Betsy Speicher

Dealing with Criticism and Disagreements on THE FORUM

15 posts in this topic

This thread is for discussing methods and principles for appropriately communicating and responding to criticism and disagreements on THE FORUM.

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I am sorry to see Sophia leave the discussion, but I understand why she is doing so. There comes a point...

I do want to comment further, however, on what she wrote because I don't want there to be any misunderstanding about my position regarding Ms. Hsieh's change of mind about Objectivism.

In response to my post #357, Sophia wrote (in post #361):

Diana has had the integrity to admit to a fundamental error in her approach to Objectivism and had corrected it YEARS ago.

I have no doubt about Ms. Hsieh's change of mind. I admired her integrity at the time and read everything she wrote concerning her thinking that led to it. I was a daily reader and sometime commenter at Noodlefood. I did not question her philosophy, I questioned her method of evaluating others:

What I said in my post #357 (not a complete quote) was:

I cannot speak for Stephen, of course, but I too nodded my head when I read what he wrote, not because I think that Ms. Hsieh still thinks those at TOC are correct in their philosophy, but because of her method when evaluating other with whom she disagreed...(Emphasis added).

I know from my own experience that one does not simply wipe out what one has integrated over a long period of time by understanding one's mistake. The subconscious does not work like that, which is why a person can find that they have an inappropriate emotional response to something. The integrations one has made using the mistake must be rooted out one at a time, as they appear. To do that, however, one must recognize the instance of the mistaken view or idea, which isn't always obvious.

I'm not going to go any further with this because the line between discussing something like this in the abstract and psychologizing about an actual person is fine indeed. I am neither a psychologist nor a mind-reader and I don't pretend to know what motivates her. I will only say that as I observe her actions, it strikes me that perhaps she has not rooted out certain habits formed over 10 years in young adulthood. Saying that does not mean that I think she is dishonest in her change of thinking about Objectivism, nor that I'm impugning her integrity where it involves her leaving TOC. Thus I refute the charge of bias against her.

I have been doing some further thinking about all that Sophia has written about unjust comments towards Ms. Hsieh, in particular the statement "I guess you can take the girl out of TOC, but you can't take the TOC out of the girl." I have moved to this topic because I think that the subject of this topic better fit what I have to say.

That statement is a very broad one. If a reader didn't understand everything that has gone on, i.e., didn't know the entire context, one could say that the statement is too general, and as such, unjust because it implies that her fundamental change in thinking was not genuine. I did not take it as such because I think I understood both the impetus (Stephen's frustration and anger with the repeated attacks), and the meaning of the statement (which is what I stated above; i.e., that perhaps she had not rid herself of TOC's methods of attacking those with whom they disagreed).

Stephen allowed himself an emotional outburst--and stated that it was such-- and since it was an emotional outburst, it delivered the sum of his thinking without all that lay behind it. I certainly don't hold that against him; he had plenty of cause to be angry. Such outbursts are usually not allowed on THE FORUM, for good reason. That the owner gave himself leeway is his right. Perhaps not judicious, as we have seen, but still his right.

Looking at such an instance, however, and speaking in general terms, I have asked myself about the consequences of allowing oneself to speak in strictly emotional terms. Aside from the ethical questions that may be involved, can (or do) emotional statements further one's basic argument? Do they detract from what one is trying to communicate? If they are allowed, what is the proper method of expressing strong emotions, especially anger and frustration (those two usually go together)?

One consequence of the outburst is that the focus of attention switched from the attacks from Ms. Hsieh and others, to the accusation that "this side" was indulging in the same thing. When making a point, this is an accusation that we do not want to be justly aimed at us because it undercuts the primary purpose of defending ourselves against attack.

Does this mean that we must be inhuman little "Mr. Spocks" who never express our emotions? I don't think so. One doesn't make a choice between reason and emotions because of the nature of emotions. My own passion about a subject comes from the knowledge of the rightness of a well-reasoned conclusion. Even if I've made a mistake somewhere along the line, if I've been conscientious, it rarely changes the conclusion in a fundamental way. In expressing that passion to an audience such as the FORUM, however, I think that one must give careful explication of the reasoning behind the passion (or emotion).

This is as far as a night's thinking has taken me. I would appreciate your thoughts.

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After Stephen deleted one of my post he also gave me some advice. Basically he said; that I should not hesitate to type out a reply to someone else, but knowing the state that I am in, set it aside. Wait an hour, two hours or even a day until you calm down and then go back and re-read it. If at that point in time you still think that you cannot use any other wording, post it. I have tried very hard over the last couple of years to do just this and I have found it is very helpful. But, I still think to look at only one aspect of a certain situation is illogical. Every post must be looked at within the context of the post, such as Stephen's post that Janet used as an example.

