So, this post is the first of what is going to be an ongoing series. They won’t all be consecutive. They’ll come up when I think of something, but they’ll all be under the heading, “Putting the Civil” Back in Civilization”.
Here’s a little about why, and a little about content:
Since the 1960s, in America at least, we have been shedding our cultural traditions. This has not been an altogether bad thing. But, in doing so, we have come adrift in knowing how to treat each other and how to respond, appropriately, to certain situations.
I’m hoping, in this post and the ones that follow, to illuminate some of the problems and to suggest solutions.
(I will try to keep them from turning into rants, but, no promises.)
And, so, these will be, over the course, some rules or guidelines – some old, but still useful, and some new – that might just keep us from killing each other, and maybe help us make some progress as a culture.
Without further ado, here’s the first:
“Agree to Disagree”
This is a phrase I hear, a lot. And if you think I’m going to advocate for its use, you’ve fucking got another thing coming.
There is a time, when it is appropriate to use the phrase. Only one. And that is when the disagreement is about an opinion.
When the phrase is used to cool heads that have gotten heated over a matter of subjective perception, experience, or belief, then, by all means, use it.
But that’s the only time.
I’m serious. The. Only. Fucking. Time.
More often than not I hear this phrase used to halt a discussion when what is being discussed is not, in fact, perception, experience, or opinion. And this is wrong.
If you are having a discussion about empirically verifiable fact, then you cannot use, “well we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
You can’t. Period.
When it comes to statements of fact, they are either true or false. There is no in between. Either a thing is so, or it isn’t. It isn’t about opinion.
Matters of empirically verifiable fact are as close as we get to being objective. Objective means, roughly, not dependent on one’s beliefs or opinions.
Water is H2o is an empirical fact.
The sun rises in the east is an empirical fact.
Some people are just fucking ignorant is an empirical fact.
Evolution is an empirical fact.
(the list goes on, but I think you’re beginning to see my point.)
There are a whole host of other things that are not.
(Whether or not Ghosts, Goblins, or Gods exist are not empirical facts. They are beliefs.)
If you want to say, “Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” about an empirical fact, then you should just be counted as wrong, and probably a coward. Concede the point and go educate yourself further on the subject.
If, during a discussion, the parties to the discussion have differing ideas about an empirical fact, and there is no way to immediately discover the truth or falseness of that fact, then the parties should table the discussion until such time as they have done the research to discern that fact’s truth or falseness. Agree to disagree is pansy bullshit, and should be left to matters of belief, experience, and opinion.
This will make many conversations much easier. I promise.
Now, if you find yourself in a discussion, or even a disagreement, about non-empirical matters – matters of metaphysics or epistemology – the deciding factor on whether or not your point of view can be taken seriously is only how well you can argue, with logic, for your point. Learn to argue well and with logic, and you will convince more people than not, even if it doesn’t happen immediately.
I’ll repeat that, as it is fairly important:
If you are not talking about empirically verifiable facts, whether or not you are convincing depends solely on how well you argue.
So, learn to make a logical argument, especially if you think you’re right and others need to be convinced.
Also, learn to tell the difference between a discussion about empirical facts and discussions about points of philosophy.
I had a discussion, last night, with a co-worker. I won’t go into what it was about, but I realized, after, that we were having two different discussions. Or more to the point, I was discussing one thing, namely an empirically verifiable fact, and they were trying to make an argument about metaphysics.
They used the, “Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” bullshit on me. We were at work, so I didn’t feel the need to push the subject. But it annoyed me.
And it occurred to me that this is one of the problems in our culture. We have forgotten how to judge subjects and how to discuss them with one another.
“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” is fine, if it keeps people from coming to blows over something subjective, but it’s useless and even counter-productive to whip out that phrase when what is being discussed is a matter of verifiable empirical fact.
So, please, learn to judge correctly what type of discussion you’re having. If it is about philosophy, then make the best argument you can. It still may not convince people, but it shows a commitment to progress. If you’re discussing verifiable, empirical facts, learn to recognize that, and go find the answer. There is one.
Remember, empirical facts are either true or false. Find out which and then construct your argument accordingly.
This will help, immensely.
Plus, it just might keep the person you’re having a discussion with from bursting that blood vessel that has been feeding the section of their brain that tells them it’s a bad idea to cave an unpleasant person’s head in with whatever happens to be handy, and heavy, at the moment.
And really, fewer violence inducing embolisms has nothing but the potential to make the world a better place.
Until next time…