Taken from three separate comments, but all in response to the post Seven Guidelines for a Healthier Debate on Gender, DMcCunney says:
While you apply it specifically to gender discussions, your suggestions have *much* broader applications. I really wish many of the folks currently passionately debating US politics and the economy would read them and ry to follow them.
I’ve tried to point out to folks elsewhere that there *is* no “Us” and “Them” – there is only Us. We all live on this planet together. If you cast things as Us vs Them, you are part of the problem, and *cannot* propose meaningful solutions.
I tend to pick my debates, and stay out of a lot of them, because life is too short. Part of the problem is that I tend to see the issues in a different framework than those I talk to. Palestine and Israel is an example. It gets cast as Jew vs Muslim, but I think that’s mistaken, and the underlying problems are differences in European and Arab culture, and conflicts arising from the differences. The cultural differences all express themselves on an unconscious, reflex level, which makes resolving them particularly intractable.
Another issue in debates like this is who you are talking to on an emotional level. I take my cues from the late Eric Berne, a psychiatrist who did critical work on the issues. In particular, Berne talked about ego states and the Position. From Berne’s perspective, we all had three basic ego states – Adult, Parent, and Child (corresponding roughly to Freud’s Ego, Superego, and Id.) The Adult is the rational, considering part. The Parent is the governor, and the source of internal controls on behavior. The Child is the source of needs and desires, and the ultimate driver of our behavior. At any moment, we are in one of those ego states. The problems in interactions with others is when the two parties aren’t in the *same* ego state, as mis-communication is bound to occur. A debate should be Adult->Adult. When it’s Adult->Parent or Adult->Child, the wheels come off the cart.
The Position, from Berne’s viewpoint, is an unconscious existential statement of “This is who I am, and this is how I fit into the world.” The Position is set in broad outline *early*, between 5 to 7 years of age. Once a position is adopted, our principal goal is to *defend* it. Evidence we are right is clutched to our chest. Evidence we are wrong is ignored or rejected, perhaps violently. (And it’s what can make psychiatry a dangerous profession, as a lot of what a psychiatrist does is attempt to make the Position conscious and explicit, where it can be examined and perhaps modified. The Position becomes part of our “sense of self”, and questions of the Position can be taken as attacks on the person holding it, with corresponding results.) The key question is how closely the Position corresponds to external reality. Positions somewhat out of phase lead to behavior we consider neurotic. Positions *really* out of phase lead to behavior considered psychotic.
Part of what I’ve sometimes attempted to do in debates is determine precisely where people are coming from. My interest is in underlying motivations. “No, I understand *what* you believe. You’ve made that quite clear. What I’m trying to understand is *why* you believe it, and what makes that belief attractive to you.” The answers tend to be rooted in Position, and can be a challenge to get.
You can see evidence of Positions all over. One example is the tedious folks you’ve probably met who say “You can’t trust *anybody*! They’re all a bunch of dirty so-and-sos who will screw you if they get a chance!” Such folks tend to set themselves up to *be* screwed on an unconscious level, because what they want to do is *not* avoid getting screwed. What they *really* want is to be able to say “You see? I was *right!* They *are* all a bunch of dirty so-and-sos who will screw you if they get a chance!” They want to defend their Position and get evidence they are right