Saturday, August 24, 2013

Deflective Arguments and All-or-Nothing Beliefs

Woke up today and made the mistake of reading the comments section on a news story (not one of mine though).

It almost doesn't matter what the story was because the arguments in the comments shifted immediately to whatever personal rant, rational or not, the trolling masses wanted to bring up.

I am sure you have seen the flawed tit-for-tat pattern many times:
  • A story captures public interest.
  • Person A makes an argument (sometimes opinion masked as fact) not directly related to the story.
  • Person B deflects Person A's argument (typically with their own opinion masked as fact) and again does not relate to the original story.
  • Widespread animosity ensues.
While I appreciate well-thought discussion, it is discouraging when arguments degrade this way. Rather than get at the nature of the actual issue, grumbling opinions take over. It is as if the objective is to dismiss any differing ideas . . . because everyone knows the Earth is flat, the Moon is made out of cream cheese, and it is just crazy talk if you disagree with me---right?

My sarcasm aside, the concern I have is that we don't actually speak realistically about societal issues; I recognize that some folks don't want to be bothered with this because they believe that such problems only affect the people at the epicenter.

Part of the problem is that judgement quickly gets muddled by feelings. Even an eyewitness account of events might be rejected because of mistrust and a desire to stick one's own established opinions.

This is an element of what I call an "all-or-nothing" belief system. Simply put, it is a conceit that anything that is a boon for one person or group is a detriment for another person or group. Rigid, adamant thinking such as this does not match reality though. Worse, this can lead to a belief that everything about a person or group is negative while one's own actions or collective group is infallible and beyond reproach (this is not to imply that affirmed criminals deserve a pass but rather their actions are not the measure of an entire people).

So what was this apparently polarizing story that immersed my morning in derogatory opinions?

Astute readers might try to guess but I think the trolls have been fed enough for one day.

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Flame and Bone

When I was made from fire
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away