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16 April 2003 @ 02:45 pm
LJ Land has felt subtly off-kilter to me lately--I'm out of synch with my friends list or something. Like, fannish kerfluffles and the rants stemming from such (a) hold no real interest for me, and (b) add little to my reading experience except a vague sense of irritation. Add to that a heavy BtVS finale-spoiler trend: behind cut-tags, yeah, nothing wrong there. It's just that it's nothing I want to read about. In more current angst, I'll be a few days behind on the current ep, which means my FL right now has a preponderance of reviews that I'm not reading yet.

I'm not bitch-slapping anyone. I'm just, as I say, feeling off.

On the other hand, there have been some cool posts that I've neglected to link to because of my scribbling distraction. My scribstraction. Like carolyn_claire's post on writing and fannish incest.

And someone had a friends-locked meta post revisiting the subject of list debate and styles of opinion that got me thinking--yet again--about this. I was going to go long or wide on the subject, or whatever that football term is, but I think I'll go short at the risk of offending through concision, because if I don't get it out now, I know I'll never say anything, and though that might be for the best...well, there is no completion to that thought, never mind. In short, I always come down on the "wrong" side. I know, in my head, that keen debate is "healthy" the same way I know that Brussels sprouts are healthy. But I flinch from it just the same. I'm almost always going to prize style over substance, tone over logic, and--maybe most importantly, I'm beginning to think--relativism over certainty. This particular post was pretty much "Strong Opinions, Yay!" And I'm on the other side of the stadium, waving a big foam thumbs-down mitt, because I've never met a strong opinion I didn't dislike.

I know that may sound insane to a lot of people, because conviction of belief is supposed to be a moral good, but it just grates on me. There's this whole premise, I think, on which "Strong Opinions, Yay!" (I'm going to call that SOY from now on) is based, which is that the sharp edge of one opinion hones another. But to me, it's the painful clashing of swords and even if someone doesn't intend to blood an opponent, the risk is there. (I'm *so* not Lex Luthor, obviously.) It's been said many times that qualifying--that whole verbal style of disclaimers a la "IMHO, my feeling is, just my opinion," along with such wavery meeps as "mabye, I think, I tend to think, I kinda think, I sometimes think," et cetera--is unnecessary. That it's *implied* whenever you state something, and every reader should understand that.

No. I don't think so. (Heh.) I think that verbal style is in fact critical to many people, and that it's the very force of some people's verbalizations that makes other people flinch back, regardless of what's being said. It's *how* something's being said, and not always *what's* being said, that makes a discussion flame up. And that's not a new truism in itself, and sure, you can say that *other* people are the touchy ones and should grow up, but I think people should own their own friction, too. It's a whole frictive style thing: the stronger you try to push your beliefs as fact on someone, in opposition, the more likely you are to trigger pushback. It's just a natural interactive law. Qualification is verbal oil that reduces this kind of friction. It's the lube of discourse. Yay, lube.

And I just really like discourse with lube. Discussion that's sexy, slippery, flexible, and cooperative, like an orgy. I prefer that to a style that emulates battle--where, say, formal debate is like fencing, where you keep the distance of swords between you, and that distance adds a stylized coldness to the talk. (And maybe ad hominem attacks and flames are like boxing, where you're landing blows right on someone's person.)

Aside from all that, I think there may be a very basic philsophical difference that informs these debating styles--like, we consider the styles superficial, but they may in fact represent a much deeper schism of relativism and absolutism. And here's where I'd need another thousand words to try and get my thoughts across, because I'm not necessarily talking about these terms as ascribed to one's moral outlook on the world, so much as one's...psychological?

Anyway, I'm just blithering, at greater length than intended. And now I need to touch base with evil some caffeine.

Plinsuperplin on April 16th, 2003 03:26 pm (UTC)
I'm on your side
I absolutely need a T-shirt recommending "the lube of discourse." That's the pithiest phrase I've heard in ages! Too funny.

I know exactly what you mean about SOY being considered the morally upright and defensible position. Truth is, like you, I am often instinctively repelled by people who state their opinion forcefully without qualifiers, beyond the actual content of whatever it is they are saying/writing. There are a number of posters on various forums I frequent who have this effect on me, even when we're in the same camp of whatever current debate is raging.

