Appendices
11/20/09

 

Appendix A.

- In order to inform ourselves, we humans resort to several different strategies. We discuss the issues with friends (and sometimes ‘enemies’). We read newspaper columns and magazine articles. We read whole books or sections thereof. Sometimes, we catch juxtaposed pro and con articles in the op-ed sections of the Sunday newspaper. We listen to those who agree with us (and sometimes to those who do not) on radio talk shows. We watch debates on TV. And, if we're especially brave, or foolhardy, we argue on the Internet.
- But, all the above strategies are seriously flawed and problematic. In large part, we listen to and read only those pundits with whom we tend to agree already. If we read or listen to those with whom we disagree, we get ulcers (we can't effectively respond to all their lies and general foolishness). The juxtaposed articles may be a good start, but these tend to leave numerous and critical loose ends. Oral debates on radio and TV are usually side-shows, with lots of name calling and little headway. And, even if we do somehow “get somewhere” in oral debate, the direction we get may be based upon the relative speed of the speakers -- and ultimately, we may end up wishing that we had not made the headway in the first place. As it turns out, written debate on the Internet is hardly any better than oral debate – we still end up calling each other names and going around in circles.
- So, our strategies for informing ourselves tend to be significantly incomplete and basically dishonest (biased) and leave a great deal to be desired.
- And consequently, our opinions and decisions re these different issues are very often seriously misguided and problematic...
- I contend, moreover, that some of our more recent decisions (past 100 years?) have placed our very survival in jeopardy.


Appendix B.

- Even though our ability to inform ourselves these days is incredible as compared to what it used to be, the results are still highly incomplete and biased.
- And the thing is, the misguided conclusions fostered by this faulty data gathering are much more likely to be acted upon these days than were analogous conclusions in past centuries.
- And then, they are also much more likely to be spread.
- In other words, what used to be a nuisance has become a serious problem -- and, requires our serious attention...
- If, for instance, “global warming” is the fact and the horror it appears to be, we owe our predicament to incomplete and biased information gathering – industrialization has its serious side effects and pitfalls, of which we, "the people," were never properly informed. And now, saving the world may absolutely depend upon setting this record straight – providing complete and unbiased information to the masses.
- These days, we are much more likely to experiment than we used to be, and our faulty conclusions are much more likely to be acted upon.
- And then, communication-wise the world has ‘shrunk’ incredibly and our misguided 'forays' are much more likely to spread and spread further.
- These are two serious ingredients with which past soothsayers didn't need to concern themselves.

Appendix C.

- We all know what happens in our own personal arguments – it isn’t pretty.
- But, this is also true for debate between our best and brightest. Look at the somewhat formalized debate in our legislatures and in the media – between our most intelligent and prominent figures, and over our most important issues. If anyone has developed actually effective debate, it isn’t being used in the most important and likely places.

- And then, look at the different formalized methods we’ve developed for the different situations that call for some sort of negotiation, and you’ll see that they only skirt this kind of situation. There are relevant "disciplines" we’ve tried to develop, and some of them work to one extent or another – they’re just not relevant enough.
- There is formal debate, “Fair Fighting,” arbitration, mediation, “Roberts Rules of Order,” parliamentary procedure, “pilpul” and courtroom procedure, for instance. But none of these are on the mark in regard to effective sociopolitical discourse.
- Formal debate is formally concerned with winning, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.
- “Fair fighting” does involve dialog in good faith, but it’s really only aimed at very personal arguments, and focuses very narrowly on the emotional messages going back and forth.
- We could learn a lot by studying arbitration and mediation, but these also have a narrow, albeit complicated, focus and also do not address the critical issues of effective evidence presentation.
- Roberts Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure are simply structures for maintaining order.
- Somehow, we seem to have never tackled the problem head on in regard to day- to-day, sociopolitical controversy -- the kind that occurs on TV, in the newspapers, in election campaigns, in congress, in court, at town hall meetings, over coffee, whatever.
- I found lots of references to “effective debate” on Google, but checking the first few pages, these were all about good guidelines for oral debate and had little to do with effectively seeking the truth. We have scientized the game of debate, but
again, the game of debate is explicitly about winning.
- I also found lots of references to “written debate” on Google -- but these were simply examples (interestingly enough, most examples on the first few pages
were religious in nature).
- I couldn’t find any reference to “effective written debate.”
- This is where the old couple comes in -- we humans seem to have accepted
ineffective debate as a fact of life. We've been caught napping – for 5,000 (or
50,000) years.

