Abuse, Competition, Liars Lies and Lying

Saying Goodbye to a Friend’s Mind

I usually find it a waste of my time to debate people, and I assume it’s a waste of their time too.  So, I rarely get into debates.  However, last night I got into one and, predictably, it turned out to be a waste of time.

Worse, it saddened me.

I discovered the person with whom I was debating has become quite the debater since she and I last had the pleasure of each other.  Some time ago, it was different.  She was once a research scientist with a doctorate in psychology.  When she tired of that, she took a masters in theology.  As you might expect from such a learned person, she was once rich with fertile insights.  She had the power and the magic to see an old thing in a new light, or to make sudden sense of stuff you might otherwise be wrestling with for years.

Well, now it seems she’s turned her interests to debate, and last night was like saying goodbye.  I guess she’s no longer into sharing ideas, because instead of sharing hers, she merely jumped on one of my opinions and “refuted” it by spinning it with the dexterity of a White House Press Secretary, a Creationist, or a bimbo talk show host.  It’s as if she’s decided conversation is all about scoring points — even when the points are obtained through intellectually dishonest means and can therefore matter only to her.

What I mean here by “debate” is the sort of stuff that too often passes in our society for reasoned debate nowadays.  Spin.  Trickery.  Intellectual dishonesty.  Fallacious logic.  The sort of nonsense that Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh pass off as “reasoned debate” to people who unfortunately don’t know much better.  She wasn’t as bad as them last night, but it seemed clear to me she’s become their soul mate.

I’m of the opinion that people who are honest about their knowledge and experiences can honestly disagree to their mutual benefit.  Let’s take the simplest possible example of that happening.  Suppose I tell you the sky is sometimes blue.  And suppose you then tell me the sky is sometimes white.  And a third person informs both us the sky is sometimes dark.  There we have three honest, but differing, opinions and yet each has contributed a truth to the conversation.

I’ll give a real example now.  The other day on this blog, Dana offered her opinion that people are much more physically attracted to youth than to age.  Now, I was somewhat clumsy in how I phrased my response to her.  The point I tried to make, however, was I agreed people are more physically attracted to youth than to age, but that when we get older we might find ourselves more attracted to such things as someone’s sexual confidence than we are to someone’s looks.

In other words, Dana and I were able to share our honest points of view without getting into a weaselly  pissing contest over who was right and who was wrong.  I don’t know whether Dana got anything out of that exchange, but in some small way it enriched my view of the issue.

Yet, it seems to me a debate seldom enriches — even in a small way.  To illustrate the point, let me take an petty example from last night’s debate, which was over — I shudder to say it — the Leibovitz photo of Miley Cyrus (if there is anything more worthless than debating someone, it must be debating someone over a celebrity).  In response to something said by the person with whom I was debating, I made the following statement:

What harm has come to her from this? People are used all the time and it is found perfectly acceptable so long as they are consenting and no harm comes to them through it. So what harm has come to Miley from this?

To which she responded:

Wow, so much for you previously stated admiration of Kant.

In other words, instead of actually addressing my point, she merely spun my point as being philosophically inconsistent because, about a year ago (She’s got a good memory!), I expressed a fondness for Kant’s categorical imperative but now seem to her to have abandoned that fondness.  So, I suppose score one for her!  Or, whatever.  But her argument is of no more value to me than an old tree stump.  It merely wasted my time to read it, and I felt used.

A debate is so greatly different from a good conversation.  I believe that when people are honest with each other while sharing their points of view, everyone can benefit, whether they agree with each other or not.  But sharing ideas does not seem to be the point and purpose of debate these days.  Instead, I would argue debate these days is too often about tricking — manipulating — people.

Of what value is that to anyone?

10 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to a Friend’s Mind”

  1. Ahwwwzz this was terribly cute to read – you know the two of you remind me of that movie ‘Educating rita.’

    I think debating is much more exciting than a conversation. It’s like playing chess – no matter who is playing better winning is what ultimatly matters (would you surrender to the better strategist?). Evenmore so by winning we chessies are just simply trying to win the other over.

    En garde!

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  2. There are few things more frustrating than debating with someone with a completely closed mind, who is so attached to being right that they can’t even listen to you. Someone whose self confidence and image of themselves depends on you being wrong and them being right. And so they display any one of a number of different ways of wrecking communication and debate. Straw men. Recycling already refuted arguments without challenging the refutation. Looking only at data from one side, or misrepresenting data. Ad hominem attacks.

