Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Painting some lanes

[Blythe, California.]

Days before a long drive, my car -- a senior citizen in car years and mileage -- lit up the icon that looks like an engine, with a truly eerie color.  Somewhere between yellow and red, a vibrant kind of gold orange, like a seething ember that might, just might, break into a wildfire that burns an entire valley.

As reader Kelly advised in her response to the previous post, ignoring this before a long drive, in a car with more than 200,000 miles on it, is not a good idea.  To manage the risk of being stranded somewhere west of Needles and becoming one with the desert forever, I delayed my trip half a day so the trusted mechanics at Tinley Tee in Deming (that's a plug) could poke around.

Sometimes these dashboard lights just flash on and off spuriously and can be disregarded, but you don't really know.  So the mechanics plugged their diagnostic computer into my car and the machines discussed the matter.  Apparently, my car felt something was amiss with the crankshaft -- a critical part of the engine.  Yet they found nothing wrong with the crankshaft and so I was cleared for my drive to the ocean.  So far, the car and I seem to be doing fine.

Filled the tank up in Deming, pointed the car west, and did not stop until we got here. The drive was rather pleasant.  Some of the heavy summer rainstorms have been moving around, so it is a green time for the desert, with many colors and a beautiful quality of light in the sky.

And for the most part everyone has been sharing the road nicely: from the cars to motorcycles to the pickups to the big rigs and the "oversized loads" hauling houses or turbine props towards California.  It's nice when that happens: vehicles sharing the road, cooperating, everyone agreeing to the conventions of signs and painted stripes as a way to get where we are going and play safely with others. It's not a sentimental idea of everyone smiling and being cuddly; just human cooperation.  By looking out for each other, everyone gets where they are going without having to pull over, fill out police reports, look for their detached limbs, and deal with all the associated inconveniences of high-speed traffic accidents.

These days, I'll gratefully recognize whatever human cooperation I can find.

Sometimes my zen friends avoid engaging in discussions of worldly topics for fear of feeding the unhealthy behaviors of attaching to opinions and fanning the flames of anger in ourselves and others.  Another view  is that one can engage in discussion as a means of "together action," so that we can examine the points of view themselves and practice looking at things (or ourselves) from a different angle.  The last of the iconic Ox-Herding Pictures portrays entering the marketplace with wisdom and compassion.  Zen practice aside, civil argument is one of the social skills essential for a people who aspire to any degree of democracy.  

A recent post attracted some attention and more comments, I think, than any post previously.  The point I was hoping to make got buried but hey, sometimes discussions take a life of their own.  There was some arguing and while the tone remained civil for the most part, I also thought it might be a good time to paint some lanes on the roadway so that this blog may be a place where different views can be examined without the verbal firefights that consume so much of the internet.  Here at the Burning House, let us not have minds like the dry scrub that fuels wildfires.

1.  Presume sincerity and good will.  I may disagree with your argument, but you're okay in my book.  I'm glad you took a moment to read and respond.  (You are rare!) 

2. Arguments are not people.   If I am not convinced by your argument, don't take it personally.  And if you're not convinced by some argument I present, I won't take it personally either.  See #1 above.  I'm not here to convert people to my point of view, I'm just sharing one man's process.  If you present an argument and I question it, it is in the spirit of conversation.  Again, let us presume sincerity and good will. 

3. Personal attacks are not arguments.  Insults and name-calling will be deleted.  Let this be a place where people don't need to feel nervous about responding.

4. What do you want?  If what you really want is to commiserate with the like-minded, there is nothing wrong with that at all.  But a designated chat room or Facebook group is what you need for that.  I happen to know that among the regular readers of this blog there are liberals, and people far to the left of them; conservatives of varying degrees and libertarians; Buddhists, Christians, and people who follow different spiritual paths, who come here for the posts of interest to these pursuits; members of my family hoping for photographs; and you get the idea.  This is a diverse crowd.  So be clear about what you want before wading into a conversation here and feeling disappointed or frustrated.

5.  Ad hominem will be deleted.  I'm happy to say I have not yet had to use that button for this reason.  I've only used it to delete spam.  After several years of blogging, often on controversial topics, that's remarkable.  (There are upsides to having a small reader base.)  Let's keep it that way.  No name calling, no going after people personally.  Arguments are not people.  Presume sincerity and good will. 

6.  It's okay that people disagree.  Popular media present an awful model for discourse.  We have these talking heads who only interview like-minded guests, or go to the opposite extreme and engage in loud smackdowns of people who disagree.  This suggests the only reason to engage is to convert the other, or vanquish them into silence.  It is a violent model.  To the extent this influences the way Americans talk to each other, it does a terrible disservice to our political culture.  We need shows that model constructive and friendly debate.  I think it's pretty neat when I'm looking at something from wherever I am, and someone is looking at it from a different angle and tells me what they see.  It continues to surprise me that so many people feel threatened by this -- but given the behavior modeled on television by celebrity pseudo-journalists, maybe I shouldn't feel surprised.

You can understand a different point of view without losing yourself.  Really.  You'll be fine.  And if you don't want to understand a different point of view, that's fine, too.  Participation is optional. 

7. Facts matter.  Opinions are not facts.  Facts have no partisan bias.  We're going to have different opinions about facts.  There are facts we do not know.  We all can make mistakes about facts.  But without an agreement to acknowledge facts, a discussion simply becomes a defense of facts against falsehood and fantasy.  (Up to and including wild conspiracy stories, historical revisionism, or climate-change-denial.)  That is not a debate that's really going to help anybody.  May as well spend that time playing your favorite video game, for all the good it does the world.

7a. Respecting you does not require me to grant time or space to refuting wild conspiracy stories, historical revisionism, or climate-change-denial.  As Christopher Hitchens once said, dismissing a questioner at a public event who was presenting a 9/11 conspiracy allegation, "I'm not buying any pencils from your cup."  

8.  Review #1 one more time.   

I would really love it if the comments section of this blog was a place where anyone felt like they could share their ideas or opinions or question an argument that has been presented without feeling like someone is going to smack them with harsh words and personal accusations.

Maybe these 'painted lanes' will help. 


Kelly said...

First of all, I'm glad you took my advice and had the warning light checked out. Better safe than sorry.

I was amazed to see how much discussion took place on your last entry after my visit! Wow! I would love to weigh in more often here, but I don't debate well and often don't express myself well to start with. I can remember a time I left an innocent comment to which one of your semi-regular readers seemed to take offense. He'd totally misunderstood what I meant and it just wasn't worth coming back and trying to defend myself. Back to the Martin/Zimmerman ordeal, let it suffice to say I feel there were wrong decisions made by both men, decisions that had tragic results for both. And regardless of whether one thinks the verdict was fair or not....it all came down to that "reasonable doubt" business. In reality, none of us really know exactly what took place that night. My heart aches for ALL involved.

Algernon said...

Hi Kelly.

Participation in a conversation, whether it turns into a debate or not, is of course optional. There is nothing wrong with leaving it alone.