Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

On Agendas; or, How I Think

So in the course of yesterday's discussion on activity leadership, siderea challenged me to say what my agenda in the question was. It's a fair question, and worth a top level post of its own, since it's really just an example of something I periodically do here in my journal.

I sometimes say that the most interesting pursuit for me is the pursuit of Truth, but I tend to use the word capital-T "Truth" in a funny way. It tends not to refer to matters of simple fact or scientific verifiability -- those are useful, but generally far less open to philosophical exploration. Rather, I tend to focus on the much fuzzier and trickier questions that affect how I go about my life on a day-to-day basis: a very personal definition of Truth, involving matters of morality, ethics and how to interact with others. The exploration of that space always fascinates me.

People find their Truths in very different ways. Many folks do it through analysis: taking as much information as possible themselves, and synthesizing it. That doesn't work for me personally, however. It's a very individual-oriented approach, and I just plain don't trust *any* individual's analysis of an interesting problem, least of all my own. If you look at how I write, it's usually hedged with qualifiers all over the place. That's instinctive for me; I do it to a somewhat excessive degree, and sometimes have to actively suppress them. Very occasionally I'll be genuinely sure that I'm right, and you can tell it if you look at my rhetorical style, which becomes much less uncertain in those cases. (Slightly more often I'll be quite certain that another viewpoint is wrong; again, it's usually pretty clear when that's the case.) But usually, I consider my own viewpoints to be opinions, not facts.

Individual analysis being out, though, the question is, how *do* I explore these topics? The answer is usually through discussion and debate. Folks often remark quizzically on the strange nature of Silverwing debate, where a participant's apparent viewpoint will jump around and shift constantly -- pushing hard on a point for a while, then abruptly fading back and sometimes taking the opposite position. (Debates between myself and Steffan are the extreme case of this, with us sometimes switching positions multiple times in the course of things, in a complex philosophical dance.) This makes a lot more sense when you understand the purpose of the debate, which isn't to "win" or otherwise convince people of a specific viewpoint. Rather, the purpose of the discussion is to explore the problem space thoroughly, so that each participant can come to a more informed opinion.

(Tangent: I despise conventional modern debating technique, because I think it's counter-productive. While it often claims to be about exploring the problem, I've always found that the simple opposing-viewpoints model leads to too many entrenched positions, and trying to score rhetorical points while ducking the meat and complexity of the question. If there's one thing I really disrespect, it's claims of certainty in issues that are too complex to really permit that. John Stewart's recent skewering of Crossfire really went to the heart of this: taking two fundamentally opposing sides and setting them yelling at each other just isn't very productive.)

Anyway, when I start a controversial topic on LJ, that's usually what's going on; when I call for opinions, it's *always* what is going on. Yes, it may seem strange that I sometimes start off such an exploration by taking an apparently-firm stand, but that's simply practical -- in my experience, there's no better way to get a really productive debate going than to say something that I know some people will disagree with, and see where that line of reasoning leads me. And as I duck and weave my way through the ensuing discussion, I get a much better-rounded grounding in the topic. Sometimes I decide that my original contention was right, sometimes completely off-base; usually I find that I was partly right, but missing important shadings that come out in the debate.

All of which is a roundabout way of clarifying that yesterday's little argument was exactly what I was looking for: some lively but friendly disagreement that led to a better understanding of the subject. Thanks to all who participated, and I encourage you to join in again next time.

One final postscript, BTW, while I think of it. There is one other agenda that often lurks in discussions like this. When I am thinking about one of these topics, it is often because I think it's a topic that is currently relevant -- for example, the leadership question was inspired by next week's meeting of the activity heads after Great Council. So there is often a subtle agenda of getting others to think about the topic as well. I encourage y'all, both the lurkers and participants in one of these little debates, to consider the various viewpoints presented, and give some thought to what Truths may come out of it for you...
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