RSalar

Discussion Without Bitterness.

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I was recently involved in a discussion here about consciousness. It got so embittered that the moderator had to shut down the open format and change it to a moderated format. Why would a person (presumably intelligent and interested in the truth) get angered by another person's opinion? Do we fall in love with our views to the point that when someone disagrees with our position we take it as an attack on ourselves? Are we too sensitive? Why do we care what another person thinks about us? Especially when that other person is a complete stranger who we know only through the Internet? What is going on here?

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Why would a person [...]? Do we [...]? Are we [...]? Why do we [...]? What is going on here?

This is an important topic. Thank you for raising it.

Discussion and debate about discussion and debate are appropriate. However, I would like to point out that the issue of why a particular person attacks another person or reacts to an attack (real or not) requires particular evidence. That level of discussion or debate would not, of course, be appropriate for this forum or any similar forum.

So, I would like to also suggest that this thread might address the issue of why some individuals, in general, attack others and why some other individuals react with bitterness or a personal counterattack.

In particular, my response is -- without bitterness, I hope! -- a reaction to your use of "we." Please don't include me, even rhetorically.

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I was recently involved in a discussion here about consciousness. It got so embittered that the moderator had to shut down the open format and change it to a moderated format. Why would a person (presumably intelligent and interested in the truth) get angered by another person's opinion?
Can you remember situations in which you got angered by another person's opinion?

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I can think offhand of some major factors (possibly interrelated) explaining why a thread here or in similar forums can become contentious or emotional.

First, people posting here (Objectivists or not) are most likely those who take ideas seriously. To put forth a view that one thinks to be true, that is then disagreed with, automatically creates some tension. It implies the existence of a contradiction that logically must be resolved. How that tension is handled by any particular person depends on various factors. *Ideally* it is handled calmly and confidently. This leads to the second category.

Then there are psychological factors involved. Disagreement is handled differently by different people. Again, ideally, it should be handled intellectually, not emotionally, with a focus on the facts and logical reasoning involved, not on personalities. Rationally, a person should focus on reality, not just on defending his existing position.

And, there are personal ethics factors involved. If the line between intellectual disagreement has been crossed into emotionalism, and then further into personal attack, that derails the discussion, and the person so attacked has a right to identify the fact and to withdraw from the discussion as a matter of honor.

Finally, I think it's especially difficult for Objectivists to remain "dispassionate", because Objectivists are one of a very small fraction of people in the world who realize the profound, real world importance of ideas, and the importance, sometimes life and death in the end, between having true, and false, ideas.

Probably the most contentious arguments come when a "well established" fact is challenged, either scientifically or philosophically, including even whether the subject of discussion is covered by science or by philosophy.

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Why would a person (presumably intelligent and interested in the truth) get angered by another person's opinion?

I wouldn't equate the appearance of anger in this context with a moral failing of some kind. An emotion is an automatic response, guided by the immediate context, issues of one's subconscious (e.g., getting angry at traffic when one is really venting over an irrational boss), and one's ideas. In other words, it is the reasons for the anger that matter, not the anger itself, and those reasons can be rational or irrational, justified or mistaken, and superficial or significant.

The easy answer is that they know on some level that their view is wrong, but want it anyway, and expend a lot of energy evading that fact. Or, they accept some conclusion without knowing how to prove it, yet want to think they understand it. When challenged on that view, they take it as a personal attack, and anger is the emotional response.

However, I think that answer is less true of Objectivists than of the general population, and from what I know of the people on this forum, don't think it applies in this case. Are there rational justifications for anger in this context?

One is frustration. I state my view, you state yours, and one of us may not really "get" what the other is saying. Sometimes we communicate without listening to what the other person is trying to say. We repeat ourselves over and over, and eventually get upset because the dialog isn't making progress toward some agreement.

Another possibility: people are often emotionally invested in their point of view because they have spent a lot of time with it, and it has reached the "of course" status in their subconscious. It also becomes attached to their values.

A rational person can make mistakes in his thinking, and accept a mistaken premise without realizing it. Years can pass before he finally realizes the error. Yet it has become so embedded in his thoughts and attitude to life that it is difficult and frustrating to change it. Also, it is a bit frightening: if this deeply-held belief is not right, what's the alternative? It's like being cast adrift in a lake without a paddle. There's a feeling of helplessness that leads to fear that leads to anger.

