Monday, January 11, 2016

Arguing with someone who sees the world fundamentally differently than you do

A friend of mine recently posted a link to a great article, "The 'Other Side' Is Not Dumb", which makes a very valid point:
What is emerging is the worst kind of echo chamber, one where those inside are increasingly convinced that everyone shares their world view, that their ranks are growing when they aren’t. It’s like clockwork: an event happens and then your social media circle is shocked when a non-social media peer group public reacts to news in an unexpected way. They then mock the Other Side for being “out of touch” or “dumb.”
My response to my friend was that there are times when the other side is actually, factually wrong, and for those cases, seeking to understand the echo chamber of factual incorrectness is - itself - problematic (unless you are conducting a psychology or anthropology experiment).

But, more broadly, I know that this sort of thing is a problem; I know that it is a fundamentally human problem in how the brain organizes and understands information. As such, I know that I am prone to this sort of echo chamber logic and being on Facebook makes me even more prone to it (especially in terms of US politics and social topics, since I am living outside the US and Facebook is one of my major sources of information about US politics and social topics). For this, I am actually grateful that I have friends (only a few, admittedly) that regularly post topics on which I differ with them. It makes me think honestly, since I know (as well as I can know) that they are not dumb, that they didn't drink the Kool-Aid, and that they aren't just being reactionary.

...but then there are their friends or their family members. You know: people that I don't know, which means that these are people whose intelligence I know next to nothing about, and who I tend to judge quite harshly based on the words they write, the reactions they have, and my interpretations of their meanings.

...and it is (perhaps) worse with those friends of friends or family of friends on Facebook who I do know somewhat through past interpersonal interaction. And I do form a sort of idea of their intelligence, and (often) recognize that they might be very good people, but that (sometimes) they don't actually take time to think beyond the rhetoric they speak in person or online. To them, perhaps strangely, I am the least sympathetic.

One example came with a family member of a friend of mine, who seemingly can never find a good thing to say about the current US president and the former Democratic Speaker of the House. (Well, perhaps they might think that something they posted was flattering, but only in the sense that it was incrementally less anti-administration than normal.) Whenever I point out their inconsistencies in argumentation or factual holes in their argument, it is never met with approval or recognition that their facts were wrong. Indeed, when I point out problems with their logic about their arguments against the government, it often comes to a point in the back-and-forth where they state the following:

"I want to return my country to what made it great. Why do you have so much disdain for this country?"

Hmm.... That always struck me as odd. I mean, who is being more disdainful of the country: the person writing anti-establishment things about the sitting president and (from 2006 to 2010) the sitting Speaker of the House or the person explaining how their arguments just don't hold water?

And I never get a good answer as to when it was in the US's history that they want the country to return. At what point was the US great in a way that is now lost (and presumably was lost ever since that black, Kenyan, nazi, marxist, socialist, muslim, ineffectual dictator was voted into office by an overwhelming majority of fellow citizens back in November 2008)? When I get things like they want to "return the country to what the founders envisioned," I ask them if this means that they want a return to slavery? Well, no, they don't. Maybe just segregation? Well, no; not that, either. What about when women didn't have a vote, couldn't get employment in almost any profession, and when husbands could legally rape their wives? Well, no, they don't want to return to that USA, either. Maybe when we had a nation-wide military draft and we were stuck in a quagmire of a war in Vietnam (which was starting to spiral radically out of control)? *Cough, cough.* No. Maybe they want to return to the Reagan years, when the government illegally sold weapons to a nation that had held several US diplomatic staff hostage, when the government sold weapons to Afghanis who would later become the Taliban, and when the government gave amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants (all things that these commenters tend to hate about current US policy)? Oh, not that, either? Seems that the whole "return my country to what made it great," is merely a nostalgic longing for a yesterday that never existed. Which is rich when you think about it, since their desire for a "return" is actually a desire to change the country into something that it never was before: it isn't conservatism at all, but merely luxuriating in nostalgia.

However, when people ask why I seem to "hate my country" because I criticize it so much, I ask them why not criticizing the faults of a nation is actually a show of love. To me, a lack of criticism indicates that you don't care about how something could be. After all, I don't criticize the efforts of those I care little about. I criticize specifically because I care. Criticism is praise. Criticism means that I expect that you have the capacity to do better. Criticism means that the potential has not been reached. On the other hand, the US doesn't need another flag-waver. Waving flags says nothing about how to make a country great again. Waving flags does nothing but serve to distract from pointing out the problems inherent in the system. Dictatorships have their whole populace out waving flags; it is not a sign of a great country.

My love for the US is embodied in my criticism of it.
My concern for the US is embodied in my criticism of it.

In contrast, I do not criticize North Korea: I condemn it, because I do not expect it do be capable of better. I do not criticize ISIS: I mock it, because I know it is doing what it wants to do.

I also do not criticize Luxembourg: I have little care for it, either way, despite the few people I know who live there and love it.