These people need a lube job.

From their standpoint, I'm the one with the problem because I sometimes take their statements personally. I'm clearly dense, but if someone says, "Opinion A is stupid, and Opinion B the only possible correct interpretation," I am going to take this as a criticism of my intellectual or critical faculties if I happen to hold Opinion A. Even if I hold Opinion B I'm likely to take offense, because I don't like abrasive people cluttering up my team. My team is nice and polite and says "please" and "thank you" and "my feeling is," and we don't feel diminished for it.

These are the same people who refuse to change or adapt to any kind of social interaction because "that's just how I am." In the implied "take it or leave it," I'd rather leave it. Or lube it.

Okay, rambling. Sorry. You just touched a nerve of mine, I guess!
Agnesbientot on April 17th, 2003 04:03 am (UTC)
Re: I'm on your side
leave it. Or lube it.

Maybe this could go on the back of your T-shirt?
still lavender from the blockwickedprincess3 on April 16th, 2003 03:33 pm (UTC)
It is very much a personality thing, I think. By nature I am a SOY person. My parents (and my debate club teacher) forced a-to paraphrase you "lube of discourse"-on me. I had to learn to view agruments from sides other than my own and to separate the person from the argument. I think a lot of people need just a touch of the L.O.D. perhaps it should be bottled and given out when you join forums...
Anna S.eliade on April 16th, 2003 03:51 pm (UTC)
Interestingly, my own knee-jerk imprssion is that it's actually LOD people and *not* SOY people (wow, I've made acronyms!) who tend to make personal associations, i.e., between a speaker and what's being said. Whereas your own personal experience as mentioned above suggests the opposite.

See, I think it's very possible that SOY people, wrapped up in a particular style, are just trying to be cool and "rational" and objective, couching their beliefs in the form of facts through a kind of rhetorical impulse, even if they implicitly hold them as opinions. And these strong opinions are not very attractive to LOD peeps because they come across as personal, as dismissals and negation, and sometimes as rudeness. (A "flat-out contradiction" to me, for example, implies rudeness, even if the person making the contradiction is entirely correct. In a weird way, my own gut instinct is to *apologize* if I'm correcting someone, or at least serve it up softly instead of flatly, because empathy tells me it's going to embarrass them.)
Roz Kaveneyrozk on April 16th, 2003 03:47 pm (UTC)
Can I say just how much I agree with this? I am aware that I probably come across as quite forceful in my opinions, but I hope never so in a way that stifles debate or makes people feel they can't argue with me...

I love this fandom -by which I suppose I mean the interface between Buffy fandom, slash fandom and lj-ing -, not least by contrast with other communities I have been part of down the years - here I speak as someone with more years to have been down than most - and I hate the idea that it will ever dissolve in acrimony. And all it takes is people not thinking before they assume villainy or obtuseness in others and post accordingly.

As I already said, be gentle.
harmonyfb: spoilerphobeharmonyfb on April 16th, 2003 03:55 pm (UTC)
Actually, my position isn't nearly so tied up with morals or philosophy or anything so heavy. Simply, it is: Me like arguing. ::smile:::

Can't help it, I just do. Probably has to do with my loud Southern family, but I just love the clash of opinions, just as much as I like reasoned and quiet discussion...just in a different way.

I'm often disappointed that so few people seem to want to engage in sparring matches in LJ - oddly enough, other people have argumentative folks constantly posting, but nobody wants to get down & dirty with me. ::pout::

In the end, though, it really is just friendly wrestling on my end - I don't argue with people that I actively dislike. :)
Tamaratamarabass on April 16th, 2003 04:04 pm (UTC)
Gah! I so hear you! I too love a good friendly debate, and yet no one seems to want to argue with me either. ::pout::
ginmarginmar on April 17th, 2003 03:15 am (UTC)
Well, hell, come on over to my LJ!

I like to argue. I do. Quelle surprise. But I have to say, I'm one of the logical arguers---what are the facts, the sources, and so on? I was always taught facts are the almost resource, and you have to sample as many of them as possible.

