November 28, 2004
Punishment of NBA Brawler Un-American
My father pointed out this article which appear in the AZ Republic of all places. It is a REALLY funny, short read.
November 27, 2004
A Treatise on Debate: Part II - Bias and POV
Last night a group of us got into a debate that seemed to quickly degrade to a point where it was no longer productive. Strangely enough, it should have been obvious to me WHEN this point was reached, why it was reached and what should have been done at this point, given my last post on the topic. It was only the next day that I realized what mistakes were made. I believe the story of what happened can be instructive to everyone.
A debate began on bias in the media, whether it was more liberal or conservative. The purpose of this post is not to make a case in any direction, but to use the debate we had as a model. Early on in the debate, my friend, who I will call Wes, inadvertently, but astutely, pointed out the problem with our debate. What he said was, "My theory is that since most of the news media is so liberal, it makes Fox News appear very conservative. If you lived on the surface of the sun, everything might seem cold." Please, no comments on whether you agree or not, that isn't important. What Wes had aptly discovered was that our observations on whether the media was liberal or conservative was based on our perspective of what was liberal and conservative. It was at this point in the debate someone countered by repeating his claim in reverse, saying that the reason he thought most of the media was liberal was because they were compared to Fox News which was obviously so far to the right, everyone else seemed far left.
I have begun to see this trend in debates where this type of paradoxical argument is so often presented. It is paradoxical because both sides are applying the same rules to the other to arrive at a different conclusion based on different premises. I think we should watch for this very occurrence because it almost always signifies something important that can be useful in determining the debate is no longer productive and how to move it towards productivity. Taking the substance of what Wes was saying out, he was essentially saying that our conclusion was invalid because our bias made our observations skewed. He was right. We of course repeated the same claim back, invalidating his comments. We were, of course, right. The mistake we all made was in assuming each of us was in a position to make that claim about our opponent. For, in order to make the claim that our opponent is wrong because of his/her bias, we are also claiming we are not so biased and at the least unbiased enough to recognize our opponents bias. Here again, both groups are claiming to be unbiased while claiming the other to be biased. The reality is that we were both biased and neither of us was cable of making the claim that we were less biased than the other. It was at this point we should have reframed the debate to try and come to come up with questions that we agreed encapsulated the debate. Before explaining how this might be done I want to make an illustration about the nature of bias.
Here is a way of looking at the problem of bias that better illustrates our dilemma. Let us assume we all see the degrees of bias in terms of a scale from -10 to +10. For the sake of this discussion we'll use political bias as our example. So, we may see -10 to represent the far left and +10 to represent the far right. No one wants to believe his/her bias is so strong that they're views are highly skewed so few people would call themselves a -10 or a +10. Most reasonable people would admit their biased, but downplay how much. Maybe they are a 3 or 4, admitting bias without claiming to be wildly biased. Now lets pretend that in reality, there is an absolute scale of -1,000 to +1,000 representing all possible viewpoints from the far left to right. My -10 to +10 scale I see will fall somewhere within that larger scale. My -10 might be 200 and my +10 may be 350. Another person's -10 may be -200 and his/her +10 is 150. The first thing this illustrates is that in reality, our perceived scales vary in width. Someone else's scale might feasible fall within your scale. Someone else's scale may overlap yours, or as in the case of the example above, may not even be within the same range. In this case my far left was to the right of the other person's right. What this illustrates is that our whole scale, ie our understanding of our bias, is itself biased and relative to our position.
We can see a metaphor of this in Einstein's theory that speed is relative. If you roll a ball at 3 mph down the hallway of a train moving 60 mph, the ball is moving 3mph, not 63. Many people mistakenly believe he was saying the ball APPEARS to be moving 3 mph, but is really moving 63. What he was actually saying was that the ball WAS moving 3mph because all speed is relative to its own reference (in this case, the moving train). Maybe one reason he realized this was because he realized there was no state of rest for anything. The planet is spinning and moving in space and nothing is really still, nor can we really know how everything is moving enough to subtract that out and reach some absolute 0 motion. Put differently, there was no absolute reference point with which to judge speed against.
