Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dismissive arguments and anecdotes

Carrying on with a theme I picked up yesterday: it's often very useful to be able to see magnified versions of your own faults in others.

For the past few years, I've been involved in a project that requires me to deal with a guy who does something I know I also do but he does it to such a degree that the problems with this trait become painful to behold. The trait I'm speaking of here is the dismissive argument or anecdote. This is a tactic not to respond to something but rather to get it off the table as fast as possible. It comes across as aggressive when you're on the receiving end but it's really rooted in weakness.

It really jumped out when, in a lull between more serious work we had to do, Victor Frankl came up. There were four of us sitting around just chatting and someone, not me, brought Frankl up. And this guy, I'll call him Joe, suddenly cut the conversation off and summarily condemned Frankl and then started talking about something else. I tried, because I felt for the poor guy who had originally raised the issue, to gently suggest that there might be more to Frankl than Joe was allowing. Joe then cut the discussion off even more aggressively.

It was all pretty pathetic and wouldn't be worth discussing except that we all do this. Most of us are better at it than Joe. We have the good sense to hide our insecurity and poor Joe doesn't. Frankl has an obvious moral authority because of his life story. That's Joe's problem. There is something, we'll never find out, that Frankl said that Joe finds very threatening. Anytime Frankl comes up, Joe needs to head the conversation off because it just might come up.

Joe used an argument, he seems to believe that Frankl's views are selfish and completely lacking in compassion. But he wasn't interested in putting for evidence to back up his claims. Other times people use dismissive anecdotes. The other gay, a guy I interact with on Facebook wrote, "I knew some libertarians back in university; they'e all jerks." Again, there is no intent to actually discuss the issue with you; the point is to get the issue off the table as quickly as possible.

So, when do we do this? We're not, as I say above, as obviously insecure as Joe above but we do do it. Identifying my own bad habits, my own dismissive arguments, would be a useful thing to do.

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