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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wise Words

Update: No Oil For Pacifists joins in with an interesting post and some interesting thoughts, among them:
There are extremists on each sides, Republican/conservative as well as Democrat/liberal. The recent shift of both political parties has pumped-up the volume. But I'm still convinced that liberals and conservative share the same goals--but disagree on how to achieve them.
I would agree, except I would qualify it as "most" liberals and conservatives. There are always truly bizarre people around. Still, Carl's conclusion points to the obvious - at the national level, there is relatively little debate on ways to achieve our goals. Mostly it's pure factionalism.
End update.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred make some assertions about the nature of current political debate in the US:
Debate is just that: debate. At its best, debate can be a healthy exercise giving us pause and insisting that we think for ourselves. At its lowest, debate can be reduced to a toxic level, with the sole intent of poisoning what we call the free market of thoughts and ideas.
Read the whole thing, and then ask yourself the question - what will our national debate look like in this next year? The best, the worst, or something in between? Right now I would say we are hovering close to that "toxic level", and that it is poisoning "the free market of thoughts and ideas". Every society has its fringe element, but if it lets the most extreme positions dominate the debate then the society ends up being controlled by its fringes. That's not healthy.

Currently the US does not seem to be able to engage in honest debate on any of our pressing problems. Individuals can and do have excellent, thoughtful discussions, but not the US as a whole. That's a problem. I do have a suggestion, and it might seem weirder than weird, but it isn't in practice. I would like to direct you to the E-Prime page. The E-Prime theory is based about a set of observations of how the human brain appears to operate:
E-PRIME, abolishing all forms of the verb "to be," has its roots in the field of general semantics, as presented by Alfred Korzybski in his 1933 book, Science and Sanity. Korzybski pointed out the pitfalls associated with, and produced by, two usages of "to be": identity and predication. His student D. David Bourland, Jr., observed that even linguistically sensitive people do not seem able to avoid identity and predication uses of "to be" if they continue to use the verb at all. Bourland pioneered in demonstrating that one can indeed write and speak without using any form of "to be," calling this subset of the English language "E-Prime."
By practicing setting down our thoughts without using the verb "to be" (no "is", "are", "was" etc) we will generally phrase our thoughts in more accurate and factual ways that provide a better framework for reasoned debate:
Consider the following paired sets of propositions, in which Standard English alternates with English-Prime (E-Prime):

lA. The electron is a wave.
lB. The electron appears as a wave when measured with instrument-l.

2A. The electron is a particle.
2B. The electron appears as a particle when measured with instrument-2.

3A. John is lethargic and unhappy.
3B. John appears lethargic and unhappy in the office.

4A. John is bright and cheerful.
4B. John appears bright and cheerful on holiday at the beach.

5A. This is the knife the first man used to stab the second man.
5B. The first man appeared to stab the second man with what looked like a knife to me.

6A. The car involved in the hit-and-run accident was a blue Ford.
6B. In memory, I think I recall the car involved in the hit-and-run accident as a blue Ford.

7A. This is a fascist idea.
7B. This seems like a fascist idea to me.

8A. Beethoven is better than Mozart.
8B. In my present mixed state of musical education and ignorance, Beethoven seems better to me than Mozart.

9A. That is a sexist movie.
9B. That seems like a sexist movie to me.

10A. The fetus is a person.
10B. In my system of metaphysics, I classify the fetus as a person.
The reason why this works is that it implicitly acknowledges our personal limitations - we tend to be more realistic and honest when following this discipline. Another form of it is to recast another's statement in E-Prime and then respond to our recast statement instead of the original. So instead of having hysterics because Howard Dean called Republicans "evil", recast that as Howard Dean said "Republicans seem evil to me". Now the logical response becomes the question "Howard, why do Republicans seem evil to you?"

I warn you that this habit is not safe in a bar, because you may get physically attacked by someone who finds reasoned questioning very threatening. But online it elicits some excellent discussions.

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