Talking Past Each Other

Related Post Roulette

86 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Stereotyping is a lazy and also understandable thing people do. Most people aren’t very good at listening to others nor do they really care to get better at it (ex. many relationships). The level of conflict we seem to have now is more a symptom of how often we can talk to people with so many differing views nowadays. People would have done the same things decades ago if they are stuck talking to all you maniacs.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to greginak says:

      It’s useful as a filter. As I said in another thread, having learned what the KKK is up to (or the Redpill folks) and what they believe, I have decided I really don’t have any interest in listening to them. It’s a waste of my time. We’re not going to even remotely agree, and I find them quite repulsive if not outright crazy.

      So even about non-race or non-gender stuff, I have no interest in them or their opinions. If they sprout lingo that makes me want to put them in either box, I will do so and cheerfully ignore them going forward.

      Because to be honest, it’s likely that if they HAVE a good point — someone else I find less horrifying will also make that point. Certainly if it’s a good one, it will filter out of the crazy cesspool into more mundane conversations and I will notice it then.

      The internet is FULL of people who I disagree with, whose opinions are quite different than mine. (Many people here, for instance). I see no reason to wade into what I consider sewers to find opposing or contrasting views when I can go to forums with people who aren’t, you know, in the KKK.

      Stereotyping is a mental filter. It can be a good filter or a bad filter, depending on how it’s used. I happen to think “Filter out the KKK and Redpill idiots” as a good use of my filter. And in the end, you HAVE to filter. There’s way, way, WAY too many people and WAY too many opinions to keep track of. You have to filter that down to a manageable number somehow.Report

      • greginak in reply to Morat20 says:

        Oh i agree Morat. Yesterday i saw a brief exchange on facebook. One liberal hippy friend wrote a simple post saying that while she disagrees with many people she loves all her friends and wants to stay on good terms. Most people, even those who disagreed amened. One chimed in with something like ” nice thought. it’s a shame liebrul liars can’t handle the truth about all those blood sucking useless types.” I really don’t have a problem if people don’t want to deal with derogatory and insulting comments. Why bother if it is problem for you. Filtering out thing that are deeply offensive or hurtful are fine.

        The problem comes in finding some way to talk with people who disagree with you or at least finding people who disagree with you who you can have a conversation with. The filter should select for intelligence and skill at communication and select out for insults and shallowness.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to greginak says:

          greginak: nice thought. it’s a shame liebrul liars can’t handle the truth about all those blood sucking useless types.

          It is nice when the crazy advertises itself so clearly that the mental spam filter can just slide right over it.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Morat20 says:

        I agree with Morat. For instance, this morning I ran across the fact that Andy McCarthy is calling for Obama’s impeachment again, this time because of the Iran deal. I did not for a second consider seeing whether he actually has a point or not, because he’s shown himself to be a complete lunatic on the subject of Obama over and over and over.

        In principle this is the ad hominem fallacy, since I’m judging an argument by who’s making it. But as Morat points out, if there’s a valid argument to be made, someone will make it who’s not batshit. And it’s not as if I have time to read everything, so some filtering is required.Report

  2. LWA says:

    I wonder though, if there isn’t a benefit to strawmanning.

    It can sometimes help us see where our positions would be, if carried to absurd ends.

    For example, consider the liberal who meekly accepts Islamic Sharia Law, while crushing Christian conservatism.

    Its not enough to say “We’re not like that!”
    How are we not like that, and is there truth to the more nuanced claim that we are vigilant to Christian oppression while overweening in our refusal to see Muslim oppression?

    Its probably unrealistic to imagine a world in which everyone can agree completely, but most political battles are won and lost with that narrow band of people in the middle who can be compromised with and persuaded. Strawman arguments can sometimes help move the discussion to a compromise.Report

    • greginak in reply to LWA says:

      That really isn’t strawmanning though. Taking a belief to one of its logical ends can be a useful process but that is different from assuming a person is nothing but the worst, most uncharitable, dumbest version of their beliefs.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to LWA says:

      That seems less strawmanning & more letting yourself down the slippery slope.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to LWA says:

      Are there actual liberals who are just hunky dory with Muslim oppression? Perhaps, on the theory that no idea is so damnfool that no one espouses it. But it certainly isn’t a widespread position among American liberals. They don’t look at someone being beheaded in Saudi Arabia and talk about different cultural norms.

