html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: A teaching moment

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A teaching moment

He is right, of course.

Now, for quite some few of you, I would like you to check what you are thinking RIGHT NOW. What are you thinking? Are you outraged at the ridiculousness of that and composing your comment with links to prove that he is ridiculous? Do you think it is preposterous that I heartily support that view, and are checking against your recollection of everything I have everything written for something that contradicts that view so you can show me that I am inconsistent and WRONG? Are you getting ready to EXPLAIN how evolutionary psychology demands that we act like MEN, and if we lose some gorillas in the process, well, that is evolution.

If that is you, you effin' robot, you are have missed what that post was about. That post was an expression of what we call "emotion." Communication has two types of content, information and emotion. That piece was high on emotion. If you only respond to the information in it, and worse, if you respond with a logical answer to contradict the information, YOU did not receive the communication. That's right. You failed to return the communication, even if your logical response to the information is accurate.

This is fine, if you live and work with other robots, and for all I know, all you tech-industry self-centered libertarians1 do work happily together, dwelling only in the sphere of the mind. But, to your great dismay, MOST of the world does not operate that way. Your preferences about whether they should are completely irrelevant2,3. That is not how people are.

So, friends, if this is you and you don't understand people and why don't they see how right you are since you explained it and it seems like people get mad so fast when you were just pointing out inconsistencies, consider the possibility that you are the reason. You missed a crucial piece of the content and you are returning the the wrong piece back. Try, as an exercise, to identify the information and the emotion in every conversation you have, and the ones you overhear. I did that consciously for a month when I was learning how to listen. (When you get used to that, you do it automatically, and if you say it back to people, they think you are, like, psychic for how well you understand them.)

What this means is that you should consider carefully where and when you want to be arguing. You don't get to argue emotions, although it often helps to identify them. They are not subject to convincing by reason. So, that leaves only a small portion of the communication that can be decided by talk and argumentation. You might get along with people better (= piss people off less) if you learn to recognize that space and confine your arguments to there.









P.S. If you were thinking, 'oh my heart, the Library of Congress? burning?', then of course I am not talking about you. You probably already knew that.




1Please do not tell me that not all libertarians are self-centered. If you are not, assume I am talking to those other ones who are and stop being defensive about traits you don't possess. After a year of talking to you guys, I have learned that many of you are kind and friendly.

2I often suspect your wishes that people would be logical are about you trying to shift the field of interaction to one that favors your brainy self.

3Another thing that will be very hard for you to understand is that in the world of emotion, no one is right. Yep. It is true. No one is right. You have an emotion and the other person has an emotion and that is all. Neither is better than the other, or confers an advantage on the holder. There is no way to jockey for position. People's emotions... just are. You do not get to tell me or Mr. Clarke that we are wrong for the emotions we feel on that extinction warning. Your emotions are no more valid. Nope. They aren't less valid, either.
This

UPDATE: This is EXACTLY what I mean. GMO proponents will NEVER be able to give enough rational reasons to convince people. People tell them "we don't like GMO's" and a good portion of that communication is emotion. GMO "scientists" don't like to deal with that emotion, so they return with reasons, this time from other disciplines. But they haven't addressed the problem, the suspicion or fear, and so they are only applying more of a technique (trying to convince) that doesn't work.

You can think anything you like about whether it SHOULD work. But it won't. If they want to advance a pro-GMO policy, they need to listen and address both types of content in the communications they are getting from their opponents.

68 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan, if a new poster on this blog said something in the comments using the tone and rhetoric you used in this post, you'd remind them of your 'affirmative kindness' rule. You would point out that they were talking down to the other commenters, and that this was likely to make them defensive and doesn't lead to productive conversation.

But this is your blog and I'm just a effin' robot^W^Wguest here, so it isn't my place to say such things.

--Dex

8:49 PM  
Blogger billo said...

Great post!

Megan, I think you're right about emotions in a lot of cases but I'm not sure when it comes to hate or bitterness and many other things; to say that they just "are" or that they are no less "right" than others seems a bit odd.

But on your main point: spot on. As Sen says, calculation is not the only form of evaluation.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I know, Dex. Fortunately, I have you guys to check me. I always need practice.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You are even more right, because I am proving my own point that cleverness is not a good way to discuss important things.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Mitch said...

I sympathize with the fact that you feel a little besieged by people picking apart your old posts and finding things there that they call inconsistent with some recent thing you've said. I think the examples of that that I've seen are off-base. It's okay to have complex opinions, and it's okay for them to change over time, and it's perfectly sensible to advocate something in one context and not in another.

However, whether or not this post is to my address, I feel like it is, and that makes me mad. And you don't get to argue that emotion!

Emotion is useful and important, but when people start trying to make policy choices on an emotional basis then I get pissed off (emotion! yay). And if I'm not allowed to disagree with someone else's emotion, and argue against it, then am I just supposed to stand by while people enact bad policies? I have no doubt whatsoever that the person you linked to has lots of policy goals based on this set of emotions.

Besides, most people's emotions are influenced by information. Many people's emotions have been influenced by bad or skewed information; how do you deal with that? And if your emotions are not at all influenced by information, then what does that say about you?

