Thursday, March 28, 2019

Confounding, Rather than Contending

I informally study how to say things. I collect good examples, good rhetorical methods. Maybe that influences how I explain things. I hope it does.

This week I’m looking at ways to confound, rather than to contend.

In my religion, we have a thing against contention (see 3 Nephi 11:29). We’re encouraged to avoid Bible bashing, or trying to persuade by contentious arguing. That doesn’t mean we can’t debate ideas, discuss differences of belief, or defend attacks against our beliefs or our character.

It’s about the way this is done. With respect. Without rage. Keep undue emotion out of the way. Persuade with truth and human caring.
Studio C used Captain Literally to restore balance.
Image from here

Keeping this in mind, I rather like the feeling of “balance restored” when a wrong accusation or disrespectful argument is met with a confounding response—so full of truth that there’s no comeback.

I came across a couple of examples this week. Plus, I think I’ll add in some examples from recent weeks.

Let’s start with one that is just fun—from someone you don’t usually seek out for humor, but he is good for confounding clarity: Senator Mike Lee. This is during the Senate discussion of the Green New Deal. Not only are Velociraptors and Tauntauns involved, but also giant sea horses—all of which are more realistic than the so-called Green New Deal. Your life will be more complete after viewing this.


This next one isn’t as obviously fun, but it’s a pretty confounding response. Jordan Peterson had been invited to join with Cambridge Divinity School in an upcoming lecture series in which he talks about the psychological meaning of Bible stories, continuing a series he has done already, garnering great interest. He announced this joint undertaking on a monthly Q&A on March 18. On March 20 the divinity school rescinded the invitation. They did this through tweet, rather than a respectful phonecall, or even an explanatory letter or email.

The Cambridge University Student Union tweeted about how excited they were that the offer was withdrawn—three minutes before the divinity school made its public announcement. Peterson found out about it from friends who contacted him asking about it, followed by his searching social media more clues.

Jordan Peterson responds to Cambridge
image from here
That is not how civilized, educated people conduct business. But it is, apparently, how the uncivilized "social justice” types do it. Their claim is that it’s a political stance inappropriate for the university to have someone associate with them who holds the “transphobic” view that governments shouldn’t enforce speech requirements on individuals—views Peterson has openly held since he gained notoriety for speaking against the Canadian law in 2017, long before his lectures and interviews at Cambridge last year, which were popular and had led to the discussions about working together on the Biblical lecture series.

If it’s hard to follow their logic—well, that’s the point here.

What is great is that Peterson doesn’t let them get away with it. He responds. And what a response! 

First, he makes clear that he didn’t go “hat in hand,” seeking the collaboration; they had a number of friendly discussions, which led him to formally apply at their suggestion, and following which they had formally offered the invitation.

Second, they need him far more than he needs them, which he details quite deftly. I'm glad to know the lecture series will go on regardless.

The entirety is here, but I’ll point out a few gems.

In this quote, he rejects their claim to his not having academic legitimacy adequate to these elitists:

I also have to say, as a university professor concerned with literacy, that the CUSU statement offered to The Guardian borders on the unintelligible, perhaps even crossing the line (as so much ideological-puppet-babble tends to): what in the world does it mean that “it is a political act to associate the University with an academic’s work through offers which legitimise figures such as Peterson”? And who could write or say something of that rhetorical nature without a deep sense of betraying their personal conscience?
In this next one he makes it clear that he had thought he’d made a mutually beneficial agreement when he accepted the invitation. He made it with goodwill; the Divinity school apparently has a different set of values:

In the fall, I am planning to produce a series of lectures on the Exodus stories. I presume they will have equal drawing power. I thought that I could extend my knowledge of the relevant stories by spending time in Cambridge, and that doing so would be useful for me, for faculty members who might be interested in speaking with me, and to the students. I also regarded it as a privilege and an opportunity. I believed (and still believe) that collaborating with the Faculty of Divinity on such a project would constitute an opportunity of clear mutual benefit. Finally, I thought that making myself more knowledgeable about relevant Biblical matters by working with the experts there would be of substantive benefit to the public audience who would eventually receive the resultant lectures.
Now the Divinity school has decided that signaling their solidarity with the diversity-inclusivity-equity mob trumps that opportunity–or so I presume. You see, I don’t yet know, because (and this is particularly appalling) I was not formally notified of this decision by any representative of the Divinity school. I heard about the rescinded offer through the grapevine, via a colleague and friend, and gathered what I could about the reasons from social media and press coverage (assuming that CUSU has at least something to do with it).
 Then comes this final blessing/curse:

I think the Faculty of Divinity made a serious error of judgement in rescinding their offer to me (and I’m speaking about those unnamed persons who made that specific decision). I think they handled publicizing the rescindment in a manner that could hardly have been more narcissistic, self-congratulatory and devious.
I believe that the parties in question don’t give a damn about the perilous decline of Christianity, and I presume in any case that they regard that faith, in their propaganda-addled souls, as the ultimate manifestation of the oppressive Western patriarchy, despite their hypothetical allegiance to their own discipline.
I think that it is no bloody wonder that the faith is declining (and with it, the values of the West, as it fragments) with cowards and mountebanks of the sort who manifested themselves today at the helm.
I wish them the continued decline in relevance over the next few decades that they deeply and profoundly and diligently work toward and deserve.
What was supposed to be a public shaming of Peterson has become an even more public revelation about those doing the shaming. Instead of apologizing or dropping down into a silent hole, as they might have expected, he has simply spoken the truth, without embellishment, but with devastating clarity.

Tom Woods spoke about Peterson’s response on his podcast last week, with admiration. (I recommend listening to the full half hour on this subject.) In the email linking to the podcast, he offers this summary:

Now what is supposed to happen in situations like this is that the aggrieved party accepts being put in his place by the right-thinking elite, and quietly slinks away.
Not Peterson.
And that's part of what makes this dissident voice so important. Not only does his success confound them, but he's also a great fighter. He doesn't sheepishly fold. He calls attention to their shenanigans and rallies his supporters.
We're not supposed to do that, you see. We are supposed to accept the verdict of our alleged betters, like good and obedient losers.
Peterson's vigorous response—not just to the rescission but also to the profoundly juvenile way in which it was announced—guarantees Cambridge internal strife, angry calls from alumni, and a nonstop flurry of attacks.
Balance restored!

Another confounding encounter I enjoyed was an exchange between Michael Knowles and an audience member in the Q&A following a lecture in which he had honored Christopher Columbus. It’s only three minutes, so I've included the whole thing. The social justice warrior believes he has an ironclad attack, and is stunned to find that he doesn’t. This final takedown, after answering the question, is balance restoring:

I think that you’re standing on the shoulders of giants, and you think that you’re flying. But you’re not. We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of that great man, and we spit down on him in our ingratitude. How pathetic!

In this next one, Ben Shapiro answers a question about abortion—specifically on the value of human life. This complete coverage of the issue only takes two minutes. Notice how fully aware he is of the opposition’s arguments.

What is the pattern? How is confounding different from contending?

There’s no hatred toward a person for having an opposing view. In fact, there’s a certain respect built in to the response: if they are given the clear truth, they’ll understand and maybe even reconsider their position.

There’s no coercion—no forcing someone to change their view. There’s no name calling—no claim that anyone with that view is evil simply for holding a different view.

That doesn’t mean the confounding answer won’t offend, or cause anger. Getting offended or angry is up to the other person. But offending is not the purpose; presenting the point of view as clearly and powerfully as possible is the purpose.

There’s an understanding of the opposing view—an ability to express it accurately—showing that full consideration was given before forming this differing opinion.

We’re not talking about defensive strategy. The purpose is not to just bat away the various hits from the opposition; it is to take away the weapon. When you disarm a foe, then there’s a chance for peace.

In our out-of-balance world, we need to give up contending, even when the opposition is contentious, and we must get better at confounding. To disarm, To restore balance. To bring about peace.

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