- Now, I didn’t address courtroom procedure because while it has never been formally applied to sociopolitical controversy, it does apply, and it does provide a
real jumping off point for developing an “argument friendly” environment – which is what this is about.

Appendix D.

- The basic problem is that once we humans slip into debate, our reflexes are all wrong for trying to find the truth. That’s how we humans are. Once into a debate, we automatically slip into a fight/flight mode and become oblivious to any truth- seeking urge we might previously have had, and seek only to win – or at least, to avoid losing.
- But note that two things happen here. We slip into a fight/flight mode; but also, we lose all sight of our seek-the-truth mode. It isn't’ like the two objectives both have our attention, just that one of them is stronger -- it’s like one of them slips entirely below our radar... We "zone out."
- It’s like we have two ‘background objectives’ possible here: “Seek the truth,” or “Win.” But, importantly, these do not occupy the same space, they cannot share control. Once the ‘winning’ objective rears its ugly head, we simply become oblivious to our previous desire to seek the truth. We zone out. We may ‘wake up’ every once in awhile -- only to zone out again, the next time we’re challenged…
- It’s like falling asleep in class when we’re especially sleepy. We wake up and think, “Wow, I’d better not do that again.” But, the next thing we know, we’re waking up again…
- It’s like the picture they showed us in Psychology 101 – according to how you look at it, it was either an ugly old witch, or a beautiful young woman. But the main point was that you couldn’t see it both ways at the same time – it was either one way or the other. The same dynamic seems to be working in regards to these two objectives. It’s like our ‘wheelhouse’ has only enough room for one Captain.
- I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but “zoning out” is an important aspect of human nature that, as far as I can tell, has never been addressed by science. Since we’re oblivious to what we’re doing while we’re doing it, we never correct ourselves. We might “wake up” and start to correct ourselves, but quickly “fall asleep” again and start doing it all over again -- oblivious to what we just did...
- For 50,000 years (or maybe, about 6000?) now, we’ve had the theoretical “ability” to argue in good faith – to argue honestly, objectively and fairly -- but, our reflexes still won’t let us. Talk about your Rip Van Winkles!

- That, I claim, is our general problem.
- But then, I suggest that what we need do in order to begin correcting our problem is to identify our specific problematic behaviors.

- So, once into a debate, we humans revert to animalistic form, slip into a fight/flight mode and start doing everything we can to win.
- More specifically, we
1. Start doing everything we can to undermine effective presentation of evidence by the other side, and to overstate our own case. And,
2. Start placing a supreme premium upon quick answers.

- More specifically yet, in regard to #1, we
1.1. Insult our opponents (We have numerous ways of doing this – both overtly and covertly.)
1.2. Refuse to yield the floor.
1.3. Refuse to answer our opponents questions.
1.4. Pretend to answer their questions while ‘dancing around them’ instead.
1.5. State opinion as fact.
1.6. Raise our voices.
1.7. Grasp at straws (while pretending they’re hawsers). And,
1.8. Lie.

- More specifically yet, in regard to #2. Because of this new set, we don’t have time to
2.1. Understand our opponent’s argument.
2.2. Really understand our own argument.
2.3. Think twice.
2.4. Step back from the canvas.
2.5. Look before we leap.
2.6. Say what we mean.
2.7. Keep from going off on tangents defending things we didn’t mean.
2.8. Realize we’re wrong.
2.9. Admit we’re wrong.
2.10. Cool off.
2.11. Apologize.


