How Do You Define What’s Up (at pussy)Cat’s?

27 10 2009

The latest round of thinking parents playing “What’s in a Name?” as a floating blog-game of religion and politics costumed as each other for Halloween, apparently started with Lynn and JJ and many commenters both places, riffing on Frank Schaeffer’s books and his new MSNBC repudiation of the evangelical radicalism he was weaned on, taught to use as a weapon of mass destruction in mainstream politics and governance, back in mid-century America. He used some very colorful and contentious language to make his case that this was a bad thing then and a worse thing now.

Cat linked that video and the posts, used it as a mirror exercise in fallacious argument with her kids, which interested JJ enough to keep her playing over there instead of here for a couple of days.

Oh,and Monty Python got involved because isn’t it axiomatic that satisfying intercourse between smart people just does revert to Monty Python sooner or later? 😉

And here we are. My last comment at Cat’s is reproduced below as an invitation if you’re so inclined, to take on the Python persona of your choice and join the improv, here or there across artificial boundaries and dubious definitions as you prefer:

Well, let’s define terms immediately upon using them, or far better, stick to dictionary definitions. A good argument needs no redefinitions, right?

Or a good argument is almost entirely redefinitions. Need we first argue to define good argument?

To that point, I’m surprised you missed this Python definition of argument! 🙂

I laughed at that in the 70s because it was really absurd while Bill Buckley was doing Firing Line on PBS for real — breathing life into intellect and intellect into argument and argument into television.

Initially, Cleese simply contradicts everything that Palin says. Palin insists that it is not an argument but merely contradiction and asserts that “argument’s an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gain-saying of anything the other person says.” Cleese asserts that, to have an argument, he must “take up a contrary position.” Palin is frustrated until he realises that Cleese is actually engaging him in a sort of meta-argument about what constitutes an argument.

But it’s not so funny when television and real life become one big intellectually bankrupt contradiction clinic 24-7.

I think of “good argumentation” much like, ahem, other forms of healthy human intercourse. 😉

It is meant as a creative force to uplift, connect and sustain virtues rather than do harm to anyone directly or indirectly through vice and self-indulgence. It is “good” intercourse and fun to share with the right person for the right reasons, when it’s neither deceptive, regressive nor retrogressive, iow more than masturbatory; never when it breeds violence, degradation of people, ideas or the planet, thus no, argument is not good as “mental warfare” except if CLEARLY defined and understood by all as healthy consensual sport, not actual war.

So, not blaming the Pythons but “good argument” is in a sorry state, at least here in the States. In our new American dictionary any “politics” is venal and mostly vice, not good argument. Politics purposely exploiting faith traditions and doing harm in a quest for power, may indeed meet various legal definitions of crime, including conspiracy to defraud.

In my dictionary, through my kaleidoscope.

Maybe our kaleidoscopes are so different now that common English dictionary definitions aren’t common enough to serve us well in argument anymore? — and/or working definitions of even common words are too specialized for clear thought.

And the point of making points well through argumentation was to help illuminate the question from all angles for the thinking audience, to use different facets of it to bounce the light around. Bill Buckley, not Bill O’Reilly. To use our dictionaries and kaleidoscopes for good and not evil. By definition, not to bludgeon each other into numbness, concussion and serial loss of consciousness with deception, sophistry and contradiction.

By that definition maybe there are no good arguments anymore.

I looked up dictionary definitions of “argument” and another element often listed is defining the question. Subsequent comments this morning seem to suggest that here the central question wasn’t actually argument analysis of Frank Schaeffer but more counterpoint or rebuttal to Lynn’s post, sort of FOX and MSNBC slugging it out rather than mutually delighting in the intercourse? Not how I framed my argument nor indeed, how I understood the defining of this question.

Cat’s always a gracious host but I’m prepared to argue that even here and even for smart folks, it’s a dying art to share a good joke across definitions and contentious world views, much less a good argument. I’ve unintentionally spoiled this sketch by taking it seriously but in my book, as good argument that parrot is, by anybody’s definition, DEAD.



