Unimpeachable Wall-Speak in the Fog Island Tavern

– Hello Vodçek; what’s going on? You look unusually worried today?
– Hi Bog-Hubert. Yes, you could say I’m a bit worried. Somebody must have snuck something weird into my coffee machine.
– What makes you say that? People complaining about it?
– No, it’s not that. It doesn’t taste any different. But listen to them! They’ve been ranting and raving about the wall and whether the president should be impeached, like they’ve been hyperstoned!
– Well, it’s a common affliction these days, isn’t it? I mean, the topics, not the state of mind you suspect. Well, on second thought…
– Bog-Hubert, go listen to them. You haven’t heard nothing like it.
– Oh, the news is full of stuff like that, every day… And you should have heard things before in here that even the news can’t even think of.. So what are they saying? About impeachment? That’ll never fly.
– Never? Why? Now you are starting to amaze me too.. I wouldn’t even want to ignore talk of such topics in here, if I had my druthers.
– Well, look at what he promised when he took the oath of office…
– You mean about protecting the Constitution and all that?
– You’re leaving out the important stuff. The crossed finger qualification.
– Huh? Have you heard something his lawyers will pull out of their hats if it comes to that? Aren’t people saying that he violated that oath?
– No, it’s right there in plain sight, It says “… to the best of my ability”, doesn’t it?
– So?
– Well, think about it. If he says, I did what I did, to the best of my ability, can you prove that he could have done better, according to his ability? If you can’t see that, does it raise questions about your ability?
– You’re getting into dangerous territory there, my friend. Better watch it all the time. But what they are talking about over there is different.
– Oh? What are they saying?
– Well, one argument I’ve heard from over here is that He’s just not letting all his tricks out of his sleeve, or his hat, yet.
– Never seen him wear a hat. Would it muss up his hair? So sleeve it is. Now: For example?
– Well, about the wall…
– Do they have suspicions about what tricks that might be?
– Yeah, they do. In fact one of the things is an idea that actually came out of this tavern a while ago, somebody put it into a ‘Zing’ in the paper, but nobody seemed to pick up on it, so they think it’s being kept secret for now.
– You’re killing me with suspense. Let me have a cup of that fortified coffee, the Café Cataluña, with Fundador, eh? To kill whatever somebody might have put in it, will you? So what’s the idea?
– Okay. It’s that they should put solar panels on top of the wall, to generate power.
– That’s actually a great idea, isn’t it? Brings that whole wall thing into the 21st century. Because just the wall won’t work, we know that. Even that big one in China from thousands of years ago didn’t work so well, even back then.
– Right. Like all the walls in history since then — where are those now? Today, a wall just doesn’t keep anybody or anything from going over, under, or around it.
– Wait, I remember now: did’t Renfroe there come up with the idea to then sell that solar power to Mexico?
– Right, I had forgotten that. Now Renfroe says — I don’t know where he gets that kind of information out here, not even Fox News is coming up with that stuff — that’s how he’s going to keep his promise to make Mexico pay for it. But that they’re waiting until the re-election campaign gets into critical territory to throw that out of the hat. But they are going off on all kinds of tangents expanding on that idea.
– I can imagine. For example, aren’t there possibilities to make it work without the actual wall underneath, if you make clever, sneaky use of some of the power.
– By Abbé Boulah’s twisted mustache, here you too are going on with that craziness! And you haven’t even had a taste of the fortified coffee yet, I just finished it; here!
– Thanks. It isn’t all that crazy, but I have been wondering why all the folks in this great innovative country have been so stuck on that antiquated, obsolete wall idea, — both sides. No ideas! No imagination!
– Well, they are at it, over there. Yes, they found out that if you just were to put a kind of advanced electrical fence out there, powered by the solar panels, — one that would just taze anybody that tried to get across, you wouldn’t need the wall itself. You’d just stun the intruders to immobilize them until the border guards could get there on their electrical ATV’s to take them in.
– Electrical ATV’s, I get it: powered by the energy produced by the solar panels overhead! And if you put charging stations on the other side, for Mexicans to buy power for their hybrids and electrical cars, that would be the way the Mexicans would pay for the non-wall-wall. Not the Mexican government, but the people using the vehicles.
– And backing off the wall idea itself, I mean the concrete or steel versions of it, will be the negotiating carrot he’d use to pull the rug out from under the wall opposition. Saving lots of the money that’s already appropriated, after spending enough on the competition-demo versions they’ve been building so far, to pacify those companies. Ol’ Renfroe, again — the others seem to be too stuck on the notion of just one side winning and the other losing to even image old-fashioned negotiating and getting ahead on the offers? You think the president will hire Renfroe?
– No, even Renfroe has heard about how everybody he’s hired gets fired before they even finished redecorating their new home in DC. He just wants a new outboard for his boat, so he can get out to Rigatopia for a fun vacation… I taught them how to make Eau D’Hole, some of the folks out there are getting better at it than the Slovenians…and Renfroe can’t wait to check it out.
– Well, over there it sounds like they have been tasting a smuggled-in sample already. There oughtabe a law…

***

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Poking holes in the timespace remembrane of the Fog Island Tavern regulars

— Hi guys — what’s with all the thoughtful faces?

— Hello Sophie — well, don’t you look thoughtlessly happy today!

— Yeah, I feel like celebrating: solved my solitaire three times in a row, yippee! But you didn’t answer my question — You guys are looking, well, kind of —

– You’re right. Indeterminate. Thing is, we’re not quite sure whether to congratulate or commiserate with our friend here, the esteemed professor Balthus, who is equally indeterminate. Right now, he’s on what seems to be the other side of an emotional Möbius strip.

– You’re not making sense. Even lil’ ol’ me knows that a Möbius strip has only one side. It’s just twisted into joining both sides into one, so they, wait…

– Ah, you’re inadvertently stumbling on the very conundrum we’re facing here. Let me explain the momentous situation that transcends the flat-world simplicity of the Möbius-stripped-down topological imagination we have gotten used to. While your friends here are recovering from their conundruminations that stunned them into silence for, lets see, more than three minutes already. Unheard of!

– Your speech is getting darker by the minute. KInd of spaced out?

– Okay. Let me see if I can summarize it for you. See, our dear professor has applied a series of analogical reasoning inferences to the phenomenon of the Möbius strip flatness, a flatness persisting even into the curved ‘ring’ figure of the familiar Möbius strip armband we know. A device he once suggested as a campaign device for a friend who was running for some public office — with the inscription ‘we are all on the same side’. Sadly, the friend’s political advisors did not think much of it, so it wasn’t used. But the friend lost the election; what can I say.

– Is that the reason for the long-face aspect of the current mood here?

– No. Sorry, that was long ago.  We’ll get to the two-faced mood later. Now, the professor suddenly encountered a reminder of ol’ Einstein’s edict that space is curved. Cleverly putting things together, he embarked on the following line of reasoning:
* A Möbius strip, for all its ‘global’ one-sidedness, does have the ‘local’ property of being two-sided. In any short-sighted locality, it patently does have two sides.
* So, could it not follow, when we extend our imagination to the third dimension, that space has an analogous property of being two-sided, or should we say ‘two-spaced’? So that we, in our old Cartesian habit, ‘locally’ describe our location with the three coordinates, blindly find ourselves on just one ‘side’, I mean space, of the location? That there might be, as it were, ‘another ‘space-side’ to where we are?

– I get it. And that our ‘location’ is just on the other ‘side-space’ of the location of the place just on the other ‘side’ of space? Like any point on the Möbius strip has that close neighbor on the other side of the paper, that is really on the same side? Close by?

– You got it. I think. As close as the thickness of the space-membrane separating the two sides, but separated from it by the distance you’d have to travel if you were to stay on ‘your’ side to get there. This has, of course, profound implications — even practical ones, — that haven’t even been explored for the Möbius strip itself, surprisingly.

– Explain, please. I’m getting a touch of space travel sickness already…

– Well, look at all those network and systems diagrams. Say, communication networks. They are all flat, representations smashed flat against a two-dimensional environment whose other side isn’t ever even entering the oft-invoked superior whole-system awareness of the systems thinking analyst. The flatness of paper on your ‘desktop’, so unthinkingly adopted by the computer folks onto the monitor screen, does not make it easy to visualize and explore this amazing möbiousness. Even if they did, the flat-screen diagrams would have to extend half the distance around the round of the Möbius ‘band’ to reach that point on the other side of the paper. When the point is just ‘on the other side’ — so if we could find a way to punch a hole in the strip — we’d be right there!

– Well: that’s weird enough for the strip — what about space?

– Ah Sophie, yes: Now remember: If space is curved, as Einstein proved: could it be that space itself is a kind of Möbius space? That has ‘another side’ — but being quite spacious, you’d come back to the ‘point’ on the other space-side’ only after a long journey around the universe? Impossible? No — if it’s a Möbius-space, we’d still be on the same ‘space-side’, wouldn’t we? And if there’s such a thing, wouldn’t you want to know what’s there — what it looks like, on the others side?