Appendix E.
- So, how important would fixing this be?
- Well, you’ve gotta suspect that if we could actually stifle our bad reflexes while enforcing our positive potentials, a lot of good things would happen.
- For one thing, our decisions – whether household or national -- would be better informed and, consequently, more likely to turn out well. Argument is potentially the best way to get both (all) sides of the story.
- For another thing, these issues would quit dividing us so divisively. If the other side has something to appreciate, we’d begin to appreciate it. If the other side doesn’t really have anything to appreciate, we’d decrease their numbers. Whereas, our current manner of debate keeps us highly polarized and angry at the other side. And then, the media doesn’t try to get us any closer. They emphasize the differences – they take advantage of, and promote, the polarity.
Currently, the way that the media deals with controversy just drives the populace further and further apart, while making themselves more and more money.
- For another thing, argument adds mass, energy and momentum to thinking. We don’t use it nearly as much as we should, because it is currently so ineffective. But, if we could clear up argument’s problems, we could expect a whole lot more of thinking going on.
- Senators would say, “I see what you’re talking about! Maybe we can find a compromise. You guys gave us the benefit of the doubt last time. We should give it to you this time.”
- Candidates for office would answer the questions put to them.
- If we could somehow force opponents to argue honestly, objectively and fairly – for brevity, I’ll call that “Argue in good faith” – we might finally start improving the human condition. We might begin to heal the world.

Appendix F.

- Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a happy old couple with just ONE problem – there was an axe stuck in their ceiling. In truth, the couple wasn’t all THAT happy because they worried constantly that someday that axe would fall out of the ceiling and kill somebody.
- One day a tired and hungry stranger came along and the old couple invited him in for a rest and a meal. While eating, the couple told the stranger about their life together, pointing out that the one sour note in all their happy existence was that (damned) axe stuck in the ceiling. At which point, the stranger got up on his chair, and with a quick tug, dislodged the axe from the ceiling…

- As an example of a particular human foible, the story above is rather far fetched -- but we probably all recognize it anyway. Often, the answer to some problem we’re having is staring us right in the face, but we're looking right through it. But then actually, this particular story suggests something even more fascinating – sometimes the reason the solution doesn’t occur to us is that we sort of take the situation for granted as a fact-of-life to bemoan -- rather than as a problem to solve.

- And that’s my claim about human argument, or debate. We need to start looking upon the state of human argument as a problem to solve…

- Argument: any discussion in which the discussants are emotionally invested in opposing positions. "Debate" turns out to be the same thing -- it just sounds better.
- Human argument is extremely ineffective. Everybody knows this. And, it isn’t just that opponents hardly ever reach resolution; it’s that the evidence relevant to the issue at hand is hardly ever presented effectively -- which is the real problem. Those following the argument won’t learn a whit, and will go away from the argument madder than they were to begin with.
- Yet, once we stop and think about our experience with argument/debate, specific problems seem obvious, and the underlying causes somewhat obvious themselves. So, why haven’t we tried to fix it?

- It would appear that the idea of fixing debate just does not tend to occur to the human mind…
- We are like the dog only 5 feet from his dinner, blocked by a partially opened door that happens to open towards him. A cat would know exactly what to do in this situation, but most dogs don’t have a clue (some dogs do). Using his paw to open the door further is simply not a part of the dog’s behavioral repertoire, and the thought simply does not occur to him. We humans have been sitting outside our own partially opened door for 6,000 (or 50,000?) years, complaing about the service…
- There seems to be no other answer. There must be types of insight to which we humans are basically oblivious -- as there are types of insight unavailable to the worm.


Appendix G.