      The hysteria over sharia in America is actually about limiting the rights of parties to agree on contractual terms. The right, which is generally very enthusiastic about complete freedom to enter into contracts, pitches a fit at the idea that a contract can incorporate sharia into its terms. The concern seems to be that if we allow this, this will inevitably lead to our women being put in burkhas. The chain of reasoning leading to this conclusion is not entirely clear.Report

      • I think that the fact that you’re using the word “oppression” to discuss another culture is quite telling. Especially since you’re complaining about another country having the death penalty.Report

      • j r in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Are there actual liberals who are just hunky dory with Muslim oppression?

        That is a complicated question. The best answer is probably: in theory, no; in practice, sometimes.

        There is a tendency on the left to sometimes look at minority groups as a bloc and to do things for the supposed benefit of the whole group, especially as part of the political horse trading that accompanies coalition politics. Of course, the things that supposedly benefit the whole group are often just the preferences of the most powerful members of that group. This is part of small-d democratic politics, whether you’re dealing with Tamany Hall or Hasidic communities in New York or some Muslim communities in European countries.

        The threat of sharia law in the United States is largely a contrived scare tactic, but there are real challenges to multiculturalism and pluralism that belie the tension in respecting the cultural norms of minority communities, while also protecting individuals within those communities.Report

  3. Stillwater says:

    Is partisan rage just another part of the anger of rejection?

    Where do you come up with this stuff? It literally blows my mind. (Now I’ve got mind chunks to find and reassemble.)

    I don’t really understand the extreme importance conservatives and libertarians place in first principles either, it seems too rigid. But I’m a liberal, I would think that, wouldn’t I?

    Well, if you don’t understand why they place importance on first principles and principles generally, you’re gonna be limited to only talking past them and never with them, seems to me. Learning what the “other side” is saying is a lot of work, and requires you to view their beliefs and arguments as being rationally defensible. Lots of folks – ideologues! – find it easier to just dismiss those “other” views by circularly appealing to their own explanatory framework. Eg, your dismissal of partisan rage as a response to rejection. (Which strikes me as one of the most absurd things I’ve ever read, actually.)Report

    • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

      Yeah first principles as a concept can be dismissed but only for the right reasons. ( only partially joking)Report

      • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

        I’m not sure I get the joking part, greg. I agree with the non-joking part. I mean, if we’re talking about ideologies that are based on a handful of principles from which policy and normativity are entailed, a rebuttal kindasorta has to be focused on the right target, or one of only a few targets. Ie, it can only be rejected for the right reasons, otherwise people are talking past each other rather than agreeing to disagree.Report

        • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

          I’d rather you laughed and didn’t get the non-jokey part. Oh well.

          I don’t think we should just blithely ignore peoples earnestly stated deep beliefs. So FP’s, yeah i’ll listen and try to dig their scene. But when people talk about their FP’s they seem to usually already have a specific and limited set of policies in mind that fit the FP. And they won’t take any other way to satisfy that FP nor do they have a mechanism for balancing many different FP’s. One of two FP are easy to satisfy. A basket full, well that is a lot harder.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

            Well, I think it’s pretty clear that people who talk about Principles (capital P!) alot, especially in the political sphere, are basically saying that a political organism unbounded by principled restrictions on the legitimate use of state power is a bad thing. (So far so good, no?) So … they attempt to identify a few principles sufficient to effectively curtail gummint “reach” to only those things that are good (from their pov) while excluding the bad and tolerant of the rest. People disagree about that stuff for a bunch of reasons – like a BUNCH of reasons – but not talking past one another sorta requires understanding where they’re coming from.