PROBE UNIVERSEliviapenn on April 16th, 2003 04:07 pm (UTC)

See, Anna, you're wrong. You're wrong, and this is why--

no, dude, I'm just kidding. *giggling*

*nuzzles you*

Aside from all that, I think there may be a very basic philsophical difference that informs these debating styles--like, we consider the styles superficial, but they may in fact represent a much deeper schism of relativism and absolutism.

I think so too. I mean, in fandom, first of all you've got a lot of people from a lot of *wildly* different backgrounds, life experiences and age groups all trying to interpret the same text, and these days, when you're debating the meaning of a text, there supposedly *is* no one correct interpretation, right? Even authorial intent doesn't count any more, so we should all respect everybody's interpretation as equally correct.

And I look at what I just said and it makes sense, kind of, and then the Giles voice takes over my head again: Except, of course, in this instance when I am clearly right and you are clearly wrong! and I am back to "Strong Opinions, Yay!" again. ^_^
Anna S.eliade on April 16th, 2003 04:12 pm (UTC)
Except, of course, in this instance when I am clearly right and you are clearly wrong!

Hee! {g}
Betty Plotnickbettyp on April 16th, 2003 04:19 pm (UTC)
It's funny, but I think you've almost accidentally demonstrated your theory just now in action. When you talk about arguing styles reflecting people's mental approach to the world -- to me, that's exactly it. The problem with an unadulterated SOY position is that it ignores the whole fact that we don't pull our ideas out of nowherere, and when you say, "You could not be more wrong!" it may not be "personal" in an "I hate you" kind of way, but it *is* personal, because it's a criticism of how this person thinks and what their standards and values are. People who don't so much tend toward absolutes, they seem to spend a lot of time doing what you just did, which is wondering why someone would say this and not that, What It All Means.

And that's really the more interesting conversation to have, anyway, isn't it? I mean, if somebody says, "Spike got his soul, and it's a beautiful meditation on what it means to be human; he's really the hero of the story now!" and someone else says, "Why, oh, why, wasn't I hit by a bus before having to watch the Spike's-soul arc eat my show?" -- at that point, you're not really *producing* anything with each other. I mean, there sit your strong opinions like big lumps of coal, and all you can do is roll your eyes and vacuum around it. But if you can start going "But I think" and "what I wanted" and "what makes a hero to me" and "what I hear the writers saying" and all that stuff, you start atually appreciating what other viewers are seeing and how other people see and la la la. Which is why I shy away from SOY, not so much because I'm afraid of conflict, but just because it doesn't seem to draw people out of their shells and into conversation as easily.
Kat Allisonkatallison on April 16th, 2003 04:22 pm (UTC)
*smooching your off-kilter self*

It's funny, I actually started a reply to the post you mention, and didn't finish/post it, partly because of the onslaught of crud, but also because -- well, I'd begun writing it as "Yeah, maybe people *should* understand that when I say something it's just my opinion and not a declarative judgment, but in fact they often *don't*, and I don't want to give unnecessary offense" -- and then I realized that, actually, the reason I'm all about the lube of discourse is because that's what makes *me* comfortable. It's how I prefer to communicate. And one reason for that is that I often use LJ or list postings as a way to spin hypotheses, play with vague concepts that I'm not at all married to. I want to leave myself wiggle room, so that when I change my mind (as I often do), I haven't, like, nailed myself publicly to some perspective that I'm not at all sure I fully believe.

Beyond that, though, I'm with you on the schism between the two approaches, which I tend to agree is psychological and temperamental. Partly it's that whole F/T thing, subjective/objective, empathy/reason, better to be accurate/better to be compassionate. Beyond that, though, I think there's some difference between people who -- ermph, I don't really know how to say this -- who are attracted to verities, truths, who enjoy formulating and articulating systems of belief and value, and those of us who prefer to play around with mutually-contradictory possibilities and enjoy paradox and ambiguity.

I guess one of the few things I *do* believe is that if I can avoid ruffling someone's feelings by taking an extra minute to qualify my remarks and disclaim absolutism, then it's worth it--because why give unnecessary pain? I have nothing to prove, really, and I've found that if I want to be heard, that's (paradoxically) likelier to happen if I speak quietly, or in a way that makes it clear I'm speaking for no one but myself. It seems to make it easier for people to simply listen, without feeling like they have to mount a counter-argument. (And of course I often fall short of this ideal. *g*)
Vera: zencopracat on April 16th, 2003 04:46 pm (UTC)
Wow. I would admire your boxing, fencing analogy more coherently were I more awake.