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I failed to objectively identify the cause of my anger.
There you go. That is probably what Ed mentioned when he wrote "getting angry at traffic when one is really venting over an irrational boss". I recently got into an argument about how to perform a specific manual work. I got angered because this person was just standing beside me, watching my work and telling me how to do it better. I want to figure things out on my own and don't like it when someone gives me advice every step of the way. But I didn't realize it at the time and got into an angry argument about a specific task -- and I was absolutely, completely wrong. :lol:

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I wouldn't equate the appearance of anger in this context with a moral failing of some kind. 

The easy answer is that they know on some level that their view is wrong, but want it anyway, and expend a lot of energy evading that fact. 

I pulled out two sentences from your post. I hope taking them out of the larger post does not change what you were trying to say. But ...

Don't you think that "evasion" is a very serious moral failing?

When I replied to a different post that my past anger had been caused by my own failure to objectively identify the cause of my anger, I was admitting a moral failure. I think if people would take the time to ask themselves, "Why does this post, from a complete unknown person, anger me?" they would realize their own failure and the anger would go away.

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There you go. That is probably what Ed mentioned when he wrote "getting angry at traffic when one is really venting over an irrational boss". I recently got into an argument about how to perform a specific manual work. I got angered because this person was just standing beside me, watching my work and telling me how to do it better. I want to figure things out on my own and don't like it when someone gives me advice every step of the way. But I didn't realize it at the time and got into an angry argument about a specific task -- and I was absolutely, completely wrong. :lol:   

   

That is different from what I meant by, "I failed to objectively identify the cause of my anger." Using Ed's, "getting angry at traffic when one is really venting over an irrational boss," as an example of what I mean, I will attempt to explain. Ed is picking two outside situations, 1) an irrational boss, and 2) traffic, and he is mixing them up.

When I fail to objectively identify the source of anger, I correctly identify the outside situation -- someone is attacking my ideas. I am angered by that; I am not angered by my wife and vent on person who attacked my post. The person who attacked my ideas is the thing that I am angry about. But upon close inspection and introspection I find that it is the way I think about what has happened that is making me mad. I, for some reason, think the person attacking my ideas is on a personal vendetta to make me look stupid. I say to myself, "That jerk is out to get me!" and my blood starts to boil. I better slam that son of a gun hard before he attacks me again!

The real situation is one of the following: 1) the person making the attack really is a jerk -- in which case who cares what he thinks, 2) the person is a rational person really trying to point out a flaw in my reasoning -- in which case he is helping and I should not be mad, or 3) he is jerking my chain and trying to see if he can get me mad, in which case I don't want to fall for his maneuver.

There is no case that I can think of where anger and a retaliatory attack is appropriate. If we discover that there is a jerk trying to mess up the flow of discourse he needs to be removed so the discourse can resume.

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I see at least three issues emerging in this thread:

First, why do some topics evoke much emotion? (An issue of normal psychology.)

Second, why do some individuals act or react as emotionalists? (An issue of abnormal psychology.)

Third, what are the proper ways to act in an online discussion: (1) initially; (2) when someone else's post evokes a strong emotion, particularly anger; and (3) when someone personally attacks another participant, either explicitly or implicitly? (An issue of etiquette, the art and science of formulating principles and rules for facilitating interaction among individuals whose overriding purpose is selfish gain from trading with others.)

If my assessment is correct, I offer it as a classic example of what often happens in an online discussion or debate: confusion of issues, leading to frustration, evoking emotionalism in those who are emotionalists to begin with, and degeneration of the discussion into personal attacks or withdrawal.

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Second, why do some individuals act or react as emotionalists? (An issue of abnormal psychology.)

Do you think there is ever an appropriate time to respond out of anger to a post? If so, what do you think the proper response should be?

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Do you think there is ever an appropriate time to respond out of anger to a post?

If by "out of anger" you mean being led by emotion, no.

However, there is nothing inherently wrong in responding to an issue while angry, but such is generally poor policy. A better policy would be to wait to let the emotion subside (as healthy emotions always do). This time-out also gives one an opportunity to look for the cause of the anger and think about an appropriate intellectual response to the issue if another poster's position on the issue is what evoked the anger.

If the anger arises from a personal attack, then I see these options:

- Ignore the personal attack and deal only with the issue, if any, in the attacking post.

- Privately complain to a moderator, if there is one and if the attack violates rules.

- Question the attacker, publicly: "Was it your intention to attack me personally? If so, why?"

- Respond, in part, by identifying the personal attack as a personal attack, and (if the other poster's argument is based on the attack) rejecting the argument as invalid (the fallacy of ad hominem).

