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[ba-unrev-talk] The nature of debate / discussion

I started a new topic with this because I believe that it is warranted.    (01)

I spoke to some of this in suggesting that in order to accomplish the goals
of an OHS / DKR we need to address the issues of the methods that such tools
use / support.    (02)

I will use *discussion* to mean debate / discussion.    (03)

The first point is to determine the purpose of the discussion, so we can
know when it has either achieved its desired result(s) or it is clear that
we have reached "diminishing returns" and are not likely to achieve the
results.    (04)

Possible purposes include:
* Just have fun - stop when it is no longer fun
* Get all the issues out - stop when no new issues are being brought up
* Arrive at some agreements including where we "agree to disagree" - stop
when progress ceases    (05)

Since (by construction, I confess), only the last goal requires any method
in order to succeed, I will no consider those discussions where the
objective is to arrive at some agreements. This must clearly be the sort of
discussion necessary if we are to "solve" any of the urgent complex problems
which are the focus of this entire effort.    (06)

So, we look at what is required.    (07)

I suggest that there are at least 3 parts to the problem:
* Definitions and transfer of meaning - insuring that what is said is what
is heard, otherwise communication fails.
* Principles and value propositions - until we agree on what it means to
agree, we won't know how to progress toward agreement.
* What are the facts and how do they match up to the preconditions of the
principles.    (08)

Taking these in order:    (09)

We need to check constantly that we are talking about the same things. "If
they are using your lexicon, make sure they are using your dictionary also".
I used to counsel couples using a very simple technique:
I would ask them what it was they argued about most often. About 10 seconds
later the persistent argument was in full swing.
I would listen for places where they appeared to be using the same word or
phrase in different ways and have each of them define what they meant by it.
An incredible number of conflicts resolved in a few minutes using this
approach. I have since recommended this approach to couples in conflict for
their own private use (without a "counselor") and those who have used it
have been quite successful.    (010)

Principles and value propositions.
Until we can find some point at which we agree, we cannot build a bridge
from what we agree upon to further agreements or ways of looking at the
current issue.
If I claim that entity E is not justified in taking action A in the current
situation S, then I have to deal with the question of principle "are there
any situations in which an unspecified entity is justified in taking action
A?" If we can agree on situations in which action A is justified, then we
can address the facts of the current situation to determine to what degree
they match the situations under which we have agreed that action A is
justified. If we cannot agree on this principle, we then record it and work
toward deeper issues.
This very quickly arrives at some very fundamental philosophical issues:
What constitutes truth and how can we tell? What constitutes evidence,
proof, reasoning?
Until we can agree on some set of ground rules, no progress toward agreement
is possible. It I take the position that "you are evil and must be destroyed
at all cost," we are not likely to arrive at any basis of agreement on which
to proceed with the discussion. Milder forms of this viewpoint are evident
very quickly in polarized discussions, as we have all seen.    (011)

Facts and their matching to agreed upon principles
If we can agree on the principles and vales to be used in evaluating
situations of the type under discussion, then we can actually begin to
discuss what each of us perceives to be the facts of the matter, to separate
fact from rumor and opinion, and to see if the facts match the principles we
have agreed upon. Often we will find that principles other than those that
we have worked out are invoked and hampering the discussion, and we need to
take the new proposed principles and work toward agreement on them.    (012)

It is possible to reach a state where the principles and values simply
cannot be resolved, since not all such are the result of reasoned analysis.
Then if we can "agree to disagree" there is at least some agreement as a
resolution. Often, however, it can appear that there is nowhere to go when a
deeper insight into what question to address next can get things moving
again.    (013)

Some of this may seem overly abstract, but it works in practice. The first
part of tackling such a discussion is to get all parties on the same side of
some issue - we are truly trying to arrive at mutual agreements rather than
merely to have our current positions prevail.    (014)

Some may think that the issues of abstract philosophy are not relevant to
such practical discussions, but I assure you that they are among the most
relevant of issues.
Several years ago I got into a discussion on a forum that lasted several
months as I tried to understand what the real source of conflict was. I
finally realized that the other person rejected the idea of individual
rights - to him, a right was just some privilege that the group hadn't yet
decide to take away, and that there was nothing that the group was forever
prohibited from taking away just because they chose to do so. Since I insist
that there are rights that are inherent to individuals and that groups
obtain their rights from the individuals, there was nowhere to continue
unless I was to invest several more months in a discussion that would likely
not produce any agreement.
There are those who don't really believe in reality - they are convinced
that anything is possible merely because they wish it to be so. With no
concept of reality, there is no concept of truth, and no concept of proof or
logic. There is literally no reasoning with individuals who hold this belief
system since there is no basis on which to agree to agree.    (015)

Notice that this has much more to do with people and their attitudes than
with methods or tools. However, we can ask such questions as:
* Is this an adequate method for the goals of solving complex urgent
problems? Enhance / modify as needed.
* What features would a tool that supported such a method provide?    (016)

At a minimum, it would seem that a means of tracking such things as
definitions and the degree of agreement on them, including ways of
designating the conflicting meanings used so that precision in communication
can be achieved.
A way of keeping track of the path to the current discussion so that when we
finally reach some set of agreements, we know how to "unwind the stack" to
visit the earlier issues that gave rise to the current one.
Ways of organizing information that purport to be facts, disputes over the
truth or accuracy of those claims and statements which are agreed to be
facts would be needed. Ways for individuals to organize their own ideas for
presentation to the group. Support for multiple parallel discussions and
ways of trying to keep them from getting tangled up as new people or new
ideas arrive.    (017)

Whether the described method is agreed upon as one to be supported and
whether the features are the ones needed to support the method are valid
discussion topics, but I do believe that this approach stands a fighting
chance of allowing us to reach some agreements as to the nature of what we
are trying to build. The closer we come to understanding what the system
needs to facilitate, the closer we come to the day that we can develop the
design elements of a system to do that, which we might then be able to
prototype in whole or in part, and then to use to bootstrap the discussion
for the next level of the evolution of the tools.    (018)

Thanks,    (019)

Garold (Gary) L. Johnson    (020)

-----Original Message-----
From: John Sechrest    (021)

Following this thought of building tools to
support a greater understanding, I have always found
that it is easier to build a tool if you understand what
the task is and do it by hand first.    (022)

So, since we are wanting to do a debate/discussion better,
What if you took this Iraq question and followed the
appropriate process using the tools that we have.    (023)

Can we emulate via HTML  a sufficiently rich example of
a good debate/discussion which would illustrate the
goal that you have?    (024)

If so...l What are the first three steps to doing it?    (025)