In the comments on the linked post, someone (negatively) mentions a Russian program that encourages fertility. And Clarke agrees ("ugh"). But Russia has a fertility rate of 1.39, way below the replacement rate. Is that (informational) response less useful than my (emotional) response of "you're incredibly dumb"?

Responding to emotion with more emotion often results in a useless shouting match. I'll take someone with Asperger's over Chris Clarke any day.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Dagon said...

I've long suspected I'm less human than a lot of the meat robots I interact with, but I really don't understand your point. Are you saying there are some choices where logic plays no role? Sorry, I can't go there.

Emotion is a strong driver, and is important to recognize and honor in your preferences. But emotions are inconsistent, and lead to regrets when logic isn't used to evaluate costs and benefits of the various and irreconcilable wants that emotion brings.

I'll definitely side with Mitch about emotion being influenced by information and logic. The reverse is true too - emotion IS a type of information, and any logical evaluation must take it into account.

Oh, and the "no one is right" is fine for trivial personal choices, but it's simply not sufficient for making decisions that affect multiple people.

In many cases, someone is right. I highly recommend recognizing that one can have emotions that lead to wrong choices. The emotion is valid and true, but life is improved by seeking ways to reduce it, or at least reduce it's effect on your choices.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Mitch, nice job on the reflection in the first paragraph.

In some ways you're right, but in some ways I think you are still living inside a huge bias for the mind as a way to solve problems. I've been moving away from that in the past few years.

Mostly, I think reason is a good way to figure out the "how" of policy. The goal of policy setting has to be a combination of reason and feeling. And getting people to buy into it is heavily weighted to emotion. Crafting the right policy doesn't matter at all if you can only get the mind-based people to buy into it. There are lots of the rest of us.

9:40 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

This is a fascinating theory.

How did you come up with it? And how did you embark on this "learning to listen" program?

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Mitch said. Even as you're right in that it's not useful to try to talk someone down off the proverbial ledge on the basis of logic, you, I think it's important to understand the robots' annoyance when important decisions get made on the basis of how some person feels about things.

I get the point you're making. There's a time and place for emotions and feeling, and all that, and it makes things simpler to have people realize that's the mode you're working in. There's also a time and place to be hard nosed and rational, and I think any arguments you get will be in an effort to pre-empt the notion that feelings are all that's important.

For what it's worth, I agree about Johnny Cash, but I'd want a lot more than a year for the Library of Congress. And I certainly wouldn't want to be in it.

-c

9:57 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I took two semesters of mediation and alternate dispute resolution. This is about the first thing you learn in mediation. Here's a description of active listening.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Genuinely asking:

What do you guys think are the chances that you guys just like the system that you do well in?

This is your mind telling you that the mind is the best way to solve things, after all. 'Cause it is the most rational. (I'm not being all deep or snarky, just pointing out that it is a pretty isolated system.)

Is the thought of dealing with things on a non-rational basis really, really aversive?

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said it yourself: in the world of emotions, there is no right and wrong. How do you make that the basis for a decision on anything?

Rational decision makers can be convinced through argument. They can change their minds. They can be wrong, as well as right, and admit it.

Who are you to say Clarke is right and Cash was wrong about dirty yellow buzzards? If you feel that species extinction is bad and want to convince other people, at some point you're going to have to start making arguments, not just rants. (okay, that's a bad example, most people are against species extinction. Insert some more controversial topic instead)

-c

10:08 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You can know what emotions are driving you, and especially what emotions are driving the friend you are debating. Nothing you say will be right enough to convince them if you don't attend to their emotions.

And then, if your own emotions and mind are split, I would say that think-y people like us should place more value on emotions (than I used to). As a basis? 'Feels wrong' is a pretty strong basis.

As long as you use the criteria of reason to validate the outcome of decision making, reason will always be the favored tool.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Oh, and I forgot. No bashing people here. Especially Mr. Clarke, whose writings I really like.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If that last was to my account, I don't think I was bashing Mr. Clarke. I agree with his sentiment.

-c

10:28 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Nope, not to you, -c.

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People have strong emotions about all kinds of things, including things that are obviously immoral. Some people are sincerely and thoroughly appalled at, say, the idea that infidels are allowed to continue to live. Those people really feel what they feel, but they're still wrong. This doesn't mean that it would be better if we banished emotion, as emotional experiences are the best parts of life. But they are a terrible basis for deciding right and wrong. You can make allowances for the fact that people fall short of the ideal, and you'll probably do better in life if you do, but I think you're making a virtue of necessity.

Shana Tova
David J. Balan

11:07 PM  
Blogger Noel said...

Honestly, what passed through my mind was the following:

How did Johnny Cash set his truck on fire?

How did a burning truck kill so many condors?

“your damn yellow buzzards.” could well be a defence mechanism.

I'm either a robot or someone who has just woken up.

12:00 AM  
Blogger guy said...

All this talk of robots and humans made me want to go read this. Which although lighthearted is really very resonant with this post.

On a more serious note, I tend to agree with Megan for the initial period of any interaction: when an emotional gap exists between sides in a debate there will be no co-operative solution until emotions are taken into account. In my experience, logic does not (cannot?) fill an emotional chasm, particularly an implicit one. Only once all parties have identified the gap (an act which tends to significantly reduce its emotional quotient) does information start to play a role.

