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turtles can talk

silence: not so golden?

silence: not so golden?

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Have you had the experience of struggling with a problem for hours, going to ask for help with it, and then realizing the answer to the problem while you're in the middle of asking the question?

Of course you have. It's an amazing phenomenon. It really shows how much the brain depends on language to think clearly. It's one reason I'm such a junkie for user groups and conferences! And it's not good enough to just hear it or read it - you have to speak it or write it to really engage your brain. Similarly, sometimes it seems like you never really understand a subject until you have to teach it to somebody else.

Meanwhile, it's become an axiom of conversational politeness that politics and religion are to be avoided in most contexts. Which means... which means that we're forbidding ourselves to use our most powerful means of stimulating clear thought... for some of the most important ideas we have to think about.

  • Yeah, I think about this a lot. It's disheartening.

    What I also find is that often the other person doesn't actually need to be there. I frequently get email that asks questions that I don't quite understand. I frequently write emails in response that go "I'm not quite sure what you mean. You might mean X... in fact, that's clearly what you mean." Then I delete the email and start over with an answer to the question.

    This is somewhat reassuring.

    • ...only somewhat, though. The other great thing about other people is that sometimes they disagree with me, and wow, all of a sudden we've doubled the number of perspectives being brought to bear on the problem. And that aspect is completely destroyed on topics that are so polarized that the fact of disagreement becomes more important than the positions themselves.

      A while ago I indulged in an ego-meme, and got a dozen variations on a theme of "you can have actual conversations with people who disagree with you." Which was in some way validating, but in other ways it was like "you aren't a homicidal maniac!"... my response is mostly "what, these are the standards now?"
      • Doubled?

        all of a sudden we've doubled the number of perspectives being brought to bear on the problem

        This assumes that the other person has as many perspectives as you do, which I personally doubt is true on average.
        • Re: Doubled?

          (snort) OK, that's fair. We've INCREASED BY AT LEAST ONE the number of perspectives!

          Actually, I feel a little guilty accepting this particular compliment (and make no mistake, I take it as a compliment); when I'm actually engaged on an issue I tend to stay in a single perspective and have just as much difficulty extracting myself from it as anybody else. It's only when I pull away that I can adopt a broader view.

          Though, granted, which perspective I end up embedded in is sufficiently sensitive to initial conditions as to appear stochastic to the untrained eye.
  • If you google "teddy bear" and "debugging", Perlick's blog is the #2 hit.

    I think the problem with politics and religion is that most people aren't interested in debugging their belief structures. Because, you see, one might discover that one was wrong, and need to actually change one's beliefs.

    The ban on discussing such things in polite company strikes me as a symptom, not a cause.
    • The thing is, though, not all conversation is about someone being wrong.

      I had a conversation today over IM today with a friend of mine in his early 20s that went a little bit like this:
      Him: I was raised X, and still mostly agree with the teachings of the X Church, but I disagree with them about gays and lesbians.
      Me: So, what do you agree with them about?
      Him: Well, about God, and Jesus, and stuff like that.
      Me: Yeah... that sort of thing confuses me, to be honest.
      I can understand considering one's church's teachings definitive on fundamental matters like the nature of God and sin, and concluding therefore that the church's teachings on specific things like the sinfulness of gay sex must be right regardless of one's personal feelings.

      And I can understand coming to believe that one's church is wrong about something specific, like the sinfulness of gay sex, and concluding therefore that one's church's teachings are not definitive on fundamental matters like the nature of God and sin.

      But I have real trouble understanding how one can come to believe one's church is wrong about the sinfulness of gay sex while continuing to consider that church's teachings definitive on the nature of God and sin.

      Him: Yeah, there's definitely cognitive dissonance there. I haven't really worked that out too carefully myself. I figure I have time.

      Me: Yup, makes sense.

