Thursday, February 28, 2013

Political Debate And The Nasty Proportion Problem

When it comes to political arguments, I'm realizing that there are two problems that irk me more than anything else when I'm arguing with people. One of these, unsurprisingly, is when I perceive hypocrisy in another person's opinions, but that's a topic for a whole slew of essays.

The second, however, is a much more finicky, subjective and complicated problem: proportion. I get frustrated and angry when other people seem to have a sense of what is and isn't important that is very different from my own.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Just "choose" an attitude of success? Yeah, right.

I encountered this infographic yesterday, linked from an article at, made by one MaryEllen Tribby:

Supposedly, it's based on real research statistics and stuff. It appeals to me, I guess, because it confirms a lot of what I want to believe is true. The idea seems to be that being a decent and open-minded person will lead to greater success, while being bitter and mean-spirited won't. Certainly, I should think that's a good way to be happy, if nothing else.

Two things that strike me, though:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Freeing Ourselves From The Dream Come True

Because I plan to use this blog for discussion of both the personal and political (and the interplay between the two), today I'm going to talk about a common problem of human behavior, one that I've been thinking and reading a lot about lately.

Here's an interesting article I just read on one of my favorite internet addictions,

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

If you can't be arsed to follow the link and read it, the long and short of this article is that the truth behind a number of popular "fix 'em up" reality shows is rather ugly. While the television broadcast portrays a Cinderella story or a tale of dramatic personal change, in reality the changes are rarely sustainable. Restaurants that have their kitchens made over still fail. Homes that are flipped become too expensive for families to afford to live in. Weight that is lost comes right back with extra pounds in tow.

In short...reality TV shows that sell the spectacle of miracle transformations and "happily ever after" are lying through their teeth. Not only are these kinds of miracles highly unlikely to ever touch the lives of us regular folks, they don't have a permanent impact on the ones who do experience them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Open Letter To The Guy Who Tried To Get His Driver's License Photo Taken With A Pasta Strainer On His Head

Dear Guy Who Tried To Get His Driver's License Photo Taken With A Pasta Strainer On His Head,'re kinda being a douche right now. Seriously. Knock it off, okay?

I know, you think you're making an Important Serious Point about religion, and you're pretending it has something to do with your religious freedom, but everyone knows that you're not really religious. That's the whole point of Pastafarianism. It's a satirical religion.

When it was created, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was brilliant an on-point satire. It was created in response to the Kansas schoolboard declaring that their public, taxpayer-funded schools should teach creationism as well as evolution. The point of the satire is to draw attention to the fact that teaching creationism in schools is a violation of the 1st amendment because for a government entity to teach creationism is for them to be respecting a particular establishment of religion over other religious beliefs - a serious constitutional no-no.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Few Words About This Blog's Name

I'm really not very good at titles.

The thing about a title is, it has to be catchy, memorable, succinct and sound good all while conveying something important and central to what you're doing with the body of work you attach it to. It's a lot like word choice in poetry, and that's hardly my forte. I prefer getting my point across with a long, verbose flow of words that can allow me more flexibility than the demands of poems, or a title, can ever grant.

That said, I feel pretty good about this title and the idea behind it. It's memorable and succinct enough to be going on with, certainly, and I think it's a good description of what I want to accomplish with this blog. What's more, I hope that it may sometimes serve as a reminder to me.

So what do I mean by "politely outspoken"?

Before I pontificate, I'll share an example to demonstrate. Here is Mr. Stephen Fry delivering a speech about  the Catholic church and its influence on society:

I first saw this video when it was new, about three years ago. At the time, it really helped to catalyze my (evolving, thankfully) opinions about the nature of productive argument. Essentially, I've come to realize that polite debate is nearly always the most effective form of debate.

In this video, Stephen Fry demonstrates exactly why this is the case; though using only diplomatic and considerate language, he makes a very human and compassionate set of arguments that cut to the quick with a power that outstrips the impact of any screaming pundit. He avoids ad hominems and his logic is impeccable and impenetrable. He teaches. He shows consideration to the holders of opposing viewpoints even as he levels the arguments.

This, to me, is the essence of being politely outspoken. Pull no punches, devastate with logic and understanding of the situation and articulate the truth with razor sharpness. This is what can make a person change their mind, or cease to ignore the relevant truths.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Rude, abrupt and insulting dismissals of an opponent or position are occasionally the way to go, but they really only work when you've got the majority of society backing you up on a point. For example, in this day and age I wouldn't ever try to be "polite" to someone who is openly racist. We're done with that debate, as a society, and those who still hold to those points of view should rightfully be shamed and dismissed. We should send a message to them that their racism is their issue, not society's, and that they need to take responsibility for their own shit. We don't need to re-open this debate or treat it with any respect.

Most of the time, however, there is everything to be gained by speaking to one's opponent as a human being, connecting on fair and equal grounds, and speaking plainly about what's at the heart of the real differences between us. It's far from easy, of course; it requires a firmer grasp of logic and a greater control of emotion than most of us can manage for terribly long. It also requires an open mind, something that competition and pride often tend to shut down.

The only way to combat this tendency to create a new culture that values the principles of critical thinking and of rational and emotionally honest conversation. No, I'm serious! I don't think it's an impossible thing to do, either. Human societies are surprisingly malleable things.