    There are few things sadder than when this happens to someone you have been close to, someone who used to be open minded and with whom you used to have a genuine connection which had been a source of learning for both of you.

    People can change like this for all sorts of reasons – exposure to a dogmatic worldview, personal insecurity – but it’s always painful and frustrating to deal with.

    This post had a lot of resonance for me, because this was exactly what happened with my ex.

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  3. I am sorry that you had to go through this disappointment and hurt. Losing friends this way always sucks. I also lost a friend because she became entrenched in her way of thinking and became derisive and dismissive of other points of view. I agree with lirone in that she wrecked the communication by purposely being hurtful (I am thinking of her Kant comment). Why would she throw your own words back at you in an attempt to injure you? What must have happened to her in the intervening time since you last saw her to make her so bitter?

    Erin from Boston

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  4. Paul, sorry to hear about this. It sucks when it happens, but you cannot change everyone. I’ve lost some friends to ideology and now I try to avoid their issues when I hang out with them. In some cases I don’t take it personal because I know their brains are being used for someone else’s personal gain. So not all is necessarily lost, it just might take time.

    Sometimes I feel the same way you do about debate when chatting/debating with some friends or people, sometimes I don’t. Maybe it’s a mood or personality that’s needed to have the desire to debate? Not sure, but I do know I enjoy a good debate every once in a while. Other times it is disheartening, such as when I talk to seemingly intelligent people that buy into conspiracy theories.

    What I try to do now is only engage those whom first engage me, but second, appear to want to debate for reasons of interest or learning and not selfish reasons. So far it’s working pretty good and we’ll what happens down the road.

    As far as my friends… I very very very carefully moderate what I say and pick and choose arguments. I don’t want to hurt anyone, turn them away from my side or ideas, or lose friendship. I just want to plant a seed and watch it grow.

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  5. Paul – this is a sad thing to happen. I have lost a friend whose dogmatism prevented exchanges which could remain cordial, and where we could agree to disagree and not fault each other for it. The few times we now meet, it feels as if the conversation requires her to exhort me to mend my basic ways of being in the world, or as if I applied no thought to my beliefs and ways nor considered reasons for doing as I do. Discussions devolve into debates where the sole purpose seems to be to convince me of the errors of my thinking. Naturally, it is frustrating to have much truck with such a person, but in knowing her for over 35 years I have learned a lot about myself. The people whose paths cross ours leave traces which while not always pleasant to contemplate but are useful to mix in our bag of experience. Too bad that competitiveness brings such dissatisfaction and discord to some conversations. G

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  6. Paul, you have put it so well. I have experienced this on my own blog. Some people comment simply to score points and as you said they want to win at all costs, and don’t mind being intellectually dishonest if it means that they don’t have to agree that the other has a point. I too fail to understand this mentality…and realise that the other person is not the seeker of knowledge as he or she pretends to be…but is simply a lost soul struggling with his/her own demons. It is indeed very difficult to get along with such people.

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  7. Well… Dana would’ve gotten something out of your response if she’d remembered to check back! LOL. I’ll have to go have a gander.

    I get infuriated by people who think that neutralizing the other person’s point of view by any means necessary is “debate.” It is not. It’s petty, pretentious crap. If you want to debate, fine. Disagree, even. I can’t lie, I don’t like being disagreed with, but I can appreciate it. I even enjoy it as long as it’s not just a personal attack or dishonest spin to “win” the debate. My views need to be challenged lest they become dogma. I learn more from people disagreeing with the substance of what I say than a meek “fine, if you say so.” But just being out to “win,” that’s less than useless. It’s infuriating, disappointing, and poisonous.

    And throwing someone’s views of a year ago at them to annihilate their current stance without even asking if you’ve changed your mind or how you reconcile your previous stance with your current one is just ridiculous. It doesn’t allow for the growth and change and subtlety of ideas. All it does is provide a snarky soundbite. It does nothing more than stomp to death a potentially fruitful line of inquiry. It’s got all the class of “You’re just stupid because you don’t agree with me!”

    Gah. I’m annoyed. Gonna go read where you smacked me down. ;-P

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  8. I find it pointless to argue people whose mind is already made up on every issue and hence they are not l=interested in listening to another opinion but only about “winning” . Annoying people – I run miles away from them.

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