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:
– 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!
=== o ===