However, I agree with the "robots" for the post-identification phase of a debate, that there is a role for logic in clarifying issues. But if you ignore/denigrate emotional
differences, you don't get to use the power of knowledge. At least not beneficially...

P.S. I highly recommend learning to actively listen, it hugely enriches your conversational life, as well as that of those around you. I regret not listening often enough.

P.P.S. I know it's an old stalwart but identifying my Myers-Briggs type a few years back was a very useful introduction to the whole emotion/logic discussion, and helped me to see how people thought and saw the world completely differntly from me, but still in an entirely internally-consistent manner.

P.P.P.S. I agree with billo, this is a seriously good post.

1:47 AM  
Anonymous Mitch said...

Well, the person bashing Mr. Clarke was presumably me. I apologize; I don't have enough information to judge whether or not Mr. Clarke, personally, is dumb. I only have this one post that's dumb, and his apparent lack of understanding of the fact that some countries do face demographic crises due to declining birthrates. That lack of understanding is also pretty dumb.

I left that personal jab in my last comment because I was trying to make a point I didn't think I could make as well otherwise. Sometimes your emotional response really is counterproductive, especially if you're talking to someone you deeply disagree with. So sometimes it's just better to leave out the emotional response entirely. And I think that impulse, to leave it out, has something to do with the lack of emotional content in the comments from some of the "robots" here.

Of course, responding emotionally isn't the same thing as following and understanding the emotions that someone else is expressing. But suppose I twig to the fact that Mr. Clarke is both sad and angry. I feel differently than he does; I think he's mistaken in a few ways, and I'd like to express my disagreement. How do I incorporate my understanding of his emotional state into my response? "I understand that you're angry, but that's just because you're misguided and ill-informed." Obviously not the right approach.

I try to build rapport with someone by showing that I'm basically a reasonable person. Usually I try to do that by finding something concrete that we clearly agree on. Then I try to hang further agreements off of that until we get to something that we disagree about, and then we're in a good spot to explore why that is. But I have a hard time building that rapport around an emotion; I've always assumed that that's because the emotion is inherently slipperier, but perhaps I'm just not as good at harnessing it.

Hmmmm. How's this?
====
I understand the sense of loss you feel when species go extinct. I know that loss seems preventable to you, and the apparent failure to prevent it makes you angry. It must seem crazy to you how some people seem like they just don't care about preserving the incredible richness that's inherent in the biology and behavior of even one of those endangered species.

Extinction is part of nature, though. Just as each individual gets born, matures, and dies, so does each species separate from its parent, evolve to fit its niche, and eventually disappear. It's right and proper to mourn each passing, but you can't freeze nature in its current state any more than you can freeze a child in his or her cutest stage of development. That would be just as cruel and unnatural as slash-and-burn deforestation.

But even though we can't prevent all extinction, can we at least prevent some of them? How? The extinctions that you're thinking about are probably of species that are competing with humans one way or another.

You'd like to reduce the number of people, but how would you do that? Who would you get rid of? Would you kill one of your parents? Which one? Or how about a sibling, or one of your nephews? And suppose you were willing to make that monstrous sacrifice; would that help? No--it would not make any difference whatsoever. You'd have to multiply that sacrifice literally a billion-fold.

And that will never happen. There are so many people who just don't seem to understand how important it is to reduce the population. It's so unfair how other people have so many children, and you don't have any. Don't they understand the harm that they're doing to the environment, with their SUVs full of kids on the way to soccer practice? All those horrible people, with all those beautiful children.

====

I don't know; rhetoric aimed at people's emotions often seems a little bit evil. Speaking to your intellect rather than trying to manipulate your emotions is one way I show respect for you. People who start by speaking to emotion often seem like demagogues at best and predators at worst.

2:29 AM  
Blogger billo said...

Mitch, interesting comment. But isn't being "reasonable" more about one's temperament rather than mind/intellect? (I use the latter word in its modern sense only)

I think you're quite right about the dangers of emotional appeals, but I think there's also a danger of arguments that are based purely on rationality ("the sleep of reason brings forth nightmares" or, Blake's acute observation: "he who sees Ratio sees only himself")

Your point about rapport was really interesting but I'd ask: when it comes to friends does it really matter what their particular ("concrete") views are?

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

But, but, but....

I understand Mr. Clarke's emotional response: beautiful, powerful lowland gorillas are threatened with extinction due to a combination of human folly and the spread of disease. This is a horrible thing and should not be.

But his subsequent flailing for scapegoats is bizarre. This is the fault of North Americans having too many babies? Unless there's a new trend among yuppies of feeding their progeny bushmeat, or unless US suburbia has actually reached inland Africa, I fail to see the connection.

I was at first mystified about the whole Johnny Cash thing, but a brief search on the Internet does reveal that he was involved in a forest fire. However, this appears to have been an accident, even if he didn't afterward express regret. And again, what is Mr. Clarke's point? That humanity is intrinsically so clumsy in its dealings with the natural world that it would be better if we all just shoved off? That is not a real solution.

My emotional reactions are that Mr. Clarke is a raving fool, or at least highly immature.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

"I think you're quite right about the dangers of emotional appeals, but I think there's also a danger of arguments that are based purely on rationality ("the sleep of reason brings forth nightmares" or, Blake's acute observation: "he who sees Ratio sees only himself")"

I think Goya's etching was meant to make the exact opposite point: that it is the rule of emotion that leads to horror.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

t_n:

I'm going to presume, which is often wrong, but I'm going to do it anyway.

