Basic Orientation
Book1: R-E Living & "Homo Rationalis"
Book2: Humanianity
Book3: Mind-Body Problem
Book4: (Future Possible Development)
Child Rearing Issues
Philosophico-Religious Issues
Psycho-Socio-Cultural Issues
01 Enormous Good Is For The Doing
02 Friendly vs Hostile Debate
03 Rational Ethics-Joy in Doing Right
04 Explanation of Humanianity
The Twelve Articles
Relevant Autobiography



Early in the history of the Charlotte Philosophy Discussion Group, I was presented with frequent hostile behavior on the part of participants, despite the fact that the group was organized (by me) with the expressed intention of listening to and analyzing all opinions in the context of a benevolent search for more depth of understanding and accuracy of belief. Below is a post of mine regarding this issue. Subsequently, the group has gradually increasingly developed the ability to engage in "friendly debate." It remains to be seen whether this development continues. I do have the impression that the ability to engage in "friendly debate" is increasing in the world. National Public Radio and other such media are spearheading this development and are setting the model for such advanced behavior, and I see this as one example of the beginning of the third exponential change. Nevertheless, there are still places in the world where the expression of certain opinions is suicidal behavior, and hostile behavior accompanying the expression of difference of opinion is still quite common. We have a long, long way to go.

The following is that post:

When I was small, I was fascinated by my father's interest in amateur science, and somehow ended up with an intense need to understand everything about how the world works. By high school I was interested specifically in human thinking and behavior, and how we could have a better life by understanding what makes us tick and what we need to do to change ourselves in order to have better lives.

I have always looked for not only what the right answers to problems were, but also what the best methods were to find them. And it has saddened me to see how much we suffer due to the non-optimal methods we use.

It is apparent that there is much difference of opinion, and that we never accomplish anything without some degree of agreement with regard to beliefs both about the way the world is, was, and/or will be and about what we should do. But the agreement has to be with regard to accurate beliefs, because inaccurate beliefs cause mistakes.

Well, all of this has led me to look at how we can develop more accurate beliefs, personally and socially, and also what I can do (perhaps on a very small scale) to help.

I have come to the conclusion that a very fundamental way in which we can increase the accuracy of our beliefs is by responding in a specific way to the discovery of difference of belief, or opinion.

When there is a difference of opinion, there is a fair chance that inaccurate opinion, or belief, is involved. If two beliefs are mutually contradictory, then either one, the other, or both are probably wrong. It is always possible, of course, that there is no difference of opinion, but that there seems to be such simply because people are not understanding each other. This sometimes occurs because two people are using the same words with different meanings, or one of the individuals is making assumptions about the other's beliefs that are not so.

So what I have concluded (and I believe many others have concluded) is that the optimal response to the observation that there is difference of opinion is dialogue. However, the dialogue, to be helpful, has to be of a specific type. My term for this type of dialogue is "friendly debate." I have written about this elsewhere and have commented that this kind of behavior is apparently extremely difficult for our species, and one almost never sees it.

The friendly debate motivation can be best described perhaps by imagining someone saying, "Oh! We apparently have a difference of opinion. That's great! This is an opportunity for learning! At least one of us is probably wrong, and if I am wrong I certainly want to know. So let's compare our beliefs and see exactly where they diverge. Then we can see what may help us to decide between them, perhaps by seeing what others have to say or by seeing what has been found to be true using our best methods of ascertaining knowledge (the sciences)."

The process of friendly debate is one in which each person requests the other to explain further and listens intently in order to understand, and presents his or her own ideas as clearly as possible such as to identify, from the responses of the other, the possible flaws in his or her own thinking. Also, such attempts at presentation of one's own ideas leads to improvement in the ability to do so.

Would that this is what we always did! Our lives on this planet would be so, so much better.

But that's not the picture. What we more often see is something entirely different. I call it "unfriendly debate," to contrast it with what I have just described. Although the word "debate" is included in the label, the motivation is drastically different and the behavior is drastically different.

Rather than enthusiastic excitement over possibly learning something new, the primary motivation is to "win." There is often a fair amount of anger involved. The motivation is not to gain in wisdom but to gain in status or power, to demonstrate to others one's power over another by getting the other to "back down," to give up, perhaps to acknowledge defeat. It is "King of the Mountain" as played by adults, but with rather serious intent.

In unfriendly debate there is a long list of behaviors that people engage in. The following list is not complete, just exemplary.

  • Interfering with the other's speaking, by interrupting, shouting down, leaving the room.
  • Inducing painful emotional states, in various ways:
  • Engaging in threatening behavior, either overt or covert, subtle, and sophisticated.
  • Ridiculing the other's beliefs, to cause embarrassment
  • Using pejorative labels (stupid, absurd, ridiculous, etc.) for the same reason
  • Speaking in a confident manner while stating that the other is obviously wrong (but not explaining why)
  • Distracting the other from the main topic being discussed (changing the subject)
  • Misrepresenting the other's viewpoint in order to make it seem ridiculous, incomprehensible, or opposite in meaning
  • Seeking support from others to put the person down
  • Speaking down to the other person, implying the other person is inferior

I think there are two basic reasons why unfriendly debate occurs so frequently in response to observation of probable difference of opinion.

First, we are a very angry species, probably primarily because we punish our children for making mistakes (punishment causing anger among other things) and we model for identification the importance of being dominant. (A man once told me he knew the day he became a man-the day he beat up his father.) Then our children go out and do the same to other children. Achieving a satisfying place in the dominance pecking order remains extremely important to us, even though we may be largely unaware of this. And so we fight and fight.

Second, many of us, perhaps most, have beliefs that are important to the maintenance of our self-esteem and/or feelings of security, so when such beliefs are challenged, much bad feeling may be produced. This discomfort is reduced by interfering with the effectiveness of evidence to the contrary, as is accomplished by the unfriendly debate behavior. Also, when someone challenges such beliefs, and thereby produces the bad feeling, the conclusion may be drawn (accurately or inaccurately) that the one challenging the beliefs is doing so in order to produce the bad feeling, and is therefore attacking.

My effort is to provide a place where those who are indeed able to engage in friendly debate can do so, about the most basic of our philosophical/religious ideas. "Our Forum Ethics" (first topic on the message board) spells out my wish and intention to keep our message board a non-hostile environment. As the reader may observe, I have not been successful. Early in our history I edited out hostility in a post, but the group told me in a meeting that I should not do that.

I regret that some members persist in being hostile. I believe that it probably reduces the willingness of many to post on the message board, because of not wanting to put themselves in a position of being attacked with ridicule and other hostile behavior. So currently I am just doing the best I can to provide this opportunity for people, and hope that by clarifying this whole issue I will convince others to confine their behavior to friendly debate as much as they are able.