Thu, 9 Mar 2000 19:12:29 -0500 (EST)
Found this gem on Dave Winer's Scripting News from 2000-03-07:
I just realized something about Microsoft. To most
people, including people at Microsoft, you're either
anti-Microsoft or pro-Microsoft. Then thinking about
it some more, this isn't just true of Microsoft. It's
also true of Apple. And it's also true of Linux. And
Open Source. And it's not just about computers either.
It's pretty much everywhere. And it's total bullshit.
This is deep. If everybody understood this, most of our social
problems would be solved.
Here's a related thing I saw on Red Rock Eater, from the 1999-10-19
"notes and recommendations", available on the web at
Recent discussions have brought home to me the intellectual
harm that can be wrought by simplistic dichotomies. I'm not
talking about ordinary conceptual distinctions. I'm talking
about the unreflective acceptance of huge vague partitions that
falsely sort everything into category A and category B. . . .
. . .
The first is the dichotomy between supporters and opponents of
something called "technology". You may recall that I circulated
a summary of an article by Hara and Kling describing some of
the problems that they found in a field study of an online
distance education course. They argued based on a survey of the
literature that problems in the use of distance education
technology are a "taboo" in the field. Well, their thesis was
certainly supported by the response that their paper summary
provoked. One guy called me a "saboteur" just for passing the
summary to my list. (This particular guy eventually apologized
once I explained things to him very slowly.) Another guy, from
a senior professor of education, publicly issued a series of
false accusations against the authors, and then started
insulting me when I explained his mistakes. (This guy sort of
apologized too. So there's hope.)
What is going on here? I certainly don't believe that the
majority of people involved in educational technology
participate in this sort of true-believerdom. I have no idea of
the proportions. But I do know that a substantial subculture
does think this way. I spent some time trying to decode the
underlying structure of the messages. The major part of it, I
think, is precisely the broad, vague dichotomy between
supporters and opponents of technology. These people -- and
again I'm just talking about a certain subculture -- have an
Enemy, namely the anti-technology forces who selfishly want to
protect their own perks while preventing children from getting
a proper technology-enhanced education. Faced with anything,
they think: "Is this thing pro- or anti-technology? If it's not
pro- then it must be anti-. And if it's anti- then it's wacko
Luddism that is totally beyond the Pale. QED."
The logic continues along the same track as the conversation
proceeds. If you tell them, "No, it's not anti-technology",
then they just get confused and say, "So what's the point?" --
they can only imagine two points, pro- and anti-. If you tell
them, "Surely it's good to know some of the things that can go
wrong", then they just get confused and say, "Well, that's just
human error, not anything that's inherent in the technology" --
again as if the only possible issue is whether the technology
is good or bad. Or they look at you funny and respond, "Well
okay, just fix that" -- as if any issue beyond the technology
is necessarily trivial. Or they say, "That's just because those
people haven't learned how to use the technology yet", or else,
"That's just that one technology, not technology in general".
In each case, their "listening", as Werner Erhard would say, is
"Is this pro- or anti-?". No other question can get on the
agenda until that one is decided.
He goes on to mention several other such false dichotomies that result
in similarly disastrous failures to communicate.
I think there's another issue, too. When people end up on opposite
sides of a fence about some issue, it makes it difficult for them to
communicate about other issues. It happens to all of us on some
issues. Who among us could have a rational conversation with Jeffrey
Dahmer (were he still alive)?
It happens more for more emotional issues.
I think it's important to cultivate sufficient detachment to listen
carefully to people on the other side of whatever fence divides us from
them. [ick. that sentence should be taken out and shot.] That's one
of two ways fences get torn down.
The other way is that everybody on one side of the fence dies.
I met a woman once. She was angry and hurt. The Arabs had invaded her
country, and as I listened to her speak, I felt her pain. It was
real, and I had the sense that there were a lot of people who felt the
same way --- she wasn't an extreme case.
She was from Iran. The invasion was several centuries ago.
<firstname.lastname@example.org> Kragen Sitaker <http://www.pobox.com/~kragen/>
The Internet stock bubble didn't burst on 1999-11-08. Hurrah!
The power didn't go out on 2000-01-01 either. :)