent a person who values power over growth and subjegation over information.
In the world of blogging, we see this just as often as anywhere else. Often we're taken aback by it because we're so used to people in blogging being willing participants in a conversation. (political blogging obviously is an exception). I've had many conversations with people who have belligerent readers who seem to subscribe only to comment critically. Often these critical comments show signs of guerilla logic and always show a lack of respect.
In the end, people and the conversation are our only hope to learn, make a better world and grow. We have the choice of doing this in an atmosphere of trust and respect - or in one of fear and revilement.