Now back to the debate with Wes. Once we both began accusing the other of the same thing we should have realized that our debate had become unproductive. It was unproductive because we had no reference point with which to debate who was right or left. In this example, it may have been that there WAS no reference point we would be able to agree upon given the fact that our definitions of what fell under the umbrella of right and left might have been different. For example, one person might think the debate was about the media being more politically right or left, while another person might believe it was whether they are more morally right or left in their reporting. Or it may be some combination of the two. It may be that the person arguing that the media was far to the right would agree that the media was morally left. Once again, I ask that you not try and come to conclusions as to what I mean when I say morally right or left. This is just an illustration and not an argument.
Given the ideas I suggested in my last post, at this point it might be good to ask WHY each person believes what they do, why you believe what you do and why you think they believe what they do. In this example it may be that we are coming from different places and can not really have a debate on who is more RIGHT or LEFT. However, moving on to the next phase I suggested in my last post, we can begin to construct questions we can agree frames our debate. In this example, it may be that the purpose of the questions is to NARROW the debate to a debatable level. For example, we can narrow the debate to who is more politically right or left by asking the question, "If a media outlet reports twice as many good stories about republicans and twice as many bad ones about democrats, can we agree they are more republican?" Or visa versa. There are a number of reasons either side might have problems with this question and it may be that this question is not acceptable, but by working on it, both sides can hopefully come up with a question they both agree on. Then, the burden is on the voracity of the evidence. Maybe one side can cite statistics one way or another that fall within the guidelines of the question.
I want to end this post by talking about the biggest problem with you believing your opponents belief is based on bias. This also applies if you think you know what faulty reasons they have for having their belief on the matter. This especially applies if they told you why they chose their side and you continue to believe it is really for some other reason and not what they said. In a debate, we can, and often do, make arguments which question the validity of our opponents reasons for coming to their conclusion. If you make assumptions or do not believe why they tell you they believe what they believe, you will make arguments against something that may not exist. This can be frustrating for both of you. You may make a convincing argument to find your opponent agrees with your argument, but disagrees with your conclusion. You will find it hard to believe they can agree with the argument, but not the conclusion. This should be a sign to you that you do not understand their reasons and were arguing against reasons they never had to begin with.
At this point you may be asking, "Honestly, how much can he possible write about debate! Doesn't he sleep or go outside?" To this I would argue you are probably being closed minded. :)
November 25, 2004
A Treatise on Debate: Part I
I have had a number of debates recently on a range of topics that has me rethinking the topic of debate itself. At the least it has given me ideas for how to have more productive debates. By productive I am referring to the idea that your goal in a debate should not be to win, but to acquire as much information as possible for your own analysis and conclusion drawing. I have observed some trends in debates that seem to almost always be impediments to productivity as well as some suggested tactics meant to decrease misunderstanding, bias and resentment.
The general thesis I want to put forward is that debates are more productive when we first disarm OURSELVES from using arguments which are not productive. This seems like a tautology because it is, but it is less obvious in practice. In practice, the idea of disarming ourselves seems unproductive because we are taking away tools we can use to win the debate. Which brings me to my first point, the purpose of debate.
When entering a debate it is hoped that there is an understanding on both sides as to what the purpose of the debate is. For example, if one person is hired by another to debate something, it may be that the debater's intention is NOT to gain new knowledge or find truth, but instead merely to defend a position. It is likely that if the other person being debated is following a more liberal guideline for the debate, they will lose and rightfully feel they lost unfairly. However, if both people are aware they are defending positions without compromise they are on a more even playing field. We find these debates most commonly in politics. It is just as important for the observers of these debates to recognize the type rules of the debate. Without invalidating the above form of debate, it does and should diminish the legitimacy of both sides if they hold this type of uncompromising stance.
A more productive debate is one in which both sides are truly debating to find the truth and not merely to defend a position. If both sides agree to this format, they must trust the other is observing this format for the debate to be effective. One side may still decide to staunchly hold a position and make the other defend their position more fully even if the person holding staunchly already has doubt. In this case it is the intent that matters. If the persons intention is to find the truth and is only using stubbornness to tease out more information, it is legitimate. However, the debate is seriously delegitimized when one person suspects the other of stubbornness just for the sake of being right. In this way it is almost more helpful to think of a debate as trying to convince ourself of something rather than the person being debated. This may seem counterintuitive, but taking away the need to have the other person agree, in place of trying to convince ourselves of something takes away some of our bias. We can control our own thoughts, but we can not control our opponents. A scientist is not supposed to come up with a hypothesis because he wants to prove that hypothesis is true, but merely to learn whether it is true or not. He may still rigorously test and defend the hypothesis, but it should only be to learn the real truth.
