Monday, December 3, 2007

Tag, I'm Always It

The following was written in response to Bullet's post, The Only Truth: Perception Is Everything, a great read.

This is one “headspace” upon which Bullet and I agree. That’s to say that I agree that modern, western subjectivity in the everyday thought process (if you can call it thought) has thoroughly overwhelmed objectivity, an objectivity our society once strove for like no other ideal. I further agree that it frustrates me to no end.

Much of the social difference between the two, not long ago, took a particular shape in conversation. When an objective speaker met a subjective rebuttal, the objective speaker, by virtue of being objective, had and used the interpersonal tools necessary to actually explain a point to the second in recognizable, common, and convincing detail. Objectivity brings with it a roadmap to accordance. In and of itself objectivity already contains a structure through which to bring a listener over from her/his original point to the counterpoint, agreeably. Objectivity is a great teacher with the skills to help anyone understand. Subjectivity is a preacher that demands agreement with no such mental journey or bipartisan aid.

Today, instead, while an objective speaker still possesses and practices those very tools that cross the middle ground to reach others, subjectivity has gained a newer foothold in conversation and in argument. Subjective speakers have somehow become convinced that there is no such thing as an objective point. They fail to believe that another person has the skill and the wherewithal to step outside of the self and express a truth or a fact that doesn’t necessarily reflect her/his own opinion. This is a falsehood. Subjective thinkers have inadvertently created a collective atmosphere wherein statements like, “Whatever, “ or, “I don’t think so,” or, “I’ve never heard of that, I think you are making it up,” or, “I don’t want to hear it,” or, “S/he has an agenda,” are treated as the most highly weighted utterances in the conversation, the show stoppers, the winning pitches. We’ve all heard such statements before. They are the ones the embattled know-nots use before turning tail and walking away prematurely. The list is endless.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
“I’m not listening anymore.”
“I learned to ignore you a long time ago.”
“I’m not talking to you.”

At least those few years ago these same intentions may have instead been stated as,

“What does this have to do with me?” or “How does this relate to your point?’
“I’m having a hard time listening because I do not understand.”
“I want to give you my full attention, but I am focused on something else right now.”
“Can we revisit this subject at a later time?”

Each of these latter spoken structures at least left the window open for the bridge between points to be crossed. In such a setting, an objective speaker/listener could perform the work to reach concurrence. Apt sentences like these acknowledged the gap between perceived opinions and simultaneously expressed a hope that the opinion closer to fact would reveal itself in the process of open debate. Dare I say, change a mind?

Subjective speakers do not do this anymore. They pick one idea they are comfortable with and stand on it, bar none, absolutely none. They’ve become convinced that repeating the statement more than once is somehow an arguing technique that will make the statement truer. They believe there is nothing to be gained from discussion if the other person doesn’t eventually and fully agree with their original point. They look at disagreement as a win-lose scenario. They enter every conversation willing to learn nothing, blaming conversational discovery on another person’s “bad attitude.” They find fault and insult in disagreement while they do absolutely zero to fervently pursue agreement. They interrupt, belittle, overreact, and even express PRIDE, yes PRIDE, in telling you that they do not need to explain themselves (and therefore their point). Then we put them on T.V.

Subjectivity is devoid of any tool that can ever result in real agreement and that is why it is inferior thought. It takes constructive disagreement to learn, but it takes agreement to move forward. Without agreement, nothing would ever transpire but war, murder, pain, rape, and your basic modicum of hell on Earth.

There are countless dimensions to this fluctuation in civility and endless blog entries yet to be written to lend a broader framework to the subject. It is a deep and complex societal shift to the overly simplified and therein what is falsely “perceived” as more efficient. However, it is this basic move from conversation to versation, and the people who would use it, that can be held almost solely accountable for a great percentage of all unfinished work, bad marriages, poor saving strategies, crime, automobile accidents, poor child rearing, mediocre job performance, and all forms of cheating. At a glance, the problem, though comparatively recent, seems hugely overwhelming and without end. It augments anything negative ever said about a Me Generation to bombastic, national proportions. I am certain that Bullet’s search for an acknowledgement of truth that is outside of the self, or the selfish, must seem undoable. To him, and to other objectivity-seekers like him, I offer below one hope and one piece of advice.