- At this point, our "glitch" is a good thing – in order to fix this problem, all we have to do is “wake up”! Potential solutions are staring us in the face if we just open our eyes…
- And, if you’re paying attention, you just opened yours!
- So, now that you’re awake, with eyes wide open, let’s zoom in and scrutinize our situation.
- The first thing to keep in mind is that our purpose in effective argument is to properly inform the public. We are not concerned with getting everyone to agree
– we just want to make the best evidence available to everyone. Effective argument occurs when the evidence and logic for both sides is presented effectively. That way, everyone can make up their own minds based upon the best evidence. That’s what a democracy is all about – and also, why we’re all here.
- Zooming in further, we can see that the obstacles to effective argument come in two ‘flavors’ – or at least, we can usefully categorize them this way. Some of the obstacles we encounter are essentially inherent to the particular issue -- and to some extent, we’re just stuck with them. But, most of the obstacles we encounter are “created” (by us) and we are not stuck with them…


Appendix H.

- Bringing about actually effective written debate should be easy, because
- So far we’ve subconsciously accepted ineffective debate as a fact of life and simply haven’t tried -- in any conscious and focused way -- to fix it. It’s time to wake up and start solving this problem.
- And best of all -- each major issue is composed of numerous specific "sub- issues" and "sub-sub-issues" -- i.e., specific disagreements -- and while we cannot reasonably expect to resolve all specific disagreements, we can reasonably expect to isolate, identify, clarify and classify all specific disagreements. Theoretically, we can nail down every last nuance of every last disagreement… It’s only agreement that we cannot, for any particular disagreement, theoretically nail down. And, the thing is, for our purposes here, we don’t need to nail down agreement. For our purposes here, all we have to do is nail down the specific disagreement in front of us…
- What we haven’t understood is how “happy” we’ll be if we just do this latter. In truth, it is our failure to nail down the specific disagreements that has left us so confused, frustrated and traumatized – and, has left us thinking of ineffective debate as an unavoidable fact of life to bemoan rather than as a problem to solve.


Appendix I.

- Here's how effective debate might finally happen.
- Since the purpose of “actually effective debate” is to effectively inform the public re the controversial issues of the day, these debates will be very public.
- Since the difficulties with written debate are significantly smaller and fewer than are those with oral debate, the first effective debates will be written.
- Websites, or sections thereof, will be set up to provide these debates.
- Each side in a particular debate will have one spokesperson – a recognized leader in the field.
- These leaders will participate for free as these are causes they are eager to defend, and the website will attract a large audience -- and if they don't participate, some lesser champion will end up representing their side.
- But then, the leaders won't have to go it alone -- they will be encouraged to enlist all the help they need.
- A section of the website will be set aside for a thorough discussion of the intricacies of human argument. This section will present a theoretical overview of human argument and its specific problems (much as I have already attempted to begin). It will provide a set of guidelines as to the dos and don’ts of effective argument.
- The leaders selected will approve of the guidelines, and will be urged to stick to them -- and to politely point out infractions by their opponents.
- A separate forum will be provided for the audience. They will be urged to study the guidelines and do their “scoring” accordingly. They, will also be urged to point out infractions as well as unexpected adherence.
- The actual opponents will learn quickly how they are doing re the guidelines and, hopefully, adjust their methods accordingly. Where they do not properly adjust, they will be suspected of championing a house of cards.
- Clearly, the opponents cannot be made to follow the guidelines, but an alert and “noisy” audience should keep them under control. And after all, it’s only audience opinion that matters anyway; and, out of control debaters will not score well with the audience – which is what this is all about.
- All along, the administration of the website will be learning more about debate. Their understanding and guidelines will be rudimentary at first, but by paying close attention to the debate as it progresses, they should find much to add.
- In some cases, the websites will deliberately recruit opponents who are more interested in understanding and improving debate than they are in winning their particular arguments.
- The audience and opponents will be constantly reminded that the ultimate objective here is not for the opponents to agree with each other, nor for the members of the audience to agree with each other, nor for an impartial Judge to make the final decision for everyone. The ultimate objective of this debate is for the evidence and logic of both sides to be presented as effectively as possible -- so that members of the audience will be as well informed as possible when making their own individual decisions.
- One general guideline constantly repeated to the opponents will be to "slow down and zoom in." The natural tendency for us humans is to speed up and miss our turns. The opponents will keep zoning out and will need to be constantly reminded of what they're doing.
- One way to summarize the guidelines for opponents is to "argue in good faith.” Opponents would be reminded to keep their efforts honest, objective, fair and friendly. (Just think what the different legislatures could do if the different legislators were able to keep their debates honest, objective, fair and friendly! We could create a whole new world! Maybe, we could heal the world!)
- And perhaps the primary focus ('target'?) of the opponents should be to make sure that they understand the other side's case before they start arguing their own. In the beginning, we should see lots of questions. Instead of aiming for agreement, the opponents should be aiming for ‘nailing down’ every last nuance of every specific disagreement. If that remains their target, the audience will have its best chance at really understanding the disagreement and the available evidence, and for making the best decision possible (given the available evidence).
- And finally, the opponents would be urged to keep 'stepping back from the canvas'; keep summarizing; keep ‘regrouping.’ (More about this later.)

