People’s General Inability to Have a Discussion
I can be articulate on paper, or screen. Here, if I’m lucky. I am often told I speak in an articulate way. (When I'm not flustered.) But here, I can make a point, move from A to B in a sensical way, and so on. I cannot argue, or debate, when talking. (You should hear, I fall over myself. It’s very embarrassing.)
This is partly because people are often at cross purposes when talking. If someone asks me about something that I know more about than they do, because I have done whatever it is (for example), you would expect them to listen to what I say when its about direct experience. I might colour it with my own perception. Well, of course I would. But as a person who had done a thing they hadn’t, you would expect a listen, wouldn’t you? As I would listen to them, I hope. As you listened, you’d be naturally disentangling what you knew of the person’s biases and temperament from the information they were relaying. We all do this all the time. I don’t think we naturally swallow whole whatever we’re told, by whomever.
That’s a simple scenario. When it comes to ideas, things like, say, ‘climate change’; it all gets ridiculous and complicated. The first thing is to establish whether everyone understands the same thing by the phrase. That needs to be made clear before people in a group start talking about it. Of course, it hardly ever is. (We aren't going to talk about climate change by the way. That was just an example of something people get very opinionated about, often knowing very little about.) People just dive in to big issues, unaware that semantics are going to get them very cross any minute. (Semantics are what we agree by a word or phrase; what we agree its meaning is as a group. Hence needing to know what we are talking about when we say 'climate change'.)
Then there’s why people are discussing whatever it is at all. Whether they understand what a discussion is. The Cambridge Online (Essential British English) Dictionary, says:
A discussion is ‘a talk in which people tell each other their ideas or opinions: e.g. they were having a discussion about football’.
So this would be an exchange of views on a subject. An exchange, note. Not a persuasive exercise at all. Each viewpoint gets to state their reasons and be heard. Each viewpoint holder tries to understand the other side’s views. To see if there’s merit to them. People nod and think, and ask clarificatory questions, to aid their understanding.
Then there’s a debate. According to the Cambridge, a debate is:
‘Talk or arguments about a subject: e.g. there has been a lot of public debate about the safety of food’.
This is the start of where we get problems here, or anywhere Western, really. It’s when we state standpoints and reasons for, but with a view to persuading the other side toward our own position, by techniques known as rhetoric. (This is from ancient philosophy. It’s a long standing thing.) I don’t have a problem with rhetorical techniques when used politely and well. People often don’t though. (I read a funny and chatty American article on this that will amuse even people who immediately want to go to sleep on hearing the terms Pathos, Logos and Ethos. It explains, quite nicely, what rhetoric is and how to use it in a very basic way to put forward a view in an argument. A way that goes beyond insult and opinion. There is also a amusing video reference to jell-o. One day I am going to ask An American to explain to me the fascination for jell-o. Its a good word, anyway.)
Now, you instantly have a problem even just amongst two people, if one thinks they are having a discussion, and one thinks they are having a debate. Someone is going to start feeling mocked, or picked on, or simply not heard.
Our whole society is based on an adversarial system when it comes to deciding important things. Lawyers in court cases. Politicians in parliament (in between all those off-putting farmyard sounding sheep noises, there is generally some ‘debate’ going on). I’m not treating you like an idiot with this last paragraph - or this whole post. Course you knew all that. It’s that people don’t think about it.
Whenever I think I am having a discussion, quite often, I am instead being debated with, by someone determined to change my view – not listen, or exchange ideas. The worst part is when you get someone who thinks they are a brilliant debater, though what they are is an argumentative idiot with a basic grasp of a few rhetorical techniques, but often misapplied (see that article I mentioned: some very common misapplications of ‘pathos’ techniques within; especially in InternetLand).
In real life, I tend not to get into discussions, as people mostly seem to be debating or arguing instead. It’s very Annoying. The only people who win at those games, are those who love to argue and can think very quickly on their feet (like Stanley, who is very good at it). Whatever they are actually talking about is often lost in the fight. Which is a shame. I might’ve liked to think on it, learn something. Tsk.