Thursday, 17 September 2009

Lay down your weapons

Now I like a good debate as much as the next person, actually I probably like it more. Sometimes though I just don't wanna. Sometimes it's not appropriate. Sometimes there's no point. Sometimes there's a power imbalance that could mean having it out is a bad thing for one or both parties.

So lately I've been struggling a bit with picking my fights. Particularly when I don't want to have a scrap about whether Tony Veitch is innocent (I believe not), Clint Rickards et all were also innocent (ditto), or everyone on a benefit is a druggie loser criminal (ditto ditto ditto).

I've been finding this particularly tough lately, and I've taken to largely just saying "look I disagree, and I'm going to leave it at that." The trouble comes, for me, when the other person doesn't respect that, and instead starts making inflammatory statements that would in the past have probably riled me into having the fight anyway, against my better judgement. Now though I'm just too tired, so I have been saying "I still strongly disagree" and changing the subject or leaving the room. Still it rankles.

Is it just me or is it a lack of respect shown by someone who wants to have an argument when you don't persisting despite your attempts at peaceful, succint, disagreement? Especially when you are in a position where they have significantly more power than you, and neither of you are going to change your minds, so that way lies danger.

I heard a song on the radio a month or so back with lyrics along the lines of "If you have a racist* friend then it's time for that friendship to end" and it then goes on to say it doesn't matter if they are your father, your lover, your sister, your workmate, etc, you should cut ties. I don't know how practical that is. How does it change anyone's mind to isolate them from alternative viewpoints and experiences? Perhaps I'm just being overly defensive because my dear departed Dad and I disagreed about a lot in the area of race, gender, politics, and all sorts of things. But we still loved each other very much, and he was a great father.

What do you think, dear readers? Do we excise from our lives people who disagree with us on matters we care passionately about? Do we debate with them at every opportunity, possibly to our detriment?

I just don't know.

* When I was listening to the song I was thinking about the sort of grab-bag of negative -isms, like racism, sexism, homophobia (although technically not an -ism) etc.


katy said...

I think this is a tricky one because (as you say) sometimes you can't be bothered having the discussion/argument and that is fine. However, I am happy to disagree but I enjoy the chance to hear different views and to debate these without the intention of persuading (or being persuaded). I guess it is different if I think the person I am talking to is stupid but in general people are well-meaning and I like being around people with different views, and also I know that my views have changed over time. Whenever I go to Wellington I think, "oooh, this is so comfy", because everyone seems to be an intelligent lefty but I think that gets boring quite fast :)

Moz said...

I generally agree, being fond of a bit of recreational argument myself and aware (most of the time) of the need to let people not argue. Especially with the type of fixed-view "win by being more emphatic" type arguments. Those I just walk away from if I don't have the energy, and I suppose fortunately I don't often find myself forced to endure them from others.

But if it's not purely recreational it can be tricky - I met a guy over the weekend who was keen to get arrested at the protest we were going to just to boost his activist credibility. He didn't want to hear counterpoints, but he really was just there to make the situation worse. So I argued with him (there's bonus amusement points for going right back to "well, from a utilitarian point of view it is better to die of starvation in your first year than never be born at all" with someone ostensibly protesting about climate change). He did seem to reconsider some stuff, but the basic motivation didn't shift (and was correct - getting arrested does improve his credibility with the activists he wants support from).

But cutting people off, not so much. Aside from the technical problem of cutting your boss out of your life, just being around people is often enough to change how they view things. I'm keen on intentional communities, for instance, but one problem is that they can become quite insular, when one purpose (for many of them) is outreach.

Also, degree and importance. I can't cope with evangelistic browns, or christians for that matter, so after a while I dump them. But someone who really, really thinks that Linux is the be-all and end-all of operating systems... I don't care enough to do more than say STFU every now and then.

A Nonny Moose said...

I've just been through such a situation where I've had to cut off a long time friend, because of a breakdown in communication about ideology.

As every friendship, relationship and acquaintence is different, you'll understand that every problem like this has it's unique circumstances (which I won't go into for privacy reasons).

I am a contentious person, sure I admit, but on the verbal battlefield I expect the same courtesy that I extend to others - attack the ideology, not the person.

This (ex) friend stepped over the line - they verbally attacked and threatened me after I called them out (polighty) for continuous undermining of everything I said.

I do not insulate myself in my ideology (one of this person's accusations), but there is a point where one must extricate oneself from a situation or person to preserve peace of mind.

spikybombshell said...

Sometimes people say stupid things because of popular discourse or ideas they have been trained to believe in society. Unveil the truth to them... honestly keep fighting and keep arguing at least you are demystified from the popular dribble politicians and the media are trying to make us believe.

I have been doing a Critical Discourse Analysis of newspaper articles based around unemployment.You firstly look at the macro ideas in society (in my case the ideas around unemployment) then you explore the micro ways discourse like newspapers help enforce these popular stigmas.

I was on Work and Incomes website today and I was actually disgusted at how low the unemployment benefit in New Zealand is ($158 a week!!). I do not know how unemployed people actually survive in somewhere like Wellington where our rents per person are very high (my share is 145 a week).

I think not to dump off your friends for being uninformed, instead inform them and expand their thinking.

Keep arguing :)

The Paradoxical Cat said...

I've had some similar experiences, where I am accustomed to trying out a particular argument, in a relatively safe sparring session, with someone who agrees to disagree.

One danger is if you're passionate enough they start to find it entertaining and become addicted, and bait you, just for the entertainment.

Maybe the fun has been taken out of it for me now, because we have a Wicked Step-Father State, and so many bad things are happening every day.

It's not just theory any more, it's the destruction of a social fabric, and I currently have a very low tolerance of anyone right wing, no matter how "close" they were once.

A Nonny Moose said...

"I think not to dump off your friends for being uninformed, instead inform them and expand their thinking. "

Apart from when they physically threaten you :)

I tried, I really did. I have some great friends who are very willing to take part in intellectual debate. I'd just rather not be bullied and threatened by the ones who have no grasp on the concept of intellectual dissent.

AWicken said...

I have diverse groups of friends and associates (like most people).

I will not broach some discussions with some of them, because it'll all end in anger. Some friends I won't bring within 500 yards of others, for the same reason.

But to be fair, while I do like to think that if a friendship is on the line I'll back off, if I think the person is a jerk (and is not my boss) I do tend to behave disgracefully quite quickly.

Some people are just after a reaction. I had one guy at work who would bait me quite seriously, but I found the trick was to refuse to engage - the baiting got pretty severe until I said to him that if he kept it up I'd lay a formal complaint. Given that on seperate occasions he'd repeatedly jumped into the realms of racism and anti-semitism just to goad me, even he had the sense to STFU after that. He'd gone so far over the line that I was doing him a favour by not reporting it immediately.

I would have, too, if he'd kept it up. I think he did try a wee bit of pre-emptive commentary to the supervisor, but it really was *way* over the line.

Heh - I think Sun Tzu had a rule that you should wait for the opposing general to get half the army over a river before attacking - too committed to back off. This applies here to a degree ;)