Furthermore, our PURPOSE in debate should not be to come to a conclusion or an agreement at all. Instead, our purpose should be gain information which can be incorporated into our decision making process. We rarely are able to get all the information that exists in a topic in the midst of a debate so why should we expect we can come to a definitive conclusion on that subject. We can choose when to agree and disagree in order to gain information, but if our goal is to be right or to have agreement, we will hold positions and argue unarguable areas longer than is productive. This is often seen when a point arises where there is clear disagreement, with no path towards agreement. At this point, it would be more productive to find a finer point to debate than to keep beating a dead horse, but I will go into this more later.
There is a further problem with believing in the need to be correct or whether we ARE correct to begin with or not. If we believe it is possible we are currently correct, having come to our conclusion logically, without misinformation or bias, it immediately assumes some things about our opponent. If we are right by right means, then they must be wrong because of incorrect thinking, either because of bias, misinformation, illogical/emotional thinking, etc... Believing our opponent is not playing with the same deck we are immediately delegitimizes his/her argument and decreases your ability to hear or believe what they are saying.
This is most commonly seen in the area of bias. It is easy to assume our opponent disagrees because of some bias on their end that has forced them to come to their conclusion incorrectly. We each have a POV which determines our bias. None of us are free from bias. Our bias is determined by a large number of factors including our disposition, events that happened around us, reactions to our actions by others, our reaction to events and others, etc... It is possible for us to see areas in which we have bias and possibly even what that bias is, however, it is not possible to know ALL the areas we are biased and how or why we are biased in those areas. Given this reality, it is safest for each of us in a debate to assume we ARE biased on the issue we are debating and have no ability to truly detach ourselves from our bias. Admitting our own bias disarms us from using the argument that our opponent is merely biased. Furthermore, the recognition that we are all biased can be used by a tool to determine the truth. But more on this later.
Related to the issue of bias is the issue of believing oneself or ones opponent to be open or closed minded. We may frequently talk about someone else being closed minded, or more closed minded than a third person. We also refer to groups of people as more closed minded. There may be merit in investigating whether a person or persons are more closed minded than another person or persons, but this investigation is almost always counter-productive when done in the midst of a debate not relating to open mindedness. When we believe someone else is closed minded we are delegitimizing their position. In essence we are saying they hold their position because they refuse to see the reality that should be obvious. However, I believe study on this matter would show that we believe people who disagree with us to be more closed minded than those that agree. This gives away our bias on the matter and delegitimizes our ability to call someone else closed minded. Furthermore, if our goal is the pursuit of truth, thinking our opponent is closed minded will likely result in us being more closed minded to their position (given that we have already delegitimized it). Most frequently, when you find a party in a debate that thinks the other to be closed minded, you will find the same belief on the other side. Two people who both believe the other to be closed minded cancels out their argument that the other is closed minded. At least it does practically. It is best to disarm oneself of the ability to excuse your opponent's position as being closed minded.
Also related to the issue of bias is whether we believe our opponent is being logical or not. Believing our opponent to be illogical delegitimizes their position and thus makes the debate less productive. We can disarm ourselves of this argument by assuming ahead of time that our opponent reached their conclusion logically based on the information he/she had and his/her way of thinking. Based on the above discussion of bias, we then should not disparage our opponents information gathering process or his/her way of thinking as these are essentially employing the same tactic of believing our opponent to be less logical than you.
You also must not assume your opponent is judging you while attempting to not judge your opponent. This is best demonstrated with an example. Two people are arguing on the existence of karma and what it might be. One argues that he/she believes in cosmic karma, but that the scale each action is judged on is based on whether the person doing the action believed it to be good or bad. The other person asks the first person whether that means a terrorist who bombs a school and honestly believes it to be 'good' would be judged 'good' based on his own belief. It would be easy for the first person to assume he/she is being judged as someone who might agree with or sympathize with terrorists. This might make them defensive. In reality, the person asking the question is merely trying to understand the meaning of their opponents belief and not saying they think the other person is a terrorist or condones terrorism.