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Does this mean that we must be inhuman little "Mr. Spocks" who never express our emotions? I don't think so. One doesn't make a choice between reason and emotions because of the nature of emotions. My own passion about a subject comes from the knowledge of the rightness of a well-reasoned conclusion. Even if I've made a mistake somewhere along the line, if I've been conscientious, it rarely changes the conclusion in a fundamental way. In expressing that passion to an audience such as the FORUM, however, I think that one must give careful explication of the reasoning behind the passion (or emotion).

Never expressing an emotion, including the emotion of anger over injustice, would be repression and a mind/body split. *Just* emoting is no good but letting emotion guide the choice of words that present or summarize a logically arrived at conclusion is certainly objective. As Ayn Rand noted, a false old view of objectivity, still almost universally accepted, is that one cannot be objective about subjects that have personal value to one's self. That is certainly not the case in Objectivism.

I will also add that some cases are so blatantly obvious that it becomes absurd to keep pointing out the obvious facts. For someone to consider a continuous stream of insults and lies, over the span of years, as equivalent to a single or a few outraged responses from the victims of such lies and insults, is itself disgusting and dishonest - the sole effect is to assist in rationalizing and promoting the perpetrator's malice. There is a connection to a topic touched on recently, that of altruistic school administrators who equally punish bullies and their responding victims.

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...I still think to look at only one aspect of a certain situation is illogical. Every post must be looked at within the context of the post, such as Stephen's post that Janet used as an example.

I agree, which is why I tried to make sure to point out the context of Stephen's statement. His remark was not made in a vacuum.

The question, however, is whether such an expression, given as a conclusion without careful explanation of the reasoning behind, even in context, furthers an argument. In asking this, I'd like to set aside the question of justice for a moment (with the understanding that I do understand the importance of being just in any argument). The point of arguing for or against a particular thing is to lay out one's reasons why one thinks he is right and the other side is wrong (speaking generally). If something diverts attention from one's purpose, it doesn't serve the purpose. As such, the argument must be strictly focused so that one's opponent doesn't have anything to use that doesn't pertain to the issue at hand. One tactic used in debates I've watched is for one side to take control of the argument by diverting attention away from what the other side is saying, and focusing the argument away from the opponent point.

Perhaps the question to ask is: In the context of a debate or discussion, do manners serve a purpose beyond personal comportment and showing a basic respect for one's fellows? If so, what purpose(s) do manners serve? Should there be a limit to mannerly behavior? Yes or no, why?

What do good manners entail? I was raised in a military family, where manners entailed a very strictly defined code of behavior which focused on one's behavior to superiors, whether that meant one's elders or those in a position of authority. This behavior spilled over into my behavior towards all people, sometimes to my detriment. I had to learn how to disagree with people, say no, etc., in a way that didn't compromise my own dignity. I think that wit and an ability at repartee plays a part here, and I'm not an especially witty person. (By "wit" I mean the suggestion of "the power to evoke laughter by remarks showing verbal felicity or ingenuity and swift perception especially of the incongruous"; "repartee implies the power of answering quickly, pointedly, wittily, and often humorously [Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary]). Those virtues, done properly, allow one to make a point without showing one's anger, and thereby to keep the upper hand in an argument.

I know I'm all over the place here. I am trying to figure out the best way to engage in a vigorous argument, where emotions may run high, without doing myself a disservice by acting in such a way that I defeat my purpose. Obviously, I'm still trying to define just what that entails. I'm sorry if I'm only confusing the matter.

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I will also add that some cases are so blatantly obvious that it becomes absurd to keep pointing out the obvious facts. For someone to consider a continuous stream of insults and lies, over the span of years, as equivalent to a single or a few outraged responses from the victims of such lies and insults, is itself disgusting and dishonest - the sole effect is to assist in rationalizing and promoting the perpetrator's malice. There is a connection to a topic touched on recently, that of altruistic school administrators who equally punish bullies and their responding victims.

That's a good point, but not necessarily an obvious one.

Sometimes people who fail to pass judgement on evil don't yet realize what they are dealing with. They may see someone who supports Objectivism and ARI and other good stuff and give them a lot of the benefit of the doubt for that reason alone.

A benevolent person can also be disarmed by projecting his own benevolence onto others. A case in point was the way Dagny kept believing that, deep down inside, the looters really valued an industrial society and really wanted to live. It took a lot of evidence before she was convinced she was wrong.

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The question, however, is whether such an expression, given as a conclusion without careful explanation of the reasoning behind, even in context, furthers an argument
If they are allowed, what is the proper method of expressing strong emotions, especially anger and frustration (those two usually go together)?