11 responses

27 10 2009
C.L. Dyck

I started our little logic clinic with The Argument sketch, actually…back in September, over on our unschooling journal.

Who could resist?? 😀

27 10 2009

I was pretty sure you knew and loved it, just didn’t see it in this argument about argument. 😀

28 10 2009

The plot thickens. Our arguments about argument continue but how can we decide whether it’s “good” argument? On what criteria can we evaluate goodness of argument and the relative importance of each, but more basically than all that, how do you even know what you’ve signed on to argue about and which side of the case you believe in?

Well, how about a clear statement of what it is being argued?! At Cat’s I floundered through a series of comments, believing I agreed with what I took to be her point — logical fallacies cut both ways — and not understanding she had misunderstood and believed I was arguing the opposite side. Badly, of course. 😉

We had each gradually started to simmer with frustration despite our mutual friendliness and general good will, apparently because she thought I was arguing against her position and doing it shoddily. She kept telling me not to say what I WAS saying (except the parts where I agreed with her points) and giving me tips of what I should be arguing and offering instead, and scolding me about what I should NOT SAY, various words used to make various points she thought required specific evidence to establish or just ruled fallacious, off-point and/or out of bounds, for the case she mistakenly assumed I meant to make.

“Resolved: that dog-whistle rhetoric constitutes a fallacious ground for rejecting the truth claims of any worldview position; in this case, that of the Bible.”

When she kindly restated her point as the formal debate resolution above, I could suddenly see cross purposes — or rather, that we were NOT at cross purposes even though we both thought we were.

Quite the comedy of errors. (And it sounds like a much more extensive discussion than it was, probably because there was so much packed into it on so many levels. Or maybe I just think there must have been a lot going on because I was having to work so hard to make any sense of it.)

And also a comedy of manners and social intercourse, how we say it and how nice or bitchy we “feel” to others as we say it. Social lubricant and careful omission of giving or taking any offense. Ask Nance sometime about her excruciating experiences with homeschooling religion/politics debate, how “manners” and being nice and I don’t like your tone, dear, are trotted out in infinite variation yet with wearying predictability, as the ultimate trump card to cut off the discomfort of cognitive dissonance whenever it dares make a bid for attention. Hence no learning, no growth, no building of relationships that fertilize rather than kill them off — hence no “good argument” can flower. And per Nance’s example, neither can good will, at least not perennially.

Manners are not the point in philosophy, logic or science, certainly not in politics! — yet in formal debate and argument as in courts of law, manners are stylized and rigidly enforced by impartial judges and players equally sworn to observe them. Whether you’re being out-argued OR just outnumbered and feeling ill-used never mind the merits of the case on either side, manners will start to FEEL like the point and someone will claim that they are. This is false logic but true and predictable psychology, and I can attest that it feels real plus it has real and predictable consequences –it not only derails the current debate but hardens hearts and minds against future efforts. Enough laps of that race to nowhere and you finally leave the track. (Would it be logical to measure IQ by how many laps it takes?)

None of which is to say human reason does us much “good” if we can’t share it. Dale has been writing about better ways to do this “beyond belief” and Cat writes about “social argumentation” too, the feelings and colors and relationships and group in-jokes including snark etc that mix into our communicating; it’s not all textbook logic with references that make a case, not in court and certainly not in the court of public opinion.

And check this new one out: The Art of Argument, part one from Southern Female Lawyer (cock of the snook to COD – she’s married to a friend of his) says basically the same stuff as Dale (and Cat?) with initially conciliatory but increasingly exhausted tone. Like logic, this perception likely cuts both ways:

I am about to the point where I am DONE being the only one abiding by basic rules of decency and respect. Why should I worry so much about offending people that clearly don’t give a shit about my opinions and don’t even think twice about offending me? I just don’t know how much more I can bite my tongue.

