Posted by: CJ | December 27, 2009

Unbearable Self-Centered Egotism I: My Quirky Signal Processing

It’s winter, so the weather is gloomy, the daytime is scarce, and free time is wanting. Which makes it really easy to get into moody introspective bouts of self-reflection.

This, of course, leads to blog posts of unbearable self-centered egotism. It’s the natural way of the world. This is the first, but I’ll have several others over the next few weeks.

So consider this a warning: if you’re not in the mood for such a post then don’t bother reading further.

I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks about quirks of talking to me. There are many, but there are also a few simple guiding principles. I’m unsure how general these principles are though, if they apply to everyone or just to me. I’m not in the best position to know.

The first few principles are on how to convince me of something. There are effective and ineffective ways, there are good and bad ways.

What works.

  1. Fairness. Arguing that doing something is the fair thing to do is, in my worldview, a very powerful argument. My belief in being fair is stronger than almost any other belief acquired post-childhood; for me fairness is as close as I come to an issue of religious importance. To be unfair is to commit a sin against other people, against your community–something that, in my primarily secular worldview, is something of a stand-in for a higher power.
  2. Reasoned, Rational, Unemotional Arguments. I respond much better to overly rational arguments. This is just an issue of language–to a Greek you speak Greek, and to me you speak robotic, scientific (social or physical) legalese.
  3. Self-Interest. If you try to convince me of something by arguing it’s in my own self-interest, you’re more likely to succeed without offending me. This is, in a sense, a corollary to 2. If there’s a rational reason for me to think or do something, then it would help if there was be a good reason that I personally should take it upon myself to actually think or do it.

What doesn’t really work.

  1. Emotional Arguments/Emotional Bullying. I can be bullied, emotionally speaking, into doing or thinking something. I’ll resent both what I was convinced of and the person who made the argument. For a good while.
  2. Negative Association. I can also be convinced, in a pinch, to do something because someone I don’t like or agree with would do the opposite. If I’m not committed to any particular course this method works fine. If I was committed to a particular course, this isn’t a very safe method. It’s liable to make me annoyed or resentful.
  3. Argument Mismatch. Occasionally I do think or do something for emotional reasons (such as fairness) instead of purely rational or self-interested reasons. In these cases, arguing in my own self-interest is a bad idea. If I believe something for moral reasons, trying to argue with me based on my own self-interest feels dirty. Think of trying to argue with Jesus that he could make a lot of money if he’d just make the money-changers in the temple buy a license to work in the temple from him. It’s that level of stupid to use self-interest to argue me out of a moral position.
  4. Contrarian. I’m a contrarian. Unless there’s some reason I should be doing what everyone else is, I would prefer not to. And, unless I respect someone’s taste/advice, am truly desperate, or actually asked for suggestions/help, I’m liable to dismiss advice and recommendations.

Most of the above probably applies to most people. For, any big difference is the degree to which it applies to me. Fairness is very important to me. Rational, unemotional arguments make me substantially more comfortable than emotional arguments. (Though in some contexts, like romantic relationships, I may need preexisting trust that the emotion exists for the interaction to work.) I get very resentful when someone coerces me to do something because they’re too emotional about it. Etc.

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