First, I think there can be a lot of value in communicating an emotion to someone else. Emotions are how we experience our values, so that when we experience very strong emotions this is a sign that values very important to us are at stake. Communicating the emotion underscores the value. For example, when you’re in love with someone, you don’t just explain to them what you like about them as if you were reading the ingredients off of a cereal box. No, you find ways to share your passion for them in a way they can experience themselves (through affection, gifts, poetry, music etc.). Otherwise, how are they to know how important they are to you? If they think you don't care, it's likely they'll leave you for someone who (in their judgment) really appreciates them.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes it’s important to express “negative” emotions in order to show someone just how much you disapprove of some action or idea. If, for example, a friend betrays your confidence, you don’t just say “I didn’t like what you did”. If your reaction is so emotionless, they’re likely to believe it didn’t bother you very much, and because of this they might not take strong measures to correct their behavior. Not being honest and open about your emotions can damage relationships. So I think because emotions are tied to our values, they can help to underscore those values and prevent misunderstandings.

However, if we’re talking about debate, then I’m not sure when it is appropriate to express pure emotion. Emotion itself has no cognitive content, and so expressing a feeling to someone should not be the goal of a debate. It’s our values that we want to communicate, not our personal reactions to them. As such, I don’t think that emotional statements contribute to an argument.

I’d like to repeat the follow-up question you asked earlier: Does this mean that we must be inhuman little "Mr. Spocks" who never express our emotions? I would answer this by saying that even though it is not the goal of debate to communicate emotion, emotion will inevitably come across in any argument where values are at stake, through our moral evaluations. Ayn Rand’s arguments for selfishness, for reason and for Capitalism are not merely logically true; they are passionate moral arguments that move and inspire. Any effective argument for Selfishness, for Reason, for Capitalism, must be grounded in values to man's life, and as such will carry with it moral evaluations. I don't think it is necessary in a philosophical debate to say separately, "your comments anger me", nor does it really mean anything to your opponent to say this. What does mean something is to first identify the offending ideas, and judge them in objective and rational terms.

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By the way, there is no significance to my capitalizing "reason" and "selfishness" in one case and not in the other. I wrote the two sentences at different times and did not notice the inconsistency or the repetition until after I posted.

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The question, however, is whether such an expression, given as a conclusion without careful explanation of the reasoning behind, even in context, furthers an argument
If they are allowed, what is the proper method of expressing strong emotions, especially anger and frustration (those two usually go together)?

[...]

However, if we’re talking about debate, then I’m not sure when it is appropriate to express pure emotion. Emotion itself has no cognitive content, and so expressing a feeling to someone should not be the goal of a debate. It’s our values that we want to communicate, not our personal reactions to them. As such, I don’t think that emotional statements contribute to an argument.

[...]

[Emphases added.]

I would like to point out that the questions posed, and evaluations proffered, by oldsalt and bborg above pre-suppose a debate, argument or discussion, i.e., a two- (or more) sided exchange between parties committed to trading facts and opinions.

As such, the issue(s) which prompted the much longer thread from which this thread was birthed, cannot properly be used as examples in this context. The matter with Hsieh cannot be considered a "discussion," "debate," or "argument." There were attacks, and that's all there is to it.

This confusion of "debate/argument" with "attack" is clouding the assessment of Mr. Speicher's comments in some readers' minds. They somehow believe that the person Mr. S was referring to was engaged in "discussion" with him - or perhaps could have been made to. This was not the case, as the facts attest; which is why context is so important.

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This confusion of "debate/argument" with "attack" is clouding the assessment of Mr. Speicher's comments in some readers' minds. They somehow believe that the person Mr. S was referring to was engaged in "discussion" with him - or perhaps could have been made to. This was not the case, as the facts attest; which is why context is so important.
I do not believe this discussion has confused debate or argument with attack. When one responds to any assertion, one is addressing not only the person making the assertion but also the audience which the asserter hopes to sway with that assertion. As such, the question of the proper form of response - as well as the potentially most effective form of response - in order to rationally convince the audience (and possibly the person making the assertions) of the exact nature of the assertions (that they are true, false, or arbitrary) is quite appropriate. In other words, the question presented by oldsalt is valid, whether the nature of the assertion is an attack or a rationally presented claim.

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I think as a contention before a deliberative body, which in this case is/was the public, the rules apply and thus oldsalt's and bborq's arguments hold. (This also applies to the responses to Dr. Peikoff's statement as they were presented to the public).

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This confusion of "debate/argument" with "attack" is clouding the assessment of Mr. Speicher's comments in some readers' minds. They somehow believe that the person Mr. S was referring to was engaged in "discussion" with him - or perhaps could have been made to. This was not the case, as the facts attest; which is why context is so important.
I do not believe this discussion has confused debate or argument with attack. When one responds to any assertion, one is addressing not only the person making the assertion but also the audience which the asserter hopes to sway with that assertion. As such, the question of the proper form of response - as well as the potentially most effective form of response - in order to rationally convince the audience (and possibly the person making the assertions) of the exact nature of the assertions (that they are true, false, or arbitrary) is quite appropriate. In other words, the question presented by oldsalt is valid, whether the nature of the assertion is an attack or a rationally presented claim.

