Serious playfulness at the brain gym

I initially posted the following as a comment to my recent post on global warming. But I think it’s worth creating a separate discussion thread:

I think blogs offer a potentially very useful way to explore and understand complex issues, at least for the minority of amateur readers who are interested enough to bother.

As you’ll have worked out by now, however, the number of readers who aren’t strongly adversarial on a blog like this one seems to be disappointingly small (despite your flicker of optimism in response to my earlier comment). I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I suspect it’s at least partly an aspect of male psychology.

Even when I set out with an open mind to learn about an issue (as I did here), I often find myself automatically digging into aggressively defending a proposition I’ve initially advanced tentatively or as devil’s advocate trying to provoke a response from which I can learn. I often have to figuratively beat myself around the head and remind myself that I’m here to learn rather than to compete, and that I don’t have any emotional or intellectual capital invested in the proposition. It seems that us blokes (and maybe many female readers as well) are innately competitive creatures, and that questions of ego, status and self-esteem too easily get inextricably enmeshed in debates where one would rather have hoped people would exhibit more open minds.

I sometimes muse about how one might go about promoting more open-minded discussion on contentious issues, but I haven’t come up with any magic answers (or in fact any answers at all). Your earlier comment that “[m]aybe they are more like sparring/practice than actual fighting??” might provide the germ of an idea. My partner Jen sees blogs rather similarly, as a “brain gym” where people can test out ideas and expand their understanding and general mental flexibility by debating seriously but in a playful spirit with other fairly intelligent educated people. I’d like it to be that way too, and very occasionally it is, but more often than not discussion just consists of people digging into familiar ideological foxholes and lobbing verbal hand grenades over the top at each other. I get depressed and frustrated when debates get bogged down in predictable rigid left-right ritual stand-offs (which seems to happen more often than not). Jen just gets puzzled and amused, and then bored. I’m sure her reaction is healthier.

I’ve previously tended to see the answer in terms of encouraging civility in debate, but maybe I’ve been on the wrong track. Maybe what we really need to promote is “serious playfulness”. But how?

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Fyodor
2022 years ago

Perhaps an informal debating structure is required, with the prize of acknowledged victory granted by the traditional acclamation of non-participating spectators?

jen
jen
2022 years ago

play

– that’s what you’ve got me for – (when I’m not seriously depressed that is)

fyodor

the structure is already here. hang on, you mention victory, are you serious?

I am the most non-competitive person I know it is a serious disability in the eyes of most. So pushing through to a victory over someone else seems to me a little empty.

I love achieving. I love being the best. But I don’t get a kick out of being the best without achieving the process rewards. Creativity, hard work and fun. Competition can be distracting when it isn’t creative.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

I take your point, Jen, but Ken’s already identified competitiveness and aggression as pre-existing problems. Games use rules to channel these otherwise destructive emotions into pursuits that are fun and constructive. If participants were to approach debates as intellectual exercises rather than over-investing emotionally, you might get more civil and productive discourse.

Vee
Vee
2022 years ago

I guess it comes down to defining what a blog/plog is again?

If it was just a place to debate and have everyone vilify their opposition what difference are blog/plogs from internet forums where the same sort of debate goes on.

One might be able to say blogs/plogs are sometimes ran by experts in their fields.

The only way to really expand on an idea I guess – yes its all guesswork – is use an essay structure.

FACT1
FACT2
FACT3
thats why it would work

where your opposition does the same thing with the facts except concludes thats why it wouldn’t work.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

divest the commentators of emotional investment? Fyodor!
feeling passionate is part of the fun.
I can feel absolutely passionate about something without needing to win over something else.

And victory is fun when it doesn’t take dignity from another point of view or person.

That’s hard to do. It’s a fine line between getting your point across and diluting into careless absurdity. I should know. happens often.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

I wrote “OVER-investing emotionally”, Jen.

Also, stripping away someone else’s dignity can be tremendous fun, as can careless absurdity.

Steve
Steve
2022 years ago

How about the bloggers trying to guide the debate in a thread with a bit of “fun” thought experimenting.

