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I posted the following rant as a comment in someone else's journal… - Phil's Rambling Rants
May 31st, 2008
02:02 pm

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I posted the following rant as a comment in someone else's journal (public).  I feel like saving a copy on my own journal.

Specifically, filkertom was ranting about guns in National Parks and he used some language that got me ticked off.  This isn't about the current topic of guns in National Parks, or about gun control in general; it's about saying "I think <the behavior we're debating> is insane".  Actually, about SHOUTING it in all caps.

In your last edit you shout that the opposing viewpoint is insane, which if I were being entirely sensible would just make me quietly walk away, but unfortunately for me and anyone who's still bothering to read this thread, you've gotten me ticked off enough to generally mess up my mood.

Y'see, deep down inside, despite truly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I really want to believe that rational discussion over time can lead people who disagree to change their opinions and come to an accommodation.  Humans, in general, are not rational creatures; they believe and decide things based on emotions and to the extent they use reason, it's to justify what they've already decided, not to figure anything out.  I find that ugly; I'm forced to accept it, but it makes me ashamed to be a human.  In order to cope with that disgust, I really try to believe that at least some of us, some of the time, are able to actually be better than animals and truly use our rationality to decide rather than just to rationalize.  And I hang out in fandom, with people I view as far more rational than the general run of humanity, so that I can cling to my illusion that humanity, though tragically flawed, actually has hopes of getting better.

When you say the idea you argue against in insane, you're saying that it's not merely wrong on the balance of the arguments, not merely very wrong or severely misguided, but so completely indefensible that a fully functional mind must reject it.  You're saying that your opponent must be phenomenally successful in his debate to convince you that he's merely wrong and you're merely right, and you nearly imply that your opponent isn't actually capable of rational thought and therefore you have no reason to argue.  There are some words that have no place in debate, and 'insane' is one.  I didn't really pay attention to your inflammatory language when I first read your post; maybe if I had, I would have correctly gotten the message that you didn't want to have a discussion and I would have just ignored the thread, but unfortunately I didn't.  I assumed you were merely using overly strong rhetoric -- as is unfortunately customary in political debate today.  But with your last addition, you really succeeded in inflaming me.

I understand you already have a strong opinion, but if you're genuinely interested in rational discussion on the subject, or if you actually hope to sway the opinions of anyone who might be open to compromise, don't throw gasoline on the rhetorical fire by calling the opposing proposition 'insane'.

If, on the other hand, you are using the word with full honesty, you're admitting that your mind is made up and you're not actually willing to discuss it.  In which case, let me go sulk in my corner, because you're one of the few people that lets me cling to my foolish illusions that human rationality is more than a misleading veneer.

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From:catalana
Date:May 31st, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC)
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I agree. I am also driven up the wall by when people say "Well X just *is* wrong/right/whatever." Because that's not an argument, it's an assertion. It does not provide any evidence for one's claim whatsoever. If I've learned one thing by now, it's that one person's obvious truth is another's disputed conclusion. That's why we *have* discussions.
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From:phillip2637
Date:June 1st, 2008 01:08 am (UTC)
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Assuming "insane" is used in a broad, conversational sense, it's difficult to claim that no one has ever injected an "insane" belief into a discussion. For me to take part in something that could reasonably be called a debate, I think I would need -- going in -- to believe that the other side's position is one that could be held, right or wrong, by someone who I thought was rational. (I don't like it when people support fringe positions just to see if I can "prove" them wrong.)

One of my pet dislikes is the style of news reporting that requires them to dig up an opposing fruit cake to provide "balance" on an otherwise non-controversial issue.

(In case I'm not clear, I don't mean any of this as a comment on the pros or cons of the original topic, only a statement that I think "insane" is not always an unjust summary of some things that people are willing to support.)
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From:robin_june
Date:June 1st, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)

I'd rather save the word for where it truly applies.

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I really MISS reasoned discussions . . . don't get nearly enough of they In Real life any more, which is prolly why I (over)do LiveJournal.

There are things and situation that warrant the name "insane" and other similar extreme terms but these words should be reserved for the really extreme situations:

Such as when bombs fall out of the sky on your non-combat-zone house.

Or all the people around you suddenly switch from speaking English to speaking gibberish, and expect you to understand what they're saying.

Or something else so far-fetched that you've never even had cause to imagine having to deal with it before,


Describing much-lesser things as "insane" is a) adjective inflation and b) derailing of rational discussion, exactly what you said above.

A consequence of adjective inflation is that when you've accustomed the "world" to using terms of intensity level "100" to describe a situation of intensity level "10" (e.g., "He left the milk out on the counter and it spoiled! I'm gonna KILL him when he gets home!") what do you do when faced with a situation of intensity level "80"? What words are left to show how much More upset are you now?
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From:catsittingstill
Date:June 1st, 2008 05:43 pm (UTC)
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Well, I think in this case he was arguably overstating his point of view, which I took to be something more like: "this world-view is so different from my own that it not only doesn't look reasonable to me, but I'm having trouble imagining how it could look reasonable from the inside."

Maybe his exasperation looks more reasonable to me, because I happen to share a lot of his basic premises.

I accept that it is bad strategy to insult someone you're trying to persuade.

But I think it is an exaggeration to say that his exaggeration makes him dishonest or unwilling to listen to rational discussion.
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From:tigertoy
Date:June 2nd, 2008 01:06 am (UTC)
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I made a poor word choice in 'honesty'. I meant to be making a distinction between an overstatement for effect, and actually believing that the opposition is insane. While I think this sort of overstatement is unfortunate, I do understand that it is rhetorical, not dishonest.

I don't think Tom is reading this, but if he feels slighted by the implication of dishonesty, I apologize.
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From:catsittingstill
Date:June 2nd, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
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Fair enough.

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