We wrote our posts at the same time. I am in agreement with what you wrote.

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This confusion of "debate/argument" with "attack" is clouding the assessment of Mr. Speicher's comments in some readers' minds. They somehow believe that the person Mr. S was referring to was engaged in "discussion" with him - or perhaps could have been made to. This was not the case, as the facts attest; which is why context is so important.
I do not believe this discussion has confused debate or argument with attack. When one responds to any assertion, one is addressing not only the person making the assertion but also the audience which the asserter hopes to sway with that assertion. As such, the question of the proper form of response - as well as the potentially most effective form of response - in order to rationally convince the audience (and possibly the person making the assertions) of the exact nature of the assertions (that they are true, false, or arbitrary) is quite appropriate. In other words, the question presented by oldsalt is valid, whether the nature of the assertion is an attack or a rationally presented claim.

I disagree absolutely with this characterization of the matter and will not debate it.

The facts are open to whomever wishes to research the matter. One party started a thread which is now many pages long and has been open to discussion on various fora; the other party simply slings insults and refuses to provide evidence for ANY assertions. If that is not enough for any rational mind, then nothing will be.

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This confusion of "debate/argument" with "attack" is clouding the assessment of Mr. Speicher's comments in some readers' minds. They somehow believe that the person Mr. S was referring to was engaged in "discussion" with him - or perhaps could have been made to. This was not the case, as the facts attest; which is why context is so important.
I do not believe this discussion has confused debate or argument with attack. When one responds to any assertion, one is addressing not only the person making the assertion but also the audience which the asserter hopes to sway with that assertion. As such, the question of the proper form of response - as well as the potentially most effective form of response - in order to rationally convince the audience (and possibly the person making the assertions) of the exact nature of the assertions (that they are true, false, or arbitrary) is quite appropriate. In other words, the question presented by oldsalt is valid, whether the nature of the assertion is an attack or a rationally presented claim.

I disagree absolutely with this characterization of the matter and will not debate it.

The facts are open to whomever wishes to research the matter. One party started a thread which is now many pages long and has been open to discussion on various fora; the other party simply slings insults and refuses to provide evidence for ANY assertions. If that is not enough for any rational mind, then nothing will be.

My focus isn't on those who have made assertions or attacked this forum. I don't want to treat them as a collective, or paint with a broad brush any one who has disagreed with us, as Ms. Hsieh and others have done with those individuals who post on the FORUM, so I will simply say that those individuals who have attacked this FORUM did not bother to come here and discuss anything with us. Ms. Hsieh has stated explicitly that, not only will she not do so, but that we are not welcome to comment on Noodlefood. They merely made their assertions, slandered people, and as far as I'm aware, with the exception of Betsy, did not name the individuals involved, nor gave a specific reason for calling individuals vicious and evil. (I may be wrong about that because I stopped reading that dreck passing itself off as intellectual discussion). Why on earth would I bother with them. On what basis? To argue what? That I am not whatever it is they assert? Merely to engage in the same behavior?

Anything I might have to say would be addressed to those who are interested in the justice of the matter and so come here to see for themselves. Does indulging in invective further my discussion with that audience? I am not saying that one should not reach a conclusion and pass moral judgment, but should do so only if one has enough information about a specific individual. And here is where we must hold ourselves to a very high standard indeed, because it is a matter of justice.

I will add that I am not interested in further discussions about specific statements made by Stephen. I think it is unfair to continue to talk about them when he is no longer here to defend his statements or offer any other comment regarding them.

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I disagree absolutely with this characterization of the matter and will not debate it.
I said that a response to an assertion, regardless of the nature of the assertion, is not directed solely at the person making said assertion. I stated such response is also aimed at the audience (whomever they might be) the assertion seeks to sway. I am unclear as to what about this statement is considered so disagreeable as to be beyond rational debate.

To whom do you suggest a response to an assertion (any assertion) is aimed, if not the speaker and/or the audience?

One party started a thread which is now many pages long and has been open to discussion on various fora; the other party simply slings insults and refuses to provide evidence for ANY assertions.
Since none of this was disputed, it is unclear how these facts relate to the discussion at hand.
Anything I might have to say would be addressed to those who are interested in the justice of the matter and so come here to see for themselves. Does indulging in invective further my discussion with that audience? I am not saying that one should not reach a conclusion and pass moral judgment, but should do so only if one has enough information about a specific individual. And here is where we must hold ourselves to a very high standard indeed, because it is a matter of justice.
I agree completely.

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