Accepting Inconsistency

Following my previous post on things I learned at Bible college about how to have a reasonable discussion, here is another: you need to accept that people are inconsistent.

That is to say, it is entirely possible that someone you are debating with will hold two opinions that you believe cannot logically be held at the same time. In a reasonable discussion, you need to accept that this is so without assuming evil intent. One good reason for doing so is that it’s probably true of you also – no-one currently on earth has a worldview and set of opinions which is entirely self-consistent and logically perfect.

What you should not do is claim that one or both of the views “isn’t really their view”, or that they are lying or dissembling when they claim to hold both. You are, of course, entirely entitled to point out the inconsistency as you see it, and ask them how they reconcile the two positions. It may be that they haven’t noticed the conflict, and this will cause them to think. Or it may be that you haven’t understood their position fully, and after discussion, you agree the two views are actually compatible. Or it may be that your worldviews and base assumptions differ to such an extent that what you believe is logically impossible, they think is logically fine.

The clearest examples are also the most controversial, but to try and illustrate: some people I talk to cannot understand how my beliefs about church leadership are consistent with with my view that everyone is created in the image of God and therefore equally valuable and important. But I, of course, think these views are entirely consistent. And I often cannot understand how the views on human rights espoused by some people I talk to are consistent with with their views on abortion. But they, of course, see no conflict. Regardless, in either direction, it’s not OK for either me or them to make bold statements that the other party is a liar, is debating in bad faith, or is in other ways evil just because, in that party’s opinion, the other person’s set of views is not logically coherent.

Mycroft Mark 1 Extendable for sale

I’m selling a Mycroft Mark 1 Extendable. In a fit of enthusiasm back in 2015 I ordered a 3-pack and, now they’ve arrived, I realise that’s rather overkill, and I just need one to start developing. So I’m selling one of my spares. It’s totally as-new, never been opened except to take the listing photos. It’s the Extendable version, so it has all the ports on the back, unlike the Basic.

Please spread the word to anyone you think might have fun with one :-)

Reasonable Discussion

When I went to Bible college, I learned two things about engaging in debate which struck me as very wise, and have stuck with me since. While I learned them in the context of theology, I’d argue that they apply universally.

The first is that you become properly qualified to critique someone’s position only when you can summarize it in a way which would have that person, were they looking over your shoulder as you write, saying “yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say”. Ideally, you need to understand their position and rationale for holding it as well as, or even better, than they do themselves. Being able to summarize it well before interacting with it is proof that you have done the work to do this. It will not only make your arguments better, but it will make it much more likely that those who disagree with you might consider and even accept them. Anyone can attack a straw man; however, doing so may lead to cheers from your own side, but is unlikely to win any converts. Attacking straw men is always much easier than interacting with people’s actual nuanced positions and therefore might be said to be a form of virtue signalling.

The second is that you should always engage with a person’s strongest arguments and points, not their weakest ones. If someone writes a piece where 50% of the arguments are, in your view, so weak that they barely require refutation, then you can either refute them anyway, or you can engage with their better arguments and points. We were strongly encouraged to do the latter, for much the same reasons. Refuting bad arguments is much easier than refuting better arguments, but is far less likely to convince anyone who holds the opposing view.

In the context of recent Internet debates, this Medium post was recommended to me as “excellent”. However, it is hard to agree with this assessment given that the first paragraph spectacularly fails the first of the two above tests. (I’d argue much of the rest of the post does as well, but the first paragraph is the clearest example.) And I’d say most of the Internet has joined in that failure, including, shamefully, many reporters who should be able to do better. A rather insightful Twitter commenter (yes, I know, wow) noted that the debate around this document had mostly been a complete waste of time as it involved a version of it which existed only in the imagination of the debaters. I’ve certainly seen many instances where people have claimed the document says things it either does not say, or even explicitly denies.

As for the second test, the difficulty is that the Internet hate machine’s lack of nuance means that if you pull out one or two points and say “these are worthy of further discussion”, it is assumed that you are therefore a wholehearted supporter of everything written, and are treated accordingly. This is not how debate works in a sane society. Still, in ever-present hope that this won’t happen, I think the following two parts of the memo deserve careful consideration:

Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently. In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves. Alienating conservatives is … non-inclusive.

Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change) the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people.

Note for the hard of thinking: this post in no way endorses any bits of the memo I did not quote, and the bits I did quote I endorse only so far as to say that they deserve careful consideration.

Spend, Save, Give

We are planning to teach our eldest son, now 5, about the wise use of money using a system called “Spend, Save, Give”.

The child has 3 jars, one with each label. Each week, they get given an amount of money in conveniently-sized coins. They have to put at least a tenth of it into the Give jar. The New Testament does not mandate that Christians give away a specific proportion of their income, but 10%, corresponding to the Old Testament tithe, is widely considered “a good starting point”. They can distribute the rest across the 3 jars as they choose. “Spend” money can be taken out and spent at any time. “Save” money has to be used on a named item of significant price. (We plan to add a feature here – they have to name the item, we write it down, and they can buy it two weeks later if they still want it at that point. This prevents impulse purchases.) “Give” money must be given away – to church or a charity of the child’s choice.

This called for a small making project. You need:

* 3 mason jars with the standard-size neck
* A pack of slotted lids (which I couldn’t find from a UK source – better sources welcome)
* A copy of this handy PDF of labels, wih thanks to “Three Little Monkeys Studio
* A colour printer
* Craft knife, cutting mat, tape etc.

Assembly instructions would be superfluous; here’s the result:

My phone camera is a little distorting; the jars are all the same size :-)

How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life

This video is pretty awesome throughout, but the pinnacle is at the end:

The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless. Let’s not do that. — Jon Ronson