e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,
e_moon60
e_moon60

  • Mood:

What is "healthy discourse?"

I shouldn't have to explain this, but apparently some people don't get it.   So I will.    Healthy discourse is fact-based, logical discussion of an issue without use of any abusive language and without dependence on informal or formal fallacies.   Discourse that relies on anything but facts and logic, that includes verbal abuse, is not healthy discourse.  (Note: a lot of conversation is not discourse and doesn't need to be--and thus is not bound by the rules of discourse, though avoiding abuse is still important.  "Please pass the salt" and "I love you" are not part of discourse but are preferable to "Gimme salt" and "Don't bother me.")
 Example 1.

Joe says "I think we need to widen Oak Street.  There've been two head-on accidents there in the last six months."  

Bill says, "I disagree.   Oak Street would be plenty wide if they'd ban curbside parking--it's plenty wide when there aren't cars parked along both sides."

Example 2.

Joe says,  "I think we need to widen Oak Street.  There've been two head-on accidents there in the last six months."

Bill says, "That's ridiculous.  It'll cost money--my taxes are high enough already.  Whatever happened to personal responsibility in this country?  Drivers should be more careful. It's their fault if they run into each other."

Can you identify which is "healthy discourse?"   

Healthy discourse is based on facts--verifiable facts.   Issues are discussed with those facts in mind--not opinions alone.   The logic connecting those facts is sound.   Facts contrary to the position of one person must still be dealt with--logically, calmly--if they can be shown to be facts and not factoids. 

What count as facts:  1) personal experience honestly related is a fact, though it is only one example.  That it's anecdotal does not rule it out as a fact, but limits its force.  2)  compilations of facts in reasonably sound source material (primary sources preferred, secondary sources of good repute.) 
            1)   Jane is bitten by a loose dog.  Jane reports in an online forum where there's a discussion of whether dogs should ever be allowed to run loose,  "I was bitten by a loose dog" and accurately describes her injuries and the cost of treatment.  That's personal experience, and unless Jane lies, should be taken as a data point.
           2)   A city records the number of dog bites from loose dogs that were reported to the police.  Roger cites this report: "X city reports that 37 dog bites from loose dogs were reported to police in one year--that's Y% of the total dog bites reported."  
           1)  Andy counters that his dog, which has been loose regularly for the past four years, has never bitten anyone, and no dog that he knows, owned by any friends or family, has ever bitten anyone.  Personal experience, a small-multiple data point since Andy admits that amounts to five dogs.
           2)  Laura cites a national report on dog bites and the medical costs incurred by the victims.  Large data set, but does not break out "loose" dogs.
           1)  Bill, who is an animal control officer in a small town, comments that dog owners whose dogs have bitten someone always insist the dog is not a biter and is really friendly.  When asked, he says he's been called to "somewhere over fifty" dog bite incidents in his career of over ten years.   He argues that no one can predict for sure that their dog won't bite--one of the dogs he was called to evaluate bit him right after the owner said it was sweet and never bit without provocation, and he hadn't touched it yet. 

All these are, at one or another level, facts to be dealt with.  Those who want to let their dogs run loose will, in healthy discourse, respect the experience of those who have been bitten; those who think dogs should never run loose will, in healthy discourse, respect the experience of dog owners whose dogs have not caused a problem.  (BTW, whether dogs should be allowed off-leash in a particular public park in a nearby city is a current hot issue there.)  Each side will listen to the other, and include in their response the facts the other has put forth, even if they do not agree.  And so far, the statements reported above conform to the standards of reasonable and healthy discourse. 
          