I'd like some wrestling debate, please. And some beach volleyball debate... Mmmmm.
do you want orcs? because this is how you get orcskita0610 on April 16th, 2003 05:05 pm (UTC)
Interesting analogy.

I'm definately more of a fencer. Something bugs me about the whole "IMHO" thing, esp. when used by women. It smacks of "well, I shouldn't really express my opinion too strongly lest I hurt someone's feelings." And I don't really ken how someone disagreeing with you (general you, not you you) can hurt your feelings. Unless someone says "you're a cunt", a debate is a debate and nothing personal. So I don't feel the need for fancy couching of arguments. If I say something, it's obviously my opinion and not gospel.

Obviously, YMMV (and does). Which is cool.

But I think I'm with the Harmonyfb when she says, "hey! someone step up to the plate and argue with me godamnit!"
Anna S.eliade on April 16th, 2003 05:20 pm (UTC)
So I don't feel the need for fancy couching of arguments.

See, but then you disprove this by saying:

Obviously, YMMV (and does). Which is cool.


Anyway, I dislike IMHO as it's just an application of verbal chat-room cheezwhiz and often the people using it are prone to undermine themselves by not being humble at all. Though that's certainly not always true, of course--I also know many people who use it in a restrained, well-placed way. ;)

But qualifiers are lovely. (Analogies change with word form: qualification = lube. Qualifiers = sex toys! Heh.)
Anna S.eliade on April 16th, 2003 05:20 pm (UTC)
Er, by "disprove" I just meant that you demonstrate a milder style than you're advocating. ;)
do you want orcs? because this is how you get orcs: Pretty Boy Angelkita0610 on April 16th, 2003 05:25 pm (UTC)


So I don't feel the need for fancy couching of arguments.

See, but then you disprove this by saying:

Obviously, YMMV (and does). Which is cool.


Well, because you asked for them. I'm not opposed to doing it if someone clearly says they are uncomfortable without it. I just don't choose it as my primary style, and I wonder if folks who do, do so out of a sense of "I shouldn't feel strongly about anything"- then I wonder who taught them that. Then I realize my graduate degree in Pysch really gave me too many thoughts. *G*

harmonyfb: Nice Girlsharmonyfb on April 16th, 2003 05:36 pm (UTC)
But I think I'm with the Harmonyfb when she says, "hey! someone step up to the plate and argue with me godamnit!"

Kita, please come snark at me in my journal and challenge my ideas and tell me I'm full of shit, so I can snark back. Pretty please? I'll even let you have the good chair.
do you want orcs? because this is how you get orcs: Fuck Shitkita0610 on April 16th, 2003 05:49 pm (UTC)
Hee. Ok, bear with me here and I'll share something amusing.

Somewhere, in someone else's LJ, we almost had an argument over politics. You said I said something about you in particular, which I hadn't, I was just making a general statement. Turns out I had posted my general statement under your post, but hadn't read your post, because of the way you can hit "post comments" without actually reading other ones. Then LJ posts them in order- you know what I mean? So it looked like I was talking to you when the whole page was there, but I actually wasn't.

But that seemed so godamn lame, I didn't bother to explain it in another reply, cause dude, I wanted an argument over something COOL like polticis or religion, or BtVS, not LJ's posting order!!


Say something broad and speculative, and say it firmly! Shout it! Write it in caps and bold letters! Gimme something to work with here! I'll come debate! I swear!
harmonyfb: spoilerphobeharmonyfb on April 16th, 2003 05:57 pm (UTC)
Say something broad and speculative, and say it firmly! Shout it! Write it in caps and bold letters! Gimme something to work with here! I'll come debate! I swear!

::thinking:: Let's see...how 'bout..."Angel is a poopyhead". ;)
do you want orcs? because this is how you get orcs: Pretty Boy Angelkita0610 on April 16th, 2003 06:14 pm (UTC)
Since that's pretty much why I love him, that's not gonna get it done. *G*
twistedchick on April 16th, 2003 05:53 pm (UTC)
I read this twice to be able to be sure I would respond to what you were saying, rather than what I thought you might be saying. Some of my response is complicated by the article on discussion styles I just finished reading in Bitch (which also has an article on slash in issue #20) but I hope this will make sense.