All of the above speaks to the format and preparation for debate, and now I want to get into the substance of debate. Once we have disarmed ourselves of the ability to delegitimize our opponents position, there are tools we can use to be more productive. Again, productivity in this regard, I am defining as attempting to find the truth irrespective of your initial position. Most often, debates begin spontaneously with a disagreement. Usually, the conclusion is debated first. Given that it was the conclusion that sparked the debate, this is both natural and not unproductive. It may be that the debate can be quickly resolved without going into much greater depth. At this phase and at deeper phases it is constructive to ask each other questions that test the voracity of each others beliefs. It should be understood that, "I don't know," or, "I haven't thought about that," are valid answers that do not imply concession. For example, in a debate above about Karma, the question about whether terrorists are good or bad is meant to be an extreme test of the persons belief. If they can defend their belief against extremes it bolsters their claim. The intent of the question should not be to 'stump' your opponent though. The difference may be subtle. You should TRY to ask questions your opponent can at least attempt to answer. If you ask a question they are not able to answer, try toning the question down until you find the point at which they can answer. Finding this point is instructive as well. It is not a sign of weakness to decide that your beliefs have a limit. It is valid to say you believe what you believe 'up to a point.' Trying to find this point is constructive for both members of the debate.
However, at some point, if no consensus or understanding between the two parties seems likely, the topic of debate should be altered. There is no definitive way to know when this point has been reached, but there are often clues. For example, when points that have already been presented and disagreed upon come up again, you are probably at or near the aforementioned point. When one person believes this point has been reached, that person should initiate a change in the topic of investigation for the debate. It does not matter whether both people agree this point has been reached because this change in substance can not be detrimental to the debate. The only thing calling it too early or too late can do is prolong the debate, not make it less productive. The purpose of this change is to attempt to flush out bias, areas of agreement, and areas of unarguable disagreement.
Firstly, to flush out bias, someone should ask the question, "Why do you believe I believe what I believe in the way I believe it." This question should be rephrased to fit better in your debate, ie. "Why do you think I believe abortion is wrong in all circumstances." Once the person has responded, it is your turn to tell them why you believe they believe what they believe about the topic. You should answer this question regardless of whether your opponent asks the question. If you are answering the question, unprompted, you should probably preface your answer with an acknowledgment of the question you are attempting to answer.
Once you both have answered why you think the other believes what they do, you should answer why YOU think you believe what you do. Here is where it starts to get tricky. Frequently, your opponent will have a different belief than you on why you believe what you believe and visa versa. During this phase of the debate you can attempt to support your position of why you think your opponent believes what they do and why you think you believe what you believe. However, this phase of the debate can quickly debase into name calling or other such unproductive stances. Once both parties have made BRIEF arguments as to why you believe what you do (about yourself and your opponent), both parties must agree to believe the their opponent believes their reason for believing what they believe. This may seem confusing, but the purpose of this phase is to disarm oneself from delegitimizing your opponents position. If at this point you can not accept your opponents belief in why they hold their position as legitimate, the debate is over. It will not be possible to find agreement if you both can not agree to this. However, if both of you can submit to the legitimacy of the others POV, the debate can continue. I can not emphasize this point enough. You have to truly believe that your opponents view is logically possible in order to have a productive debate. You do not have to agree.
Its at this point you may find you have reached an unarguable point. For example, if someone believes something is the way it is because God made it that way, and you do not, you can not argue with them on that point. You do not have to delegitimize their argument, its just that you are both basing your argument on premises you do not agree on. It likely not be possible to come to agreement if your premises are different. It would be like two people trying to make similar tasting pumpkin pie with completely different ingredients. Possible, but unlikely.
If an agreement is reached that both sides can accept the other's premises as legitimate, you can next attempt to collectively construct questions you both agree are legitimate and properly frame the issue. Frequently, two people argue around each other without ever framing the debate. The best way to frame the debate is with a question or series of questions. Both people have to agree though. These questions should be based around AREAS of agreement. The first questions constructed should be those whose answers you share some agreement on. Then, questions should be constructed BASED on the questions whose answers you agree on. This may be a bit vague, so let me give an example. Two people are arguing about whether to teach safe sex versus abstinence in school. Both parties have already agreed that the other persons position is legitimate. The question is asked, "What is the goal of teaching either of these?" The abstinence side may give reasons such as preserving morality in youth, preventing unwanted pregnancies, and reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. The safe sex side may give reasons such as not wanting to pressure youth to marry too young, preventing unwanted pregnancies, and reducing the risk of sexually transmitted disease. Clearly, the two groups have different reasons, one being concerned with morality and the other with marrying too young. Remember, we DO NOT make any judgments on the validity of these reasons at this point. It doesn't matter whether you think morality is a good reason or not. What is important is that there were answers to the same question that were in agreement. Of course, not all questions will result in there being overlapping answers. The challenge is to FIND these questions. Once we have determined there are overlapping answers, we can construct subsequent questions based on this agreement. For example, "If it was found that focusing on [safe sex or abstinence] teaching reduced [unwanted pregnancies and/or STDs] would you agree it would better to focus on that form of teaching?" If both sides agree you have just come up with a question that may end the debate. Now, you can try and find the answer to it. You can even put the debate on hold until the answer is found. People can always disregard the results, but since the objective wasn't convincing the other person, that doesn't matter. Of course, its not always this easy or obvious. Still, I believe it is productive to attempt to frame the debate in terms of constructing questions you both agree are legitimate.