For example, with global warming you could pose the question to commenters:

“You are a staffer for a conservative prime minister of an advanced though not huge western economy. Some of the PM’s contemporaries have started talking about this alleged issue generally referred to as ‘global warming’. On the strength of passion displayed by his peers, the PM has decided that the issue should be investigated, and asked you to prepare him a 1-pager (400 words) on the issue, and how the govt could start responding/developing a position. You know that this politician has a pretty strong BS detector, and is unlikely to act unless the info put before him is very solid. And you only have one page! What do you write?”

Then after the blogger has collected everyone’s 1-pagers, we could then have a go at pointing out what’s strong and weak about each one, from the point of view of a conservative PM.

Its just one example, you could have lots of different guided games/assignments like this. Its a way of putting yourself in someone elses shoes, and that way you can have passion without the ego?

PS. You might think that only 1 page is unreasonable, but i’d say its a fairly realistic amount of the PM’s time to take up, when he has to tihnk about defense and health and unemployment and the myriad other issues for a PM.

Steve
Steve
2022 years ago

OR:

You are the CEO of a coal mining company, with major operations in a country with a significant and influential environmental concern amongst the general population. Your company is starting to cop a lot of criticism, even though your mining practices are amongst worlds best practice from an environmental/workers rights point of view, and most of the poeople criticising your company consume electricity generated with the coal you mine!

How do you go about position the company from a PR point of view and from an activity point of view so that your profits aren’t eroded into the future?

Steve
Steve
2022 years ago

Ken,

(sorry for the multiple posts, I’ll shut up for a while after this one)

While I can get frustrated and angry on individual posts, my mind changes when i think about my experience over the post few years. In the long run, I have learnt a lot through blogs.

I have been reading climate change posts on blogs like this, JQ’s, Tim Lamberts, Bizarre Science and even the odd Tim Blair post, and I have to say that most of the stuff about climate change that I have learnt has been gleaned from blogs and from the links posted on them.

I think my frustration comes from seeing things debated that I’ve already seen debated. It starts to seem like debate is getting nowhere and is a just a big never-ending sh*t fight. But I guess that other commenters might still be finding posts useful because they haven’t gone over the particular issue before, and feel like they are learning something.

I did a course on facilitating discussion once. It was ace! However, its hard trying to think of ways of translating the tricks/tools learnt to guide a verbal group discussion into tricks to guide a blog discussion. hmmmm

jen
jen
2022 years ago

Fie!

Never.

and how do you over-invest emotionally?

Is this a male logic vs female unlogic thing?

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Ken

For what it’s worth, I’d say the problem is that you’re a frustrated judge. A post like the one on global warming comes across as a judgement, even if you intend it as ‘…a proposition I’ve initially advanced tentatively…’. Experts will inevitably feel that, however impressive your grasp of the technical detail, you’re not qualified to venture a judgement as if it were just a matter of weighing a finite and transparent body of evidence.

If it’s something controversial like global warming or Wallerstein, you need to signal very clearly that your proposition is tentative. Use phrases like: ‘What still puzzles me is…’, ‘I guess I must be missing something here, but…’, ‘How do climate alarmists / Wallerstein fans respond to this point?’

Likewise, if you’re just being ‘a devil’s advocate trying to provoke a response from which I can learn’, you need to signal this clearly: ‘I’m just playing devil’s advocate; I have an open mind’. Again, if the issue is controversial, you’ll be sure to provoke a response, which is not the same thing as being provocative. The former invites a constructive response, the latter an aggressive one.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

Jamais? Souvent.

Both sexes can be emotionally over-invested in an argument. I don’t think it’s a logic thing, either. Ken is right in identifying men as more competitive, however.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

alright you stupid sad bag of a stinkin’ rat’s arse,

What I wanted to know was WHAT IS EMOTIONAL OVER INVESTMENT?

Now look what you’ve gone and done! My glass eye has popped out onto the floor and I can’t get the lid off the fkn happy pills.

You don’t want Parish to get a hold of you boy!

He will. And then he’ll bore you rigid with the endless monotony about whether we’re heating up or cooling down.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Leave those fkn happy pills alone. It’s Friday night.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

now that’s telling.

You washed up, old, farty, THC sodden, couldn’t get it up if the neighbors lemon tree depended on it, pseudo environmentalist.