– So?

– So? Oh ye of little curiosity! Now think: That point on the ‘other side’ — it’s right there, so close, on the other side of space! And what if we could find a way to ‘poke a hole’ in that wall, we’d be right there? Might that not be easier than trying to travel light-years around ‘our side’ of space?

– Sure, if you put it like that. But how?

– Well, Sophie: that would take some research, wouldn’t it? A whole new domain of scientific investigation, think about all the new university departments and independent think tanks: The new Science of Möbius-Curved Space Membrane-Drilling? A whole new meaning to the old ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’? Or ‘Poke, Baby, Poke’?

– You’re getting too excited, Vodçek Poke-man. You’re rousing our friends from their temporary stupor. Hi, Professor: Congratulations to your discovery! So you think you’ll land a new job as Director of the Department of Curved Space-Membrane Research?

– Oh Sophie, no, sadly: I am getting too old for that, some young whipper-snapper will be hired to research all my notebooks on the matter and getting all the glory. But Vodçek, I think you have been feeding Sophie only half of the story.

– How so, Professor?

– By Abbé Boulah’s Untimely Curved Straight-edge Ruler! You’ve forgotten what Einstein said about space — it’s not just space — its space-time! So the other space-side of your möbius membrane — if you were to travel to it the ‘long way’, properly staying on ‘your’ space-time-side of the thing: what time would you be getting there? And what time do you think you’d be if you just ‘poked a hole’ in the space-time membrane? That hole, my friend, is a black time-hole, if I ever saw one. I’m not sure I’d want to be poking holes in that.

– But if you say that the ‘next-door’ point is ‘right there’ on the other space-side — would the black hole open up only when you start poking? Is it there all the time?

– Beats me, Vodçek. Pour me some Zinfandel, will you? But don’t use that Klein bottle we gave you for your birthday — Im not sure it’ll hold any wine? What’s the matter, Renfroe? Some Zin?

– No thanks, I think I need some of that Bog-Huber’ts Spatial, I mean Special, dammit, you’ve got me talking that funny talk too. The one without the label in the corner.

– Here you go. Go easy though. So what were you trying to say?

– Well, Jus’ thinking’, man. If’n you could poke holes in that thingamabrane, yeah, I don’t believe anybody can do it from this side yet — and that may be a good thing for all I know — but what if somebody has figured out how to do it — from the other side? Wouldn’t that explain it?

– Explain what, Renfroe?

– Well, all them alien sighting’s! It’s them aliens! What if they been poking holes in the screen to come see what’s on our side?

– Interesting idea. So why don’t they come in here, have a drink and communicate? Why do they just pop in for a sec up in the air and then disappear again?

– Good question. Mebbe its ’cause of the time being bent too, like the professor said — they’re just zipping by in a time window, like? From the future, or the past?

– Yeah, And maybe they just take a look at what’s going on here and get so scared they get the hell out again as fast as they can?

– I’m cutting y’all off, guys. This is getting out of hand.

– See? that kinda thing? Even scaring the bleepin’ timespace outta them aliens!



NOTES  ON A DIFFERENT ‘PATTERN THAT CONNECTS’

The Design or Planning Argument that connects claims of Meaning, Science, Know-How, Needs, Desires, Ethics Morals, Justice and Aesthetics…

 Thorbjørn Mann

There is much discussion these days about the relationship between different domains of knowledge; relationships that easily turn into divisive  and unproductive controversies. Borrowing a phrase from the  community of research of C. Alexander’s ‘Pattern Language’, an examination of the different kinds of knowledge making up the arguments used in planning, design, policy-making shows how this argument ‘pattern’ connects the reasoning patterns of the different domains. 

THE “STANDARD PLANNING ARGUMENT 

The  common structure of ‘pros and cons’ exchanged in discussions about whether a plan should be adopted for implementation  I call the ‘standard design /planning argument’ can be described as follows:  (The letters D, F, I, E in the following stand for ‘deontic’ (ought) claims, fact-claims, instrumental claim, explanatory claim, respectively.)

Proposal:  D  (X)  (Plan X ought to be  adopted / implemented)

    because

Instrumental premise 1:    FI ((X —> Y) | C) (Plan X will have effect / result/consequence Y given conditions C

    and 

Deontic premise  2:              D (Y) Outcome Y ought to be pursued / aimed for

   and 

Factual premise 3:               F (C) Conditions C are (or will be) given 

These premises (which in practice aren’t always all made explicit, assuming some premises  as ‘taken for granted’) draw on and are supported by very different kinds of ‘knowledge’.  To fully appreciate — understand and giving it due consideration — such arguments in the process of reaching a decision about a proposed plan, a person must understand, and if necessary raise questions to clarify their meaning, content, and forms of supporting ‘evidence’:  

MEANING, DISTINCTION, DEFINITION:  CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE

‘X’, ‘Y’, ‘C’:  and relationship  R —-> Understanding , meaning of the terms / words (as understood by proponent and audience to be persuaded):  Explanation, description, definition;  Relationship of concepts;

‘Plan X’:          Idea, vision, desirable outcome,  state of affairs, solution to a problem:  description in context;

‘Effect’ or ‘consequence  ’Y’: State of affairs, Result, Meaning,/implication)

Relationship R of ‘X —> Y’.    E.g. cause – effect, implication, part-whole relation;

Condition ‘C’:           Data:  about state of affairs (‘now’);  Others’ intentions, desires, needs, plans. (Actually, a systematic description of the conditions C would amount to a complete ‘systems model’ showing all the factors in the ‘whole system’ and their relationships…)

Argument pattern:  D(X) <—( FI ((X—>Y)|C) & D(Y) & F(C):  the reasoning ‘rule’ (among other standard  argument patterns)

WHAT THE WORLD ‘IS’ LIKE:   ‘DATA’, fact-claims, descriptions

F (C) Descriptions about current  and past states of affairs, basis and EVIDENCE for claims about such ‘facts’;

HOW THE WORLD ‘WORKS’: 

 FI (X —> Y) Or  FI (X —>REL—>Y)|C     The instrumental premise, expressing a ‘law’ (natural, logical, or man-made agreement’) ( also expressing a belief in causality) that makes it possible to achieve some proposed change with a specific plan of action. Technical  ‘know-how’ engineering, management skills.

WHAT ‘OUGHT’ TO BE DONE OR AIMED FOR:

D (X) and (D (Y):    ‘Deontic’ premises and claims:  The proposed plan or action, and the desired or undesirable effects it will bring about (or avoid).  Also:  ‘It’s the law’ (regulation);  or.  Command: “Authority A said so”.  

EACH TYPE OF KNOWLEDGE IS SUPPORTED BY DIFFERENT ARGUMENT PATTERNS 

The ‘standard planning argument’ above has many ‘pattern’ variations,  depending on the distribution of assertion or negation signs for each of the premises, and of the nature of the relationship claims in the instrumental premise. Not all of those are equally plausible as argumentation patterns in themselves; some are outright counterproductive or self-contradictory. So the reasoning pattern of each argument must itself be assessed — even the explicit use (stating all parts) of such an argument does  not guarantee overall plausibility. 

Things are even getting more complicated when we realize that the pattern and its plausibility as intended by a proponent of the argument  may be different from the pattern actually assessed by an evaluator:  if one or several premise elements are assigned a different assertion or negation sign by the person judging, it is thereby becoming a different pattern in that person’s mind. 

The extent to which this complication may affect the evaluation of the arguments supporting the other knowledge type claims involved here — for example, the ‘evidence’ supporting fact-claims, the reasoning supporting scientific hypothesis-testing, such as the inductive pattern of  a hypothesis H corroboration by evidence E : ((H —->  E) & E ) —> H (inconclusive) or refutation:  ((H—> E ( & ~E) —> ~H;  (conclusive);   the explanations of the meaning of terms — may have to be examined in different ways than the usual textbook treatment that study the conclusiveness of arguments, mainly as intended by the proponent.  This task still calls for more attention. 

The aim of this little inquiry, to start with, is to point out that each of the types of knowledge is supported by a set off different argument types. This includes all the argument types and patterns discussed in standard textbooks (where planning argument and arguments including ‘ought’ premises have not been given adequate attention). Serious but unnecessary — controversies often arise from lack of attention to this fact: attempts to justify plans resting on only one such set of patterns, or inappropriately applying the rules of one domain to the others.

For example: from time to time, prevalent ‘approaches’ or methods for doing things in society seem to focus on one of these types of premises with something like faith of their exclusive significance:  F —> D:  What we ought to do follows ‘DATA’ — the fallacy of ‘OUGHT following ‘IS’: the constraint of ‘the facts’:  FI —> D. “ We can do this, therefore we should do it’;  D —> D   ‘Wishful thinking’:  we ought to aim for it because we want it;   or:  We ought to do it (X) because it follows the goal or principle (Y); even: “Do X because it’s right”.

