About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rhetorics of progress (II): Logic alone won't get us anywhere

Having a good grasp on logic and epistemology is a huge advantage in any debate. It can be very frustrating if people use logical fallacies or non-sequiturs, although they can be seductive fallbacks. I won't list them here: this Wikipedia article does a very good job at explaining them.

But, while logic is incredibly useful in any context, it's not the only ally in a debate, not in the least when talking about the politics of progress. We all know that one person who keeps hammering data (or the lack thereof) and who conveniently ignores lived experiences. It's true that 'lived experience' doesn't count as a valid argument, but it is not completely invalid either. In identity politics, certainly, it matters a great deal.

That brings me to empathy. Adopting someone else's perspective may never be completely possible, and there's always a danger of shunting what is your understanding of another person's perspective into what you label as empathy, but all we can do is our best.

Demagogues on the right love portraying the left as faint-hearted in an essentially cruel and cold world, but what they call faint-hearted is actually an insistence on not dismissing anything but one square perspective.

For example, hounding a transgendered person for cold logic and facts when they want to talk about transphobia is not just counter-productive, but is as much part of the problem they want to discuss.

Consider this: someone is saying they're feeling sort of depressed. Do you take out the DSM manual and start going over all the checkboxes to ascertain they are actually depressed or were just using everyday exaggeration?

That brings me to a final point. Logic and the scientific method are a cornerstone of progress on many fronts and can serve you in all sorts of circumstances. Scepticism is extremely important, but in circumstances where people are not explicitly arguing for one of the other, it can be a real conversation killer. Especially if the discussion is not in a field you happen to be an expert in - then suspicion will quickly rise that you're arguing in bad faith, and if the discussion isn't dead already, that suspicion will surely kill it.