            That’s not to say that appealing to a capital P Principle isn’t often used as cover for different motivations. I think that happens all the time. The problem in discourse arises, seems to me, when the capital P person’s argument is prima-facie discounted as being disingenuous. In the ideal world, that claim (disingenuity) is only revealed via dialogue.

            Which, as one last thought, isn’t to say Morat’s view expressed on this and other threads isn’t justified. At some point, people paying attention to what others say have read and discussed the full palette of arguments offered for X and find none of them persuasive and so reject all of em. That strikes me as usually a practical response given time and intellectual energy constraints more than begging the question against your “opponent”, tho. In practice, the type of issue that permits a wholesale rejection of others’ views is pretty rare. SSM is perhaps one example. Are there others? (War mongering in Iran?)Report

            • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:

              There are I think a number of issues where that type of wholesale rejection makes sense, it’s just that it doesn’t have to do with the merits of a particular policy or argument but rather arises from a lack of trust between the two sides. Obvious examples would be abortion and gun control. It’s tough to give any ground if you think that your opponent is going to leverage any concessions that you might be able to accept (or even agree with) into future changes that you wouldn’t.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to InMD says:

                Well, talking past each other is a really great way to destroy any hope of building trust.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to InMD says:


                I hear ya about that and don’t disagree. That strikes me as a different type of situation than I was gettin at above, one based on considerations of practical effect rather than principles. I used the SSM example specifically because it seems to me that (some) proponents of SSM take a rigid principled view in that debate based on canvassing the arguments for and against, and arrive at a conclusion that there are no good principled arguments (amongst the myriad presented over the last few decades) for restricting marriage to TradMar. Abortion and gun rights debates, which do fall into a binarization based on wholesale rejection of the “opponents” views, strike me as based on the practical outcome of conceding ground.

                Adding: I guess (or could be persuaded, anyway) that a really robust right to life view, one which includes prohibiting abortion in the case of rape and incest, falls on the principled side as well.Report

              • Guy in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’d bet that such principled views on abortion exist, but the debate has fallen over to such a degree that no one can express an opinion along those lines without being shouted down. The problem with abortion debates (and I think this is an extreme version of the problems with many political debates) is that it has become socially dangerous to have a heterodox opinion on the issue, which makes people reluctant to speak up unless they were already deliberately sorting their social circles based on this opinion. Then, because no one speaks up, no one knows what the orthodox opinion is in a given social circle; it is generally assumed to be the best-fitting opinion projected by the loud sorters mentioned above. So everyone with a non-extreme view assumes their view is heterodox and doesn’t speak up, and the debate is left to those who were willing to shout down and be shouted down, and we get the death-spiral nobody-can-talk-about-this-rationally effect.

                There’s also the problem, for abortion, that on both sides the only acceptable argument to advance is a wholesale denial of the question.Report

        • SaulDegraw in reply to Stillwater says:

          What Greg said. To me first principles is a variant of “conservatism and/or libertarianism can’t fail, they can only be failed.” So it is part of the whole sailing to irrelevance thing.

          Deeply held beliefs are important but the conservatives love to dismiss deeply held beliefs.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to SaulDegraw says:

            See what I just wrote to greg. Additionally, if you view things that way, it seems to me you’re using your own ideological framework to dismissively account for and explain away their motivations and arguments rather than confronting their arguments head on. All that does is reinforce a discourse of talking past each other.

            As an example of what I mean, at this site Brandon Berg is consistently accused of holding all sorts of beliefs that not only don’t follow from anything he’s said, those accusation simultaneously account for why he’s apparently saying the things he hasn’t said. He’s hit with an impenetrable circularity which I’m sure he finds frustrating. (Since, in the situations I’m thinking of, he never said any of the things he’s accused of having said.)Report

          • greginak in reply to SaulDegraw says:

            Saul, i’m obviously skeptical of what a lot of people state as a first principle. Even for people that have FP’s is that they aren’t policy prescriptions or specific instructions. They are general rules. For example some people might say debt is bad and should be avoided and are against almost all gov borrowing. Okay, but that could mean we raise taxes, not that we cut spending. Not having debt still leaves room for differing options. Then that person might say they are also against high gov spending ( which of course doesn’t really describe what is high and what isn’t).