One interesting river running through all this– the southern U.S. really is a different culture! There’s a rigid hierarchy here and I don’t just mean social class. It’s a hierarchy of ideas and expression and it is intellectually stifling, SO much work is required to broach the simplest question or argument for reason and progress, against tradition, tribal ties and social order. The things done to real people in the name of false ideas here, range from careless entitlement and benign paternalism to underclass resentments to fringe brutishness and criminality to monstrous spittle-spewing rage, but challenge to it from within is suppressed with prayer words and scolding about manners and the virtue of submitting to your elders and betters. Those southern manners count much more than logic and reason; I might argue that down here, science and reason and intellect and logic aren’t just considered ungodly and unfaithful, but RUDE!

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

So all the lady lawyer says is true, and we all do it her way or we are ostracized. Dale is global but he lives in Georgia, applying logic beyond belief in this same culture and having to talk the way people do here, which means you don’t argue at all. You repress conflict and criticism or you will be repressed. Or have to duel for your fightin’ words. Southern manners are church manners and church manners are basically shut up and bow your head and submit — be a good girl is what counts, not make a good argument. Do for yourself, but not think for yourself.

So Dale speaks to me when he explains about not arguing when what needs resolving most isn’t about logic and proving the case with evidence, but feelings and relationships:

. . . this habit was a great comfort to Delaney, something she had never been without, something she was convinced she needed. When she felt it was threatened, she clung to it. She sucked harder.

. . . Only when you look someone in the eye and say, in essence, “It’s your call,” can most people see their way clear.

I wouldn’t want to do without Myers and Hitchens and Condell. They speak to me. I think they tell the damn truth. They voice my frustration and outrage. I would never want them shut down. But there’s another thing that needs doing as well – an opening of space around people so they can think clearly, sometimes for the first time in their lives, about their beliefs and the consequences of those beliefs.

That doesn’t sound like argument, good or otherwise. Or maybe I just don’t know how to have a good argument with those who can’t fathom what a half-century of living with peculiar southern logic, can finally do to one’s um, humor and manners and tone . . .

But I keep trying to figure out how to open up some space, for each of us so inclined to think clearly about the consequences of our own beliefs — whatever they may be and whatever they might become.

28 10 2009
southern female lawyer

Great post and discussion. One thing that hasn’t been explicitly referenced is the concept of “witnessing” in evangelical religions and its impact on argument and discourse. Based on my personal experience (with evangelical Christians, not as an evangelical Christian) leads me to posit that an unwavering belief that one is correct because one’s opinions are backed by the Bible, plus a mandate to witness and convert, result in less respect for boundaries and less consideration of the other person’s side. And it seems that this thinking overflows from purely “religious” ideas (i.e., abortion) into those that are, at most, quasi-religious (i.e., criminal issues) and into those that are utterly secular.

What has been interesting is how the healthcare reform discussions play out once a reform supporter uses Christian ethics to back an argument in favor of healthcare for all.

28 10 2009

Hey, SoFemLaw, so glad you came by and joined in (though you may regret it, can’t make any promises, sometimes I wish I hadn’t said anything even here at our own blog!)

Something you said made a bell go off about the new Richard Dawkins I’m reading:
“And it seems that this thinking overflows from purely “religious” ideas (i.e., abortion) into those that are, at most, quasi-religious (i.e., criminal issues) and into those that are utterly secular.”

He describes how a rabbit and a tiger e.g. are on the same hairpin of evolutionary change, and you can see it looking back. Or a human and a haddock. Then he describes how children first are able to learn language including the names for categories of creatures as discrete and clearly different concepts — dog, rabbit, tiger, cow, fish, boy, girl — and says to learn it all otherwise would be impossibly complex. Thus all the nuance and established scientific truth of systems theory, the connections and change and variation within the same species (and similarities between different ones) are masked in the mind of a child still learning the basics.

And I thought, that’s the mind of a child the bible talks about. How you have to be carefully taught these stories as received wisdom when you have that literal mind and then your religious community needs to make sure your mind never advances to other ways of thinking and understanding.

And it works. Apparently that child’s eyeview gets locked in for too many people even as they otherwise mature, reinforced like concrete setting up as absolute literal truth so that anything more, anything beyond, anything hard difficult to expand your boundaries with, anything like a liberal education, anything your eyes don’t tell you, must be a trick or a lie.