My emotional reactions are that Mr. Clarke is a raving fool, or at least highly immature.

That is not your emotional reaction, not least because your emotional reactions don't have words. My guess is that your emotional reactions on reading that post was:

love for animals
sorrow for the gorilla in the picture
flash of guilt
start of anger at Mr. Clarke, for bringing out our communal guilt
love for music
increased anger at Mr. Clarke for devaluing the human works we love
lots of anger at Mr. Clarke
frustration that his wrong view gets attention when it doesn't do any good

Then you made that into words. If you guys were together and forgot your ordinarily good manners, which I don't think you would do, you'd argue, and neither of you would make the slightest impression on the other.

You would only start aligning your words and coming to agreement (even to disagree) when that initial flash of guilt and the moment of anger are emotionally salved. You will never get there through any amount of reason.

7:53 AM  
Blogger billo said...

you're probably right. Can work both ways though..at least that's what Robert Hughes (or was it K.Clark?) said.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Dagon said...

What do you guys think are the chances that you guys just like the system that you do well in?

What makes you think I like the system? I hate it! It's horrible to always be right, and nobody realizes it! I'd much rather everyone be right all the time.

Unfortunately, I don't know how. Emotional appeals are so often too raw and unfocused to act upon. Is Chris Clark calling for forced sterilization of most people? I don't think so, but I don't know WHAT he's suggesting, other than that he's hurt and sad.

Help me! What do I DO (not "how should I feel", which is "sympathetic", and I do) when someone is hurt and/or angry at something which I think cannot or should not be stopped?

8:11 AM  
Blogger Trevor said...

"Megan, it sounds like you feel that you're not being heard."

Everyone should take an ADR class. It's like going to Jedi school.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan, You're right that my genuine emotional reaction probably was something like that. I actually didn't forget my good manners here either, but was trying to make a pretty weak joke. Must have been feeling extra self-righteous this morning.

Billo, Actually, I probably shouldn't have been so firm in my preferred interpretation of Goya's etching, as it (and much else he did) are really fairly ambiguous. It occurs to me I even wrote a paper once on the "3rd of May" disagreeing with the standard understanding of that painting.

--Repentant_Nick

8:41 AM  
Anonymous dilletante said...

i don't think i have anything terribly useful to contribute to this discussion (i agree with you, megan, but i think you and your commenters are talking past each other a little bit in the "but emotions are affected by beliefs about facts, and those beliefs can be right or wrong and how do you deal with that?" area, but i'm not sure how to fix it. in my experience arguing about the underlying facts will be (unproductively) heard as arguing about the emotions unless the emotions are first acknowledged, but i'm not sure if that's the whole answer.)

but allow me to chime in with a shout-out for robots that communicate in other ways (the video is the most interesting part, the page less so).

8:45 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline said...

I, too, was primarily left wondering how truck fire --> lots of dead condors. I'm having a hard time visualizing the chain of events on that one.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in the "Johnny Cash story needs more detail" camp, but otherwise recognized someone feeling very strongly about something I don't know much about, and don't tend to get worked up over. But it was in a pretty non-judgmental way. Possibly I was being more judgmental of myself, wondering why I don't care about this issue much. For what it is worth, I think a lot of what is frustrating you about the recent threads was that people were responding SO emotionally to issues that they care about so much. You linked to someone who posted what appears to be well-documented thoughts on an issue he feels strongly about. But even in that context, he left out details many of the readers wanted because he was going straight for the emotional punchline of the Johnny Cash story. I appreciate how you moderate, but emotions fog things up for everyone at least some of the time when communicating.
-dithers

12:06 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You know those bike advocacy t-shirts that say: "I AM TRAFFIC"? This reminds me of that. Emotions ARE the communication.

It isn't that we should clear them out of the way to get to the real part.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emotions are only good for manipulation. They certainly shouldn't be the basis for public policy, or even general decision making.

Think about it, would you want your paramedics to be emotional? How about your surgeon? Your pilot?

People pass their emotions off like it's some kind of obligation on the rest of us. "My son died from not wearing a bike helmet, I'm devastated, we need a law." It's just manipulative.

Not that emotions don't have their place, I spent the last 2 days working on trapping, and finding a vet, and shelter for the stray cat next door who I just saw was injured. But, I'm not demanding anything of anyone else for it.

And, didn't you say something exactly contrary to this awhile ago? Something along the lines of you don't like being around people who think emotionally, and not rationally?

I know, you were complaining about me pointing out what you've said in old posts. But, too bad. If you can't be consistent how the hell are we supposed to know what your actual position is?

Justin

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

Here's the funny thing - intellectually I agree with the importance of ADR approaches but emotionally my gut has grown a lot less tolerant of accepting and dealing with other people's emotions. Why? Well, in part because in a post 9/11 world the need to accommodate people's "emotions" is actually code for "accommodate my bigotry while I ignore your rights". I know this isn't a logical reaction to what you said, I admit that. But in practice, most of "listen to emotion" that I have encountered in the last 5 years has been "accept our hegemony and STFU about your rights." Given that this is the most frequent context in which I have been encountering claims to listen to emotions, it has made me deeply resistant to most such claims, and also makes me want to say right up front "uh huh, you want me to listen to your emotions, but I'll bet you wont listen back, will you"

Sorry, am angry.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

Well, that and other instances of "emotional" language where the other person was using it coercively. Such as a training program where we were told that we were all reacting wrongly emotionally. That's more common for me than sincere use of it.