A different way of stating this is that the exclusive reliance on one of these premise types represent different (‘philosophical’?) attitudes about the dominant type of knowledge to guide design and planning:  Science (Facts, Laws of nature), Technology (Engineering: the things we can do); Management skills (Social things we can do: ‘leadership’ and psychology); Religion and ethics, morality principles, societal laws, Political Ideologies. 

All of these are fallacious ‘reasons’ for doing or not doing things— because they ignore the other kinds of premises of the planning argument and the many other arguments, about a proposed plan. We must consider all the pros and cons, and all the premises they rest on, even if they aren’t all made explicit. 

It is also necessary to look at some of the different types of judgments we use to assess these different claims. 

THE DIFFERENT TYPES  OF JUDGMENTS  NEEDED FOR EACH PREMISE TYPE:

Each of these premises must be evaluated, judged, in order to arrive at a judgment about the merit of the argument as a whole. Much has been made and written about the criterion of TRUTH or its absence FALSITY about claims; and the notion that a claim about some state of affairs in the real world must be either true or false — that it corresponds to the actual state of affairs out there. This leads to the careless jump to express our judgments on the binary scale of ‘true’ and ‘false’. 

But we must keep in mind not only that we actually do not make our judgments about the real states of affairs but according to how sure, how certain we are about whether a claim corresponds to reality:  Most thing we do not know ‘for sure’, and even some factual issues are not true (or false all the time under all conditions but with some degree of PROBABILITY. This calls for a different scale upon which we should talk about and explain our judgments:  the common probability scale is one of zero to one  or zero to 100 ‘percent’. 

 For all its common acceptance, the probability scale does not allow us to express a different kind of judgment:  that we simply ‘don’t know’, cannot judge whether a claim is true. false, probable. To express this admission of inability to judge ‘judgment’ by assigning the claim a 50% probability is misleading, it sound like a confident assessment that it will be true about 50%  of the time. So a better scale, one with a midpoint of zero ‘Don’t know’ and for example, a  +1  score for the judgment ‘completely confident that a claim is true, 100% probable, i.e . certain, and a -1 score expressing the same complete confidence that it is not.  

Even the criterion of ‘probability’ does not adequately express what our judgments about the meaning, the adequacy of a description of something (describing a car as ‘having four wheels’ may be true as far as the number of wheels in concerned, but useless when the description intends to help us find the car in the large parking lot…) or — most importantly, assess the deontic premise, the ‘ought’ claims. We argue about those claims precisely because they are neither true nor probable yet — by definition:  we try to decide whether we should attempt to make them come true or not. For all these judgments, something like PLAUSIBILITY, expressed on the  continuous +1/-1 scale, with the zero ‘don’t know’ midpoint, will be better.

One more judgment criterion is needed for the assessment of plans. The usual concern that has been the focus of argumentation has been the question whether an argument — a single ‘clinching’ argument — supports the conclusion:  If all men are mortal and  Socrates is a man, it follows inescapably that Socrates is mortal;  no further argumentation is needed.  But the assessment of plans does NOT rest on single arguments (except possibly the convincing proof that a plan simply is impossible because it contradicts laws of natural (or human laws we do not wish or dare to violate). Plans are assessed by ‘weighing the pros and cons’. They don’t all carry the same ‘weight’. Systems Thinking urges us to find out ALL potential consequences of actions and plans  (including the nasty ’unforeseen consequences’ that result from the nonlinear behavior caused from the interacting relationships and relationship loops in the ‘whole system’ network). We must form arguments (of the above kind for each of those consequences) and assess their merit. This ‘weighing’ requires a judgment about the importance or better:  WEIGHT OF RELATIVE IMPORTANCE of an argument —  how much weight does one pro or con carry in comparison with all the other pros and cons?   

The way we examine and construct overall opinions about the proposed plan from all the partial judgments (which has been the focus of my studies on planning arguments) still needs considerable work. 

IN SUMMARY:  

Thorough, systematic deliberation about proposed plan will require us to make all these judgments about the different kinds of premises, of all pro and con arguments, and how they relate to each other. The planning argument contains and connects all the different forms of knowledge; planning decisions are not adequately supported ONLY by either the FACTS (DATA), the possibility of doing something just because we have the tools, the INSTRUMENTAL knowledge, or just because we feel or WISH (or CONSCIOUSNESS/ AWARENESS) that some outcome OUGHT to be realized.  Promoting plans and policies on the sole merit of one of these kinds of judgment types is not likely to be persuasive let alone constructive — especially when the different participants in a discourse are adherents of different types of judgments:  TRUTH does not apply to all claims, and just DATA aren’t supporting what our plans should be like. Looking more carefully at the patterns  of planning arguments might help us to understand these differences, and how the planning argument connects them.

 


A Five-story parking garage for Midtown Tallahassee?

A garage building is proposed in the ‘MIdtown’ area of Tallahassee. For many years, this area had not been touched by the more forceful development of downtown and other areas. More recently it has has seen a much-appreciated growth — relatively small redevelopment and re-use of older, one-or two-story buildings, generating a lively pedestrian-friendly ambience, in spite of the fact that the main streets in the area are arteries carrying heavy through traffic; for which there are no plausible alternative routes.

For the newer businesses in the area, looking for more customers than the residents of nearby neighborhoods — mainly Lafayette Park neighborhood, to the east, and perhaps some residential areas west of North Monroe streets — there is a perceived need for more parking, which has led to the proposed project. This proposal envisions a five-story building on the corner of Thomasville Rd. and Fifth Ave. on a lot where there currently is only a small one-story building.

The project — announced as a city-private partnership venture, has generated considerable opposition from residents of the area — most likely due to its size, which is visually quite out of scale with other nearby buildings, and the concern about attracting more traffic to the already strained streets.

The Tallahassee Democrat’s coverage of a public meeting about the proposed project suggests that there was more opposition than support for it. This is understandable, given its size and the dubious experience with some large projects e.g. in the downtown area. There were plausible suggestions to provide any needed additional parking on Monroe streets, or on the site of the Tallahassee Police Headquarters that will soon move away from its current location on 7th Ave. However: some development must be expected on the arguably underutilized site of the proposed project; which will generate the same concerns. So a public discussion about what developments in this area should look like is very much needed — now, before any new proposals are developed, or the current one being driven forward based on the assumptions and agreements with the city. Does the public/private partnership offer opportunity to guide this or other projects towards better results? The city might reconsider it apparent tentative approval, and perhaps insist on a few important features in return for some developer concessions.

The pictures I have seen suggest that the design already includes some general rules of thumb for more pedestrian-friendly environments — for example, the provision of commercial use along the streets. Encouragement for more improvements might be better than mere opposition, to ensure that these features don’t get lost in the further development.

A few general rules of thumb for more pedestrian-friendly environments might include the following:

* The public sidewalk should have ‘layers’ or zones separating the main pedestrian zones from the traffic. This might require some setback of the building to provide a wider sidewalk to allow for trees and other items in the outer zone. A matter for ciity investment?

* The sidewalk: Rather than cute isolated ‘awnings’ over selected openings, (like we see in the picture and in other projects around town, there should be a continuous arcade or awning for part of the sidewalk, for real pedestrian protection from sun and rain.

* The floor area at the sidewalk level: The project to its credit already provides for commercial  space along Thomasville and Fifth street. This is beneficial only if that space — specifically, the area next to the sidewalk — actually is of interest to pedestrians: banks, law or insurance offices, associations are not. Incentives should be considered to ensure that this space will house pedestrian destinations with high visitor frequency. Small stores, possibly movable vending kiosks or carts that can be exchanged to provide destinations appropriate fore different times of day. Public amenities: Restrooms, information waiting areas for bus stops, taxi stops that won’t stop through traffic.

* These destinations should form a continuous chain of friendly experience opportunities with easy transition between them. Even a few dozen feet of un-interesting frontage can disrupt the pedestrian flow.

* The building: Rather than five uninterrupted stories rising from the property edge, it would be better to provide the building with an ‘earthy’ base of two or at most three floors, with upper floors set back by about five feet and designed for a lighter, airier appearance. This would preserve a ‘small town’ comfortable street profile even if the building above were allowed more above (to compensate for the ‘loss’ of profitable square footage at those levels). The sketches below show this principle that perhaps should be adopted as a city regulation, without imposing any specific architectural design constraints:

Not this:                                but this!

Even such large projects that at first sight may seem scary and a threat to the lively, friendly ambience of Midtown can be designed to complement and improve it. But the concerns of nearby residents and businesses, and how they might be addressed, should be worked out in a continuing constructive public discourse.

 


The Fog Island Tavern ‘Quarrgument’ Symposium, third and final night.

The Fog Island Tavern ‘Quarrgument’ Symposium, third and (so far) final night.

