Perspective, Understanding, And Other Problems

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Perspective, Understanding, And Other Problems

Postby Kyronea » Wed May 27, 2009 6:35 am

This was something I posted on the old Jolt forum close to two years ago, and I believe it is still very relevant. (That is why it has been linked in my signature over there the whole time.)

As such, I am going to post it again here. (Plus that lets me link it in my signature here too.)

So, here it is(unchanged from the original post of the original thread):

Note: The following explanations about forum behavior will contain purely nameless examples to avoid a possible situation where someone might believe they are being flamed by being included in the example, though usually examples are based on events that have occurred. As such, do not assume that I am talking about you and please do not assume that I am trying to flame you. I am attempting to encourage discussion and promote critical thinking here.

So, I've been here on my Kyronea account for a year and a half now, and I was here for a while on an older account, and over that time, I've been observing the forum, to see what's going wrong in terms of debating and why. As such, I've come to the following conclusions:

1. Lack of Understanding:

Oftentimes, people don't even try to understand an opposing point of view, regardless of the subject(though usually they tend to be less willing on subjects that are very important to them.) They'll ignore anything their opponent has to say and will rant and rave about their own point of view. They never consider the validity of the opposing viewpoint and as such this will often lead to flame wars, especially in threads related to topics such as abortion, paedophilia, and homosexuality.

But people do need to try to understand the opposing point of view and recognize that while you might wholly disagree with it and not see it as truly being valid in fact, it is valid for the purpose of discussion. By refusing to understand points of view, people lead into the next point:

2. Lumping argument into defined groupsets

This is something I see so often it's actually rather amusing, especially in threads concerning topics where people will argue against exactly this sort of thing, such as racism. Essentially, when people argue against an opposing viewpoint, they will take their opponent's specific argument and try to pigeonhole it to fit certain criteria. Atheists will often do this to theists' arguments when it comes to threads pertaining to religious subjects, as the theists do to the atheists. For example, I saw one thread where a person was trying to argue for a rather unique interpretation of God that was basically a sort of Borg-like collective of souls from dead people...yet atheists in that same thread kept bringing up counter arguments that would suit the pigeonholing of whatever religion the atheists believed the theist was arguing for.

People tend to miss that very few arguments actually fall into any sort of pigeonhole. While there are many that are formulaic, most of the time the arguments vary in many subtle ways, regardless of the specific argument. Ten different arguments for legalizing abortion can be very different arguments from each other despite arguing for the same conclusion. Perspective is also very important, which leads to my next point:

3. Lack of perspective:

People will almost never look at things from any other viewpoint. They'll take whatever they believe--be it based on fact, logic, reason, or faith, irrationality, and/or anything in between--and oftentimes ignore any perspective to the contrary, all the while refusing to even consider why a person might hold a different perspective. By not looking at things from the opposing perspective, people fail to argue effectively.

For example, let's say we have a poster by the name of Eggbert. Eggbert in real life is a twenty three year old Hispanic male living in the United States, and is rather impoverished, connecting to NationStates only through library computers. Eggbert thusly may be someone who holds communistic views on economic policy and may or may not be prejudiced against those who are not so impoverished and is unable to avail himself of many things, such as education. If in his area it is a certain ethnic group that predominately forms the middle and upper classes on the economic ladder, he might even be racist towards that ethnic group. He might also take comfort in some sort of faith or religion, possibly due to family history, and because he is so impoverished he may plunge himself wholly into it, forming other opinions such as a hatred of evolution or perhaps homosexuals depending on how tolerant that religion is.

Eggbert is a victim of circumstances. Due to his impoverished life, he has been unable to be educated on a variety of matters and has thusly come to the conclusions he has.

On NationStates, however, he may be ridiculed because he holds racist and homophobic viewpoints, though he may receive some sympathy for his communistic view points from certain members. He may be mocked, derided, abused, and above all ignored, especially if he tries to explain anything about his life that might help someone clue in as to why he holds the viewpoints he does. Because no one would ever bother to understand his perspective, Eggbert will continue to hold his viewpoints and they may in fact strengthen considerably. Eventually though some may try to show him the error of his ways in a way that he would have actually listened to, he won't because he will begin to associate everyone as "the enemy" or whatever it is he uses for justification to ignore them.

Of course, Eggbert would not be entirely without fault. Eggbert also refuses to look at things from other people's perspectives and is guilty of many of the same faults that those who would mock him are. Depending on how often he participates in debates he may very well commit all of the fallacies I am listing here, including--especially--my next point:

4. Education--or lack thereof

Education itself is a topic often debated, but here essentially I am referring to being educated about a specific topic one is discussing. On the whole, there are only a few--relatively speaking--of NationStates members who are actually experts in a field such as science, economics, law, or anything else regularly debated here. Most of the time, people will simply think they know a lot when they actually know very little--this is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect--and will presume to make judgments or dismiss things based on their lack of knowledge.

Take the recent case of the lawsuit against McDonald's leveled by a person who is--supposedly--deathly allergic to cheese. Many people in the thread argued about the lawsuit being entirely frivolous or stating that he should have checked for cheese. Many also tried to argue that there was no breach of contract and thus there is no basis for the lawsuit, or that the employees were entirely without fault. Most even argued that because other reasons were brought up--such as the "harm that might have come to his family members" from taking him to the hospital--the entire lawsuit ought to be dismissed. There were even those that tried to argue it would be like a criminal trial and that a jury would "toss him out on his ass" or what have you.

Simple fact is, none of this has to do with how law actually works, as a pair of lawyers in the thread tried to explain to people. For example, other reasons were brought up because all reasons and possibilities for leveling a lawsuit MUST be brought up at the beginning--even if most of the reasons would be dismissed in court, as they usually are--because to do otherwise would risk a malpractice suit later if other reasons were discovered. There are many other fallacies that lie within the above but I won't go on about them, as my point here is that the people who were arguing them were uninformed as to anything to do with law and as such were arguing without any base in real knowledge.

