I grew up feeling that society had laid traps for me everywhere, such that pursuing any life path was going to be like pogo-sticking through a mine field. My answer: get the clearest, most accurate maps of the minefield (live, society, human nature) that I could, and plan accordingly. “What is true?” was critical, and I made the mistake of thinking that everyone did this.
I still remember the day I realized I was wrong. I was in a conversation with a very politicized gentleman (call him “Fred”) who I greatly respected. Fred made a claim during an argument. I refuted the claim with a solid piece of data, a clear and irrefutable disproof of his position. He rolled with it, and began talking about why this instance was an outlier, using specific information of his own
And I realized: “Huh. He knew he was wrong when he said “X is never Y.” Could have said “X is usually not Y” or “There are only a few exceptions to the rule that X is not Y.” Instead, even though he KNEW that what he was saying was wrong…he made the statement.
I thought back over other conversations and suddenly realized something: this was a pattern. A TACTIC. In other words, he was betting that I didn’t have specific information to refute his assertion.
He was hoping I was ignorant. Withholding information that invalidated his argument.
Remember the statement: “Philosophy is asking `what is true’.” Politics is asking “how can I win.”
He wasn’t interested in truth. He was interested in winning. There’s a real difference, and it is essential to know it: “Am I dealing with a philosopher? Or a politicized individual?” Each has uses, there is no question.
LEARN TO RECOGNIZE THE DIFFERENCE.
Personally, I’m far more interested in the first question “what is true?” So I will actually offer opponents information they don’t currently have, if it helps their position. Give people a chance to re-formulate a clumsy statement (there are few things more time-wasting than refuting a statement and then having someone claim: “well, I didn’t REALLY mean that. I meant THIS…”) I’ve done that, often stating something informally, assuming that the person I’m talking with realizes that I’m speaking informally, and having them attack “people do X” with “not ALL people…”
It’s not unfair of them to do that. It’s just more formal. I can play that game, and enjoy it, find it very valuable. But once you demand formal statements, you can’t then get lazy with your language, folks. Sauce for the goose.
Politics is useful. It is the art of compromise, but also swaying mass opinion to accomplish a goal. Compromise is often “hold your nose and vote” for something because while it has things you don’t believe in, it also accomplishes something you care about. Creating a “big tent” of people voting in the same direction, so that you can reach your goal. The “Devil’s bargain” can often be necessary to do important things.
Swaying mass opinion often means manipulating emotions, simplifying concepts, deleting information, pushing “best case” or even “wishful thinking” scenarios. People call this stuff “lying” and sometimes it is. But the line is fuzzy.
What was I supposed to do? Consider Fred a liar? He hadn’t lied, precisely. Because in informal conversation “No X is Y” is understood to mean “X is rarely Y.” He assumed I didn’t know…so in a sense he was taking advantage in order to win an argument, so he could move on to the next step in the logic chain: “And SINCE no X is Y, THIS is what we must do.”
This is toxic, because you’ve swallowed a poison pill, trusted that he is right, rather than examining “why is X rarely Y?” or even “is it TRUE that X is not Y?” which might hare the conversation into a direction Fred didn’t want. Fred wanted to win.
When you see this: people changing the conversation, setting up Straw Men (changing your statement and then attacking their change), deleting information, broadening the conversation so that it includes data you’d have to have THEIR expertise to check, and so on…you can be pretty sure its time to ask: “are they interested in winning? Or truth?”
I don’t get mad. In fact, what I tend to do is silently thank them. They remind me that there is more than one way of looking at the world.
Note: being a philosopher who knows what is “true” but doesn’t know how to communicate it to affect change can be useless. But being politicized without having a means of sussing out what the truth is dangerous as hell. How do you determine what is true? Because another politicized person said so? How do you know where you are on the reality map? Or know when you are, at base, using a faith-based argument (untestable in the real world, so all you have is postulations or stacks of data, denying that you are weighting that data according to your world view, which is always ultimately emotionalized and faith-based, even if that faith is “my senses can be trusted. The integrity and wisdom of the people gathering and interpreting the data can be trusted” you are in trouble.
Different approaches, which when combined are precious.
This is rocky at times, because each sort of person can be convinced that theirs is the only approach, so I can piss off either side. But when I REMEMBER this I save massive amounts of time. You recognize loaded questions and deliberate side-tracks. Hell, if I had a CLIENT and I asked them a question, and they answered everything BUT that question? Asked me questions that led in another direction?
Bingo. There is something powerful hidden under the original question, if only I’m smart and strong enough to keep focus. Made me a better coach, and a better person. Recognizing your OWN bullshit is more important than recognizing it in others.
Apply this to Lifewriting? Well…in writing, how about crafting an argument or conflict between two people, one political and the other philosophical? All you’d need to do to make that a comedy…or tragedy…is exaggerate their obsession with their individual approach.
And in life? Note where and when in movies and books characters sort out one or the other way. Those who never introspect, and those paralyzed by introspection. And decide, for yourself, how you will error-check and influence.
What is true? What do we do about it?
Different questions with different results and processes. Don’t confuse them.