Debates, arguments, evidence

As I watch the current argument (see “I must have hit a nerve” posting from a few days ago) unfold between armyanimaldoc and John Grant, it’s becoming clearer to me that there’s just about no way to resolve the issues between the two.  Here are some of the reasons why–

1.  Both participants are very firmly lodged in their positions.  That’s not a bad thing, in and of itself, but one of the first rules of persuasion is that at least one side has to be persuadable.  Nothing, so far, indicates that either is willing to change his thinking.

2.  The standards for evidence are incommensurate.  Doc served in Iraq and saw who knows what.  Some of it he refers to, not in any detail, and keeps playing his first-hand experience as a trump card.  I’m certainly willing to acknowledge that he knows things we don’t.  But I’m not satisfied simply with being told that, without knowing what any of those things actually are.  If we were operating from a blank slate, that is, if we hadn’t heard before the argument that we didn’t need to see the evidence before we simply accepted claims on good faith, this might be different.  But even the most strident supporter of the mission in Iraq has to understand why opponents are suspicious.  John, on the other hand, has some eye-witness knowledge of conditions on the ground in Iraq (and more broadly as a soldier).  Again, without a more detailed explication of his eye-witness experience, it’s hard to know what he’s seen that Doc hasn’t and vice versa.  However, John also turns to historical evidence (other US imperial ventures) as a context for understanding what we’re doing in Iraq, and Doc doesn’t seem interested (at least for now) in responding to that.  I won’t speculate as to why–I skipped my mindreader pill this morning.

3.  As I started to think aloud about in a comment on the “Nerve” post last night, there’s no way anybody besides the two of them will know who said what to whom on the phone.  And even they don’t seem to know since they can’t even begin to agree on it.  What that suggests to me is that both of them heard what they expected to hear, even if it’s not what the other said.  It’s natural (such as “natural” actually exists) to do this.  Our brains fill in gaps, and often we turn to our assumptions and expectations to do so.  Where else would we turn?  In this case, however, because the assumptions are so flatly contradictory, there’s not even a way to tease them out, much less resolve them.

4.  One requirement of persuasion, at least ethical persuasion, is trust.  Not only does the audience have to trust the speaker–otherwise you won’t believe anything they say (duh?)–but also the speaker has to trust the audience.  Speakers who don’t trust their audiences tend to do one of two things.  Either they simply bludgeon the audience into submission in hopes that the audience will accept the message out of fear or frustration, or they attack the audience’s motives for disagreeing with them in the first place.  Both of those strategies are troubling because they automatically rupture any possibility of reasonable exchange.  In this case, neither CCVM nor CCPM trusts the other side for long lists of reasons.  Obviously, from my point of view, CCPM is more trustworthy (gee, what I surprise!).  For Skye and others to claim that CCVM hasn’t harassed us because we don’t have it on video is simply disingenuine.  Wasn’t in Donald Rumsfeld who said, “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence?”  On the other hand, if the members of CCVM *really* believe that CCPM wants to overthrow the government, support terrorism, etc, then it’s no surprise they won’t trust us.  And it doesn’t matter how much evidence we muster to demonstrate the absurdity of their claims because they’ve simply decided already.

By the way, I did cruise the Sheepdogs website the other day and saw the victory dance somebody was doing at the discovery that I claim Marxism as a field of study.  Gee, ya got me!  Of course, without asking me what my interest is in Marxism (which, in point of fact, is more to debunk it than to propagate it), you wouldn’t have any idea what I teach or study about it.  Which is yet another example of my point–the assumption that studying Marxism is the same as subscribing to it is just wrong.  But that didn’t stop people from saying it anyway.  Hope this clarifies that issue!

Enough for today.

3 Responses to Debates, arguments, evidence

  1. armyanimaldoc says:

    Actually, I’ve offered before, and again on the threat to meet with your group and discuss the “specifics” of the deployment and share photos of the experiences, as well as military experience and knowledge concerning WMDs in my regular jobs (OPSEC permitting). If the offer is declined, it can’t be a matter of irreconcilable differences because the offer has been made. I also used to think the way many of you do, although not to the same extent. Now, if John and others were willing to listen for a change, instead of attempted to convert, viewpoints still might not be changed, but potentially at least tempered. I know through my own experiences that that is possible…that when new verified information is brought to light that it can (and should) be integrated into the whole of someone’s thoughts and opinions. Offer stands. I doubt it is reciprocated (sincerely or otherwise) by John.

    Context for understanding is fine, but not everything is a Vietnam allegory, just as it’s not a one-for-one-parellel with WWII either. There are things to be learned from all past conflicts and there are novelties to the recent as well that have never been seen before. One thing I can definitely concede to in the context of Vietnam is the perceived undermining of the war effort.

  2. Dan says:

    “Which is yet another example of my point–the assumption that studying Marxism is the same as subscribing to it is just wrong. But that didn’t stop people from saying it anyway. Hope this clarifies that issue!”

    Unfortunately it does not, Seth. I have an interest in Marxism as well, but certainly do not believe in it. However, unlike you, I am not a member of a “Progressive” group which I view as a sign of socialist if not communist sympathy. Maybe you can explain your interest in Marxism and your sympathy for and involvement in a group that is clearly invested in our defeat in Iraq.

  3. sethkahn says:

    Dan, my interest in Marxism is a purely academic pursuit. Maybe you’re not one of those people who believes that academics are simply people who can’t do anything useful, but if you are, then you should understand this perfectly well. The main reason I’m not a subscriber to Marxist theory is that it’s awfully outdated; it’s been more than 100 years since Marx died, and the world has changed a lot since then. So I’m interested in Marxist theory historically, and I’m interested in tracing its effects in other kinds of thought. Marx got some things right and got some things wrong–like every other influential thinker in history.

    My work as a progressive activist has nothing to do with socialism or communism; I’ve explained that on this blog several times already. Since you seem to have decided that I’m a socialist no matter what, I don’t think it’s worth rehashing all those arguments.

    Let’s just say that your labeling me a socialist, based on the scant evidence you have, is tantamount to my labeling you a fascist because you support an administration (I’m guessing anyway) that seems to have little respect for the constitution. In both cases, the labels are at best overstatements, at worst libel, and neither are true.

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