            It is a good exercise to develop first principles. But they say less then people think and still need to be tested in the real practical world for how they work. A nifty FP might not be workable when combined with other FP’s or be difficult to implement. FP’s end up being somewhat of religious argument.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to SaulDegraw says:

            To me first principles is a variant of “conservatism and/or libertarianism can’t fail, they can only be failed.”

            You know that we see you guys the same way, right? E.g., when a government program fails, it’s always because we didn’t spend enough money on it. I’m not saying it’s entirely fair, but no less so than your characterization.Report

          • Guy in reply to SaulDegraw says:

            To me first principles is a variant of “conservatism and/or libertarianism can’t fail, they can only be failed.”

            How does this even make sense? “You have advanced a principled and well reasoned argument rather than shouting and waving your hands, therefore you aren’t allowing your ideology to fail”?

            I think you’re rounding people off to the nearest stereotype and then getting upset when they fail to conform to it. Have you never met someone who held one belief common to a certain group but not another?Report

        • Mo in reply to Stillwater says:

          An issue I frequently find with first principles is that they often steal a base and end up being a statement of preferred policy outcomes. For example, the NAP tells you more about the person who espouses it (by their definition of what aggression is) than as a framework.Report

  4. Creon Critic says:

    To me, it depends on why you’re engaging. In the atmosphere of a campaign, the leading communicators aren’t engaged to have an intellectually honest exploration of the positives and negatives of policy options A, B, and C. The candidates, political operatives, and surrounding communications machine is engaging to Win the Most Important Election in the History of the United States and Human History. The same goes for various fundraising emails to get the base riled up about the opposite sides latest Outrage – which is why we good people here at XYZ Campaign need your $5, $10, $50 dollar contribution.

    For those looking for intellectual honesty, pros, cons and weighing up options, that campaign-oriented discussion will always and forever be profoundly unsatisfactory. There are streams of journalism, public policy analysis, and commentary that aim for the higher end, outside the Outrage maelstrom discussion. I’d argue that this space often aims for that.

    And I disagree that there’s a right-left distinction here at all, plenty of liberals can go John Rawls, Theory of Justice, first principles in a discussion just as easily as the Nozick-minded.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Creon Critic says:

      Agreed about the left-right-up-down stuff. Lots of liberals hold certain principles very closely. For example, on another thread Jaybird linked to a post wondering if having children makes you a bad person. Accepting some sort of basic principle strikes me as being required to even make that an interesting topic of discussion.Report

      • SaulDegraw in reply to Stillwater says:

        I think the number of people who see having children as unethical and/or evil is very small and most would see them as nuttersReport

        • Stillwater in reply to SaulDegraw says:


          Now you’re talking about something else. Like, the political force a group of people can exert on policy. That has nothing to do with talking with, or talking past each other. If you want to have a discussion with those folks that goes beyond calling them “nutters” you need to identify the principle which motivates and justifies the issue of whether or not having kids makes you a bad person.Report

    • nevermoor in reply to Creon Critic says:

      Honestly, I often see arguing on the internet the same way (which no doubt shines through in my comments). If I’m engaged in a dispute with someone worth engaging with, I’m making the best arguments I can think of while trying to respond to/refute the counter-points I’m getting in return.

      On the surface, it may look like two unconvinceable people squabbling (though hopefully not like talking past each other), but the goal is (1) to tease out the best counter argument, which can only happen if I’m making my best points; (2) to convince those reading along, or to learn how to convince those not present; and (only vaguely) (3) to convince the person I’m arguing with. It seems to me like the nature of internet disputes is that (3) is near-structurally impossible, at least in the moment.Report

  5. RTod says:

    Skipping the actual question you asked for the moment Saul (It’s a bit of a busy day), I want to give you kudos on the empathy I see in this post.Report

  6. Brandon Berg says:

    I don’t really care about whether my view points or arguments can fit into Latin phrases and follow rhetorical styles from hundreds of years ago.

