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[meta] [long and rambling] [philosophy] Flirting with Nihilism ; Is Conversation Pointless?
I used to have an ideal of conversation as being a Socratic dialogue: people ask probing questions of each other about important philosophical issues and reveal the mistakes in each other’s logic, ultimately reaching life-changing conclusions through the argument. Over the years, I have often tried to engage in such debate and while there have been some interesting discussions more typically it has been a pointless endeavor which simply leaves everyone involved convinced more thoroughly of their rightness and doubting the sanity of the others. To be sure, my abrasive style and personality have played a role, but this has itself in part come from the mistaken views of the world and human nature which I held. By the standard I used to hold, conversation is largely pointless. Now, of course, most normal people would characterize argument and debate as being very different than conversation. This is because their objectives in conversation are not trying to change someone’s mind but to exchange more basic information or simply enjoy each other’s company. To be sure, there is clear value in conversation of this sort, but it is not what I’m talking about here. What I’m suggesting is that the attempt to change someone’s mind by reason is generally impossible and not worth trying. We all have certain foundational beliefs which no one is likely to be able to change. What exactly these are varies widely by person: for some people it is religious, for others political, or philosophical principles (whether or not a person explicitly recognizes them as philosophy). But what is common about them is that no matter how sound an argument may appear to some “neutral”, disinterested third party, if someone tries to reason you out of these core positions, your mind will always be able to find a rationalization in response. And again regardless of how strong or weak this response is judged by our hypothetical third party, it will be sufficient to convince you that your position is right and likely cause you to be somewhat annoyed at the person making an “obviously” bad faith argument against something so basic. This is not, as it might appear to be, an argument that people are irrational nor that I am any different in this. It is simply a fundamental side-effect of the process of reasoning. One must have a basis upon which to operate; there is no green field to work from. Even Descartes’ brilliant argument showing how one can prove to themself that one exists, which is as close to pure reason without any external base as it is possible to get, itself relies upon certain foundations: the desirability of trying to prove such “trivial” matters; the value of pure reason as a source for truth. And it rapidly moves on by “the clear light of reason” to further argument which rests upon, essentially, “it seems obvious to me that…” This is, essentially, a generalization of Gödel's incompleteness theorems (not that I fully understand them and certainly don’t know how to prove it, but simply that I recognize this point is not a fundamentally original thought) and similar: we must always start with something which we simply believe and cannot prove. This may seem trivial, but I do not think it is. What it suggests to me is that the space for productive discussion in disagreement is far smaller than is often believe by those who, as I used to, believe that everything that matters could in theory be resolved by honest, wise intellectual exploration. Therefore, when we find ourselves in disagreement with others on a fundamental level, there may well be no resolution to be had other than the phrase I have so hated for so long: “agree to disagree”. Others are able to accept this with grace and move on. I have always been bothered by reaching such impasses. If we are in disagreement about an important issue which is the basis for much of our reasoning, then how could we come to any agreement on any of the things which follow as a result of that basic view? And how could we have meaningful discussion if we simply must avoid all consequences of a major section of our world view? And so, to me, the segmenting of discourse into “echo chambers” of various sorts makes perfect sense: people must have a shared foundation in order to be able to meaningfully communicate productively. And yet, that is not enough to make forward progress either, because while less irritating perhaps, discussion simply among those who agree is pointless too. So, then, if we cannot in general convince anyone else of anything that matters, nor do we wish to simply preach to the choir, what discourse could be useful?
Disagreement on facts rather than worldview
Among people who agree about, for instance, valid sources and other basic foundations, but who disagree about a particular fact, then linking to a source can actually be productive. This is as opposed to those who do not have such an agreement beforehand, where linking to a source can just be a self-congratulatory act which is unproductive.
Challenging one’s own worldview (or refining arguments ; this write-up’s category)
If you truly wish to have your own beliefs examined for whether or not they are incorrect, or their limitations; or if you simply want to try to refine and make more coherent something which you’ve vaguely thought, then it is useful to express your views not for the purpose of changing another’s opinion, but for the purpose of understanding your own. This is what this piece is for me: a response to my own thoughts, particularly set in motion about a month ago when the title occurred to me, about what is and isn’t useful ground for disagreement and debate.