– Ah, there you are, guys. I was afraid you were going to chicken out on the last part of our symposium.

– Why, Vodçek, is there any other place on the island to go to for a bit of lubricated conversation? We were just delayed watching our friend trying to run his boat into the harbor — he got a new fancy radar system, and apparently was so busy watching it going into the channel that he ran aground on the sandbank at the third pole.

– Huh? That’s a course he’s been doing for fifty years now, he could do it blindfolded in a moonless pea-soup-fog night?

– Just goes to show. Maybe the radar was made in one of those countries we slapped the new tariffs on?

– Don’t be silly. Even I know the radar doesn’t show stuff under water. He just got distractified with the new gizmo, is all.

– You’re right, Renfroe. Hope the boat is okay. Anyway, are we going to try for the last part of Abbé Boulah’s agenda?

– Haven’t got anything more interesting to do, Vodçek — your desolate Tavern still hasn’t got TV…

– I won’t even bother to ignore that remark, Bog-hubert. Okay then: The idea was to see whether and how our buddy’s proposed Planning Discourse Platform meets the expectations we drew up last night. Bog-Hubert — I believe you are the most familiar guy here, with that proposal — where should we start? You want to give us a rundown on its basic features?

– Hmm. I thought we’d go by the list we set up last night, maybe in a slightly different order. Haven’t we all have heard enough about the basic idea to fit things into the overall scheme? If there are questions, I can always fill in more detail. Keep in mind that this ‘platform’ is meant to facilitate planning or policy-making discourse about issues or problems that cut across the borders of established jurisdictions — municipalities, counties, states, nations. Even more so for global crises and challenges. Problems of the ‘wicked’ kind, where it is not clear who is affected by either the problem or by proposed solutions, where ‘voting’ decision-making practices aren’t applicable because there are no clear boundaries that define who’s eligible to vote, so decisions will have to be based on some other measure, like the merit of the information provided in the discourse. Much of which is not known already, stored in textbooks and data bases, but will mainly be established precisely by means of discourse contributions: the folks concerned talking about what should be done. So the first question probably should be how to get at all that information.

– That’s the question we put up in that list last night as “Inviting, even offer incentives to voice ALL concerns”, isn’t it?

– Yes.

So what does the proposal say about that?

– Several steps.The assumption is that there will be some organization providing that platform, an online website for discussing plans and policies. Which remains to be determined, by the way. It first puts up issues, projects or problems that somebody feels should be dealt with by some collective response, on a kind of ‘bulletin board’, where people can indicate whether it should become a project discussion.

– Makes sense: first people have to become aware of what needs to be discussed and acted upon. The kind and number of responses will determine whether it will be taken up, I assume?

– Yes. For projects that receive a sufficient number of replies indicating the need for public discussion, a kind of website will be set up, that invites everybody who has a concern or pertinent information to send in messages expressing that concern. So it’s open for any input, to respond to part of the question. To offer incentives to do so, the proposal is suggesting to reward every entry with some basic ‘contribution credit points’ — provided that the content of the entry is pertinent to the project and hasn’t already been made. No repetition. But all entries will be stored for reference.

– This already brings up the problem of moderation — keeping the discourse ‘civil’: the issues of ensuring “General ‘netiquette’ ” and responding to violations. General ‘netiquette’ also applied to decision-making discourse: How is that being dealt with?

– That question is dealt with in several ways, Sophie. There is a ‘standard’ set of ‘procedural agreements’ covering the entire platform — expressed mostly as desirable ‘do’, more than ‘don’t do’ recommendations. All comments are accepted into that unconstrained ‘verbatim’ file, as written. But to be entered into the concise overview and assessment displays and worksheets, the ‘core content’ will be translated into the basic question, claim and argument format that omits qualification, repetition, characterization and anything that isn’t connected to the subject being discussed in a distinct ‘if-then’ or similar relationship.

– How is that translation into the condensed format done?

– Good question. Ideally, participants should do that themselves, but that’s something traditional education hasn’t taught us yet. So initially, in small projects, this may have to be done by trained support staff.

– Couldn’t the AI folks write algorithms for that? Dexter?

– Down the road, perhaps, Vodçek. Once they see if they can make money on it? Meanwhile, there could be templates for expressing arguments, for example, — the ‘planning argument’ forms we have identified as key to the planning discourse haven’t been acknowledged by the traditional literature of argumentation yet nor gotten into the textbooks. So those templates would serve to familiarize participants with the approach.

– No suggestions on ‘consequences’ for violating the basic rules — of decency, truthfulness, personal attacks, etc.? The ‘Response to violations’ item on our list?

– One kind of response for that would be through the provisions for contribution credits. Remember the incentive points given to all entries — basic acknowledgements for contributions, at first. Set up to build a kind of ‘civic merit’ account for people, that could be valuable for other things, say like qualification for office or jobs. Those points might be adjusted up or down by the community, depending on their plausibility, they way they are backed up by reliable evidence, an so on. If there is a formal evaluation of contribution items, e.g. arguments, the resulting evaluation scores will be used to do that adjustment up or down in a systematic manner. Otherwise, the community could just enter adjustment judgments.

– You think that might be effective as a preventive strategy, to keep trolls and fake truth posters from entering garbage?

– Well, it’s an idea that should be tried out sometime, at least — better than all the likes and emojis that are kind of useless for any other purpose than saving others from explaining their objection…

– Talking about the AI possibilities: an algorithm might automatically subtract penalty points from a participant’s credit point account for objectionable vocabulary or personal attacks in a post…

– Okay: it looks like that issue is part of the proposal, with room for different expansion ideas, including ‘Evolution of self-governance for responses to violation’ for keeping the discourse constructive. What about the issue of balancing the parliamentary principle of free speech and getting all concerns, but linking them more effectively with the decisions? The goal of getting Decisions based on merit of all contributions?

– This is the part that’s addressed in the ‘special techniques’ appendix of the PDSS paper, offering several techniques both older and new, innovative, for the goal of developing some performance measure based on the merit of discourse contributions, that can guide decisions. It contains the whole set of provisions for evaluation that we decided last night to put on the list for more research and development. But the entire proposal is aimed at making such techniques part of the process.They all aim at ‘Ensuring ‘due consideration’ of all concerns’ — nudging participants to address all aspects, all pros and cons in their assessment and judgments. Encouraging Emphasis on evidence, support for claims that receive opposing judgments from different parties. And displaying arguments with all ‘premises’ explicitly identified for assessment — including the ones that are often left unstated as ‘taken for granted’ but also need scrutiny and evaluation.

– How so, Bog-Hubert?

– Not sure what you are asking, Dexter — details of the evaluation? Or the ‘unstated premises’?

– Well, actually both. But thinking about it now, I think I understand the one about the premises taken for granted. It’s about the ones we often sluff off saying things like ‘all else being equal’, if at all?

– Yes, our planning arguments — the pattern, “Yes, we ought to do A [conclusion, proposal] because A will result in B, given conditions C [the factual-instrumental premise] and we ought to pursue B [deontic or ought-premise] and conditions C are present (or will be when we do A) [factual premise]” are almost never completely stated like that — we use any two of those, ‘taking the third ‘for granted’ as needing no further discussion, and people mostly understand the argument. But to assess the plausibility of the whole argument, all three premises need to be evaluated. Was that the other part of your question?

– Yes. And your explanation cleared that up as well, thanks. It’s a bit unusual, though?

– Just at first sight; it’s really the conceptual framework for organizing the discussion based on everyday talk — identifying topics, issues, answers and arguments with their component parts — and for displaying the overall picture of the evolving discourse in maps and model diagrams. The Displays of essential ‘core’ content. And explicitly Separating claims and evaluation. But then, that basis serves to prepare the material for more systematic evaluation: the assessment of argument premise plausibility, the weighing of goals and objectives, together forming a measure of argument weight, and all the argument weights forming a measure of proposal plausibility.

– I get it, all the plausibility scores and weights of the pros and cons tilting the overall proposal plausibility scale towards approval or rejection?

– Wait. Yes, I get that, too, Renfroe. But Bog-Hubert: Just making sure I understand: Are you saying that the decision should be determined by such a plausibility measure?

– No, Vodçek. The proposal warns explicitly against that kind of shortcut. ‘Guiding decisions’ is seen more as using the plausibility assessments by different parties as indications for how a proposal might be improved to lessen the concerns of some participants and improve their evaluation scores. ‘Back to the Drawing Board’ — but now with more specific hints about what aspects need revision, better ideas, more creativity, perhaps even compromises. And even if the final decision is done by vote — according to traditional practices or constitutional rules — to make it less likely that decisions to approve a plan go in the face of very negative assessment results, — or vice versa. Preventing decisions that would ignore significant concerns of the voting minority.