I have an ex who is an ADR specialist, and uses ADR language very sincerely, but when she chooses to communicate, she also reduces the emotional content so that it is easier to recognize and acknowledge.

Again, none of this is about Megan or her post or what she linked to. It's more about why I am resistant to the claim that "should" listen to emotional content. Again, I agree intellectually, but lately I have lost tolerance for it since it rarely does any good since it is so often misused by the person making the claim.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous D said...

so, working this out in my own little poity head... "That post was an expression of what we call emotion....You don't get to argue emotions" - M

yeah? I'm sure this was covered more elegantly in a different comment, but my take is a different one...

What makes your or the Honorable Clarke's emotions more correct than mine?

How can you tell me in one sentance that emotions cannot be argued, and then turn around and tell me mine are WRONG? Aren't you arguing MY emotions?

You just told me that if I don't agree with your emotional reaction, and Clarke's, that I'm an effin' robot. So, how's that work?

So my emotional reaction to the gorillas is to lament that people in the area are forced to kill the gorillas to feed themselves, and isn't there a better way than that?
It isn't that I wish mankind would dissappear, and take our damn libraries with us, becuase we must inherently have less reason to be on this planet than any other creature.

Doesn't it seem like we need to retreat to the ideals of reason, so that we can form a common frame of reference? So we can discuss the differences in our emotions without resorting to physical showdowns?

I'll apologise to all of you right now if I missed the points you were making, our hostess not the least. But what I got was this feeling that you must not just be emo, but have the RIGHT KIND or "correct" emotions.

As if my being calm about gorillas, ISN'T an emotion. As if my immediate reaction, of troubleshooting, instead of righteous indignation, isn't valid. I'm a centrist, because I am a peacemaker, and I'm a peacemaker because I want everyone to be as happy as is possible. So, given the broad ranging emotions for all the various entities, I'm going to appeal to reason, the tradeoff of disperate emotions, and find a consensus or a compromise, and then move on it.

Isn't that a valid emotion?

1:20 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline said...

Wikipedia to the rescue:

"Cash sometimes spoke of his erratic, drug-induced behavior with some degree of bemused detachment. In June 1965, his truck caught fire due to an overheated wheel bearing, triggering a forest fire that burnt several hundred acres in Los Padres National Forest in California. When the judge asked Cash why he did it, Cash said in his characteristically flippant style at the time, "I didn't do it, my truck did, and it's dead, so you can't question it."[2] The fire destroyed 508 acres, burning the foliage off three mountains and killing 49 of the refuge's 53 endangered condors. Cash was unrepentant: "I don't care about your damn yellow buzzards." The federal government sued him and was awarded $125,127. Johnny eventually settled the case and paid $82,001. In his autobiography, Johnny Cash said he was the only person ever sued by the government for starting a forest fire.[2]"

1:20 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Mitch, you were close for a while, in your italicized letter, but then you lost your concentration and slipped back into cleverness. You stopped trying to listen and work with him, and instead tried convince with an argument. You did just what I'm pointing to, pushing against emotion with reason. If you're think-y, finding and dealing with emotion will not be your intuitive reaction. You'll have to train yourself against your natural tendencies (if you want to do this).

1:50 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

So, what would you say is the way to address the emotion of fear?

1:50 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

Why do you care about libertarians so much? It's not as if they matter in any whatsoever when it comes to society, policy, or anything other than pointless internet discussions.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Justin:

Think about it, would you want your paramedics to be emotional? How about your surgeon? Your pilot?

We don't need to reach an agreement for them to do a good job operating or flying me, and we only need to transfer information in our communications.

But if you want people to go along with your policy opinions (and you do, because you keep arguing them here), you have to hear and return all of what they communicate to you.
And, didn't you say something exactly contrary to this awhile ago? Something along the lines of you don't like being around people who think emotionally, and not rationally?

I know, you were complaining about me pointing out what you've said in old posts. But, too bad. If you can't be consistent how the hell are we supposed to know what your actual position is?

What if I have lots of positions, and some of them contradict or the dominant one I have is changing as I grow? I don't have to be consistent to have solid positions, mostly because I try to give enough of my assumptions to support the position I'm discussing on that day and also because there isn't just one truth.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dudes. I'm falling behind.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

How can you tell me in one sentance that emotions cannot be argued, and then turn around and tell me mine are WRONG? Aren't you arguing MY emotions?

You just told me that if I don't agree with your emotional reaction, and Clarke's, that I'm an effin' robot. So, how's that work?


I didn't say that. I said that if you were composing a logical response to such an emotive post, you were a robot.

So, given the broad ranging emotions for all the various entities, I'm going to appeal to reason, the tradeoff of disperate emotions, and find a consensus or a compromise, and then move on it.

Isn't that a valid emotion?


I still think this, and lots of other comments here, is more of your brilliant minds forcing the communication to take place in their domain.