Gaby
Gaby
2022 years ago

Ken, I think “play” is the thing. It is an attitude that one can have to blogs, but I don’t know how one can instil it in others. And one can’t have enough play. I think Plato (the Laws?) said “life is play”. I like that sentiment. Easy in Oz, less so elsewhere.

I think you bloggers perform a wonderful community service in devoting time and effort to gather and post material for comment. So I’d echo the sentiment above that one can learn a lot from blogs.

Then there is the ability to eavesdrop or comment. This gives one access to multfarious viewpoints as well as having one’s ideas robustly criticised.

Posts invariably raise hard and thorny issues and it is best to recognize that they are unlikely to be solved in that forum. Rather, these are likely to be debates about perennial problems. I like to think of A N Whitehead’s line that “all of Western philosophy can be seen as a footnote to Plato” in this sort of context. But progress can be made, things learnt, light cast, some Lockean underlabouring done etc. And play and fun can be had along the thread. With brio and passion.

That is sort of my attitude to reading blogs. A very envigorating colloquy at its best. Invariably a source of information and food for thought.

By the way, I’d say James Farrell is just about the paragon commentator. Incisive, succinct, relevant, witty and always civil and courteous.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

Weird, Jen. That read a bit like Miss Haversham, at least until Kenny P. went all woolfeish on you.

Agree with Gaby on Jimbo. First-class commentator.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Wow! Thanks for the compliments, Comrades. I only wish I had Gaby’s turn of phrase or Fyodor’s encylopaedic knowledge. In the wit department, Nabakov is peerless, and as for civility etc., Brian Bahnisch is the Everest we all gaze up to. (Note: this love-in is restricted to commenters who don’t have their own blogs).

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Yo!

*drums glass on bartop to catch everyone’s attention*

I’ve crapped on before here about the pubs/blogs analogy. This really manifests itself in threads which can be thoughtful, witty, passionate, desultory, flirty, crusin’ for a brusin’, startling, boring and provoking, and sometimes evolving or doubling back through all these stages. Bit like popping into a busy bar for a few quck ones and then being dragged out at 3am really.

And despite Ken and Steve’s well meaning suggestions, structured exercises are not what I look for when I feel like wetting my mind. As I suspect other regulars here also feel.

As far as I’m concerned the current level of “playful seriousness” (What a pompous term. I much prefer “serious playfulness”) is perfectly healthy in the threads here anyway. True there will be a bit of argy-bargy occasionally but so what?

Basicallly establised blogs, like bars, settle down to a core regular clientale who often end up, through peer pressure and setting the general tone, ainformally regulating said tone. It’s not hard for regulars to make some feel unwanted. On the other hand, you can get bored easily and so welcome a stranger with an attitude.

So chill Ken. Troppodillo’s threads are what they are already, and for every person that’s huffed off, two arrive. It’s a brain gym already with a built-in self-enforcing civilty code.

Incidentally, is it true that Albee got the idea for ‘Woolf” after watching his daughter’s hamsters remain unfed for a week?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Nabs

You’re probably right, but I’ll leave it a while longer to see if anyone has a go, before posting the rest of my own thoughts on the topic (which is what I’d originally intended before Steve’s suggestion prompted me to experiment with the hypothetical idea).

BTW I’m glad you prefer “serious playfulness”, because that’s in fact the expression I used.

As for Albee, I aint got a clue. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“BTW I’m glad you prefer “serious playfulness”, because that’s in fact the expression I used.”

There you go then! Or was it me?

cs
cs
2022 years ago

“play seriously” is, I believe, the term you should be looking for.

meika
2022 years ago

our languages are created by toddlers at play, they learn it, they make it according to the specs of their brains, we use it the rest of our lives,

our ideologies are created by adolescents at play with the world of politics, they learn it, they make it, they make it according to the specs of their brains, we may well use it the rest of our lives

“play” is always serious, it creates, it learns, it researches, it practices, what it creates depends on its embodiment

which depends on bias, without bias there is no body, with no body there is no growth and therefore no play

the question of consciously serious play is the question of ‘appreciation’ of bias, rather than mere advocacy of a bias against all comers

one day, when the novel and the coffetable book is finished I will write that tract, it may be called “Appreciation, more than tolerant: Liberalism and the Future of Evolved Life”

assuming the novel and that tract are not the same thing