Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Wed Oct 29 14:07:40 2008
Permanent Toothbrush Residents

Yesterday wiped me out, but was also very long and left me no time to do anything worth mention in a Boring 2008 Triplog 3. It is, however, amusing seeing how many people play World of Warcraft here (during whatever talk is going on). The conference also seems to be about half Mac. Fortunately, very few suits are here. Unfortunately, there was confusion and they think I want kosher food (argh!), meaning they present me with really uninspiring food that I largely can't eat (because it includes turkey and the like). I'm not sure who to talk to to tell them that I asked for vegetarian. Oh well. The actual vegatarian food is pretty good, and a few of the presentations are interesting.

Instead of boring travel details, I'd like to talk about political philosophy - particularly exploration of a term/phrase. Different political groups use (usually subconsciously) particular diction that reflects their foundational perspectives - the philosophies have different tight points that provide structure to everyone else. The libertarian movement to which I once belonged was minarchist - the idea that the state exists largely to fulfill functions which markets cannot (either to directly support the market or to maintain the social fabric needed to keep the market possible). That tight point - "what is necessary?", gave structure to the ideas and provide direction for further elaboration, and also suggests terminology appropriate to navigation within the "set of rules/valuation means" laid out by this - by providing a small set of evaluators (not actually unitary - many libertarians disagree or agree on other values than autonomy being crucial, such as privacy, individual empowerment, etc) and some hints on relative weighting, something a bit stronger than a pareto-surface is provided. Other political philosophies are similar (not necessarily broad movements, but more the factions - the "ideological space" of the LP is probably about the size of a typical faction within either major party here). Some other factions and small parties have their own terminology - I'd like to instead focus on "broad socialism", which occupies at least as much ideological space as a major party, if not more, within American politics - most types of anarchists, socialists, and communists fit and use some language in common. There is a fair amount of spreading of terms from these communities, depending on specifics. In this case, the phrase "high level of political discourse" is the topic. What does a high level of political discourse mean? This is a term where many people have (sometimes very different) intuitions, but only occasionally attempt to develop the idea beyond referencing it.

On the surface, a high level of political discourse is one that is intelligent. There is the tendency for groups to think of this as a funnel - people who believe there is a right, value-independent (or based on "objective values", for people who believe in such things) answer to questions in political philosophy tend to hold that higher levels of political discourse are those that begin to hone in on their perspectives. I do not believe in this - in every instance I've looked at, the claims to represent absolute truth have been unjustifiable at their base, and I believe there's good reason to think that (logically, but not necessarily pragmatically - logical arbitrariness is a very precise concept here) arbitrary axioms, intuitions, values, and the like are logically beneath any meaningful work in philosophy (broad-sense - includes the roots of science). A high level of political discourse is about how ideas/information are exchanged in the sphere of discussion as well as the political sophistication/awareness of the participants. The sphere of discussion is deliberately abstract - it could be the level of political discourse on a university campus or in a workplace, or among a small circle of friends. Discourse could mean anything from actual conversation to posters/signs/other propoganda (although the latter tend to align themselves along the lower end of the level of discourse because one generally aims for the lowest common denominator in these things).

One part of the concept is understanding/effectiveness - high levels of political discourse require receptiveness to multidirectional non-adversarial information flow. Adversarial discussions differ from open discussions in several ways - there is a commitment to victory for one's perspective (professional or personal-identity ties can make this stronger), there is usually emotional involvement ("sports fan" mentality at the strongest), and at the very least there's resistance to accepting ideas/information from the other people involved. In an adversarial discussion, understanding difference, to the degree that it's important to participants, is more of an "error-correcting" process where one wants to "remove roadblocks" for the other person to accept one's position (and even thinking about it that way is a higher level of political discourse than what is often the case - at the lowest level people simply use bumper-sticker-like assertions of identity for catharsis. At high levels of understanding, people don't necessarily forget their position, but they seek to understand the positions of others in dialogue and the means by which the conversations are reached (driven by curiosity more than a desire to manipulate) - when this is bidirectional, in personal conversations people rapidly "drill-down" to the foundational/judgement/fact differences, when it is not but the conversation remains open enough, the less introspective person might learn new ways of thinking about their position (although if the disparity in depth is great enough, the deeper sides face the temptation of manipulation instead). One way to aid in this kind of depth is to keep the discussion flow centred around rephrasngs of small and large parts of the other's perspective and corrisponding parts of one's own perspective - when one can provide a description of the other's perspective which they can accept (which entails both real understanding and phrasing that's not dismissive), one is close to this aspect.

Another part is civility (which, given the dynamics of human emotion, is effectively a prerequisite for understanding/effectiveness for all but the most bizarrely patient discussion members). (NOTE: I had to get back to the conference at this point, and now it's later in the evening and I want to get to bed, so I'm not going to complete this. Sorry!)

Haha, it's cute watching people stand up in the middle of a room and violently agree with each other ("I agree with you entirely! ... but ..."), passing the microphone reluctantly between them while they do this. Whenever a hotbutton issue (in this case authentication/authorisation/etc) comes up, I'm sure it's fun watching a room packed full of people who are paid to have an order in their head and impose it onto hardware and people turn that on each other, perhaps like a room full of monarchs.