– You keep talking about measures based on plausibility — of proposals, and argument premises. Is that the same as what we might call the quality or goodness of a plan? We didn’t talk about that yesterday, so it isn’t on the list — but isn’t that important?

– Good question, Sophie. Of course, some of the comments and arguments — pros, cons, benefits, costs, may aim at what you are after with the term ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’. But it is also possible to use an evaluation technique that focuses more explicitly on ‘goodness’ — and to combine that with the ‘plausibility’ assessment, if the discussion hasn’t covered that sufficiently well. Again, room and opportunity for creative evolution.

– Yes: I remember, we talked about this too: part of this vision of participatory community planning is the insight that the process must allow participants to not only engage in the creative cooperation towards the solutions, the outcomes, the visions of the activity, but to also shape the process of getting there — as ‘their’ creation, as part of the overall solution?

– Right. The process and platform must remain open to adaptation, refinement, innovation.

– Getting back to our list for a moment, Bog-Hubert: we talked about the procedural agreements that will be needed, and how that could be a problem. How does the proposal deal with that?

– It has several levels of provisions. There are some overall ‘standard’ netiquette-like agreements, that you are assumed to agree to by engaging in a discourse. Like most such rules we are used to, even if few people actually read them before signing. That allows the organization to do the basic moderating, and even to kick you out if you break them in a serious way. Nothing radically new there. Then when a new project is set up, the question will be raised whether the circumstances for that project will call for more specific agreements; those may have to be briefly discussed, and added to the general ‘rules’. Third, when the participants in a project discussion decide to use one of the ‘special techniques’, the vocabulary and assumptions for that technique may have to be explained and agreed upon. Finally, the procedure of the discourse has a Next Step? ‘phase’. That’s where the group decides whether it is ready for a decision, or needs more discussion, or the input from a special technique team etc. And there, participants can suggest to make changes in the initial agreements, if the discussion brings up conditions that make this necessary.

– Okay. Its a bit complex, but flexible — lets people get started by accepting some basic agreements, but change them if really necessary. Puts a few safety nets into that bottomless pit nightmare we conjured up last night.

– So the more people get involved in this kind of approach, the less of a problem it will be, don’t you think? The less need for cumbersome discussions about the rules that distract and hold up the real project discussion?

– Yes, I think so. The alternative would be the last point in that list: Training for proper discourse participation. These procedures and agreements should ideally be part of everybody’s education.

– So what do you do until that is achieved? If ever? Can we wait to use such tools until everybody knows the rules?

– Of course not, Vodçek. There will be a need for training courses, manuals, familiarization exercises to get people ready for effective participation. So the development of those things will have to be priority preparation tasks for the implementation of the concept.

– I remember some papers about that, where the suggestion was to develop online games, for kids and others who want to familiarize themselves with the idea to ‘play’ — online, on their computers, tablets, cellphones. With these tools becoming more and more common all over the world even among poor people, the process of getting folks familiar with the tool would be much faster than waiting for all the world’s school systems to add this to their curricula, training teachers and developing textbooks to be approved by the school boards and government education departments, eh?

– Sounds good, Dexter — the development of such games would actually be the stepping stones, the prototype and test versions of the eventual programming package for the platform. Might be a job for you to program that?

– Hey folks. This interesting speculation is straying far beyond our initial agenda. If we want to continue this, would it be prudent to spend some time on setting up an extended agenda, before we get lost in all the details of actual implementation and variations of the outcome?

– Definitely, Vodçek. But I think it would be useful to take a moment to consider what, if anything, we have learned from this little experiment. We jumped ahead at least once to skip some details of our initial agenda: can we say that we achieved what we set out to do?

– Well, looking at the initial question — dialogue versus argumentation — I think our decision that it was an inadequate question, a ‘wrong problem’, was appropriate. The distinction between ‘argument’, argumentative discourse and ‘quarrguments’ took the wind out of the sail of the opposition to argumentation, didn’t it? While we found that even in discourse that is not aiming at decisions, questions that generate arguments will occur, there is also nothing in the vision of the planning and policy-making discourse that excludes or discourages the ingredients that were used to justify ‘dialogue’ from also be part of a constructive planning discourse. Did that meet the intent of the first night’s agenda?

– There will always be people who will disagree and insist of different interpretations of terms and concepts, theories. But it may be enough — was enough last night — to clear the way out of the endless disagreement about the meaning of words, to proceed with the next agenda item, to set up some specific goals or expectations for a meaningful planning discourse. What can we say about that one?

– Impatient wench, Sophie. Yes, I think we made some good inroads on that one too — but do you agree that there are many more considerations we might have identified, with more time and thought? Even some very important ones?

– Well, can you think about a major issue we have missed, Professor?

– Oh, there are several conundrums that are part of a wider discourse, beyond the initial dialogue – argument issue, that we should keep in mind. There is, for example, the fundamentally different perspective of approaches like Alexander’s Pattern Language. The Discourse perspective can be described as one of generating solution proposals from the examination of information we gather about a problem or ‘situation’, and then examine proposals for their merit, all via discourse, discussion, exchange of information, evaluation. But the Pattern Language suggests, in essence, that solutions should be ‘generated’ from patterns that in themselves embody truth and validity, the ‘quality without a name” — so that the outcome will also have that quality and does not need any more evaluation. How would a discourse deal with proposals and proponents based on such different fundamental principles?

– On the list with it! Now that you mention such issues that go beyond our little agenda: Is the distinction between plans and policies that should be developed in such discourse, and actions in response to emergencies, that can’t wait for the outcome of a lengthy public discourse a significant problem? The traditional arrangement for this is the appointment or election (or acceptance of pretenders) of leaders, empowered to make such decisions on behalf of the community. We know this generates the problem of how to control power, control being needed because power is addictive and fraught with temptations to abuse: How does this question relate to the design of the discourse and its provisions?

– Good points; yes, there may be more such issues that should be discussed and given ‘due consideration’. The existence of such issues itself makes the case for the development of a better platform for in-depth discourse, doesn’t it?

– Which brings us to the third agenda item: How well does the PDSS proposal meet the expectations and requirements we were able to list — and the ones we just added? What do you think, Sophie?

– Oh, I’d say that I was somewhat surprised at how many of those aspects were a least acknowledged and addressed in the provisions of the proposal. How well they will actually work, I can’t possibly tell. It will take experiments and the experience and outcome of actual application to judge that, don’t you agree? I’m not an expert on these things, but I haven’t heard about anything else I’d recognize as ‘better ideas’ yet. We should probably investigate that, but keep working on this concept. I think that work on the development of implementation plans, on the missing programming, on the development of teaching materials or games to familiarize people with this approach is urgently needed. Needed resources, funding? Who will run such platforms? Looks like there’s work to do?

– Your are right, But not tonight, Sophie. Last call.

– Ominous phrase, Vodçek, at the end of such a discussion.

– Ominous abominous. It could drive a fellow to drink? Sophie? Still just apple juice?

– Thanks. We need a clear head for tomorrow. Work to do…

– Last call!

== o ==


The Fog Island Tavern Quarrgument Symposium, second night:

– So friends, did we settle the weather for today? No hurricanes on the horizon? Are we ready to tackle the second part of Abbé Boulah’s agenda? Do you have any questions or suggestions about it?

————————————————————————-

2 Needed provisions / agreements for
   a) ‘Social’ Communication, Conversation?
   b) Decision-oriented ‘Planning’ Platform?
­————————————————————————-

– Let me try to restate my understanding of this in my own terms, Vodçek, correct me if I’m wrong: The distinction between the two separate questions is now based on the different kinds of talk intentions we found last night: simple friendly conversations without any particular aim or focus on the one hand, and discussions aiming at a goal, a solution to a problem, a decision, on the other? And the question is about how to prevent either one to degrade into a ‘quarrgument’?

– Close enough, for the first kind.

– Only for the first kind? Why?

– Well, for the second kind, shouldn’t we also worry about how well that aim or focus can be achieved — of reaching a decision? A meaningful, reasonable one, a good plan?

– You are jumping right into the thick of it, Sophie. Would it be useful to first see how far the agreements for the conversation of the dialogue kind can get us?

– You are talking about what they call ‘general netiquette’, essentially, aren’t you? The rules for polite conversation in decent company, now extended to online discussions on a social forum?

– That would be a good place to start, yes. And suspect it’s more difficult than it looks at first sight — given all the quarrgument-like exchanges we see on the internet, in spite of the well-intentioned policy statements and rules of all those platforms?

– Is there a simple comprehensive summary of those rules?

– Well, the main rules for common polite conversation would be to abstain from crude, obscene language, from ALL- CAPS entries which is understood as the equivalent of yelling and shouting in face-to-face conversation, to stick to the general topic, and above all, not engaging in personal attacks on other participants — the various forms of ad-hominem fallacies; no name-calling, ‘strawmanning’, and so on. Many forum leaders try to forestall problems by listing a number of rules or advice for ‘positive’, constructive, friendly, ‘comfortable’ language and content, for participants to promise to strive for. Hoping that the focus on the positive will keep people too busy to engage in the negative?