Responding to an invitation to challenge another’s world view (limited circumstances)
This is something which is often presented but rarely genuine: whether intentionally or unintentionally many people who present themselves as looking to have their own views challenged are actually going to respond with rationalizations to anything presented. While that means that this apparent opening is often unproductive, there is a kernel of sincere and thoughtful people who are open to examining their beliefs and are looking for something to build on to do so. I actually consider this less important than it may often seem, as people’s desire for self-justification generally means that there is abundant material available for one who looks to understand any major viewpoint, so there is relatively little need to try to seek to be the one to minister to such a unicorn. But, since so much conversation is pointless, recognizing it and moving on rather than getting bogged down in it is more productive. There is a large realm of productive material, for us to gain knowledge on a more “superficial” level - much does have a shared basis, and we don’t see these issues visibly in, for instance, learning a language or learning history (even though there really are philosophical issues underlying both, but generally speaking a person can find much productive ground). Since our time is limited, it makes sense to pursue these unambiguously productive areas instead of beating our heads against a wall trying to convince others about things we consider important but which are foundational for them and which they have not sought to question. Examples of pointless discussions from unbridgeable views:
Bitcoin vs gold
While this might seem unintuitive as I have written about how I see Bitcoin and gold as having complementary strengths rather than being in opposition, what I mean when I express it as a pointless category is that trying to tell a Bitcoin fanatic about the uses of gold is a waste of time, just as trying to explain to Peter Schiff that it’s possible for people to create sustainable and meaningful value out of nothingness arbitrarily is a waste of time. The “Bitcoin-only” and “gold-only” camps will never change their mind as a result of someone trying to come in and ‘save’ or ‘educate’ them.
Tsla vs tslaq
Quite similarly: those who believe Tesla will save the world have essentially no common ground to discuss productively with those who believe Tesla will go bankrupt and vice versa. There are simply fundamental differences about approaches to reasoning which will not be surmounted by the surface arguments like “but he lands rockets!” or “look at the historical rates of cash burn!” Less obviously: the actual outcome will not resolve this either. Even if Tesla becomes wildly successful, the critics will still believe dishonest and unjustifiable actions to have been taken. Even if Tesla fails, the supporters will not believe Musk did anything wrong. World views are generally proof against what might seem from the outside to be events which should break them.
Given the general argument I’ve made, this should be fairly obvious. However, I spent a fair amount of time over the years arguing some of this from both sides (when I was much younger I was an evangelical Christian ; by college age I was an “evangelical atheist” ; in hindsight, I don’t consider either a good way to spend time).
This too follows clearly from the positions I’ve taken. No socialist is going to convince a capitalist that profit is evil. No capitalist will convince a socialist that profit is good. (Choose whatever dichotomy and examples you find appropriate.) Examples of productive discussions sharing a common foundation: These examples have been generally covered previously or are self-explanatory.
Specific facts between mutually respecting people
World view in rare cases where seeker wants introduction to different view
Skills (languages) or Bodies of knowledge (history)
This last is a potentially interesting one: even when changing a person’s mind may be impossible and unproductive, unbridgeable divides as far as resolving the disagreement can still be productive in terms of understanding what exactly the relative positions are. The socialist may not convince the capitalist of anything, but if they simply want to understand what the capitalist believes, that could be productive (and vice versa). Of course, if it devolves into trying to convince the other person they’re wrong rather than trying to understand their position, it goes back to being pointless. My choices: As a practical matter, what am I doing with these views?
Unfollowing and blocking easily on Twitter
I’ve been using Twitter for the first time lately. I find it interesting and useful in many ways. However, there is a potential to waste a lot of time there trying to argue things where the other person will never be convinced. Other people wiser than myself may well choose to hear all voices, but I wish to maintain an environment where I find what I’m reading useful and where the people I hear from are ones where I think I could engage productively or at least enjoyably. So I am unfollowing and blocking fairly quickly when I encounter views which I consider to indicate unbridgeable divides of opinion. Unfollow is my first step. If I wasn’t following the person previously and find something irritating they say, I will block rather than engage. In rare instances I will engage where I think there may be a productive discussion but I won’t go into extended arguments.
Maintain open discussion here
However, I have long held a different view for this subreddit: I specifically want to encourage and allow dissenting voices. I wish to avoid building an echo chamber here for a multitude of reasons, but in particular because I think it’s extremely important to try to avoid having a blindspot about critical issues with the system or will drawbacks to any proposed changes. In the framework of what I’ve discussed here, this could be seen as a combination of wanting to maintain space for understanding other views (even if we don’t change each other’s minds) as well as trying to deliberately hold open at least in some cases a willingness to change my mind. For instance, while I am strongly opposed to ever removing the 337 nillion cap, I want to allow such discussion and encourage anyone with those views to be free to express them. In other areas, like the block size cap, while I had held a stronger position toward larger blocks on principle, and still tend in that direction, some of the discussion previously here and more broadly on the other side has at least led me to more of a wait-and-see approach. Some various concluding thoughts:
Difference between random vs long-term relationships and discussion.
Twitter is an example where there is generally little to no strength of relationship as a starting point. This makes any challenging discussion more difficult and less likely to be productive and is part of my hair-trigger in unfollowing and blocking. However, in general I don’t tend to believe that in most cases a long-term relationship changes what ground is productive so much as it changes the calculation about whether one unproductive area justifies severing a connection. Necessarily those we have chosen to be part of our lives will not agree with us in everything, but there are likely to be areas not worth engaging in. For those we have no particular prior need or desire to have in our lives, I see no reason to accept any noise.
