Tag Archives: debate

Debates, arguments, disagreeing and the such

I thought it would be worth posting some thoughts on this for all you more recently arrived blog followers. Here’s how it works.

I don’t expect people to agree with me. It’s lovely when I find someone who shares a perspective, and I really enjoy the further sharing that can come from that, but at the same time I don’t expect it. What makes sense for me, and what works for me may well not work for someone else. If your experience is different, please do say. I love learning, and I learn a lot when people share alternative views. I also know that I can get things totally wrong sometimes, through not knowing, or dodgy assumptions. It is helpful to me when people catch that. Alternative takes on things are always welcome.

I love diversity. I love that we are all different. Dogma is dull!

I know I sometimes wind people up, for all kinds of reasons. I say things that push people’s buttons. Sometimes that’s deliberate, sometimes I do it in all innocence. Usually if I’m writing about someone specific, I will either name them, or contact them privately so they know it’s them. With problems and issues, I try to avoid writing about experiences with individuals, but will look for comparisons across an array of experiences. So if you know me a bit offline, and I post something that in places sounds a bit like you but mostly isn’t… I request that you don’t take offence. It’s not total failure to understand you, or a character assassination, the odds are I was thinking about five other people as well and a thing I read.

If I wind you up and you take it personally and need to vent, come back and talk to me – publically or privately as you prefer. I would rather know. If there is a crossed wire, we can sort it out. If I have messed up, I can do something about it. If you just needed to vent, I’ll survive. I do not in any way censor comments to the blog if they relate to what I’ve posted. I don’t need you to agree with me, and if I don’t know you personally, I don’t need you to like me, but at the same time I would rather deal as smoothly and honourably with you as I can.

I don’t particularly enjoy being trolled, hassled or trashed – having had rounds of those. It really does all come down to manners. I’ve had some fantastic, inspiring disagreements; to argue does not have to be to denigrate. We may bang out the arguments now and then, but it is all about the ideas, not about ‘winning’ or putting the other person down, and I love her for that. Turn up and tell me I’m worthless and useless, and there’s not a lot to debate… and frankly it doesn’t engender the best reactions because I am flawed, and neither saintly nor masochistic enough to actually enjoy that sort of thing. I may respond with sarcasm rather than compassion.

I do sometimes censor comments on those rare occasions when someone is shitty to someone else who posts here. It doesn’t happen very often because for the greater part I seem to get lovely, splendid people with meaningful insight to share, not trolls. Troll me, if you must. Not anyone else. Debate, discuss, exchange – it’s all fab and I get really excited when there are conversations going on in the comments. We had a round recently of someone attacking another poster though, and I didn’t let it through, nor will I.

Just a bit of fun

Warning: I found this one deeply uncomfortable while I was writing it. Even by my usual standards I think this is a challenging post.

One of the repeated defences of NaNoWriMo after my blog post criticising it, has been that it is just a bit of fun. This came in response to me suggesting it has a problematic impact on the book industry and on perceptions of books, far beyond the minority who participate. In turn, this led me to thinking about the logic of defending something as ‘just a bit of fun.’

Now, in cases where something is attacked purely on the basis of worth – comic books would be a case in point, the ‘fun’ defence seems passably valid to me. Comics are fun, they don’t hurt anyone normally, and they can be a tool for improving literacy, especially in boys who are not attracted to books (and we’ve moved beyond fun now). It is often the case that popular culture is criticised on issues of merit and worth, and defends itself with the ‘fun’ line. The worth attack, fun defence is perfectly reasonable not least because ‘worth’ is so subjective in the first place, and the first line of attack for people who resent ‘fun’.

However, ‘just a bit of fun’ also defends the torture porn movies and sexual pornography as well. It is a line for silencing debate about the social and emotional impact of subjecting ourselves to this kind of content. What if it isn’t just harmless fun? What if it’s addictive? What if it changes us in ways we are not even aware of? Shouldn’t we know about that, and shouldn’t we care?

All blood sports have at some point been viewed as ‘just a bit of fun’ by the people who enjoyed them. The badger baiting and cock fighting, the dog fights, fox hunting and so forth. Shooting wildlife you do not mean to eat is no doubt ‘just a bit of fun’ for the people who participate. Less so for the wildlife, at a guess. When historical armies have raped their way through conquered peoples, you can be sure someone was ‘just having fun’. It is the first line of defence for abusers – nothing bad is happening to you, this is just a bit of fun. This is the classic defence of all bullies too – especially at school. Normal rough and tumble play. Just fun. No harm real harm done…

What troubles me about the ‘just a bit of fun’ defence is that it seeks to minimise and dismiss the questions that are being raised. While there is a huge difference between a writing program and physical assault, the line of defence being taken is equally invalid and itself needs challenging. I did not question whether NaNo was fun. I’m sure it is for a lot of people. I also know fox hunting is fun for a lot of people who do it (no, I am not implying any similarity between NaNo and fox hunting).‘Fun’ is not an ethical assessment of a thing. Why should the pleasure we take in something be given priority over its wider impact? ‘Just a bit of fun’ is often a refusal to consider the alternatives.

