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Sorry, I missed both Sunday's and yesterday's Idea logs on account of exhaustion.

Anyway, today's idea log will come after a brief invitation, which is this: I invite anyone and everyone to try to change my mind.

I make my positions generally very clear, so most of you know where I stand on most things. Many of you, also, disagree with me on any number of these things. I've been involved in discussions, arguments, pissing matches, and other such contests regarding these issues on many occasions. I've been a frequent victim (and occasional perpetrator) of insults, personal attacks, caustic sarcasm, and ad hominem arguments; and I've been an occasional victim (and, I hope, NEVER a perpetrator) of trolling, personal threats, and behavior that could be described as extortion or blackmail.

Needless to say, my mind is hard to change, like anyone else's. I am trying to overcome many of the biases that stand in the way of a dedicated seeker of truth, which is what I strive to become.

And so, to that end, I invite you all to try to change my mind, if indeed you have a wish to do so.

To facilitate this, I offer you the five methods that are most likely to actually accomplish the task of changing my mind:

  1. Presentation of facts — The late Senator David Patrick Moynihan is credited with saying "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."* This means that, if something is verifiably factual, it will go a long way towards persuading me of any argument based upon that fact. My criteria for "verifiably factual" is essentially this: If a large majority of experts on the subject matter of the fact in question agree that it is factual, then I will, under a large majority of circumstances, accept it as such.

    Good Example: The universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. (Agreed upon by the vast majority of cosmologists, thus accepted as factual.)

    Bad Example: The enslavement of human beings is unacceptable under any circumstances. (While I agree with the statement, this is a moral judgment and not a "fact".)

  2. Reasoned and reasonable argumentation — This isn't quite as straightforward as the above, but basically this means "argue from the facts", or at least "argue from common principles". If there isn't some form of agreement at the outset, it is very unlikely that anything else you say will convince me of anything.

    Good Example: It is wrong to kill someone, unless doing so will save my life or the life of loved ones; thus it is also wrong to allow someone else to kill someone if I can prevent it, excepting cases of self-defense or defense of a loved one. (Statement of a common principle + a reasonable extension of the circumstance = a reasonable argument.)

    Bad Example: If it is wrong to kill someone, then it is equally wrong to tax their earnings. (Statement of common principle + unrelated statement or conclusion with several missing steps = unreasonable argument.)

  3. Dispassion — Yes, this does sound a little odd coming from me, but I recognize my tendency towards, ah . . . emotional investment in my positions to be a character flaw, and one that I am attempting to overcome (with, unfortunately, mixed results). Nevertheless, if you can present your argument to me in a way that doesn't raise my hackles or put me on the defensive, I'm much more likely to listen to you.

    Good Example: I think, if you examine the situation carefully, you'll see that your position contains some inconsistencies, and you might want to re-examine it. (A clear statement made without any implication of mental or emotional deficiency—thus, something I'll likely listen to. This one even contains an implied desire to help, which is a nice bonus.)

    Bad Example: You should at least come out and admit it when you're throwing your principles under a bus. (A direct accusation of both dishonesty and hypocrisy, which will probably result in me telling you what to go do with yourself.)

  4. Listening, admission of error, and admission of ignorance — I put these three together because they all come down to essentially the same thing: If you're going to offer an argument that you expect me to listen to, with the intent of having me admit that either I was wrong or I didn't have all the facts, then you should be prepared to listen to my counter-argument and admit when you yourself are wrong or ignorant of all the facts. An unwillingness to do any of the three will give me the impression that your mind is not as open as you are asking mine to be, which is essentially hypocrisy. It will also incline me towards believing that you really are wrong and don't have all the facts—because if you're not willing to change your own mind now, you probably never were.

    (Examples for this one are hard to come up with, so I'm gonna skip this part.)