I see several issues at work here, combined and separately. One is the idea of courtesy to those with whom one is speaking, which is a much clearer matter in person than in writing since we don't have access to one another's expressions and tones of voice while reading one another's written words. Some of this is mitigated by the use of :) and so on, but not all, and these may be interpreted ironically or satirically rather than in the way intended.

Another is the disinclination to own one's own personal opinion, by couching it in so many layers of disclaimers that the opinion disappears (or is denatured and diluted) -- which is often accompanied by enough of an attachment to that incompletely expressed opinion that someone else expressing a different opinion is considered offensive, though no offense may have been intended.

A third is the problem that responses to diluted and unclearly expressed opinions tend to compound the misunderstanding and misinterpretation, particularly when they concern "hot" or sensitive topics or issues. Add on more layers of "lube", and it can be difficult to say anything without offending someone simply by replying to the "wrong" thing.

A fourth is that opinions expressed clearly and strongly may be unfairly interpreted as The Only Opinion when they are This Person's Opinion and nothing more -- and not claimed as being anything more than TPO.

A fifth is that anyone who expresses an opinion clearly and in straight language is likely to be considered rude, and dismissed for that possible "error of style" without the facts of the actual opinion being considered on their own merit.

These, in turn, raise questions in my mind on other issues, such as the relationship between excessive conversational lube and personal insecurity; the conflicts of honesty and truthtelling versus "social" lies; the intricacies of cliques and in-groups among overlapping but not congruent populations; and the changing definitions of maturity and thoughtfulness that I find among various groups online, in which the ability to discuss a topic from a variety of viewpoints without taking offense at the fact that people don't all agree with each other is considered less important than "everyone getting along" and the idea of actually following a thought logically is often believed (falsely) to be irrelevant.

All of which is the longwinded and excessively lubed way of saying that I disagree with you on this in more ways than I want to list here.

zvi LikesTV: Thoughtfulzvi_likes_tv on April 16th, 2003 07:44 pm (UTC)
The very rare occasion on which I'll argue in this direction
Usually, I'm all about style *is* substance, and the words you choose mean things the words you don't choose do not.

On the issue of "to disclaim or not to disclaim" and "to couch or not to couch", I do think the question is one of style much more than stance or moral uplift or politeness or whatever.

(Much of the following will be ganked from Deborah Tannen. I [heart] Tannen.)

People talk the way they talk because that's how they learned to talk. One uses disclaimers naturally or not, because the people with whom you've had the most discourse disclaim or not. And as long as we stay within a small linguistic group, this is all cool. Either the whole party does disclaim, or the whole party doesn't, and everyone understands when someone intends to be rude or domineering versus when they're just talking.

But you eventually leave your small group (i.e. your family or your elementary school or your neighborhood or, hey, your first fandom) and you start talking to other people, and they talk differently. Maybe they disclaim and you don't, or you disclaim and they don't. Maybe one of you makes interjectory apologies or has the verbal tic of saying y'know as if it were a period. They talk this way because this is the way the people they spent most of their time talking to talk.

Now, when confronted with this person, you don't say, "Ah, I am a fourth-generation Russian Jewish woman who grew up in the Bronx and is a doctor in Manhattan, and I am speaking to a black man from Northern California who plays professional football in Kansas City, and so we speak differently, and I should try to parse what he's saying instead of how he's saying it." Instead, you interpret what he's saying, according to his rules, by the very different rules you learned growing up.

This is a bit like trying to bake a cake from a recipe written in metric units when you only know the English system and have no handy conversion formulas or dual unit measuring tools. You can get something out at the end, you may even be able to eyeball-correct the measurements enough to come out with a recognizable project, but it's unlikely it will be what the person who wrote the recipe intended.

The other thing that happens though (and this isn't from Ms. Tannen), is that humans are naturally storytelling, explaining creatures. If they do something, they have to invent a reason for it, like religion or science or custom. And humans decide that the way they talk, rather than simply being the evolutionary accident of a group of people talking to themselves and not others, that there are sound 'politeness' or 'clarity' or 'secrecy' or 'closeness' levels for talking the way they do, and if the way they talk promotes this self-evident good, then people who talk differently are opposed to this good.