Of course no one wants to consider that the things they were innocently, thoughtlessly enjoying might be problematic and not that cool. We don’t want to be that wrong, any of us. We don’t want to have to feel guilty about things we like, or change our behaviour because of the ethical impact. So we keep buying the fun shoes made by slave labour and the chocolate harvested by children, and we close our eyes and ears to what’s going on. Pagans with our dubiously sourced crystals, taking pilgrimage by aeroplane to international sacred sites. We are all guilty of this, to some degree. I know I could do more to avoid wilful ignorance. Do we choose to keep shutting our eyes and putting our fingers in our ears “la la la, can’t hear you, it’s just a bit of fun, it’s all fine” or are we willing to look the problems in the face when someone brings them to our attention?

And on the flip side, if you want to defend anything, ‘just a bit of fun’ is a really flimsy approach. Not least because the people for whom it isn’t fun probably couldn’t care less how you feel about it. If you love something, argue for it with more considered replies, with more reasoning and better justifications. Many people did defend NaNo on those better terms with talk of community and literacy programs – a powerful counter to my critique, and a valuable addition to the wider discussion. Thank you, those of you who dropped in to do that. That is an important counter argument, well worth sharing, and a definite consideration when thinking about the wider impact of NaNo.

If it’s truly just a bit of fun, why on earth are we willing to ignore the possibility we are hurting someone or something else?

(And feel free to place bets over how many people misread this and go on to get angry with me for comparing NaNoWriMo to rape, because if this week is anything to go by, someone will. Not something one of you lovely regulars would do, I feel confident. You all seem sane and tend to reply to what I’ve written, not what you’ve inferred after reading every third word… )

Druid community

There are a lot of places online where Druids gather to talk, and there is a lot of diversity in Druidry. One of the things that depresses the hell out of me, is when debate generates into angry shouting. It does this rather a lot. As there are a number of different, well established approach to Druidry (as well as all the individual stuff) this more-druidy-than-thou attitude doesn’t seem that well founded. Even in conversations about how Druids are supposed to be peacemakers, we get it wrong. It makes me sad.

However, I’ve seen this week a Druid group over on google, where on the whole some quite strenuous discussion has happened without descending into the other stuff. This inspires me. It is important to be able to debate the hard topics, to be able to hear ideas that do not fit with our own. I think it is healthy and important to be challenged, to be required to explain your thinking, show your evidence and deal with people you don’t agree with.

It’s pretty easy to be a peaceful Druid when there’s no conflict available. That isn’t actual peace, it’s just a convenient setup. Real peace is being able to handle conflict without it getting nasty or destructive. This is where we really test ourselves, really find out if we can walk our talk. It doesn’t mean we have to agree, or like each other, or persuade everyone to think the same. It really comes down to respect, and being able to acknowledge that my truth may look different to your truth, and that we can live with this.

I get excited by challenges to my thinking and people who know stuff that I don’t. It’s part of my on-going love affair with being a student. I want to understand. That means encountering stuff that initially makes no sense to me, and rather than rejecting it, trying to engage with it. I get a real buzz out of those. So yes, I have tried to figure out why so many Druids don’t seem to get all excited when they run into someone with a different perspective. I think there are two factors. One is that we are not, as a community, taking manners seriously enough as an issue. It’s all well and good being passionate and plainly spoken, but that can be done without actually being rude to people, I think. Encountering rudeness is a big turn off when it comes to tackling alternative perspectives. The other part is more a protective/fear issue. The more you have invested in your beliefs, the more uncomfortable it may be to have them argued with.

We live in a context full of religions and politicians all claiming a monopoly on truth. Anyone who isn’t strident can seem wishy-washy, undecided, not properly dedicated to their cause. And yet, step back a moment and it should be obvious that mostly none of us have any hope of truth monopoly. The bigger the truth, the harder it will be to grasp. Is my truth really at odds with your truth? Are we in fact groping the same elephant without realising it? (I love that story). I want to know what the elephant looks like. So if I can attach your bit to my bit, I will probably still be way off the mark, but now instead of a big flappy thing, I’ve got a flappy thing attached to a ropey thing. It’s still wrong, but it is a bit less wrong, and I’ll keep looking, keep wondering.

In the meantime, if I find I’ve irritated someone online where I didn’t mean to, I don’t get cross with them, I say sorry. I find it remarkably effective. If I’m not sure I understand what they mean, I don’t get cross, I ask what they mean. If someone misreads aggression into my words, I don’t get cross with them, I apologise for not having been clear enough, assure them that I’m not hostile, and try again. Why? Because just arguing with people is dull and pointless, and I’m not interested in scoring points or proving I am more right. Actually, being less right is more interesting, it means I get to learn something.

Where people are polite, show respect, actually listen, the conversations are amazing. We really could do more of this.