Featured Post

Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Limits of Agreement

I try to maintain a good equilibrium between the comfort and consolation of the confirmation of my beliefs and the stimulation offered in debate and disagreement. When people agree with me or tell me I am right, especially people I respect, it creates a warm feeling. On the other hand, when someone disagrees, it helps me to clarify my own thoughts.

What is the origin of the disagreement?

(1) I have not expressed myself clearly.

(2) I have been clear, but my interlocutor has substituted a less nuanced version of my argument and is disagreeing with that.

(3) The interlocutor has understood my argument completely, but will not accept it because s/he simply believes a countervailing claim is stronger. Or it might be a case where the disagreement comes down to irreducible appeals to individual differences in temperament, taste...

(4) I was clearly wrong and someone is setting me straight.

(5) My interlocutor simply has such a strong stake in a particular position, that s/he is not willing to listen.

(6) The disagreer is a defender of the indefensible: plagiarism, racism, piracy on the high seas...

(7) The disagreer is arguing in bad faith, acting as a concern troll or "Kent Johnson."

This is not an exhaustive list, but it will do for now. In cases 1-4, disagreement is productive (the way a cough can be "productive") in producing the clarification of claims and opinions. In the last three situations, disagreement is an unproductive irritant rather than a stimulation.

No comments: