Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

How Can You Tell Who's "Just Trying To Win"?

Does he disagree on substance or is he a tyrant know-it-all trying to win the debate at all cost? The question comes to mind often about friends, colleagues, partners, relatives, and of course government leaders. And our guts can't be trusted to answer it accurately. Here are some relatively reliable clues to the tyrant's tells. Read More

Good points

I agree with this. I would add also being convincing and authentic, because you separate yourself from an in-group, meaning you don't become associated with someone or something...of course, that is, until you may get called names or badly misjudge you. In that case, I consider it a win.

Sometimes I just think we need to call each other out, especially our own social groups. Too much of a good thing will always not be enough. Is like an addiction. When you need it, you want more, detaching reality from your own biases and rhetorical shenanigans. I understand the business side of it. After all, I am a believer in big business. However, I really do believe some people just abuse their own self-interests for the purpose of feeling welcome and understood. For example, look at talk-show radio hosts, notably conservatives. For the most part, I'm used to their own selective bias, and I respect a couple of them, like Glenn Beck. But social media has made some of them worse. Worse than people with insecurities who need to look for public approval on social media. I can tolerate selective politicking and bias, but just plain dunce behavior? Private citizens, fair enough. But public figures who can influence a certain group, how low can you get.

Sometimes a lil ego is good for you. After all, we all like some form of control and like to give opinions. But a lil call out is good for you. I admit I may get into some unpredictable name-calling with some total strangers, badly misjudging them, or in many cases, judging them and their personality with their comments or replies. But I understand the nature of social media. Animonity can make us say or do things without consequence, often displaying regretful behavior after is all set and done. I totally get that. But real talk: sometimes you do have to keep it real. And I understand you must protect your interests like you must protect your family or home. Totally understandable. However, you must stand up and call out your own in-group from time to time. If you want to test how good a person is, make fun of him or her. I believe those who laugh at themselves make great listeners. It shows you how controllable he or she easily are. If you can't laugh at yourself, odds are you are just normal.

Dealing With the Quarrelsome Type

Quote:
The author wrote: So how can we tell who’s really just a tyrant out to win and who disagrees even persistently, but on substantive grounds, not out of some automatic self-defense and self-promotion?

The troublesome types seem not to know the difference between a debate and a quarrel. Their objective is to win by annoying and frustrating their opponent. They will attack your motives, twist your words, call you names, accuse you of cheating in your tactics, and accuse you of stubbornness. They use ridicule and sarcasm often. Engaging them at all is a mistake. Rude people like this should be ignored.

Worthy debate opponents will stick to the topic and treat us with respect.

I don't try to change my opponent's mind in debate. I like the idea of making arguments that an imaginary intelligent and impartial panel of judges would find persuasive. When my opponents do change their minds, I consider it a bonus. This avoids the common error of making biased arguments that would only be found persuasive by people who already agree with us.

Debate

And do you find during a debate with someone on a subject that your opinion can change? And do you thank that person for that moment of change?
I have found that subjects I am an expert on (14 year law enforcement professional and teacher) can change in positive and meaningful ways that make me a better professional through debate with others on topics I am versed in. I often thank those people and write down the enlightened moment to add to my collective. I have found at times that even debates with people we would consider unqualified or even ignorant can provide insight and value to my profession. I thanks those folks as well. I do not always look for a teaching moment and sometimes look for a humble "learning moment".

Reply to PoppaDaddy

I sometimes make arguments to test my positions in the fires of debate. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes I realize right away that the argument isn't going to work so I abandon it quickly. I don't abandon positions as often as I abandon lousy arguments, of course.

I don't thank my debate opponents nor do they thank me. But, when debate is done right, some rewarding friendships are formed between people who agree on next to nothing.

Thanks for those ideas

I like the distinctions you make and I invite you to consider some of the complications with me as I consider them the morning after writing this piece.

First I'll re-edit the piece today to make sure I'm not just pointing at troublesome types, but all of us who have, from what I can tell, episodes of touchy automatic self-defense, or topics about which we are prone to quarrel. I wouldn't put it past any of us, me included to get troublesome sometimes.

Also I meant the article to touch on some of the complications of deciding who is and isn't being quarrelsome, especially since when we decided someone is being quarrelsome we tend to quarrel back. I don't think quarrels are inherently immoral. There are times to quarrel, and its hard to figure out when those are. If I decide my debate opponent is unworthy, by the standards you describe, and if I can't simply walk away because, for example we have to decide something together, then I'll push back. If I decided incorrectly that he is unworthy, then my pushback is really what turned it into the quarrel. I don't consider myself the final arbiter on whether someone is treating me with respect and sticking to the topic. Conceding my fallibility motivates to take more care in deciding who is unworthy.

I resonate with your strong gravitation toward substantive arguments, and yet again the categories aren't as easy to define for me as they seem for you in your description. I can imagine a strictly intelligent impartial panel of judges, but I don't think they exist in reality, or that I'm unbiased enough to distinguish the unbiased from the biased. I search for distinctions between good and bad bias. I don't think all bias is bad. And I do care about rhetoric, shaping arguments to the audience's capacity to understand. Heck, I do that when teaching rhetoric to young people. I don't simply talk over their heads. I look for ways to establish real brain velcro--ways to make the ideas stick to their particular minds.

I can come up with formulas for how to live but in general my specialty has been looking at the places where the formulas break down, a way to motivate me to refine the formulas as best we can.

Thanks for thinking with me.

Jeremy

More on Quarreling

In a recent conversation with a young man who was interested in the topic, I suggested that he could hone his natural talent for reasoning by lurking a few of the internet debate forums. I explained the basics of an argument and how it differed from a quarrel. I also gave him brief instruction on how to spot a quarrelsome poster.

If reasonable people disagree with an argument's conclusion, they look for a crucial flaw and focus their counter-arguments on it. Quarrelsome posters, on the other hand, in addition to ridicule, sarcasm and irrelevant personal attack, can find fault with every sentence you write, even if they have to take it out of context and distort its meaning into something stupid. Straw-man arguments are standard issue with the quarrelsome poster.

Even when we don't add a qualifier, most statements we make are meant to be general statements: "Grass is green." The quarrelsome type will interpret that as an absolute statement "Grass is always green." His response: "Oh, right. I guess you have never heard of the bluegrass varieties, moron?"

The same young man complained that his mother liked to quarrel and she often made him angry. I offered my opinion that we have no control of what others say to us, but we have absolute control of how we react to what they say. So, he could choose to not react with anger if he worked on the habit.

I suspect that the quarrelsome types do it to provoke anger, and by so manipulating the emotions of others, they feel superior.

On another point, it does not matter whether an intelligent, impartial jury actually exists. It's a device useful for guiding our responses in debate. For example, we are not concerned with changing our opponent's minds which is unlikely in most debates anyway. Our jury isn't going to be swayed by repetition either. So, we make our points and shut up. If our opponent wants the last word, let him have it.

You wrote, "I don't think all bias is bad." We might be working on a different definition. To me, the word refers to anything that can cause our thinking to go off course. I can't think of a way that can be good.

Smart People are Above Tyrants

Smart people do not need to be constantly reminded that everything anyone says if ALWAYS an opinion or subjective. Smart people know that everyone (including themselves) is almost all the time 'wrong' in somebody's mind so they do not worry about being right or wrong.

To often we claim others are tyrants or assholes just because we cannot handle what they are saying. Smart people never have a problem with what people say, they can see that words cannot hurt people, but that our reactions can do us harm. So Smart People take responsibility for their reactions and therefore know no tyrants.

Too simple a solution if you

Too simple a solution if you ask me. Words can hurt people. The rule that all you can change is your reaction is too simple, as is that there are "smart" and "not smart" people.

But if you mean that often it's best to take what others say with grains of salt, or not listen at all, yup I'm with you on that.

Thanks for thinking with me.

Jeremy

Clarification?

Jeremy, help me clarify your position. Would you agree or disagree with the following statements?

1) We cannot be made to feel inferior unless we allow it.

2) We cannot be made to feel anger unless we allow it.

I think both statements are true. What we are really here with this point is self-control.

~Joe

Thanks for asking. I agree

Thanks for asking. I agree with those statements whole-halfedly, Joe. I can easily come up with exceptions to those, situations in which, try as you might you can't control your feelings, and so no, as a rule I'd say the statements don't hold.

And I can think of plenty of ways the statements can be used to cause harm: "Slave? You're angry? That's not my problem. You have a choice so just get over it."

So I encourage you to see if you can find a way to edit those statements to cover all the cases you mean to have them cover and not the cases like my slave example which I assume you don't want them to cover.

I wrote this article years ago on the very interesting question you raise.
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ambigamy/201006/total-control-vs-no-...

I think we're some-nipotent. For example, we have the power to control some feelings in some situations, not all.

And here's another thing: Psychologists distinguish between feelings and emotions. My favorite working distinction is that feelings have no narrative. For example, we feel pain or pleasure. Emotions are already cognitively laced, "I feel anger because I attribute the pain I'm in to your behavior." That sort of thing. Controlling feelings seems to me more far-fetched than controlling emotions, which I still think we can do only incompletely.

I'm not much on overriding intuition. If my intuition (the combination of all my faculties, emotional cognitive biological social, etc.) tells me consistently and convincingly that someone is hurting me, yes I can override that intuition for a little while with self-doubt, but not for long. I'm much more interested in honing my intuition than overriding it.

And thank you for your curiosity about these things. They are serious questions we wouldn't want to handle lightly. Aphorisms can be useful prescriptions for a particular case. There have been plenty of times in my life when I should have concentrated more on changing my attitudes than changing my situation, and there, these aphorisms would come in handy, but as absolutes? Nope not for me.

Yesterday I wrote an article about wedding such statements you might find interesting:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ambigamy/201404/what-if-wedding-mora...

J

Attitudes About the Stimulus

Quote:
Dr. Sherman wrote: So I encourage you to see if you can find a way to edit those statements to cover all the cases you mean to have them cover and not the cases like my slave example which I assume you don't want them to cover.

Like most people, unless I use absolute words like always or never, I mean the statements I make to be true as a general rule even if I don't add a qualifier. However, I can't think of an exception in this case. Your master-slave example isn't one, in my opinion.

I trace my opinion back to reading Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" in which he described the life of an ordinary concentration camp inmate from the objective perspective of a psychiatrist. If an experience like that isn't an exception, then I'm hard-pressed to find one.

My belief, which I attribute to Frankl, is -- If most human behavior is stimulus and response, then our attitude about the stimulus determines our behavior. So, while there's nothing we can do about physical abuse, verbal abuse is within our control. If anger is our response, and we want to stop it, we can change our attitude about the stimulus to render it powerless.

When the manipulator-abusers do not get the response they expect, they are likely to change their ways too. However, this approach to dealing with a negative situation does not deny that some situations are so bad that leaving them behind is the best move.

Thanks very much for your responses, Jeremy. I'm heading for your new article right now.

~Joe

Hi Joe, Thank you for your

Hi Joe,

Thank you for your clarity here. I think we may be conflating two issues. ONe is whether you have full control over your attitude and therefore your response, the other is whether anger is ever the right response.

We agree that we are not machines or merely physical process in which every stimulus or interaction yields one and only one response. Like you, I believe that our interpretation (attitude) shapes our response.

However I don't believe I have full control over my interpretation or attitude. From what I can tell, you believe you do, and I would guess take that as good news. I would take such full control as mixed news at best. It can give you Beninin's freedom in the movie "Life is Beautiful" but it can also create delusional tyrants who believe whatever they choose so long as it keeps them on top.

So I think you must be implying something moral about the re-interpretation, something like "you can always change your attitude so that it yields X response and Y consequences.

And then there's reality. Evidence is not strong in support of your theory of omni-flexibility. Ask any therapist how easy it is to change one's attitude. Ask anyone grieving an intimate death.

I detect a little of what I'd call toaster-envy. You know, you turn of the supply of electricity to a toaster and it's cool with that. On/off, whatever. It has no skin in the game. I don't think of life as like that. "Connection" is a loose metaphor for love. Love is not a physiochemical connection, like the toaster plug connected to the wall. Our connections, devotions, commitments, are us focusing our concentrated effort to make something happen. You can't stop our concentrated effort on a dime. We have skin in the game. We are not machines and the "just change the channel" approach seems to wish we were more machine-like. Stimulus/response language shows you're for it, Reprogrammable Skinner-like machines with no skin in the game.

Thanks for thinking with me.

Jeremy

Gaining Self-Control

Quote:
Dr. Sherman wrote: However I don't believe I have full control over my interpretation or attitude. From what I can tell, you believe you do, and I would guess take that as good news. I would take such full control as mixed news at best. It can give you Beninin's freedom in the movie "Life is Beautiful" but it can also create delusional tyrants who believe whatever they choose so long as it keeps them on top.

Exactly right. Knowledge is power, but power is amoral. It can be creative or destructive. So, an Adolf Hitler can create his chosen personality just as easily as an Albert Schweitzer.

Quote:
And then there's reality. Evidence is not strong in support of your theory of omni-flexibility. Ask any therapist how easy it is to change one's attitude.

That's a different problem. My working theory begins by assuming the individual wants to change enough to put in the effort to change a habit. I won't say there are no exceptions, but right now I can't think of a situation in which self-pity, fear or anger could be useful responses. So, they are prime candidates for changes of attitudes.

Quote:
I detect a little of what I'd call toaster-envy. You know, you turn of the supply of electricity to a toaster and it's cool with that. On/off, whatever. It has no skin in the game. I don't think of life as like that.

Neither do I. However, I think we humans are actors capable of playing the roles of hero, villain or victim as we so choose while putting our own unique stamp on the performance.

I usually write without a lot of disclaimers or qualifiers, but I don't want to give you the impression that I am certain of this. I'd call this my working theory about gaining self-control. I'm open to an alternative theory on how to do it. Is there one you favor?

`Joe

Joe, Thanks for the

Joe,

Thanks for the thoughtfulness and tentativeness too. Yes, I can sketch my approach here, always tentatively, though not to downplay my confidence either. I have a lot of confidence in this bet, but even more confidence that it is a bet. Mine would come from addressing the question's raised by double-clicking on some of the terms in your approach, an approach I know well, having heard it plenty of times elsewhere.

You say "I can't think of a situation in which self-pity, fear or anger could be useful responses."

I'd double click useful responses. I think you mean final sustained responses. But I don't think of feelings as always solid states. Often they're transient motivators and yes I can think of plenty in which all three are useful transient motivators. How transient? It depends on the situation.

I notice that your list includes only negative feelings. That's something your approach has in common with lots of the current spiritual approaches. For example when people say "don't be judgmental" they are paying lots more, perhaps exclusive attention to negative judgment. They rarely mean don't praise. The Tao is an exception: Success is as dangerous as failure; hope is as hollow as fear.

I like the Tao because it tends to focus more on dilemmas than principles. See I think moral dilemmas are much more fundamental than moral principles. I've spent the last 20 years double-clicking on the principles and finding them wanting, finding the underlying dilemma they address.

On yours, think of bad news indicators as smoke alarms and the fear that follows as the startle you get when you hear it go off. Think of anger as your intuition that you need to muster the courage to try to change your situation, and self-pity as the intuition that you need the serenity to accept it.

There are true and false alarms. Not all bad news indicators are real but some are. There's a dilemma in guessing whether to muster courage or serenity, (therefore the quest for the wisdom to know the difference between situations that call for one or the other). Either way, anger and self-pity are the initial emoti-chemical currencies of deciding what to do.

To me, don't ever get angry, self-pitying or fearful simplify locally but complicate globally. They're such an idealization that they're unworkable,breeding equivocation and distortion in false claims of having achieved the ideal. I hear it a lot. "Me I'm not angry (since anger is bad). I'm blah blah blah which is totally different." We end up mangling the terms to make them fit our simplistic ideal, thereby stunting growth on the real questions: When to have those negative emotions and for how long?

Something like that.

Transient Motivators

Quote:
Dr. Sherman wrote: ...But I don't think of feelings as always solid states. Often they're transient motivators and yes I can think of plenty in which all three are useful transient motivators...

I have never heard the term "transient motivators" before. I cannot understand how, as transient motivators, negative emotions motivate positive behavior. Is it too simplistic to deduce that negative emotions must first be rejected before positive behavior can happen?

We don't have to get angry with an obnoxious person to deal with him effectively. We don't have to fear a threatening person to deal with him effectively. In fact, we can deal with both more effectively if we remain calm. The troublemakers we encounter are world-class manipulators. They relish our fear and our anger. Why give them what they want?

Quote:
To me, don't ever get angry, self-pitying or fearful simplify locally but complicate globally. They're such an idealization that they're unworkable,breeding equivocation and distortion in false claims of having achieved the ideal.

I will concede the false claims, and you would be right it labeling the advice an idealization if it required perfection to be effective. But, using anger as an example, what we are talking about is a gradual improvement in controlling the episodes.

Quote:
Think of anger as your intuition that you need to muster the courage to try to change your situation...

To sum up then: your position is that emotions like anger, fear and self-pity are not in our control. Is that right? Are there any emotions that we can control?

No, and I'm not sure how you

No, and I'm not sure how you got that impression. Remember "some-nipotence" we have some power sometime over some feelings. The trick is to figure out which can change, and which to change, and how. I change mine most by changing my intuitions.

And I think your approach fails to see that negative and positive come together, preference being differential, preferring this TO that. The Tao captures this nicely.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

It's captured even in the saying "Do not be negative" which is in fact negative, or "you should not be judgmental" which is in fact judgmental.

Indeed your rejection of my approach is a (perfectly acceptable) negative judgment of it compared to the one you favor.

And any effort to parse it, saying "well that's not negativity" doesn't seem to fly, but is rather the kind of equivocation I'm talking about.

Notice how this plays out with the Secret. Have a positive yearning for what you want and the universe will deliver it to you, but the universe doesn't understand negatives. If you don't want more bills, it just gives you more bills. Sounds swell but is BS of the highest degree. A campaign to end poverty will only bring about more poverty and if you try the Secret and it doesn't work for you they can always hedge:

So you really wanted wealth, right?
Yes and the Secret didn't give it to me.
So you really preferred wealth over poverty right?
Yes.
Ah, well there's your problem! You didn't want poverty but the universe doesn't understand "didn't" so it gave you poverty. See? The secret always works!

I'm surprised that you think negatives never work, Joe. I really don't like the sensation of having my feet burned (I did back in 1980, gas spilled on them and ignited) so I raced toward a more positive sensation.

Anyway, I continue to have my perfectly acceptable negative judgment of those sweeping assertions, but if they work for you, no problem. I wish you well in all your wonderings. And feel free to write back but no need to reassert those assertions. I understand them well I think, and reject them nonetheless.

Very nice thinking with you Joe

Jeremy

In Closing...

Quote:
Dr. Sherman wrote: ...And feel free to write back but no need to reassert those assertions. I understand them well I think, and reject them nonetheless.

I think you are mistaken in your belief that you understood my position. Too many of your responses were not relevant. My best guess is that you threw me in with the self-help, positive-thinking, law of attraction crowd and their absolute rejection of anything negative. My bet is that we would fully agree on rejecting those theories.

I understood fragments of your position, but it never came together in a coherent whole. I can't say I reject what I don't understand, but since I don't have a problem understanding most theories in Psychology, it's fair to say that I'm left with a negative opinion.

But that's okay. I still enjoyed our exchange.