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then, if your current claim is just that we should hear that part of the communication, fine. I'm not against that. I'll sympathize with other people's emotions, when it's relevant. But, when it comes up in the context of what we need to do, I'm probably not interested.

Like I said, I wouldn't want my pilot, surgeon, or paramedic making emotional decisions. I don't want my politicians making emotional decisions. That's how we end up with things like the Brady bill, and Megan's Law, and the Patriot Act. Not that all of those are all bad, but they were forced through on a wave of public outcry without a lot of debate, or thought.

What about the subprime mortgage thing? How many of the people who took those loans do you think took them on emotion? The people who wanted houses in the flood plains around Sacramento? You're all against their emotional decisions, you want to stop them, and make them do what you think is rational. But, for some reason today it's all, we can't argue against other people's emotions, and we can't be rational, for some reason.

Justin

2:44 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

justus said...
Why do you care about libertarians so much? It's not as if they matter in any whatsoever when it comes to society, policy, or anything other than pointless internet discussions.

I don't know, hon. The obvious implication is that I've gotten skewed by having too many pointless internet discussions.

2:44 PM  
Blogger bobvis said...

Those are some pretty horrible consequences to that fire. Still, should Cash be demonized for having had an overheated wheel bearing? (Was that even on purpose?)

I think noel may be onto something when he suggests the "your damn yellow buzzards" comment is part of a defense mechanism.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

People AREN'T strictly rational, and not all decisions based on emotion lead to good outcomes.

So we need to design our governance to support people the way they really are.

Step One:
Design policies around the way people really are, which is both rational and emotional. (Requires an accurate model of the individual.)

Step Two:
Engage people on a rational and an emotional level (probably emotional first) to get them to improve and adopt the policy.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Mr. Clarke didn't demonize Mr. Cash. He could think Mr. Cash is GREAT and still say that he would trade Mr. Cash's existence and music for the existence for 95% of the world's California condors.

You guys (not you, Bob Vis, mostly) project this stuff and then get mad defending people from it. That's what I was talking about the other day.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Tom:

So, what would you say is the way to address the emotion of fear?

Dude, that is SO HARD. I don't fully know. Couple thoughts. First, simply listening to fear diminishes it. You can make a piece of their fear go away by listening and empathizing.

Alleviating the rest of it requires trustbuilding. You can get people to trust the process, even if they are still scared of potential bad outcomes.

I don't know the rest of it. There's some stuff on it here.

Also, have you read Altemeyer's work on Authoritarians? I swear, it is the best thing I've read in a good long time. He says that you can reduce fear and the aggression it triggers by using a non-violent approach (and that a non-violent approach is the only one that does work).

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, you're right back to wanting to make policies to control people's lives. You only need to engage people emotionally to manipulate them to get them to do something you couldn't convince them to do with reason alone.

And, this is exactly the argument you were using against the mortgage brokers, that they sold people on this American dream of owning a home, and got them to make an emotional decision to buy a house they couldn't afford.

You would outlaw it in the case where this kind of manipulation is used to take someone's money, but advocate it when it's used to take someone's rights, and pass more regulations.

Justin

3:34 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

See. I'm consistent after all.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

OK. You aren't going to hear the joke, are you.

I will want to do that in some cases, mostly the ones with the risk description I described in that post. In some cases, I will think that regulation is the way to go.

In other cases, like deliberately chosen risk, I will want to do that, but think that doing that is a bad plan, because I also hold other values, like respecting people's individual sovereignty.

So the way I will act will depend on the situation, and change as the type of risk and the values at stake change. (Having a complex view that changed to reflect the situation does not make it wrong.)

I feel like I've explained this a lot. I think I'll stop explaining it soon.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keeping in mind it's emotional reaction that sent us to Iraq, and likely keeps us there. It's not something that's likely to work in your favor once we're talking about anger. Does it not bother you that politicians were able to sell this war by playing to the anger of so many people in this country?

Is that really the kind of system you want? Do you really think you'll be able to sell the majority of people an anti war view under such circumstances?

Justin

3:46 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Also, I've fallen into the very trap I point out in this post.

I am arguing with Justin to convince him on the merits, but he is defending his views so strongly because of his emotions. I haven't pegged them, and he will claim that he doesn't have emotions, but they are somewhere in the vicinity of:

fear of being imposed upon
anger at having to interact with people
anger at having someone else choose for him
anger at potential restrictions

Anyway, I will never convince Justin by just responding to the information in his content.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Is that really the kind of system you want? Do you really think you'll be able to sell the majority of people an anti war view under such circumstances?

It is the situation we have. Because of that, it will never matter whether we logically convince people that the war in Iraq is hurting us. We have to first address the underlying fear of the people who put us in that war. You can't use logic until you have addressed emotion.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And, no I don't have a problem with you changing your mind as your beliefs evolve. But, the bike helmet thing, I don't think you're even being honest with yourself.

Your argument was people are incapable of adequately assessing the risk of not wearing a helmet. But you believe it's so dangerous, and such a low cost, that a helmet should be required by law. But, you choose to ride without a helmet yourself.



Justin

3:51 PM  
Anonymous D said...