28 10 2009

What has been interesting is how the healthcare reform discussions play out once a reform supporter uses Christian ethics to back an argument in favor of healthcare for all.

I heard that point made on cable talk, the Ed Show I think — aha, just found it — in conjunction with Randall Terry’s burning instructions for individuals whose politics he opposes, like Nancy Pelosi. (Since clinic doctor murder was a not-good part of this argument over at Cat’s, I say it ties in directly here.)

The logic was: it’s not moral, hardly Christian!, to teach kids that’s what Jesus would want. Then the follow-up was, surely Jesus would prefer those who worship in his name to love and care for “the least of us” such as the 45 million too poor and unfortunate to buy health insurance thus not getting the care they need, til it kills them?

UPDATE video: FOX and Friends Laugh Over Pelosi Being Heckled with Burn in Hell

Colorado Independent coverage, with two videos: Operation Rescue’s Halloween Nacy Pelosi Burn in Hell Contest is dangerous rhetoric

29 10 2009

Can Thinking Parents Save Generation Joshua?

Without Church and School? FROM Church and School? . . .

30 10 2009

Probably the reason I’m particularly tuned into the fallacy of formal logic as the answer to human communication problems is because I once threw myself into it, preached it! — even more thoroughly than Cat and her related logic venues such as The Warfare is Mental. But like communism, human communion and public affairs by formal logic only works on paper. Thus can logic itself disprove logic itself as a way of life? 😉

My latest comment in Dale’s “Can You Hear Me Now?” series about better ways to reach out and connect across our worldview boundaries without fighting each other:

. . .As Dale holistically approaches these problems of group inquiry without offense or obstruction, we can’t fall back on “back it up” and expect to change hearts and minds. The answer isn’t a logic class with moderator umpires calling balls and strikes (even if they do a better job of it than the current MLB clowns, have you been watching the post-season??)

This is the kind of misapprehension that actually hinders collective wisdom rather than create and foster it. In research-supported practice, the as-yet-inexplicable and almost prayer-like power of collective wisdom doesn’t involve the participants talking directly to one another about the question and possible answers, not in [mom2mom’s] or any other way — because that can “taint” the wisdom of each independent person by subconscious influence. The essential unique perspective of all the diverse players is compromised and the whole becomes less valuable, not more so. (I’d link someone else’s opinion about this for you but I read the whole book instead and thought it through myself, as a better alternative. I recommend it.)

Home education parent discussions have struggled for decades to craft guidelines for higher order conversation on religion, politics and parenting issues. We have learned the very hard way that the better alternative in any communications or group education effort problem is changing your own THINKING, not just your talking.

And what needs to change first is our thinking about human communication. A group of us academically-inclined homeschool parents began to explore collective wisdom and then systems theory as a promising answer, with its nodes and hubs and independent network findings — after trying and failing with research and “just the facts, ma’am” preaching logical syllogisms, French debate rules and a half-dozen other communications paradigms.

Better alternatives are elusive but that search is what I hope and believe Dale is doing here, and why I’m in this conversation.

1 11 2009
28 05 2010
Snook Animals We’ve Known and Loved « Cocking A Snook!

[…] What’s Up at PussyCat’s? […]

1 10 2010

Stark example of how not to argue as problem-solving in education:

1) blame individuals with “caveat emptor”
2) blame the public (government) for anything but military
3) absolve business and defend profit
4) do all of the above while personally using big bucks from for-profit business to get enough individual votes to claim the right to represent the people’s interest in the public functions of government

Debate Over For-Profit Colleges Turns Partisan
By Caralee Adams on September 30, 2010 2:46 PM

* Profit margins at the schools ranged from 16 percent to 37 percent, with the majority of revenue coming from the federal government.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that there appeared to be opposition to anything with a profit motive and that proprietary college provide flexible courses at night and online that were responsive to the job
market. . . .

McCain said the chairman of the committee had pointed out the abuses in the system “ad nause[u]m.”

Harkin said he never anticipated the hearings would devolve into partisan politics.

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