Low value in one-way communication upon determining different foundation (watching videos or twitter feed, etc. upon significant disagreement)
I tend to believe that without some shared common basis, there’s not much point in taking in what’s presented by someone. This can be seen as creating one’s own echo chamber, but the more positive way I might put it is that you have to have a reason to respect what a person is saying for it to be worthwhile to listen to them. Someone whose arguments you are likely to reject almost entirely is not worth listening to in the first place, as the goal should be to get new information or listen to someone who might change your views rather than to simply suffer through for the sake of having heard what can be known in advance to be something you will reject.
Tie-in to views on crypto: neither dedicated pumpers nor dedicated critics are useful. Nor are we looking to bring in people who aren’t interested. So what’s left? Those who are seekers are welcome and we should look to assist with helping people get exposure and broader knowledge of strengths and weaknesses.
Weighing the various perspectives on the overall issue I’ve put together here led me to this view which is a refinement of what I’ve thought for a while. We do not want mindless fanatics. And we do not want to try to convince people who aren’t interested or those who have already decided the whole concept is worthless. However, there is still a productive sliver left there: people who are interested in cryptocurrency but have not already set their opinions in stone. This fits in with the early mindset I had that we would want to have offering technical support as a core competency (and which is something I’ve been proud of this community doing well). This also fits into my original coin-a-day series, long defunct, trying to offer a view of the strengths and weaknesses of various cryptocurrencies. Perhaps this may be worth reviving in some form in the future, but the general concept at least fits my views here: offering a perspective to those who are looking for it, but not trying to convince anyone who has already decided and just wants to argue. As I have been discussing here, at this point my choice is generally: I make no attempt to change someone’s mind. Occasionally I’ll make one response I expect to be futile. Twitter is not suited towards meaningful in-depth communication and there is no established relationship to anchor a difficult discussion. In closer relationships, topics simply become no-go areas. I’ve probably swung too far towards avoidance from confrontation at this point, but I’ve got too much scar tissue from years of fruitless argument. Some examples of aspects I collected while putting this together https://twitter.com/Venado_0320/status/1125060447646957570 (twitter thread which shows a specific example of TSLA bull vs bear thesis and pointlessness of general discussion although room for discussion on one specific aspect) https://twitter.com/Jonathankrier1/status/1125922545679527936 (twitter thread example of production conversation - starting from same point of view but slightly different knowledge) https://old.reddit.com/RealTesla/comments/bmcy5q/teslacom_forum_5719_collision_while_using_auto/emwbohb/ (comment about people changing their mind over time) https://twitter.com/jposhaughnessy/status/1128005778445611010 (news and knowing what isn’t so)
Famous bitcoin critic Shiff regrets not having bought bitcoin for $10
Well-known financial expert and implacable Bitcoin critic Peter Schiff admitted that he blames himself for not buying a cryptocurrency when it cost just $10. He said about this while debating on CNBC with Anthony Pompliano, the co-founder of the crypto fund Morgan Creek Digital. https://preview.redd.it/v72zwt08pme31.jpg?width=740&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=95859dc5ae4f75d9d8c05d7f32a5d14b04e7f973 Despite it, he noted that he would not buy cryptocurrency today. He also added that he did not change his opinion that Bitcoin has no value. He is convinced that the first cryptocurrency is too volatile to be a medium of exchange. Besides, a financial expert is confident that Bitcoin will never return to its historical highs. In turn, Pompliano said he was sure that Bitcoin and gold could be in the same portfolio, noting that "it is a little short-sighted to play for gold, but not Bitcoin." It`s not the first time for Pompiano and Schiff to discuss cryptocurrency. So, earlier, co-founder of Morgan Creek Digital sent $100 in bitcoins to Shiff to get better acquainted with digital gold. This material is considered a marketing communication and does not contain, and should not be construed as containing, investment advice or an investment recommendation or, an offer of or solicitation for any transactions in financial instruments. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. Risk Warning: CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 84.16% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money. Legal Information: ITRADER is operated by Hoch Capital Ltd., a Cypriot Investment Firm (CIF), authorized and regulated by the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC) under the license no. 198/13, in accordance with the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II).
"Now that the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has finally been released, it is even worse than I thought." Sanders declares, hours after the release of a 1,000 odd page legal document. by u/Tiako (144 pts, 266 comments)
136 pts: u/besttrousers's comment in "But companies still hire people because they have no choice but to. They need enough workers to meet the demands of the market and so they hire people. So if a layoff was to occur I'd occurred regardless of wage hike."
118 pts: u/Timster757's comment in "Now that the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has finally been released, it is even worse than I thought." Sanders declares, hours after the release of a 1,000 odd page legal document.
115 pts: u/-Rory-'s comment in Economics is an art, therefore rent controls are a good idea
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Peter Schiff debates Bitcoin w/ Barry Silbert at 2019 SALT Conference
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