" said that if you were composing a logical response to such an emotive post, you were a robot." - M

so what causes me to respond at all? Isn't it an emotion that causes that? Why would I reply if I didn't have need to? What do I care if he is right or wrong? The word is CARE. We are not calculators spitting out rsponses to questions punched in. I may CARE because I think you are wrong, and would be happier being right, or I may care because I think you are wrong and I want to make you pay for that. Or I may take the opposite tack, just to be mean, but those are all emotional responses, arent they?

Are you being a robot when trying to talk an enraged someone down from hurting themselves?

Or are you being less genuine because you are not there right along side, punching walls until your knuckles bleed?

"I still think this, and lots of other comments here, is more of your brilliant minds forcing the communication to take place in their domain." -M

This idea confuses me much. But my learning is much different from yours, naturally. We seem to be talking past each other vastly.

seems like a logical response to you or anyone is the same as trying to dance with you. If I want to tango, and you want to waltz, we have to come to an agreement to make it work. We have to find a frame of reference that we can both see. The emotional basis seems the same to me, we want to be close, to interact.

We agree to use the same dance steps, or the same words, or else we can't get those emotions across.
If you start yelling at me in italian, I can see all sorts of emo spilling there, but I can't speak the language. Does it matter to me? The question is, do YOU matter to me? I'm not going to learn italian, and I'm not going to try and teach you english, if I don't care. You're not going to learn the tango if you don't want to be close.

The communication from there may be in a highly logical form, or in a completely raw form, but WHAT moved us to communicate?

sometimes it's the case that two people talk and one wants the other to listen. While the other wants to fix it. Both things are emotional responses in my book. Sometimes we don't recognize what drives the response or where the response comes from...

4:19 PM  
Blogger bobvis said...

Geez, this thread is moving way too fast for me.

Mr. Clarke didn't demonize Mr. Cash.

Sorry, Megan. I didn't mean to say that he did. Or really that anyone here did. I guess I was just responding to the general tendency I think there must exist to do that. He did get sued by the government, and he did say a rather insensitive thing about something a lot of us care about immediately after causing great harm to that thing.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

Megan,

I don't understand your goal. You seem to be trying to teach you commenters how to argue in a way that will read as more friendly and productive, but the actual advise is not there.

It seems almost no one who has commented here understands the tactic you propose, and rather than to to clarify or give examples, your comments all seem to say only "You still haven't gotten it right." which will not help us learn.

My emotion is confusion.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Hey Erik,

I guess I was trying for two points, and mixing them. First was to get people to register the emotional component of communication. My advice for that one was in the post:

Try, as an exercise, to identify the information and the emotion in every conversation you have, and the ones you overhear.

My other point was that even after I said something along the lines of, "your mind will try very hard to protect its territory and will tell you that the information part is the important part", some people kept telling me that "the vastly more important part is the information part."

And then they were all, BUT IT IS! and I was all "that is exactly what I mean" and they were all "but it IS, for logical reasons."

Then I was just arguing, too. Thanks for sincerely asking; it helped me to separate those and break out of the arguing.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Dagon said...

Can we look forward to more posts on this topic? I'll readily admit that emotional understanding of the world isn't something that comes easy to me, and I'd like to know more about how you integrate the two.

I tend to think that written, 1:many communication is a fairly poor choice for emotional content, but since it's all we have sometimes, do you have recommendations for how to at least tell when the author is expressing feelings rather than making logical statements?

And more importantly, how you'd recommend we respond when we disagree? I'm having deciding if you're saying that all emotions are equally true (which seems implied in your main post), or just that emotions are part of humanity and you need to manipulate them to force your policy preferences through (implied by your update).

8:25 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Can we look forward to more posts on this topic?

Oh god, do you want them?

And more importantly, how you'd recommend we respond when we disagree? I'm having deciding if you're saying that all emotions are equally true (which seems implied in your main post), or just that emotions are part of humanity and you need to manipulate them to force your policy preferences through (implied by your update).

All emotions are equally there and you can't preference some or none of them (although some emotions make the world easier and pleasanter to live in, and some make the world less nice to live in).

Not manipulate. Emotions /= manipulate. Openly discuss, with the open goal of changing some of them to trust, so that the process can continue. Openly meeting the needs of an emotion so that it changes is not manipulation. Doing it sneaky-like is manipulation.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous albatross said...

Megan,

ISTM that the my reaction when reading this was:

a. Emotion of outrage/revulsion at the idea that he'd want to get rid of people in order to save some gorillas. (I know his whole statement had a lot more going on than that.)

b. Engagement of my own "rationalization engine" to find reasons to argue that he was wrong. That is, I have some skill at arguing, but it's ultimately (I think) operating at the direction of my emotions.

I think what you see from a lot of people arguing on the net is well-developed rationalization engines; really good skills at generating logical arguments. But I think most of the positions are derived emotionally.

The most bitter arguments seem to me to be ones where both people are doing this, with strong emotions determining their points of view, and really effective rationalization engines for constructing arguments. And one of the least comfortable feelings that comes up in any discussion or debate is when you find yourself becoming convinced rationally of something you don't want to believe emotionally. I think a lot of people, maybe most people, just suppress that feeling and argue louder/harder in that case.

One other thing that's hard to see: Logic doesn't allow contradictions, but emotions do. You can love and hate someone at the same time, you can both want the state smashed for its evil acts and feel angry and hurt when some outsider attacks it. I think a lot of emotional argument is about trying to change the balance of those emotions inside the person you're talking to--get the fear to override the compassion, or the guilt to override the anger, or whatever.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Dagon said...