This is done so often by so many people on just about every topic you can think of that it almost hurts each time I see it. People who try to argue against global warming, for instance, might bring up the fact that water vapour is far more prevalent in the atmosphere and thus disproves the idea that carbon dioxide--something far less prevalent--is responsible. They will then take this and try to draw a conclusion that essentially ignores global warming entirely and state that nothing should be done. This brings me to my next point:

5. Misuse of words and fallacies can make an entire topic based on those alone, and as such I won't address most of them here. (If you'd like, a list is available here.) Suffice it to say, however, that fallacies of all sorts are routinely employed in arguments here...strawmen, red herrings, circular logic, presumption of oneself being the world ("I hate/like X so EVERYONE hates/likes X!") and so on and so's a mess, basically.

Thing is, people will often try to use fallacies against others and even claim fallacies when there are none. For example--though this is something I very rarely see here, thankfully--I have read debates where people declare whole segments of a person's argument as a strawman or a red herring and then ignore absolutely anything that has to do with that segment of a person's argument. Essentially they use the fallacies as cover for either an inability to argue against the points or because they believe so strongly they are correct that they don't even bother to address them because they "know" the other person is wrong. (And if that is the case, why argue at all?)

On that same token, by all means people should point out fallacies when they actually occur, but if one is to do that, one must also show and explain how it is a fallacy. Even if it is obvious, one should still do so or else they may be looked at as someone just ignoring the opposing argument.

Along with the misuse of fallacies comes also the misuse of words. I know this will probably incite groans, but one of the most often misused words is the word "theory." In common use, it means the same as the scientific definition for "hypothesis" and is used the same way. This leads to a serious problem when it comes to educating people on scientific theories...they will use arguments like "It's just a theory!" when for science a theory is NOT just a theory, but as close as science ever comes to declaring something a fact.

Other words are often misused or misapplied, such as the term eugenics, or partial-birth abortion, usually on purpose for the benefit of the person's argument, which leads to the next point:

6. Hypocrisy and outright lying

People will often criticize others for committing a fallacy or perhaps doing something else on this list, and then turn around and do the exact same thing. Oftentimes this is unintentional, but it happens quite often and people need to work to catch themselves to avoid it, as it severely weakens their argument.

Lying, too, will often occur, usually in conjunction with the aforementioned education or lack thereof point. They will claim knowledge of a particular occupation or field and then make broad sweeping arguments based not on fact, but on their opinions, and will continue to claim these as fact even if those who are actually experts in the specific topic at hand show that they are not.

Lying about other subjects can also lead to strife. For example, let's say there is a small group of five people who like to share an account on NationStates General. They also like to create new accounts every so often and then refuse to admit they were posting under the previous account despite ample evidence to show that they were. This lying results in a large amount of strife and can lead to flame wars and derailing of otherwise solid threads. Like with most lying, it causes nothing but disaster.

Hypocrisy is often committed the same way as well, especially when people claim to be a certain thing--such as, say, compassionate--then turn around and show that they are not, leading to my next point:

7. Dismissal of groups as two-dimensional abstracts rather than full human beings.

This is something everyone does and everyone will continue to do because it's something that is linked to the limitations of the human brain itself. The human brain can only perceive so many people as fully human...past that, it sees others as abstract projections. People will often dismiss whole groups of people or try to pin all of a group as a specific abstract.

For example, to continue with the compassionate claim, let's take how people tend to react against soldiers, sailors, and other members of military forces.
Despite claiming to be compassionate, they will dismiss these people as, for example, "trained killers" and judge them as non-human even though they are. In the United States military, for instance, most of the younger soldiers joined not because they wanted to kill people or anything like that, but because they were fed propaganda about how the military is purely a entity of goodwill or how they can simply help themselves and the community.

In many cases they might not have other choices because they cannot afford to do anything else. What's more, they have huge, HUGE amounts of stress upon their person. Imagine, for example, a nineteen year old soldier station in Iraq. Due to the invasion of Iraq by the United States, most Iraqis tend to despise Americans. That soldier is looking at all of the Iraqis around him and thinking that any one of them might kill him if given the chance. While this might normally be considered paranoia, in the case of Iraq it is not an unfounded belief. That can cause constant fear to build up on the soldier, and he might eventually snap in some way, such as mistaking something an Iraqi is carrying for a firearm and shooting to kill just to save himself.

It's another problem with perspective, as well, since people will associate others with groups and never try to imagine what it is like to be in that group. Obviously I am not trying to say here that all soldiers are impoverished, scared nineteen year olds, or that all compassionate people hate the military, or anything here. I am simply pointing out that people need to stop associating all of a specific group with one specific abstract ideal.

In conclusion, I will end this by pointing out that I am just as guilty of all of these as any one of us, and that I am writing this not to whine or to lecture, but simply to inform and encourage critical thinking, and to improve discussions here. Hopefully by recognizing when one is committing these mistakes, one can correct their arguments and make this place a much better one.

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Founded: Feb 22, 2006

Re: Perspective, Understanding, And Other Problems

Postby Chumblywumbly » Wed May 27, 2009 7:05 am

Shut it, hippy.
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Re: Perspective, Understanding, And Other Problems

Postby Rejistania » Wed May 27, 2009 7:29 am

These are good points.
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Re: Perspective, Understanding, And Other Problems

Postby Intangelon » Wed May 27, 2009 7:53 am

Beautifully put, Ky.
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Postby Albaron » Thu Sep 24, 2009 12:20 pm

Well put.
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