What does not count as facts:  1) opinions,  2) theories,  3) hypotheses, 4) traditions,

On the same discussion board:
 
                1) Jim says dogs only bite if someone hurts them.  Jim offers no citation of verifiable fact, no source for his opinion.
               2)  Olive says loose dogs bite because they're finally free of constraint and are afraid to be caught.  When questions, she says "Well, it's a theory."
               3)   Dora says maybe loose dogs would be less likely to bite if people in the park didn't have food with them.   Dora can offer no evidence that people carrying food are more likely to be bitten than those who don't.
               4) Alex says  there's never been a leash ordinance where he lives and therefore no  one should impose one now.   He's against all new rules.
                4) Paula says there's been a leash law in her town since 1934 and every other town should have one too, because that's how it's always been done.
               1) Paul says it's cruel to dogs to keep them penned up.   He can offer no facts in support of his opinion, but says "Dogs were meant to run free."
               1) Allie says it's cruel to dogs to let them run loose.  She can offer no facts in support of her opinion.

None of these are facts, and the discourse at this point has leapt off the rails of "healthy" and into speculation and mere opinion.   The next step is verbal abuse (heaped on to cover up the lack of facts and/or the logical fallacies.) 

We hear and see so much bad logic that--if you haven't  had a course in it--it's easy to be fooled.  "Vote for X--a true family man who cares about you..."   Even if true, does being "a true family man" mean that X is knowledgeable about (for instance) global trade issues, which X (as a US Congressman or Senator) might need to know?   Well...no.   But we continue to see politicians posing with their dressed up spouses and pretty children instead of with a book or other indication that they have a brain and something useful in it.   Advertising and campaign literature (not to mention letters to the editor in most newspapers) are hotbeds of logical fallacy.  Appeals to authority ("well, the Bible/president/mayor, surgeon-general says..."), the temporal fallacy (something is good or bad because it's old or new),  ad hominem appeals (something it true or false because of who said it)...a whole raft of informal fallacies run over us every day, not to mention the formal ones (the undistributed middle, for instance...)  

From this lack of logical training or logical environment, we get ridiculous exaggerations and complete misstatements.   "How can you be a Christian and not support X?"   "How can you claim to love babies and support reproductive freedom?"   "How can you be a loyal American and vote for Y?"   Leading the person who says things like this through their logical missteps never makes them happy.    But some of them can learn, can be dragged through the steps (as I was, as everyone who studies logic is)  of formal logic and clear thinking.  Some of course refuse.   You can't do anything with those but refuse to engage with them....they will waste your time, drag you down to their level as you feel more and more frustrated. 

So to engage in healthy discourse with someone you disagree with, you need to gather the facts that support your position (the best sources you can find, the most current data)  and present your facts--and listen to theirs--and with due regard for each other's facts, try to come to at least an understanding of one another's position, if you can't find middle ground on which to agree. 
If there is no basis for agreement, there may still be a basis for mutual respect--having each demonstrated to the other that you've done your homework, that there are facts on your side (even if the other guy thinks the facts on his side weigh more.)   

You must understand that how strongly you feel has zero effect on the facts.  You may feel very strongly indeed--you may be passionate about something--but that doesn't mean the other guy's facts don't count and you can ignore them.   It is not healthy (in discourse or for that matter psychology) to deny reality.   It is your responsibility--everyone's--to dig up facts and work with facts until they are more comfortable than opinions.  It is your responsibility--everyone's--to pick up the tools of clear thinking and learn to use them.   You may feel that your opinion should have the force of fact--that your appeal to tradition, to authority, should get the job done--but in healthy discourse there is no substitute for facts and sound logic.  Unless you can think--think outside the box of your opinions, your habitual reliance on slipshod logic, you cannot engage in healthy discourse.  

Disclaimer:  I don't do it perfectly myself.  I know that.   I learned the false logic first, and the sound logic later--and like most people, found the false logic seductive when I wanted something.   I spend considerable time hacking my way through the briars  almost every day.  But it's worth trying.  It's worth fighting out of the brambles of false logic every time you can, and trying to understand what, besides raw emotion, the opposition might have to say.   (The opposition needs to cooperate by following the same rules of discourse...)










Tags: rhetoric
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 28 comments