    You complain about anti-intellectualism, and then you say stuff like this. Those Latin phrases are names of fallacies. If they can accurately be used to describe your argument, your argument is invalid. Saying you don’t care about this stuff is textbook anti-intellectualism.

    You can’t defend liberal arts by saying it teaches critical thinking and then say you don’t care about the trivium.

    I don’t really understand the extreme importance conservatives and libertarians place in first principles either, it seems too rigid.

    By definition, everything rests on first principles. Even if you decide everything on a case-by-case basis, you need rules for deciding.Report

  7. Francis says:

    oh dear.

    Saul, everyone has first principles. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. Here are a few of mine (common with most people):

    1. I have a responsibility to my employer to do good work and to my wife to help pay the bills.
    2. I like fitting into my circle of friends and sharing their values.
    3. I respect my parents and want to share their values.
    … [somewhere way down the line]
    X. I believe that government is one means by which we solve communal problems and that effective government can be a powerfully beneficial force.
    X+1. One way that government can be a beneficial force is enforcing broad civil rights laws. While most people are mostly good most of the time, federal government and federal judicial oversight over state and local laws is a good idea, especially given this country’s history with race relations.


    Of course you have first principles. How else do you pick sides on a policy dispute?Report

    • Mo in reply to Francis says:

      1) You find out that your employer is using your work to do X (eg. employing child soldiers in the Ivory Coast for “security”, covering up massive poisoning of locals like Bhopal, etc.) , do you still feel responsible to do good work for them? Or in a less extreme example, you find out you can be paid more to do more interesting work with a better work life balance, how does jumping ship fit in with your responsibility to do good work for your employer?
      2) This really isn’t a principle, but something you desire.
      3) You find out your dad is secretly a Grand Dragon in the Klan, do you still respect him and want to share his values?Report

  8. Marchmaine says:

    Saul, have you read Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue? Your post is the major premise of the book.

    Short MacIntyre: “Correct, Samantha and Angela think they are talking about X and Y, but X means something different to both Samantha *and* Angela. Neither of them realize that their premises share the same language but assume completely different metaphysics; they are for all intents and purposes unintelligible to each other.”

    How and why Samantha and Angela came to inhabit mutually incompatible rational frameworks is the rest of the work (and subsequent works).Report

  9. Murali says:


    It seems absurd that you’re not adequately self aware to see the contradiction inherent in the following statement:

    The right-wing or at least parts of it often seems concerned about whether they are arguing from formal tools of rhetoric and logic. The right wing often speaks of first principles and/or the use of various Latin debate terms. Liberals are more concerned about beliefs being based on fairness, justice, and other more vague but warm sounding concepts.

    i.e. fairness etc are you first principles! (Arguably they are everyone’s first principles, different ideologies just cash it out differently)Report

  10. aarondavid says:

    “Samantha: OMG! How can you believe in Y? I just can’t even.”

    Someone needs to learn how to even!Report

  11. CJColucci says:

    Most people I know have principles, and some even act on them or reason from them. Too many of those who talk about Principles are really saying, when all the barnacles are scraped off: “I believe X because X.”Report

  12. Road Scholar says:

    I’m pretty skeptical of the extent to which anyone truly forms political opinions via a rational process from “first principles” vs just rationalizing backwards from where they wanted to get to in the first place. And even if it seems like that’s what you’re doing there’s still the question of why you chose that particular set of moral postulates in the first place.

    I’m truly curious if anyone here can honestly say that they hold a political position that they arrived at through some rational process of deduction despite finding that position instinctively repugnant. I’m pretty sure that the “first” principles are actually the finishing touches on your argument you present to justify your position to other folks.Report