The hope is as follows. In part, I think a great deal of the overly subjective receivers out there have dug-in their heels specifically because they can sense that a regular conversation would eventually prove them “wrong.” They think they know where the conversation is going and rather than trying to be a part of where it is going, steer it a little, they view the destination as bad and instead overtly choose NOT to participate in their own “defeat.” While the thick-headedness of it could make you want to kick a puppy, there is some intelligence in the doing. The subjective points themselves still completely lack any thought to back them up. Their infernal drek is completely beyond rescue. Yet the ability to understand that “I” would be proven “wrong,” the ability to puzzle-out all the possible posits that are yet to be said and interlace them into a foregone conclusion that “I” might be forced to change “my” mind is intelligent in its own way, even insightful. It actually implies that under different circumstances, a subjective thinker would already and quite naturally agree with the objective point of view, sans hand-holding. Sure, the potential richness of this intelligent act is buried under the avalanche of unintelligent perspectives it takes to say “I’m not listening,” I submit, however, that this one act of the lazy mind could be described as an intelligence lying dormant beneath the crust that is a center of self. I believe that an intelligence lying dormant is better than none at all. I truly hope that one day it will explode through and regain the receptiveness that is key to agreement and forward movement. I hope to revisit and renew the path we were once on as a society, a path that saw so much merit in a truth outside the self, in a simple, provable fact, that we spawned arguably the freest nation on the planet. This is my hope and I offer it to you.

The advice I promised is less lofty. They lose! That’s my advice. Realize that they lose! Subjective speakers always lose. Sure, when no one is participating in conversation, if even because only one player has stopped the game, everybody loses out on the learning. Boo hoo! Nonetheless, what subjective speakers do not realize is that in their black or white, win or lose perception of conversation, they always lose. They have created these statements like “whatever,” and, “talk to the hand," and, “I’m not listening” for one express purpose…to end the discussion, to shut you up. Somehow, in shutting you up they feel like the winner. They’ve avoided the “defeat.” They get the last word in and that feels good to them. They actually walk away thinking that you have been put in your place, that you have failed, and that they had the superlative counter-quip. In that horrible human tally we keep in our heads of how many wins and loses we’ve racked up, they check that off as a “W”…every single time. They feel mighty. Still, if the purpose of conversation is to communicate, truly communicate, they’ve lost of their own avail. If the purpose of talking out a disagreement is to reach an agreement, they’ve SINGLE-handedly made that impossible.

Perception-only mongers are actually so bereft of objectivity, that they fail to realize they’ve lost. What’s more, in today’s society, so many blind supporters have come to treat this mental tantrum as a “win,” that even the objective speakers walk away from such intercourse feeling horrible. Objectivists didn’t deserve to be barked at, ignored, and then shut-out.

That is why I give my advice. It is a reminder to all the truly receptive. They lose! You have to know that they lose, definitively. When an incoming my-way-or-the-highway cop-out gags otherwise intelligent chat, you have to walk away at conversation’s end and immediately feel in the right. You just won. They left their king unprotected in the corner. They left the winning lottery ticket on the counter because they didn’t like the clerk’s attitude. You called their bluff, no matter the bet. You must craft the aftershock into the same feeling you’d get from bettering your personal best time in track. Get excited about it. Know it in your heart of hearts, for among other reasons, it is true. Nobody around to see you make the high jump? Still true. No one ever acknowledged your straight A’s in school? Still true. You have to know it so deep down in your blood, every mother-lovin’ time that it happens, that you never actually need to say it. They drop the working-toward-agreement ball and you depart satisfied. There are rules to boxing, two grown people pounding each other. There are rules to war, multiple nations murdering each other’s citizens over ideas and resources. Well, there are also rules to conversation and like boxers, when they break the rules, you just won, quietly, passively, and by default. Take it.

Finally, for those out there who might be left confused; for those who see I’ve now set up a situation whereby the subjectivist still walks away “thinking” s/he’s won with the objectivist walking away “knowing” s/he’s won and it’s accidentally left you wondering how you tell which camp you’re in…well the objective person is the person who reads this entire post.


bullet said...

I, personally, have used, "Whatever," to say, "This conversation has grown so ridiculous that I am unable to continue." It's a nuance thing.

The problem I have with the "They lose" mentality is that they don't know they lose. I'm not so arrogant that I want them to acknowledge my superior argument and intelligence, I simply want people to fucking think for themselves. The losers are still inflencing society and government in ways that affect all of us without even participating in the conversation. And I despair.

Pockets said...

Actually, though you expressed it as a bigger person than I am, I think I do want people to acknowledge my superior argument when it is superior. That's natural. We want people to agree with us. We want them to know they lose and to acknowledge it. I just think, a long time ago, I realized that this particular, very selfish want, is the same as wanting the trophy without the win. It’s significance-less. If the person were objective enough to acknowledge my “win” than it wouldn’t have been a competition in the first place, a non-loss. So, I instead must know I won when their poor tactic is revealed and feel confident, almost smug in that notion.