  5. Understanding and accepting that, even given all of the above, I might not change my mind anyway — You might have a factual, reasonable, dispassionate argument, and you may have listened to my counter-argument and defended your own flawlessly . . . and I still might not be convinced. This is probably not a flaw in your argument, but a flaw in my ability to let go of a cherished ideal. Yes, this is the very thing I'm striving to overcome, but I'm not perfect. I also might give a response like "I'll think about it," or "I think there's more to it than you suggest," or "I can't argue against what you say, but I have a gut instinct that it's wrong." This doesn't necessarily mean I'm dismissing your argument, just that I feel I need to either verify what you've said or take time to re-examine some of my own thoughts on the matter. And, even after all that, I may still not change my mind. If you can accept this with good grace, then that itself will be a strong point in your favor.

    Good Example: Well, if my argument was unconvincing, I hope you can tell me what would be so that I can provide you with more compelling facts. (A non-judgmental statement that invites future dialog.)

    Bad Example: If, after everything I've told you, you still aren't convinced, then you obviously haven't understood what I've said. (A judgmental statement implying willful ignorance or inability to grasp your argument, which will likely be met with a response of "Well, fuck you too, asshole!")

As this post has become rather longer than I anticipated, I will save the list of "Five (or maybe even more) ways to guarantee that I will either ignore your argument, show you the door, or both" for tomorrow.


*There is some dispute about this, as the quote is also attributed to several others and comes in various forms, but the majority of the Google hits I saw when I searched for it were for Senator Moynihan, so I'm sticking with that for now.**

**And see? I provided you with an opportunity to change my mind in the very first point of my list. Isn't that considerate of me?


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 26th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
Life is too short...if things are getting out of hand I just agree to disagree and everybody wins...

We are all products of our pasts and our different experiences....and some things it is impossible to understand unless you have been through it, our imaginations can not even conceive of some of the horrors that can happen in this world...

And for me it is important to know when to NOT share something...even if it is a fact, if it will serve no purpose except to make the other person feel bad...I allow them to retain the delusion that comforts them...

But hey that is just what I do feel free to be yourself...

Oct. 26th, 2011 06:44 am (UTC)
Very good points. And of course, if convincing someone of something serves no greater purpose than to prove the person wrong, that's a bad reason to be doing so.
Oct. 26th, 2011 01:30 am (UTC)
Not disagreeing on example in 1...
You said, "Good Example: The universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. (Agreed upon by the vast majority of cosmologists, thus accepted as factual.)"
I'd remembered it as being estimated as somewhat older, but (being somewhat wiser) decided to check my memory and investigate myself, I went to a NASA site I found. The result? A more detailed, and rather interesting discussion of the age of the universe and how the 13.7 billion year estimate comes about at: http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/uni_age.html

I just thought that you might find the URL interesting (it doesn't disagree, but you may not have seen it, and it is an interesting discussion).
Oct. 26th, 2011 06:44 am (UTC)
Re: Not disagreeing on example in 1...
Thanks. I'll check that out. :)
Oct. 26th, 2011 01:41 am (UTC)
I would like to take your invitation, but am quite hesitant about it because I don't feel that I'm on any sort of good ground for healthy debates and or heated discussions. Also, I would prefer to know what not to do or say in regards to such matters.

(my current situation doesn't help my mindset much--for a better look, I recommend reading my most recent lj entries)
Oct. 26th, 2011 06:46 am (UTC)
Well, if you're worried about what not to say, then read tomorrow's Idea Log, wherein I will talk about how not to change my mind.

Sorry to hear about your difficulties. I hope you recovery swiftly.
Oct. 26th, 2011 06:50 am (UTC)
I'll be reading it--because I am curious, among other things.

And thanks. :)
Oct. 26th, 2011 01:44 am (UTC)
I think you and I see the same endpoint, but disagree on the ways of getting there. However, these disagreements are merely (to me) the sign that we should use creativity to find mutually-agreeable solutions.
Oct. 26th, 2011 06:52 am (UTC)
That makes good sense to me. I think all policy debates need both the liberal and conservative views to make sure we're neither stagnant nor mercurial. And when I say "liberal" and "conservative", I don't mean "left" and "right", I mean "advocate for change" and "advocate for stability"--which is much closer to the original definitions of those words than the ones we're now more familiar with. For things to change, there needs to be someone pushing for that change. But there also needs to be someone to say "We shouldn't make this change unless and until we're certain that it will improve things."
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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