I have more thoughts on this, but need to put this topic down for the moment. I'll leave you with a bulleted summary of areas where you should disarm yourself before a debate.
The following are things you should make an attempt NOT to apply to your opponent during a debate:
1. Small Minded
2. Illogical Deduction
3. Emotional Deduction
4. Biased Deduction
5. Misinformed Deduction
6. Ill Informed Deduction
6. Dishonest or withholding the truth (what they really think)
7. Bad Intentions
November 15, 2004
I moved my site to a new host and upgraded Moveable Type. I also ditched the look I had before in favor of a lame template that came with MT. Even though the template is a bit 'blah', it is more functional than my design was. It took long enough just to get it all back set up. In the future I hope to redesign again, but in the mean time we'll all have to just deal with it. However, if you do see things broken, not as they should be, or have suggestions for improvements... please feel free to speak up.
Also, I am trying a new comment system in order to reduce the amount of Spam I was getting. If you sign up for a free typekey acct, you can quickly log on and comment unfettered on this site. If you do not have a typepad acct, your comments will be moderated by me. If you like this system, or if you hate it, drop me a line to tell me what you think.
November 11, 2004
Tragedy and Miracles on my way home.
Made it to Amsterdam. Went to check in with my standbye voucher only to find my wallet with my drivers license, credit card and most importantly, my irreplaceable voucher, was gone. I ran around the airport retracing my steps. nothing. i asked lost and found. nothing. Finally i went to the police to make a report. They asked my name and lo and behold, they had my wallet. They said I had left it at the train counter. Thing is, i was never at the train counter. Either i dropped it or, just as likely, it was lifted and someone handed it in seeing there was no money in it.
I went back to check in to Iceland air thinking i wouldnt know if i was getting on the flt until 30 min before departure, but they do it different here. There was room and i have my ticket to Boston.
I am finally coming home.
November 10, 2004
Homeward Bound... hopefullySo, I'm off to Luton airport in a couple hours, where I'll sleep on a cold hard floor... again. Tomorrow morning at 6am I'll fly off to Amsterdam. There, I will try and catch a 1:20 flt to Boston. I just checked and there is a more than decent chance I'll get on this flight. It is currently not too booked. Its almost surreal thinking of coming back to the states, but I am very excited. When I get back to the states I'll try and call as many of you as I can. I don't have a cell phone, but hopefully I can get one soon enough. I still have a phone card though, so "is no problem." See you all on the other side.
November 05, 2004
Steve and I just got to Rome. We slept, or didn't sleep, in the airport in Prague last night. Unfortunately, we can't check in til 3, so we'll just have to keep pushing.
In my prior posts I failed to mention that Steve DID get his bag back while we were in Amsterdam.
On the not so good front, I just found out my trip home will not go as smoothly as I had planned. Originally I had purchased my ticket back to London under the assumption that it would be easiest to get a standbye flight out of Hethrow to JFK. I just found out that the standbye service I am using is only working with Icelandair at the moment and the only flights i can catch back to the northeast are out of Amsterdam or Frankfurt. I quickly scrambled and bought a ticket to Amsterdam from London for next Thursday. I booked the flight for 6am so I could attempt to catch the 2pm flt from Amsterdam to Boston. Unfortunately, I'll have to sleep in Luton airport on Wed night in order to make that flt. If the Thurs flt to Boston is booked, I'll have to wait in Amsterdam until Sat to catch a flt to JFK. If I can't make that flt, I'll have to wait until Tuesday and so on. Hopefully, I'll get on next Thursday's flt and be back in the US next week. I think Kasei can pick me up from the airport in Boston.
We are very excited to be in Rome though. Later today we'll be meeting some American's who are studying in Rome that I met in London.
That is all.