- Respond appropriately to each part if the target post is mixed.

Exactly which one you should do depends on many factors. Until you specify the exact circumstances, I cannot proceed further. One example circumstance is: How much policing do the owners of the site expect the participants to conduct themselves and how much will the moderators conduct? Another element of the circumstances is this: Do I see a pattern of abusive behavior or is this instance isolated and perhaps a miscommunication?

In summary, the main reason that civil discussions and debates are difficult to maintain is precisely because many factors affect the one situation: possible miscommunication, the abnormal psychology of some of the participants, varying customs on what is proper etiquette, inadvertent use of "loaded" words, and others. Trying to untangle them "on the fly" can be very difficult -- and often not worth the effort, to many individuals. So, they either fire away or leave the discussion.

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I was recently involved in a discussion here about consciousness. It got so embittered that the moderator had to shut down the open format and change it to a moderated format. Why would a person (presumably intelligent and interested in the truth) get angered by another person's opinion? Do we fall in love with our views to the point that when someone disagrees with our position we take it as an attack on ourselves? Are we too sensitive? Why do we care what another person thinks about us? Especially when that other person is a complete stranger who we know only through the Internet? What is going on here?

I think there is an assumption that you are making here that needs to be clarified by you. You assume that the issue of getting angry is caused by caring about what another person, whom we don't know, thinks about us. Perhaps the real issue is in caring deeply about the ideas that are being discussed. Sarcasm has long been a part of the political debate process. As long as the anger or sarcasm is not used as a substitute for argument, I'm not sure that it is such a bad thing. If one is not confident enough about one's premises to take a little barb, then perhaps the sarcasm is revealing something about the attacked and not just the attacker. If sarcasm is ruled out in the beginning of the argument by the moderator and everyone knows it, then there should be no problem.

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Don't you think that "evasion" is a very serious moral failing?

Yes, but "evasion" does NOT mean, "not knowing," "not thinking about," or "making a mistake." It means DELIBERATELY refusing to think about a subject in order to avoid being aware of a fact of reality you wish didn't exist.

When I replied to a different post that my past anger had been caused by my own failure to objectively identify the cause of my anger, I was admitting a moral failure.

I don't think so unless you clearly KNEW why you were angry and, by a conscious act of will, refused to acknowledge the fact. That would have been evasion. Your failure to identify the source of your anger was probably an error of knowledge.

Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience.

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Do you think there is ever an appropriate time to respond out of anger to a post?

Certainly!

If so, what do you think the proper response should be?

The proper response would be of the form, "I feel this amount of anger BECAUSE of these values and these facts of reality."

Examples --

"I get angry when people attack Ayn Rand by making false claims about her."

"Since I have asked you to give a reason for your claim three times now (see posts # 8, 12, and 18) and I haven't gotten any response at all, I am getting extremely annoyed and frustrated."

Etc.

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Why would a person (presumably intelligent and interested in the truth) get angered by another person's opinion? Do we fall in love with our views to the point that when someone disagrees with our position we take it as an attack on ourselves? Are we too sensitive? Why do we care what another person thinks about us? Especially when that other person is a complete stranger who we know only through the Internet? What is going on here?

Since you are asking these questions in the context of the Psychology forum, it is worth noting that one possible explanation for such behavior has to do with defense-values. A defense-value is a value which serves the purpose of propping up a person's sense of self-esteem (more properly characterized as psuedo-self-esteem). When a set of ideas chosen in this manner are challenged, the person can experience not simply a conflict of views, but rather he can experience the challenge emotionally as a strike at his very core. The feeling, were it identified, might be one of fear and anxiety that then becomes directed against another in the form of anger. Even good and proper ideas can be defense-values if they serve the purpose of supporting pseudo-self-esteem.

There is an excellent discussion of all this in the May and June 1964 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter.

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Yes, but "evasion" does NOT mean, "not knowing," "not thinking about," or "making a mistake."  It means DELIBERATELY refusing to think about a subject in order to avoid being aware of a fact of reality you wish didn't exist.

I don't think so unless you clearly KNEW why you were angry and, by a conscious act of will, refused to acknowledge the fact.  That would have been evasion.  Your failure to identify the source of your anger was probably an error of knowledge.

Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience.

Don't we morally have an obligation to seek the knowledge that will most likely impact our lives? Objectively identifying the source of one's emotions has to be one of the most important tasks in terms of our pursuit of happiness. For me to have let years pass without identifying something that so obviously impacted my life has to be a flaw of some kind. I don't know if it was an evasion on my part or an oversight but I know now that I was wrong not to attempt to discover the truth.