      I don't claim this is a profound or worldchanging conversation or anything, but it was about religion and wasn't about either of us being wrong and it just doesn't seem that hard!
    • Sure, it's not that hard -- if you don't have a lot of investment in needing to be right about religion.

      Friend has concluded that X Church is wrong in some matters, but doesn't feel his identity is threatened by the uncertainty that implies, and is comfortable with the cognitive dissonance of the situation. And you're detached enough on the subject not to leap in with arguments in favor of another position.

      That strikes me as really atypical. It's not hard for you, but I think there are a lot of people who would find it incredibly difficult.
    • Actually, I don't see any dissonance there, and I'm happy to explain why not.

      It's a case of expertise/qualification. You may consider your church to have knowledge to speak authoritatively on some topics - the existence and nature of God, etc. - but not on other topics - like sexuality.

      Nobody but nobody is immune to speaking outside their expertise and qualification. Groups of people called "churches" ought to be more circumspect about what they do and don't know, since they claim to hold humility as an important virtue - but they're not.

      It's no different than when my farrier tells me his goony ideas about global warming. It doesn't mean he doesn't know how to trim horse hooves. It just means he doesn't understand the boundaries of his knowledge.

      Come to think of it, recognizing the locations of those boundaries - in our own understanding and others' - might be considered one of the most important skills around.
      • Scope

        (nods excitedly) Right! This is absolutely the sort of distinction it seems necessary to make.

        Of course, the next question would be what the speaker considers his/her church to be authoritative about. If the answer includes something like "what sorts of human behavior are moral and immoral?" then the initial problem recurs.

        This is interesting to me, because in thinking about it now I realize that I tend to assume without discussion that orthodox church members (of any church) do believe that questions about moral and immoral behavior are in the scope of their church's authority/expertise. Your comment here implies that I'm at least sometimes wrong about that, which is cool, and gives me a discourse-vector I hadn't previously had in my toolbox.

        So... hm... (whrr-whrr-whrr) I've generally gotten the impression that you don't really subscribe to a church so much as a practice, but thinking about this now I'm realizing that I've gotten this impression based on the above assumption about what church-subscription entails. Rejecting that assumption, I'm now curious: is there a church you consider "yours" and, if so, what sorts of things do you consider it authoritative on?
        • Re: Scope

          ... well, the scope boundary may well run through human behavior, encompassing some elements but not others.

          But in my case... my first church was an Episcopalian one, and I've belonged to others since then, and may or may not belong to an Episcopalian one in the future, depending on how church locations work out. Our current church is Methodist. But I suppose one aspect of Episcopalianism stuck with me - the principle that church is a body for fellowship, service, worship, and for sharing ideas about truth... but not for authoritatively defining truth. So, no. It's "my" church, but it's truly Authoritative on doodly-squat. God has authority; none of us is God; the end. I think that's the way a lot of people see their churches in reality, even if they belong to churches (like the Catholic) that do claim authority. See kateri_thinks, for example.

          Whether the Bible has God's full authority is a popular question that strikes me as irrelevant. If it does, then I spoil it the moment I transfer its words from the page into my imperfect brain.

          Not to get all relativist here; I do believe that there is a real truth, that you can learn about it from other church members and from the Bible, etc. I do tend to be more comfortable in churches where the average opinion isn't too far off mine (though I also try not to be too picky about that, and sometimes chuck it entirely). I just have varying degrees of confidence and vehemence in the things I believe, never reaching 100%. Disagree with me about the Trinity and I'll shrug; about spousal abuse, and I'll be a lot more bothered. It's just that I want to recognize that we see through a glass darkly, navigating the terrain of morality through the fog of our limitations, and have to always be humble - ready to reconsider what we claim to know, circumspect with those who disagree.
          • Re: Scope

            (nods) Yah, that's more or less the impression I've gotten about your approach from reading your posts (it amuses me that, while I've met you in person many times, that aspect of our relationship is almost completely irrelevant, despite our cultural tendency to dismiss on-line interactions as "not really meeting"... but anyway). It's also pretty much my own.