– Hmm. I wonder if calling exclusive positive thinking wishful thinking would be a negative term? Those aims are fine and generally accepted, even if not always adhered to. So many moderators feel compelled to simply ‘ban’ — which means just not accept for posting — entries that violate those.

– Yes: Already you can write simple algorithms to do the same thing: scan all entries, given an accepted list of unacceptable words and phrases that automatically blocks the offending entry that contains one of those words. But the issue gets sticky when it comes to the question of offending the beliefs or standards of certain groups in society. Heresy — involving disparaging comment about religious beliefs — has been extended to many other domains, gender, race, politics and philosophy. And the boundaries and the ‘coded’ disguises of objectionable positions can become so fuzzy that many platforms have instead adopted the practice of asking participants to complain about offending posts, and then deciding what to do about them, the complaint becoming the criterion for banning.

– Looks like a slippery slope towards the abyss of political correctness censorship. But also: can the same offending content be blocked in some groups but accepted in others? And isn’t the problem then, that they will be posted and the damage, e.g. of a personal attack, is done; the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. There ought to be a better way.

– Yes, Sophie. It has led group ‘leaders’ or originators to involve several moderators to ‘intervene’ or ‘resolve’ such incidents by asking the offending participant to change the wording of potentially offending comments, either before they are made public, or after somebody complained. The jury is still out about how that will work out in the long run — there will always be complaints by some offenders, of undue ‘censorship’, illegal constraints on ‘free speech’ and so on.

– Yeah, and there will always be ‘administrators’, moderators, who get their jollies out of doing some undue censorshipping, exerting their power by ‘keeping the discourse clean’…

– Are we straying from the topic a tad here, folks? I agree the power issue is one we might want to look at, but is it part of the agenda we agreed on?

– Spoken like a good social media moderator, Vodçek: to compound the offense with an ad-censorum while we’re at it.

– Yeah, I may have to cut some of you off… How about looking at the relationship between the ‘do’s’ of such discourse, not only the ‘don’t rules?

– Is there a difference between responses to ‘don’ts and responses to failure to do ‘do’s?

– To do or not to do, dobedobedo…

– Renfroe…

– Hey Vodçek: think you could get me another glass before you cut me off this dobedialogue?

– It seems that the mere suggestion of straying off the topic has, how are they saying these days, gone viral? So there should be a rule against such suggestions?

– Right, Professor. They are themselves straying off the topic. The only recourse is to not even ignoring them, as the Bavarians say.

– Holy Ignoraminous the Third, of Yerehwon in Lower Lugubria, pray for us!

– Okay, enough of this. Where were we? Sophie, do you remember?

– I’m not sure we were anywhere worth remembering, Vodçek. It seems that there were no really hard and fast rules or guidelines even for keeping conversation-style civilized, if there happen to be less civilized participants involved, who weren’t brought up to properly participate in civilized conversations. Other than with the help of moderators. Who must be granted some power to intervene, at the expense of slightly bending the rule of free speech.

– A balancing act, yes. I’m glad you mention he upbringing part — is it the responsibility of education to instill proper polite conversation behavior habits? That would lessen the problem a bit, wouldn’t it? Supported by silent glacial schoolmarm stares by the community in case of inadvertent violation? Poignantly ignoring the offending remark and returning to the topic? Laughing the poor impolite boor out of the room would already be too much of acknowledgement?

– Remember, we are talking about online conversations here. Those old remedies won’t work there — is there a need for icy-stare ‘nomoticons’ (no-emotion, no rising to the bait, but silently conveying the message?) — to replace those? Making the offenders’ i-screens freeze? Put the designers to work!

– Let’s see, Vodçek: Are you saying that the traditional standards for civilized conversations still apply to online friendly conversations without specific aims, but the tools for ensuring their adherence on online forums need to be improved or invented? Or can equivalent tools be developed for online discourse that would serve the same purpose?

– I’d say that we could leave that to some evolutionary process for the ‘friendly conversations’, as you called them. The types of forums, participants, issues and even purposes that can be discussed are too different to imagine a one-size-fits all set of rules to be used for all of them. ‘Self-governance’ responding to problems as they occur may be the best strategy for that first question.

– I agree, Professor — even though the question of what to delegate to education to prepare people for such interactions might require some common core definition of those basic standards? As long as there are no serious decisions at stake — or inquiries with significant implications for our lives, — let’s leave it to evolution and self-governance. But when we are faced with planning or policy-making decisions that impact the well-being of our human communities, will we not need better methods for the discourse leading to those decisions? Even for traditional ‘live’ events such as town meetings or debates in parliamentary decision-making bodies — but decidedly more so for online discourse?

– So it seems that there is some overlap between the two kinds of processes or discourse types when they are done online — but the question of online standards becomes critical for decision-making settings? Which means that we are now moving to question (b) of our second phase agenda. Okay?

– I agree, Vodçek. Especially because it is becoming increasingly obvious that even the traditional practices for what we may call governance decision-making are still falling short of some basic expectations. So even for those, better tools are urgently needed.

– That’s a serious complaint, Bog-Hubert. Some might say even bordering on the unconstitutional, eh? Can you be more specific about those expectations and shortcomings?

– I guess we can make a list of such problems, and use them to look for ways to meet the corresponding expectations. Let me start with the connection between the discourse and the decision. The great parliamentary principle and tradition of ‘let’s leave our weapons outside and sit down to talk before making a decision’ — don’t laugh, Renfroe, I am serious, I know you like to call all that talk and filibustering pretentious BS or worse — it was a great civilized improvement on prior practice of going straight to violence and war, to ‘resolve’ differences of opinion.

– Hmm. So what’s wrong with it, if it’s so great?

– Oh, Sophie: Look at the improvement side first, to see where things go wrong: ‘Let’s talk’ means that we are willing — agree — to listen to all sides’ points of views, concerns, intentions, learn abbot their ideas of a good plan and decision, and try to tell each other about what we see as the pros and cons of the proposals made. Ideally, that could and sometimes even does result in improvement, redesign of the originally proposed plans. And that is the basic beneficial principle: the decision about the plan or action should be the result of due consideration of all those pros and cons, all the ideas and concerns that have been brought up during the talks.

– I see what you are getting at, Bog-Hubert. Abbé Boulah did talk about that as well. And about the problem: all too often, in the end, the decisions are made by methods that can ignore or override many if not all those ideas and concerns.

– What in three twisters names are you talking about?

– Voting, Renfroe. Majority voting, or the single vote decision by some leader or chairman or president. And voting that allows people who haven’t even listened to any of the talk and don’t really know what the issues are about.

– You want to do away with free elections and majority vote, you’re cruising for trouble, I’d say.

– We’re not talking about doing away with that: the problem is about making a better link, a better connection between the concerns, the content and merit of the contributions to the discussion and the decision. All of the contributions. A more transparent and, if you like, accountable connection.

– Okay. So that’s a first or primary criterion that you think should be provided in online planning discourse?

– Right. One such consideration — didn’t we already mention some? But yes, a key one. And of course that makes sense only if all pertinent considerations, all the expected benefits as well as all the costs, the potential ‘unexpected side-and-after-effects’ have actually been brought up to be given due consideration, wouldn’t you say?

– I see. So the platform or forum must allow all such considerations to be voiced — and even invite, encourage people to bring them up.

– In practice, doesn’t that run into what some call ‘voter apathy’, people don’t care enough about the issues to participate?

– Yes — or they are convinced (possibly based on actual experience?) that their concerns won’t make a difference in the decision, won’t be given due consideration? So should there be provisions for overcoming those obstacles? Some form of incentives?

– You’re talking about something like paying folks to vote? Old hat. And not a good one. No better than the dirty efforts to keep some people from voting, wether by ‘cleaning up the voter registration rolls’ or gerrymandering, or making the trip to the voting stations so difficult that some folks can’t make it…

– Right, Sophie. I think we aren’t talking about the vote, though, but about incentives for contributing good information, whether pro or con, that should inform decisions. Incentives in a currency other than money, of course.

– Won’t the discourse be overwhelmed with all the comments, if you succeed in making such provisions? Can you expect everybody to express their concerns in succinct arguments — pro or con — that are the essence of the talk? How can anybody digest all that material?

– Indeed, good points. You’ll have to expect, and allow, all kinds of expressions, rhetoric, bombast, and even what in ‘polite’ friendly conversations would be objectionable forms of contributions. That’s why there should be provisions to sort things out in displays that give everybody some concise overview of the concerns — no repetitions, for one, and the core content, the key claims of the ideas and arguments stripped of rhetorical bombast and characterization.

– What do you mean, characterization?

