The one thing I learned in my university education, the one thing that excited me, was the need for people to exercise real effort in understanding each other. The language we use is so full of shades of meaning and we’re such emotional creatures – particularly when we’re arguing. Johnathan Haight has popularised lots of the evidence of the truth of Hume’s claim that our reason is the slave to our passions.
There’s something funny about the commentary in this thread about aggressive debate in economics faculties. It’s recently acquired a gender politics dimension and the first commenter – a male economist confesses to misreading the motives of the piece assuming the author was a man. Thinking he is dealing with one kind of meaning making – in which someone is right and the other wrong – he encounters another.
Anyway, like my gradual disenchantment with almost all political debate, which I see as simply the thin artefact of the rituals of competition, where words mean less and less (and are chosen for that purpose) with everything in the body language (the body language of an argument – ha ha) I’m pretty disenchanted with aggressive argument itself. I’ve never seen it turn up much, though I guess it could when the argument is about things that are sufficiently formal that there really is a right and wrong answer. Even then though, argument should be direct, but not aggressive as it’s less efficient that way.
Compete if you must – it’s not only natural but it’s good up to a point. It tests ideas. But even if one side wins, there’s usually quite a lot to be gained by looking at the perspective of others. This came to mind when reading this terrific piece by Kevin Kelly. He’s fantastic to read – such a powerful, curious intellect. That’s one reason why he’s not in the footnote chase of academia of course. Anyway, he disagrees with Robert Gordon. I’ve not read Gordon, but he’s certainly a well regarded economist. An A leaguer.
If I had to guess who’s going to be proven right, I think maybe Kelly will be, but who knows? Certainly Gordon looks to be right about all the panic about robots coming for our jobs – at least for now. It’s future gazing so a very difficult call. Both sides have a good case to make. What’s shocking is how juvenile Gordon’s response is. The lack of graciousness is unfortunate, but the lack of curiosity is unforgivable. Rather than explore the issues, elaborate on where he thinks the weaker parts of his thesis are, or take up some of the fertile threads Kelly weaves through his piece, Gordon is in high school debating mode. He’s right and Kelly’s wrong. Note how, in this style the antagonist defines the terms – making the debate about his contribution – and any deviation from those terms results from their opponent’s foolishness or knavery.
What a tragedy that academia is so often policed by people of such desicated, reductive sensibility as Gordon. I’ve been reading recently about the foundation of the internet and it was populated by such clever and curious people with a passion for humanity – seriously, it’s amazing how many of them had a human vision for computers – how much they anticipated the ‘social turn’ that IT took at the turn of the millennium, though that’s now being set upon by various dystopian forces.