            I think that's the way a lot of people see their churches in reality

            That's... interesting. I certainly find myself in conversations with people who seem to consider their church (or Church) a source of moral authority about all kinds of things. I wonder if they're the exceptions, or if I've been projecting false assumptions onto the stuff they say.

            * goes off to think about that *
      • Re: Scope

        Well, there are certainly those people who damn well make their own decisions, but find referring back to their church easier or more respectable than owning the decisions. (In those cases where their decisions do happen to overlap with their church's, of course; in the other cases, the church is left quietly out of the picture). I think we've all met some people like that...
      • Re: Scope

        I don't think articturtle's take on this is all that unusual among christians, although her insight about it and clarity of expression is. I found myself nodding vigorously at her description here. Perhaps it's no coincidence that I'm also a Methodist who has attended churches of other denominations.

        I do give the church authority to determine what is a Methodist perspective on God, sin and pretty much everything else with any relationship to those things. That doesn't mean I have to agree, but I keep that authority in mind when talking with other Methodists or about the church.

        That said, the church itself is distributed in a weird political way -- the general conference writes the book of discipline and that is the authority, but some of what's written there is under real dispute within the church. Our conference (a political sub-unit of the church) in the last few years has come close to advocating open civil disobedience on the gay marriage issue. A vast majority of members are for doing this, but organizational structures set the bar for such action *very* high. But there is also a significant and vocal minority within our conference that not only disagrees with disobedience, but feels the general conference position (akin to "Don't ask, don't tell") is far too lenient. This all is just to say that it is often not at all clear what "the church" thinks about an issue, and the more hot-button the issue, the more likely this is the case.

        • Re: Scope

          So, is there a difference in your experience/formulation between "the church's position on X is unclear" and "the church's position is clear, but I reject it?" Or is the idea more that as long as there's some church member rejecting the position, that isn't clearly the church's position?
  • I'm a junkie for conversation, and yet I avoid those topics. I think it's because it's rare to actually be able to _have_ a conversation about those topics. It's difficult having a frank exchange of ideas when some of those ideas are so tightly wound into identity, which is true of politics and religion. People don't want to have to articulate their ideas clearly because sometimes they don't have a good basis for those ideas other than "It's what my parents believe" or "This is what a [Republican/Democrat/Christian/atheist/Muslim] thinks". And I include myself, mind you - I know there are lots of positions I hold for kneejerk reasons, and I know there are all sorts of inconsistencies. But I hold onto them because they make me part of the communities I want to be part of - they form part of my identity.

    But, yes, taking the time to figure out how to express an idea is an extremely powerful way of figuring things out. This was a primary motivation for me to start blogging a few years ago - even if there's nobody at the other end, I learn from the experience, and then I learn even more when people comment!
  • Thank you for posting this. I was isolated after an accident almost four years ago and my brain seems to hacve shut down quite a lot in consequence. Mercifully I had an internet-capable computer and discovered fandom - but there are marked limits to what one can talk about and I'm starving for some kinds of talk so I can think about things.

    I do wonder if this is a reason why some bloggers self-thread and discuss things with their sock-puppets?
  • Whoa, yes. Somehow I've never put the two pieces of this together, despite being clear about each of them separately.
  • Which is actually what pisses me off about "political radio talk shows", where all the hosts and callers do is bash the other side. That time could be spent discussing ideas, better formulating answers to problems, etc etc. But, no, they'd rather spend their time talking about how "the other side" are morons (or worse).
    • In case it wasn't clear, I meant talk shows for a specific audience, like "conservative radio talk show", where you'd think that the audience, having enough in common, could work together on discussing ideas from their common stand. (I wasn't going so far as to hope that people from different parts of the spectrum could have a productive discussion :)

      (Of course, maybe through discussion they might discover that they don't have as much in common as they thought?)
  • I only discuss such things with closeted Keynesians.
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