As for people thinking for themselves, funny how this argument plays tricks on us. If everyone thought for themselves, they’d be thinking objectively, which is something you personally, that is, subjectively, desire everybody would do. See how easy it is for this very utterance to turn the tables on us?

There’s a premise in writing screenplays. It is one with which almost any movie-goer is familiar. It is the idea that there exists such an all encompassing statement or action at the height of a scene, that all players are immediately trumped and are both silently and suddenly on the same page as to who the “winner” is. The bad guy is no longer the bad guy, the good guy is no longer the good guy. They just, simply stop. The idea implies that all the characters are smart enough to recognize a debated win, so smart that they immediately shut up because there is nothing else to be said…end scene. This is evident in classics, of course, but is used to an unending degree in grade B movies like "You Got Served." Two crews battle things out on the dance floor with grand hip-hop skill and excellent choreography. Yet, the perception that one dance is somehow better than the other is presented as a no-brainer. It is acted as if each of these characters has street-smarts enough to simply know that “they got served.” It is a win and a loss with no rules, no judges, no measurement or comparison. Jesus, who is to freakin’ say who got served?

The axiomatic nature of this “known” win as portrayed in all films is a fantasy. The loser in real life, when there is a clear loser, usually loses BY VIRUE of her/his inability to see said loss, BY VIRTUE of her/his inability to overcome a logical counterpoint, BY VIRTUE of her/his failure to participate in reaching agreement. If s/he was able to acknowledge the possibility of being in the wrong, there would be no loss, only discussion and learning. I am sad to say that, perhaps, if you still find no comfort in the “they lose” advice BY VIRTUE of the fact that they still don’t know it, then you are looking for a cinematic, fantasy win, and not the win itself…a trophy without having run the race.

Pockets said...

Now, my own personal pet peeve, specifically with the discussion-ender, "Whatever," is how it reached such common usage.

Several years back there was another grade B semi-stinker of a film called "Clueless." It later spawned a not-so-well received series with the same name. I personally believe the series was not so well received because it couldn't hold a candle to the cluelessness of most reality television, but I digress.

The premise of the film was a completely dimwitted, yet rich, girl overcoming her own mental frailties by focusing on her strengths. Make no mistake, though. This was a comedy specifically orchestrated to make fun of such dimwitted idiots in a way that couldn't have been more over-the-top. There was nothing tongue-in-cheek, droll, or subtle about it. The piece was an overt rant on complacent, American, upper-class teens. I’d claim it akin to “Dumb and Dumber” (and I can’t believe I have to say…the original), but not for the fact that “Clueless” took its comedic aim at actual people while “Dumb and Dumber” wasn’t specifically making fun of any real group.

So, while I am certain that the “whatever” phrase started as a shortening of an actual informed talking point like, “Whatever the outcome, the means are still debatable,” and while I am further certain that such shortening got less informatively adopted by the real life group made fun of in the film, the usage did not gain such widespread popularity until the film made it big. It was one of the jokes in the film. People saw the film and jokingly, yes jokingly, interjected “whatevers” into debates. To fit in, others, who did not get the joke, or who did not see the film, started using it too. After several hundred billion applications of the phrase, it became almost this requisite argument-ender in every marriage, workplace, relationship, fight, and study session.

The end result is that we have 265 million people in this country who do not realize they are demonstratively QUOTING not only a decade-old idiot, but a big screen idiot created to Hollywood proportions to be the living, over-the-top epitome of all idiots. When we say “whatever” to end an argument we are parroting an icon of idiocy created to be nothing other. This is not an opinion. If I were calling a real person an idiot, that would be my opinion and therefore dismissable by you, the reader. This is a fact. The characters were created to be idiots by definition. It's like quoting Donald Duck. And, as if the source of the quote were not low enough, our intellect drops a few more levels below when we add in

a) The fact that we are parroting without realizing it
b) The fact that we try to stand on the shoulders of simpletons rather than giants
c) The fact that we are using this quote as an actual argument
d) The fact that we use the phrase as a replacement for the “effort” of thought

And don’t…DO NOT try to sell me on the idea that there is some merit to quoting “whatever” because even the scattered-brained main character in ‘Clueless” made good in the end. First, had she not made good, there would have been no redeeming quality to the film. That had to happen for the film to get made. Second, the phrase was not popularized by the main character who learned something, but by a slightly antagonistic one constructed specifically to contrast the main character’s triumph with further, unredeemable stupidity.

Saying, “whatever” to address conflict degrades the speaker and all her/his listeners.