Take care, Jeremy

`Joe

Joe

Don't leave angry. ;-)

It's possible. Often people say "I disagree" when really they don't understand. And often people say "you don't understand" when someone disagrees with them.

I wasn't assuming you were into the secret. I was illustrating how your distinction between positive and negative doesn't work for me. You had asked whether positive can come from negative emotions and I argued that positive and negative are two sides of the same coin, and showed how pretending one could separate them was how the Secret gets as slippery as it does.

I enjoyed our exchange too.

Jeremy

Motivation

WHY do some people feel the need to be right so strongly that they will damage a relationship by completely dismissing a relative's or partner's point. I think some are over-confident and really believe they are superior thinkers, and I wonder if they have been praised too much by parents, teachers, colleagues. But this also seems like passive-aggressive behavior. Is someone who dismisses your ideas likely to dismiss your feelings as well? Can this person change?

Great questions Claudia and

Great questions Claudia and not easily answered.

I do think some people are just tyrannical by temperament, but I also think any of us can become tyrannical under certain conditions. Sometimes we become tyrants when we can get away with it. Sometimes when we're being provoked to defend ourselves by someone even more tyrannical. Sometimes it's when we miscalculate the fruits of our labors, thinking we've paid our dues sufficiently to declare ourselves authorities, when in fact we haven't. Sometimes when we're so oppressed elsewhere that we need to exercise our egos. And those are just a few of the reasons we can become tyrants.

I can become too domineering. I work on it in several specific ways, biting my tongue, breathing, putting myself in my opponent's shoes. As for sacrifices to the relationship, this too is complicated. Sometimes we stand our ground because we really care about that ground, so much so that we would sacrifice the relationship for it. And sometimes we just don't know the consequence to our partners. When we say "How dare you insinuate that my position is imperfect?" we signal to our partner that they can't share their opinion. In effect we put ourselves in the dark. To protect our pride we create a news blackout--no more feedback from our partner, and then one day that partner will leave. We'll have gotten no warning because we shut down our feedback source.

Thanks for thinking with me.

Jeremy

Experts and relationships

Thanks Jeremy. I make false assumption because of anxiety, insecurity, and misunderstanding. I understand the danger of assuming we know enough to be experts. I have also noticed some people who are experts in a specific area believe that they are also expert in unrelated areas. Humility is a virtue reflecting self-knowledge and security, I think, though the over-confident person is often sought out for advice, at least by some people, for a while... So the reaction of others may encourage over-confidence. The problem is that, in a relationship, we can see the weakness and vulnerability underneath the bluster.

NPD

These are all common characteristics of people suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. It's quite liberating when you realise that these people are not simply "being difficult", but have an outright cognitive disorder which prevents them from being reasonable or understanding your point of view. Reasoning with NPD sufferers is as futile as reasoning with a paranoid schizophrenic.

NPD

True. Thanks. You say narcissists are unable to understand your point of view because of a cognitive disorder, whereas I thought the problem was emotional. But I have noticed an unwillingness or inability to listen, and an eagerness to talk, though if this tendency were applied to everyone, the narcissist would be unable to function -- at work, etc. If narcissists are unable to understand your point of view, it seems that they do not care about it, because I don't think someone of normal intelligence would be unable.

Another motive

I very much appreciated your attempt to qualify this persona, or type.

I'm married to one of these. Save your condolences. But, based on my experience there can be a different motive based on a pathological need to always be right. In my wife's case I'm pretty sure the father put her down whenever he'd win an argument with her, and he probably employed some of these tactics himself. He would only reward her when she beat him in an argument which frequently was won by using rhetorical tricks. Thus her need for approval from a parent (that we obviously all have) created this argumentative monster. She's wholly unaware of it despite my articulation of it hundreds of times. It's a side of her than virtually nobody else sees, or has seen except her sister, and our children. I never experienced it until well into marriage.

Need to be right

Interesting. This trait also became more pronounced over time in my partner. His mother always expressed a high opinion of him and also was a bad listener. When I told her about something, she often told me I was wrong because she didn't know what I was saying.

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Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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