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I think there is an assumption that you are making here that needs to be clarified by you.  You assume that the issue of getting angry is caused by caring about what another person, whom we don't know, thinks about us.  Perhaps the real issue is in caring deeply about the ideas that are being discussed. 

Let's suppose that I do care very deeply about an idea being discussed. I have given this particular idea a great deal of consideration and have formed a very firm position regarding its correctness. Now Dr. Joe comes along and attacks this idea as being wrong, ridiculous, and stupid. Dr. Joe also states that anyone who thinks that this idea is correct is a real idiot.

I have been attacked. Not only the idea that I agree with has been attacked, but even more importantly, I have personally been attacked by Dr. Joe. Why should this bother me? If I am confident in my ability to reason I know that I have come to the correct conclusion regarding the idea being discussed and I know that I am not an idiot. I am open to any and all new evidence that I have not considered, and if someone can prove me wrong, I will gladly change, but when someone blatantly attacks my ideas without well defined supporting evidence and logical reasoning, why should I feel threatened -- and why would I think this very important idea is in danger of crumbling?

Logic wins every debate, emotional responses do nothing in terms of proving one's position, and emotional responses only distract from the validity of one's argument. So what’s the problem? I can let the person rant and rave, let him attach me and my ideas, because I know that he is unable to use logic, and because of this he has discredited himself. I know that he poses no threat to me, therefore I have no reason to get angry.

I think the individual who gets angry over threatening posts (whether they are personal attacks or attacks on his ideas) is the one who loses the most. We should not be angered by individuals who lack rational justification for attacking us or our ideas. Anyone who acts that way is not worthy of being the source of our anger.

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Don't we morally have an obligation to seek the knowledge that will most likely impact our lives?

"Moral obligation?" As in duty? Not in Objectivism! See Ayn Rand's essay "Causality vs. Duty" in Philosophy: Who Needs It for the reasons why.

It is a very GOOD idea to seek knowledge that will impact our lives. That is what we need knowledge for. But it's not an "obligation." Even then, there is a lot of knowledge out there that could, potentially, enhance our lives, but getting it isn't automatic, getting it takes time, and our time and energy are limited. We can do what we can do, but life is too short and we can't do everything.

Objectively identifying the source of one's emotions has to be one of the most important tasks in terms of our pursuit of happiness.

It definitely is! But it is not an easy task at times and for some people. Introspection can be a difficult skill to learn and master and sometimes may require studying psychology or getting assistance from a psychotherapist.

For me to have let years pass without identifying something that so obviously impacted my life has to be a flaw of some kind.

It depends. If you didn't know how important and necessary introspection is, it was an error of knowledge. What counts is what you do once you realize its importance. So instead of beating yourself up about it, maybe you should congratulate yourself for finally realizing how important understanding your emotions is and set about learning how to be a great introspector.

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Let's suppose that I do care very deeply about an idea being discussed. I have given this particular idea a great deal of consideration and have formed a very firm position regarding its correctness. Now Dr. Joe comes along and attacks this idea as being wrong, ridiculous, and stupid. Dr. Joe also states that anyone who thinks that this idea is correct is a real idiot.

Dr. Joe is employing a destructive and invalid form of arguing that Ayn Rand called the Argument From Intimidation. Read her essay with that title in The Virtue of Selfishness for information on how to recognize it and deal with it.

I have been attacked. Not only the idea that I agree with has been attacked, but even more importantly, I have personally been attacked by Dr. Joe. Why should this bother me?

Because it is an injustice. Anyone who values justice will have a negative reaction to those who commit injustices -- especially if their target is oneself.

If I am confident in my ability to reason I know that I have come to the correct conclusion regarding the idea being discussed and I know that I am not an idiot. I am open to any and all new evidence that I have not considered, and if someone can prove me wrong, I will gladly change, but when someone blatantly attacks my ideas without well defined supporting evidence and logical reasoning, why should I feel threatened -- and why would I think this very important idea is in danger of crumbling?

Maybe that's not the issue. Maybe it is unpleasant or frustrating to deal with people who engage in irrational debating tricks and treat you badly.

Logic wins every debate, emotional responses do nothing in terms of proving one's position, and emotional responses only distract from the validity of one's argument. So what’s the problem? I can let the person rant and rave, let him attach me and my ideas, because I know that he is unable to use logic, and because of this he has discredited himself. I know that he poses no threat to me, therefore I have no reason to get angry.