Appendix J.

- Each side would provide an opening statement summarizing its own case.
- Side A would then present the evidence and logic for its first claim.
- Side B would then address A’s first claim.
- If B has any reason to believe that “he” does not fully understand A’s first claim, he would try to clear that up.
- In that effort, he might try to paraphrase A’s claim – but, he would try to do that in “the best possible light” (not the worst possible light, which is usually the case).
- Once that first claim is believed to be understood, B would provide his rejoinder to it.
- A would then address B’s rejoinder.
- If B’s rejoinder includes more than one claim, A would address B’s first claim first.
- If A has any suspicion that he doesn’t fully understand B’s claim, A would try to paraphrase B’s claim in the best possible light.
- Once A has confidence in his own understanding of B’s claim, A would provide his rejoinder.
- If A’s rejoinder has multiple claims, B would address the first claim first.
- Etc.

- At some point, theoretically, one of the opponents would have no ready rejoinder, and the debate would return to the next previous claim left unaddressed. (Here, in trying to describe this process, a diagram would be worth a thousand words.)
- Eventually, all the branches of A’s first claim would be addressed, and A would then present the evidence and logic for his second claim. Etc.
- Eventually, all of A’s claims would be fully addressed and B would begin presenting his claims.
- After B’s claims have been fully addressed, A would bring any additional claims he might now have.
- Once A’s additional claims have been addressed, B would bring any additional claims he might now have.
- Etc., until both sides have said all they want to say – which may never happen…

- All along, in a separate section, each side would be providing its abstraction of the argument so far. With a little luck, the two sides would agree upon one abstraction.
- This latter section should become the first and primary link for audience edification on the subject. The “raw” arguments would be referred to only as necessary for clarification and support -- and for rating the sides on how well they follow the guidelines..

- The basic claim here is that the best way to handle an argument as it tries to branch out exponentially, is to follow only one branch at a time. Complete that branch, then back up to the next “branching.”
- When opponents try to negotiate numerous branches at one time – as seductive as that may be -- their mental set is not sufficiently patient, they keep missing critical turns (distinctions) and the debate goes nowhere but in circles.
- This focusing approach will be tedious -- to say the least -- but tedious and slow is much better than exciting and circular. 10 times 1 is a lot better than 100 times 0.
- And then, teams could be developed -- and each branch could be handled by a different teammate.
- Being on the Internet, there would be no end of possible teammates.
- And, it isn’t that every specific disagreement would have to be addressed. We could expose a pattern, or a smoking gun, very early on and save ourselves a whole lot of tsuris. For these larger topics, that would be our expectation -- or at least, our sincere hope.

- So far, I’ve had to do all the thinking about design myself, and there could be a lot of problems with what I’ve suggested so far, but hopefully, I’ve done enough work so as to stimulate some help – to convince somebody else that the idea is worth some effort.
- Now, we need to try it out and see what happens -- and, what we can learn.