I don't believe it. If the reason people are talking a way that opposes some good you uphold because of theoretical conversational goods, it's likely because they're almost certainly looking at some axis different than yours, not the opposite of yours. You seem to want to avoid strife, and the other poster (I'm assuming you're talking about the entry "cranky about 'mean' people") is more concerned with people owning their own opinions and their conversants being able to recognize opinions that are actually held. Those aren't diametrically opposed values, those are values on different planes all together.

So, basically I completely disagree
Aside from all that, I think there may be a very basic philsophical difference that informs these debating styles--like, we consider the styles superficial, but they may in fact represent a much deeper schism of relativism and absolutism.
I think it's much more along the lines that we're looking at conflicting linguistic histories than deep philosopic or psychological division.
Plinsuperplin on April 16th, 2003 11:24 pm (UTC)
Re: The very rare occasion on which I'll argue in this direction
I think it's much more along the lines that we're looking at conflicting linguistic histories than deep philosopic or psychological division.

I agree with almost everything you said, but I come to a different conclusion. How we speak conditions how we think, our personal philosophies are colored by the language we speak and how we use it (among lots of other things, of course). I'm not sure you can make such a clear distinction between language and thought.
ginmarginmar on April 17th, 2003 03:30 am (UTC)
Make nice!
My big problem with the LOD is that sometimes it's not actual politeness, and very often you're not arguing logically. I like logical debate. What I hate is debating with someone who doesn't know what the hell they're talking about, becuase they haven't read or studied or anything at all. And they get defensive.
I used to hang out a crime website that was dominated by the sort of discourse where people would cite "FBI papers" when asked for a source. And then get snippy when it was pointed out to them that this was hardly a source.
I like debate, I do. But I guess I look at it as exchanging information. Maybe it's because I don't consider space aliens to be appropriate sources of information or fact, or the The Drudge Report to be the bible of logic. But logical debate is surprisingly hard to find. People don't research their opinions any more ----they just have an opinion, then search out only the sources that support them.

Okay, what was the topic again? Didn't you say something about caffeine, too? Worst possible thing in the world is debate without caffeine.
Agnesbientot on April 17th, 2003 04:36 am (UTC)
If you can't change your mind, how can you be sure you still have one?
It once occurred to me in a moment of clarity that most serious arguments, if you follow them back far enough, ultimately revolve around a difference in definition of a few key terms. Unfortunately, some people of the SOY persuasion don't like to quibble about defining terms, because they know what the terms mean and if you're worth talking to, you define them the same way.

I have to agree that discussion is more interesting when it's more than simply 'my way or the highway!', when people do have ideas but are willing to clarify those ideas and examine others which may or may not be contradictory.
thenyxiethenyxie on April 17th, 2003 08:24 am (UTC)
I know that may sound insane to a lot of people, because conviction of belief is supposed to be a moral good

You know what I find insane? People who hold on to their opinions with such a deathgrip that they absolutely will not hear what anyone else has to say regardless of proof or source they may have. Because in their mind, examining another opinion is equal to admitting that you might be wrong, which is eqaul to admitting you may not know everything, which is equal to thinking you might be stupid or weak, which is opening the door on a whole lot of issues they do NOT want to look at. People who can consider other people's opinons are considered, by many, to be weak and have no opinions of their own. Untrue. Just because you can incorporate new things into, or even change your opinion all together when presented with information that makes more sense, does not mean you don't have one right now. You're just aware that it may not be the most informed opinion out there, so you're always listening.

I lack the grace and intelligence of your arguments, but I agree. Yes, it is how you say it, not what you say, and often times, using the right tone or phrasing will allow others to see your point of view more clearly. When you are aggressive with your opinion, or appear to be, people automatically push you away and stop hearing you, because they feel attacked. Thing is, those people who are agressive with their opinion usually aren't interested in debate--they just want you to agree with them so they can feel "right" and smart. Sad that our self-confidence as a race lags so terribly. I think that's where the psychological side of all this digs its roots.

And of course, all of that is expressed in my own personal opinion, which I believe to be right, but always leave open to debate :)