Usually, that is the case with me too, but I have a long fuse while other rational people I know are quick to anger. I can take a lot of personal abuse and it bounces right off me, but if somebody unjustly attacks someone else I really value like my husband, a dear friend, or Ayn Rand, I turn into Betsy the Mamma Lion and I'll bite his head off!

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Let's suppose that I do care very deeply about an idea being discussed. I have given this particular idea a great deal of consideration and have formed a very firm position regarding its correctness. Now Dr. Joe comes along and attacks this idea as being wrong, ridiculous, and stupid. Dr. Joe also states that anyone who thinks that this idea is correct is a real idiot.

I have been attacked. Not only the idea that I agree with has been attacked, but even more importantly, I have personally been attacked by Dr. Joe. Why should this bother me? If I am confident in my ability to reason I know that I have come to the correct conclusion regarding the idea being discussed and I know that I am not an idiot. I am open to any and all new evidence that I have not considered, and if someone can prove me wrong, I will gladly change, but when someone blatantly attacks my ideas without well defined supporting evidence and logical reasoning, why should I feel threatened -- and why would I think this very important idea is in danger of crumbling?

Logic wins every debate, emotional responses do nothing in terms of proving one's position, and emotional responses only distract from the validity of one's argument. So what’s the problem? I can let the person rant and rave, let him attach me and my ideas, because I know that he is unable to use logic, and because of this he has discredited himself. I know that he poses no threat to me, therefore I have no reason to get angry.

I think the individual who gets angry over threatening posts (whether they are personal attacks or attacks on his ideas) is the one who loses the most. We should not be angered by individuals who lack rational justification for attacking us or our ideas. Anyone who acts that way is not worthy of being the source of our anger.

I agree with most of what you say. Now suppose Dr. Joe is someone who you respect highly no matter what you say to him does not convince him and nothing he says to you convinces you of his position. I don't see anything wrong with getting upset or annoyed or exasperated as long as those emotions do not become part of the argument. I don't see anything wrong with either party expressing that annoyance either.

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I have been attacked. Not only the idea that I agree with has been attacked, but even more importantly, I have personally been attacked by Dr. Joe. Why should this bother me? If I am confident in my ability to reason I know that I have come to the correct conclusion regarding the idea being discussed and I know that I am not an idiot. I am open to any and all new evidence that I have not considered, and if someone can prove me wrong, I will gladly change, but when someone blatantly attacks my ideas without well defined supporting evidence and logical reasoning, why should I feel threatened -- and why would I think this very important idea is in danger of crumbling?

Why would something like that bother a rational person? Perhaps because he considers what is being said about him and his values to be an injustice. This would especially be the case if the attack in some way involved a distortion of one's position or taking something one said out of context.

When evil creeps like John Kerry and Ted Kennedy seek to deliberately undermine this country's foreign policy and would risk our security in the quest of their nihilistic desire to see the United States get the "comeuppance" they think it deserves in the eyes of the rest of the world - well I get really ticked off not because I think their sick and perverted ideology might be right but because they are willing to attack and sell out everything that is good and decent which is, of course, unjust beyond words. In fact, my blood starts to boil the very instant those people open their mouths because I know exactly where they are heading and what they would do if they were allowed to get away with it.

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I think the individual who gets angry over threatening posts (whether they are personal attacks or attacks on his ideas) is the one who loses the most. We should not be angered by individuals who lack rational justification for attacking us or our ideas. Anyone who acts that way is not worthy of being the source of our anger.

I think there are times when it is ok to get angry and to make that anger known.

On the other hand, there is a certain point to what you say.

Ours is an age culturally dominated by nihilism. There are people out there who will say things to attack people's values for the sole purpose of getting them upset. Observe that a lot of non-Objectivist atheist types will attack religion not so much because they have any intellectual problem with religion but rather because a lot of people value it. These are the types who like to get into the faces of the devout and shout "Jesus sucks." Such types are everywhere. Go to any non-moderated discussion venue purportedly about Objectivism and there will always be a handful who will say the most vicious things about Ayn Rand and Objectivism for no other purpose than to tick off everyone in the group.

In the face of such people, the last thing you should do is become upset or angry because that is exactly what they want you to do. The only effective way I have ever found to deal with such people is to turn the tables on them and laugh at or ridicule them. By doing so, you demonstrate that you do NOT take them seriously - which drives them crazy. The smile on your face becomes like a magic mirror that throws them into the same fit of uncontrollable rage that they so desperately wanted to see in you.

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