– Well, if you bring in a ‘con’ argument against some plan provision, calling it ‘stupid’ or ‘shortsighted’ or ‘brilliant’ or some form of ‘ism’ is already a form of evaluation — an assessment of the claim, that really should be done by every participant at a separate stage. For example, say I’m asked to give ‘due consideration’ to a comment that sounds like this: “That stupid, ill-advised proposed legislation to reduce the use of fossil fuels to stop the hoax of global warming should be opposed because it won’t work”, I may have an opinion about whether the legislation will work to reduce fossil fuel use, another about whether it will help to reduce the effects of global warming. Or whether the global warming predictions are a hoax, in which case any legislation would be moot or have other beneficial or detrimental effects. Or whether calling the legislation stupid and ill-advised is inappropriate whether I believe it will be effective or not.

– So any judgment — e. g. ‘not true’ or ‘good point’ about the comment as a whole does not really help me or others to understand my real opinion of the various claims or premises the comment makes. To be properly evaluated, they should be stated as separate, basic assertions: “The legislation should be opposed”; “The legislation will not reduce the use of fossil fuels”; “Reducing the use of fossil fuels will not reduce global warming”; “There is no global warming”; and /or “Something should be done to slow or stop global warming”, etc. And shouldn’t there be a rule that people who make such claims should be prepared to offer explanations, evidence, support for them: required to respond the the question ‘Because…’? For which ‘explanations’ like “because the opponent of the claim is a moron” or an ‘…ist’ of some kind, are not acceptable — not related to the claim.

– I see: Everybody can have different assessments about each of these or about the entire statement; and resulting ‘conclusions’ about the wisdom of the proposed legislation will differ accordingly.

– Right. So besides appropriate provisions to display the essential claims — for overview, and for some in-depth, systematic evaluation, — there should also be incentives to provide support, evidence, for the claims, at least upon request from people who are not yet ready to accept the claim as stated?

– That could be trouble. The thing about evidence is a bottomless pit, isn’t it? Ultimately, aren’t all our judgments based on beliefs we think are so ‘self-evident’ that there’s no need, nor even possibility, of further evidence? And the folks who are convinced to ‘have’ the truth, because it’s self-evident, or revealed from up high, will resent the request for evidence more than the fact that there are miserable doubters who just don’t see it.

– So in practice, how should that be dealt with?

– Good question, no easy answer, because any answer would rest on ultimate premises that another party doesn’t share. The best I can think of is another basic agreement — one that relates to the aim of each party in such argumentation, which is to nudge the other party to adopt other’s conclusions. The agreement is this: If you propose an ultimate ‘self-evident’ premise that your argument, your reasoning is resting upon, but you can’t offer any more reasons that can nudge me to accept it, you can’t expect me to change my position to yours, and more that I can expect my ultimate premises to change your mind if I can’t give you more reasons to accept them. So when those arguments of both sides lead to contradictory or incompatible conclusions (or plans), it’s time to look for a different, better plan, or some compromise.

– Interesting. Think people will actually go for that? Like Georges Brassens whose friendship with a bishop rested on the agreement “Il me laisses dire merde, je lui laisse dire amen”? (He lets me say shit, I let him say Amen) But this can become a lengthy and cumbersome affair, Bog-Hubert. Especially when you are going to add whatever evaluation techniques needed to determine the ‘merit’ of all the contributions.

– Talking about that merit, and the special techniques, Bog-Hubert: wouldn’t that involve a whole slew of additional agreements and rules and calculations?

– Why, Vodçek?

– Well, Sophie: Wouldn’t the participants have to agree on what their judgments — about the truth or plausibility, and the importance, significance, of each claim — letters like A,B, C, D, F or numbers zero to ten, or minus 3 to plus 3, or smiley-faces etc. ‘mean’ and how they will be assembled into some overall measure of support for or against the proposed decision? Like we now agree, with some reservation, that 51% of a vote will mean approval of a decision? We’ve been talking about those issues before here, haven’t we?

– Oh. I see. So we’ll need some discussion about all those agreements even before we start the discussion? How do we ever get started? ‘Cause we’d need some agreements about how to get started, and those will have to be discussed…

– Yes: That’s what constitutions and by-laws are for. if you wait to agree on those rules until you run into disagreements in mid-process, you’re asking for trouble. That applies especially to the tasks of evaluation or assessment we haven’t talked about yet: developing some measure of that ‘merit’ of discourse contributions we wanted to connect to the decision.

– I remember, we had a long discussion about the tools for that some time ago. Once you decide that voting isn’t doing a very good job of either due consideration or accountability for why the vote seemed to ignore all the assembled evidence, you are opening a Pandora’s box about evaluation approaches. I’m afraid that we won’t get through all of that tonight, much less arrive at a generally acceptable recommendation for that problem. I know our buddy up at the university had some ideas about that, — there are some of those in the appendix of the paper — but whether they will be easily and generally accepted for such discourse is another question.

– So what do you suggest we do about that now, Vodçek? Because it sounds like that would be a very necessary component of any meaningful discourse platform?

– How about putting the task of development of better approaches, doing some experiments on how they work, developing easy-to-understand manuals or worksheets and supporting calculation programs on the agenda as work to do, maybe devote another weekend to that, later. And perhaps see what ideas our buddy’s proposed Planning Discourse Support Platform has to deal with that?

– I agree, Bog-Hubert. It’s getting late; we don’t have to solve all the world’s problems in one night. So let’s summarize the expectations of decision-oriented online discourse that we have touched upon tonight, and look at what that PDSS has to say about them tomorrow night. Here’s a list of the main issues or expectations we have come across so far:

————————————————————————-
* Standard ‘netiquette’
* Education for proper discourse participation?
* Response to violations?
* “Inviting, even providing incentives to voice ALL concerns”
* Evolution of self-governance for responses to violation
* Parliamentary principle — but
* Decision based on merit of all contributions
    Link between discourse contribution merit and decisions:
    transparency, accountability
* Inviting, even incentives to voice ALL concerns
* Ensuring ‘due consideration’ of all concerns
* Displays of essential ‘core’ content
* Separating claims and evaluation
* Identifying all ‘premises’ for assessment
* Emphasis on evidence, support for claims
* Up front procedural agreements
* Needed: R&D on evaluation of discourse contributions
————————————————————————-

There are probably more, and they may have to be put into a slightly different order, but it may be enough for a start and to give them some thought while you’re trying to catch some flounder from the pier tomorrow morning. Don’t get lost in the fog on your way home…

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Quarrgument Symposium — first night

The Fog Island ‘Quarrgument symposium’ — First night.

– Okay, ready for some serious dialogical systems thinking? Here’s the main agenda again, we agree to start with the first item there:

——————————————————————————————————-

The main issues:

1 Disentangling the ‘Dialogue versus Argumentation’ Quarrgument

Meaning of terms?

The case for/against dialogue versus argumentation?

2 Needed agreements / provisions for

a) ‘Social’ Communication?

b) Decision-oriented ‘Planning Discourse’?

3 Provisions for (2b) agreements in the

‘Planning Discourse Support System’ (PDSS) proposals?

——————————————————————————————————-

– What’s this, Vodçek — ‘serious’? didn’t you say it was just a kind of silly dust-up?

– The other side of silly can be serious, Bog-Hubert.

– Oooh. Into deep guruological pronouncements tonight? Okay, what exactly happened to bring this on?

– Well, I’m not sure. I think it started with our buddy posting some things about this planning discourse support system he’s been working on, that’s based on ol’ Rittel’s ‘Argumentative Model of Planning’. Or perhaps it was just somebody proposing a ‘discussion’ about some issue? Well, this fellow was getting all worked up about the pernicious ideas of ‘discussion’ and ‘argument’, and started berating everybody for even thinking about such concepts, saying that we should all use ‘dialogue’ instead.

– Somebody take him up on that?

– Some folks were getting, let’s say, a little concerned. Or just entertained, having fun? But didn’t voice much serious inquiry about it — maybe they didn’t want to come across as too — argumentative? Wanting to keep the dialogue ‘moving forward’?

– So did it move anywhere interesting?

– I don’t think so. Looked more like going around in circles. It looked like there were very different meanings attached to those terms, especially to the concept of ‘argument’, that apparently got tempers up on both sides, so that no meaningful resolution of the issue was in sight. This is why Abbé Boulah put clarification of those terms that were thrown about in that dustup, up as the first agenda task of this symposium:

——————————————————————————————————-

Clarifying the meaning of terms:

Dialogue

Conversation

Argument/ Argumentation

Discussion

Dispute

Debate

Discourse

——————————————————————————————————-

– Hmm. And doing it in a more ‘structured’ way — what did he mean by that, again?

– Good question, Sophie. I guess, to start with, examining the questions, one by one in some detail, to see if they were really talking about the same issues, the same problem? Using the results from one stage as the stepping-stone for the next one? Working towards some overall view and understanding of how all those questions and aspects are connected and form a coherent ‘whole system’?

