|2008-06-22, by John Ringland|
I cordially invite all interested readers to engage in a
conversation about the issues raised on this blog.
[Note (2008-11-10): Comments have been deactivated for now. The conversation continues in private, feel free to email me.]
In this article I first explain my motivations for the invitation.
Secondly, I identify some potential pitfalls in collective
communication that we must seek to avoid. And finally I provide a
flow-chart for a rational discourse that serves as a clear and
binding guarantee / commitment that all participants will be civil,
rational, impersonal and detached.
The ideas that are expressed on this blog are NOT presented as
part of a manipulative propaganda exercise but are presented so that
they can be rigorously tested in a rational manner. I believe that
they are potentially very accurate and very important ideas. If you
agree or disagree then please explain why and we can test their
accuracy and importance.
Whilst I will be gracious in regards to statements of opinion,
these add nothing of real value to the conversation. Unlike many
people I am not trying to build a 'following'. I do not present the
ideas as “my ideas” to which the ego is personally attached, but
as ideas that need to be tested in an impersonal, detached and
rational manner, by as many people and from as many perspectives as
My hope is that many diverse perspectives can come together in an
impersonal, detached and rational manner to engage in civil
conversation that systematically explores and tests the ideas
themselves and their relevance to issues of contemporary importance.
I am passionate about the clarity and integrity of ideas and if
egos try to play manipulative games (including my own ego) then I will endeavour to set them straight. This stems
from a love of truth and reality,
whatever it may be. Through clarity and integrity of
ideas we may come to better know truth and reality.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Overcoming the manipulative agendas of ones own and other people's egos is of primary concern. The ego is a delusional tyrant that resists the realisation of Truth. When one's own ego is manipulating one's mind it is difficult to discern for oneself. Honest and direct feedback from
others can help one liberate oneself from egoic oppression.
If we are to communicate in effective ways we need to
understand the situation. Below I paraphrase remarks from the book
Five Dysfunctions of a Team to illustrate some of the pitfalls
to watch out for. They are conjectured to be the fundamental causes of organizational
politics and team failure. The five primary dysfunctions are:
(1)Absence of Trust: which stems from people's unwillingness to be
vulnerable within the conversation. People who are not genuinely open
with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it
impossible to build a foundation for trust.
(2)Fear of Conflict: Failure to build trust is damaging because it
results in fear of conflict. Conversations that lack trust are
incapable of engaging in unfiltered passionate debate of ideas.
Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.
(3)Lack of Commitment: Fear of conflict ensures a lack of
commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of
passionate and open debate, people rarely, if ever, buy in and commit
to decisions or realisations, though they may feign agreement during
(4)Avoidance of Accountability: Lack of real commitment ensures an
avoidance of accountability. Without committing to decisions or
realisations, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate
to call their peers on actions and behaviours that seem
counter-productive to the good of the conversation.
(5)Inattention to Results: Failure to hold one another accountable
ensures inattention to results, which occurs when people put their
individual needs (such as ego, opinions, unquestioned beliefs or
reputation) above the collective goal of impersonal, detached and
rational testing of ideas that may potentially be of great importance
to the survival of humanity.
The list of known cognitive biases
is very long and most people assume that they are unbiased, which
leads to great confusion and frustration for them. One particularly
disruptive type of bias is ego
defence mechanisms, which are unconscious processes that seek to
cling to cherished opinions regardless of how confused and arbitrary
they may be, and to unconsciously use all manner of devious tactics
to defend these opinions against any form of enquiry or possible
revision. This bias is incompatible with rational discourse or
clarity or intellectual integrity.
Flow-Chart for a Rational
It is only within conversational contexts that
encourage the ego to “play the game of rational truth seeker”
that effective reasoning is possible. In light of this I have drawn
up a flow-chart. Think of it as a game board upon which we can play
the game of rational truth seeker. The structure of the board is not
set in stone and is open to discussion and revision, but it serves as
a basic guide to help us create an impersonal, detached and rational
conversation. Note that because this is a 'game' that does not make
it meaningless and trivial. It may become very important and involve
intense clashes of ideas, but it will remain within the scope of
rational truth seeking and will not devolve into ego battles and
The flow-chart also serves as a common contract. If you
enter the conversation you must abide by this contract and you can
also expect other participants to abide by it as well. Hence it is a
guarantee that you will receive civil, rational treatment and
that there isn't some ego maniac lurking in the forum that will try
to bight your head off as soon as you say something controversial.