I, for one, do want more posts on the topic. It seems a key to the political process - differing emotional priors seem to be one of (if not the only) blockers of consensus.

Finding ways to recognize and resolve emotional conflict seems an absolute requirement if you're not willing to accept libertarian independence (on topics where others' emotions can be ignored if you don't like them) or some sort of government fiat (where the government-selectorate majority gets to impose regardless of minority feelings).

Since I'm bad at emotion - I mistrust it in myself and see it as an impediment to cooperation in others, I'd appreciate your help in understanding why (and more importantly HOW) to give it due consideration without giving up what I truly believe is a more powerful prediction mechanism of logic and causality.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

When my daughter fell down on the wet floor and bumped her head this morning, I responded with emotional connection. Hugs and kisses. What I particularly did NOT do is tell her "The reason that happened is because you left your mess on the floor, and then were goofing around in a dangerous area."

Emotional connection is very good for cementing relationships, and understanding what to expect from one's fellow humans.

If, however, I want to determine how to best avoid this sort of mishap, I'm engaging rationality. It's the best proven tool for doing that job. I'm not doing to ride with my irrational ember of anger at my daughter, nor my irritation at the fact that wet surfaces are slippery. That is all nonsense, and needs to be identified as such and swept away.

A typical response to the kill-the-humans post depends upon my goal. If I want to establish a connection with the person, then obviously I'm going to try to empathize, sympathize, find common experiences. If I want to convince third parties of the poster's idiocy, I might engage in such rhetoric and demogaugery as I think is best suited to my intended audience. And if I simply want to engage in some policy analysis, it'll be largely logic.

As it so happens, I have no wish to connect with this writer, nor to attempt to empathize with his emotion.

5:27 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

Megan,

So the way I will act will depend on the situation, and change as the type of risk and the values at stake change. (Having a complex view that changed to reflect the situation does not make it wrong.)

I feel like I've explained this a lot. I think I'll stop explaining it soon.


Here's an idea. Write it up as a page and just link to it.


Ennis said...


Well, in part because in a post 9/11 world the need to accommodate people's "emotions" is actually code for "accommodate my bigotry while I ignore your rights".

Actually I'm not sure whether you are complaining about Muslims imposing their desires on non-muslims, or the US govt imposing their desires on Americans. It's the same argument after all.

Dagon said...

I, for one, do want more posts on the topic.

Me too. Actually I did do an active listening segment in a course, but I don't recall any of this emotional stuff. Our course was all about restating peoples words and such to ensure clear communication of facts and logic.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Scott Calvert said...

I'm curious what you'd make of my approach to the "robot" vs "human" divide if we met in the real world, Megan. I think you have some very good points here, especially regarding the cult of logic and reason one tends to find among Libertarian techno-people. I also think albatross was on the mark when he speculated that a lot of the highly self righteous "logic" one sees on the Net is rationalization of positions chosen by emotion. I'd say further that I think the emotion behind many people's "rational" positions is of the highly self centered type.

That said, I specifically disagree with you about how we should relate to each other's emotions. Arguing with somebody about their emotions is rarely productive, but that doesn't give people a free pass to let their emotions run free, or to let them run their lives. Human emotions may be complex and strong, but as adults we are responsible for ourselves, our lives, and also our emotions. I shouldn't have to point out that any one of you reading this could leave your house, walk down the street, and within 2 minutes see somebody do something uncouth, dangerous, or destructive based on their unregulated emotions.

Faced with this reality I will aggressively defend my right both to judge people and to condemn people based on their emotions.

The dude who forced me out of my lane while I was riding my motorcycle to work this morning, then got all road ragey because I beeped my horn at him trying to inform him of my existence. He gets no respect from me for his failure to control his anger and embarrassment over poor driving.

What about the fine human beings at the Westboro Baptist Church, led by Fred Phelps. They have some pretty strong emotions too, and, having gained some familiarity with the emotional side of their argument, I am comfortable in condemning them for what they think. I suspect few people here would disagree with me.

I bring up these hot button examples for a reason. Many of us who earn the "robot" label care a great deal about this world and their fellow man. Being intelligent we tend to see lots of ways that people cause real problems by either not caring, being self centered, or simply downright evil. Given that background state we tend to be hyper sensitive to proposals that emotion driven responses are sacrosanct or that one can not make qualitative judgments about the emotions of other people.

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Northerner said...

Most people -- for perfectly natural reasons -- are very hostile towards the notion that it would be better for humanity to go extinct than some gorilla. Indeed, this hostility is MUCH more natural than Clarke's emotion. Evolution depends on species out-competing other species and driving them into extinction, and indeed, that's the only reason that gorilla exists in the first place.

When people like Clarke give vent to their sentimentality, it's not going to convince people to support environmentalism, any more than you're going to convince a lion to have a crisis of conscience and immolate itself rather than kill an endangered antelope. What it does, instead, is give right-wingers a perfect opportunity to paint all environmentalists as anti-human wackos.

Bottom line: Have an environmentalist emotion whenever you want. But if you care about the environment, try to keep the more idiotic emotions to oneself.

12:39 PM  

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