– Sounds too involved already. Let’s just get started with the questions: the meaning of the words.

– Why don’t we just look up the definition of those words on some fat book dictionary? You have one here?

– That might be useful Renfroe, If Vodçek keeps one to check on the French words in his cookbook —

– Hey! You better watch it all the time!

– Sorry, Vodçek, couldn’t resist. But the fat book probably doesn’t cover all the ways those terms are used and understood by people in everyday tavern talk. Just take that word ‘argument’. The dictionary might tell you that an argument is a set or sequence of statements — called premises — that are connected together to support or even ‘prove’ another statement, the ‘conclusion’. But that’s not really what people mean when they say “Brother Joe had an argument with cousin Buddy”?

– I see. The situations where people have very different opinions about some thing, and are yelling at each other trying to end up ‘being right’, and the other fellow ‘wrong’. A quarrel?

– Right. And they may use real arguments of the dictionary kind, but also forms of speech the dictionary would call ‘fallacies’, such as the old ‘ad hominem’ pattern, which essentially consists of convincing everybody that the other guy’s opinion is wrong because he is just a scoundrel or a miserable sinner, or has been smoking pot and drinking beer in high school. Raising their voices and fists in doing so, and somebody ending up with a black eye or loose tooth.

– Which means the guy with the black eye was wrong, eh Renfroe?

– I don’t know about you guys, I kinda like a good brawl every once in a while … no matter who’s right or wrong..

– Good grief. I remember now, Abbé Boulah invented a word for that kind of thing: the ‘quarrgument‘?

– Yes, Sophie. It nicely acknowledges the common associations while making the distinction. We’ll see if it sticks… So what about ‘dialogue’?

– That’s where things got muddy. I understand that internet friend insisted that a dialogue is ‘amenable’, aimed at ‘win-win’ outcomes rather than ‘win-lose’ one, cooperative rather than antagonistic (I don’t think he used that term but that was the intent), aimed at creative and constructive inquiry, but does not consist of arguments. Even a kind of ‘systems thinking’. And therefore preferable? Even politically correct?

– Audacious claims. But aren’t those things, those reasons, actually arguments?

– Right, Sophie: statements like “dialogue is preferable because it doesn’t contain arguments” are arguments — of the dictionary kind, not necessarily of the quarrgument kind, that he seemed to have in mind.

– So he wasn’t doing ‘dialogue’ when he said that, making those arguments, was he?

– I don’t know — that wasn’t clear; he might complain that he was diabolically, I mean dialogically tricked into argument mode against his amenable dialog intention?

– I always thought ‘amenable’ had something to do with guiding cattle with some kind of special shouts. What do I know. But why did you say things got muddy — so far, the distinctions we made here between arguments and quarrguments would have cleared things up a bit, wouldn’t they?

– Well, it doesn’t look like it got that far. Now, if you looked at the other terms, your dictionaries — different editions — would come up with definitions or meanings and uses of those other terms — discussion, debate, discourse, conversation, even argumentation — that are more or less overlapping with that of dialogue. Sometimes even defining or explaining one in terms of the others. I don’t know of a commonly accepted view that any of them exclude or don’t need arguments (of the dictionary kind), and common acceptance of the danger of any of the forms deteriorating into the quarrgument version more than others. The only common feature is that they, especially ‘dialogue’ assumes people talking to each other. Which is a good start, no?

– Well; we’ll see if it con be used for online discussions. But first: How would you tell when it deteriorates?

– It usually starts with the use of fallacies and comments that fall into the general ‘ad hominem’ category, attacking the other person rather than the reasons offered. Linking the plausibility, probability, believability of the claim in question with alleged intents, benign or evil, or general character features and shortcomings of other participants in the process.

– Huh. Not even the aspect of preference for ‘positive’ features as opposed to ‘negative’ properties or effects of the disputed subject, Professor?

– No, nothing that says something like “If the talk is about positive aspects, it’s a dialogue, if not, it’s a discussion”? Even though some ‘dialogue’ partisans tend to make it sound like that.

– But aren’t there differences of, well, let’s say ‘moods’ or ‘flavors’ of the talk, depending on the intentions of the participants?

– What do you mean, Sophie?

– Well, take the famous ‘debates’ of candidates for public office, at election time. There, the purpose of the debaters is obviously to make themselves look good in the eyes of the audience, while making the other candidates look bad, or less good? Tripping up opponents into making statements that can easily be disproved, making them look like fools? So by virtue of the adversarial intentions involved, ‘debate’ can be seen as being closer to the ‘quarrgument’ end of the scale, than, say, some friendly tavern conversation to pass the time? Or just getting to know about the other, swapping stories and gossip?

– Good point, Sophie — but there isn’t always a clear line between the intentions and effects. In scientific discussions — say, about whether the correlation between effect X and Y is showing that X causes Y, or the other way around, or that both are caused by another force Z, — the concern is about the plausibility of the different hypotheses, not about the scientists proposing them.

– Sure — but if one of those hypotheses turns out to be ‘refuted’ by the evidence brought into the discussion, doesn’t that make the researcher who had proposed that one look less respectable as a scientist, than the one whose hypothesis keeps getting ‘corroborated’ by more evidence? Especially if he had wasted a lot of research effort and grant money on the refuted theory?

– In theory, it shouldn’t. The refutation of a hypothesis is a kind of contribution to knowledge, isn’t it? Now we know hypothesis Y –> X was not the answer? And shouldn’t that be valued, appreciated? But yes, it’s difficult to keep personalities and their egos or struggle for tenure or research grants out of the overall discussion. The difference is that science does have some useful guidelines for sorting that out. At least in the natural sciences that look at how things work, natural laws and such.

– As opposed to?

– As opposed to any processes involving human behavior and their interest in the outcomes. You might say that tenure or not is such an outcome, but whether an asteroid will strike earth, and where, is not that tightly linked to human affairs: if it does strike, whether the fellow gets tenure won’t matter too much, will it?

– So you don’t believe that prayer, for example, can help avert such outcomes?

– Well, you can pray that your scientists have done their calculations properly when they tell you what’s what, and maybe knowing how hard you prayed may just make him check the numbers one more time, — but try to get that across to the asteroid…

– All this talk on steroids aside — what about the kind of undialogue about human plans and policy-making — that our buddy is working on?

– Why do you say ‘undialogue’, Bog-Hubert?

– Obviously, because in that kind of talk, considering and ‘weighing’ all the pros and cons’ is a key concern, isn’t it? And those pros and cons are arguments, aren’t they? So therefore, according to the internet friend, it’s obviously not dialogue.

– By Abbé Boulah’s drooping mustache, you are right! But doesn’t that mean, if we all decide to engage in dialogue, that we couldn’t ever talk about plans and policies?

– Or, Vodçek, that we should only focus on the ‘pros’, and strive, cooperatively, try to improve, make the best plans possible?

– Sounds very sophistically correct — but isn’t that going against the tenets of planning projects, not even to speak of systems thinking?

– I agree: to the extent planning is in part finding solutions to problems — situations that are disagreeable or hurtful to some folks — understanding those disagreeable aspects is necessary, almost by definition. But why against systems thinking, Professor?

– Well, isn’t part of the catechism of ‘systems thinking’ the advice to always try to anticipate ‘unexpected’ consequences of system interventions? Especially of the unexpectedly unpleasant, undesirable kind? So I’d say the admirable claim that dialogue should only focus on the positive (and avoid the negative, the ‘cons’, the potentially undesirable side-and after-effects) is a bit at odds with this principle?

– Hmm. ‘At odds’ — spoken the way you did, with that British accent, sounds like a dialogical understatement. It begins to look like the issue ‘dialogue versus argument’ was a wrong question. Not a good basis for making those distinctions between dialogue and discussion and argumentation.

– So what’s the right, or better, question, Bog-Hubert?

– Well, let’s see: if all those ‘positive’ aspects as well as the arguments are all included in the general category of ‘discourse’, so trying to derive useful behavior or approach from the artificial distinction of the words is actually distracting from the needed focus on what’s being said? How about this one: The real issue is about the things that can make all those forms of talk deteriorate into ‘quarrguments’?

– Sounds good. I’m getting more confused about those different terms the more we try to sort them out — but yes, the question of how to keep all such talk constructive, productive, and not making the problems worse, is a more useful one to study.

– That actually looks like the second item on Abbé Boulah’s suggested agenda: for tomorrow’s talk — whatever you want to call it? The needed agreements for productive conversations — for friendly ‘amenable’ conversation, as well as for planning, decision-oriented discourse? So we’re done for today?

– I’ll drink to that.

– I hadn’t expected anything less, Renfroe. Though we didn’t really succeed in solving the question about the meaning of those different terms.

– Deciding it’s a non-issue, a wrong question, is a vastly more useful outcome, I’d say … if we have identified the better question.

– Right, Sophie. I’ll drink to that, too… Here’s to tomorrow!

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