The core features of a rational discourse, according to
the above 'game' are: All participants make a commitment to the
rational testing of ideas without personal attachment. They agree to
abide by scepticism (open-minded enquiry), to mutual respect, to
clear rational discourse and to a common agreement to avoid
disruptive ego defence mechanisms such as cynicism, denial, personal
attacks, etc. All participants in the discourse must also commit to
engage in a primary-conversation as well as a meta-conversation about
the primary-conversation to help clarify it and resolve issues that
arise, not as part of the subject of the primary-conversation, but
due to its form or conduct. If any participant perceives that another
participant is engaging in cynicism or disruptive ego defence
mechanisms within the primary-conversation then it is their duty to
raise this in the meta-conversation where it can be clarified. Of
course, if a person feels that they have been wrongly accused of such
behaviour this can be addressed in the meta-conversation. If the
disruptions continue in the meta-conversation the disruptive
participant will be barred from the conversation until they calm down
enough to re-engage with it. If the disruptions cannot be avoided
then the conversation must relocate to a more favourable forum. Any
disruptive and uncivil behaviour will NOT be tolerated and will be
brought up in a meta-conversation to be dealt with.
These are core requirements but it is also desirable
that people have some understanding of what knowledge is
(epistemology), what logic is, what a rational argument is, what
realism is and also some understanding of facts, evidence, proof,
etc. (see What
is Knowledge, Science and Reasoning? for more information)
If you just wish to state an opinion these will be accepted
graciously, but any uncivil behaviour will not be tolerated. A
rational forum is not a place to vent anger and frustration; all such
comments will be brought up in a meta-conversation and if the
participant does not revise their comments into a more civil form
they will be deleted.
If you simply wish to ask a question or provide some information
then you will be met with a civil response.
The structure of the game will reside in the background whilst
ever the conversation is flowing in a civil and rational manner.
However its structure can be called upon by any participant whenever
required. For example, someone enters the conversation ranting their
opinions in an uncivil manner and is defensive toward any approach.
Another participant can declare that the conversation should now move
from state (16 to 19), I.e. a statement of opinion expressed in an
uncivil manner that should be dealt with in a meta-conversation. This
will either result in the statements being revised into a more civil
form (19 to 17) or being deleted (19 to 18).
Another aspect, not obvious from the flow-chart, is
that if a conversational stream gets locked into a loop there is a
mechanism for breaking the loop. For example, say that someone is
being civil but they present an incoherent, irrational or irrelevant
argument, which then goes to a meta-discourse (4 to 14) in which they
are required to explain or modify their argument (14 to 13) which is
then reconsidered (13 to 4). This may need to loop several times, but
if the person is simply unable or unwilling to present a coherent,
rational and relevant argument but they keep persisting, then we
could potentially get locked into the loop. Hence when we pass
through a loop several times without any meaningful gain it will be
questioned whether or not the loop is to continue. This does not
result in expulsion, like with uncivil disruptions, but merely in the
termination of the loop, whereupon the submitted 'argument' is
reclassified as an 'opinion' and simply held on the record.
Note that if you are not an NCN member and are
commenting via the public interface you will be required to provide a
valid email address or a URL to your personal website. Anonymous or
unverifiable comments will be deleted unless they make a meaningful
contribution that stands on its own merits. This is to protect the
conversation and its participants from anonymous, cynical disruption.
Given that on the game board persistent 'uncivil'
behaviour results in expulsion from the conversation, I will clarify
what I mean by 'uncivil'. It is applied in both an interpersonal
context as well as an intellectual context. If a person is abusive,
cynical, defensive to the point of interpreting any critique as an
attack, a victim of their own ego defence mechanisms to a degree that
makes them unable to engage in a rational dialogue or is otherwise
disruptive and recalcitrant in a manner that creates a serious
obstacle to open, direct, impersonal, detached, rational debate, then
their behaviour will be considered uncivil. Other more subtle
manifestations of uncivil behaviour are twisting other peoples words
in order to misrepresent them, ignoring key arguments that one finds
challenging whilst obsessing over others in order to avoid the key
arguments, heaping irrelevant issues into the conversation in an
attempt to complicate and confuse the issue and so on. If the charge
of uncivil behaviour is made against someone they have every right to
defend themselves in the meta-conversation but only in a civil
The manner in which I use the term 'civil' is any
behaviour that is conducive to open, direct, impersonal, detached,
rational debate. It involves being reasonably polite, willing to give
other's space in which to formulate their arguments without trying to
'stomp' on them, encouraging collective enquiry rather than factional
dispute, willingness to enquire into arguments rather than just
acting from one's own conditioned perceptions and trying to force the
argument to fit into those, and actually thinking about what is being
said rather than just poking around to find things to object to
whilst not having any clear idea what the conversation is actually
It is my hope that people will be able to manage the game play in
an autonomous manner, however as the 'moderator' I reserve final
judgement in cases where this does not occur.
So please, feel free to be open and direct, there is no need for
“veiled discussions and guarded comments” on this particular
blog, indeed such things would be enquired into until they were
openly and directly understood. You can play casually or play
hard-ball, but only about the ideas. Be civil to the other
participants! Enjoy the game!