At this point, I have to wonder if I am the problem.

That’s what they say, isn’t it? “If you’re having problems with everyone around you, then you are the problem.”

I’ve talked about having spent a non-trivial amount of time trying to hold constructive dialogue with people of various backgrounds and world views. It was depressingly, mind-numbingly futile. Most people were too cemented in their opinions and beliefs, even when presented with sound logical arguments and contradictory evidence. I have long prided myself on being an objective thinker, clear communicator, and open-minded person. It never got us anywhere.

This past Wednesday, the day rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, I had yet another bitterly disappointing exchange. But it wasn’t with an Internet stranger; it was with someone who was supposed to be a friend.

He stated that the people storming the U.S. Capitol shouldn’t be considered extremists—they were “everyday Americans.” His reasoning:

  1. Many more people would have participated if they had the means. Therefore, this should be considered an ordinary, “everyday” act.
  2. x% of Americans would break into the Capitol if they could. Asian-Americans also make up x% of the American population. Asian-Americans should be considered everyday Americans. Therefore, the people who would break into the Capitol should also be considered everyday Americans.

My counters:

  1. Thinking about or wanting to do something is irrelevant. The ordinariness of an act should instead be measured by the number of people who actually commit it.
    Regardless, extremism is not defined by whether an act is committed by few or many people. We should consider only the nature of the act itself.
  2. This is a false equivalence.

He terminated the conversation abruptly by calling it a “waste of time,” “pointless,” and “dumb AF” because “the other side isn’t even willing to listen.” Oh, and apparently, his core point all along was that President-Elect Biden wasn’t doing enough to address systemic issues.

For the next 24 hours, I was pretty damn angry. Where did this come from? Throughout the discussion, he never once said anything like “That’s not what I’m saying” or “You’re missing the point.” He didn’t counter any of my counters. Most frustrating of all, he moved the goalpost. You know from my linked post that I am all too aware of the systemic issues. But he never expressed that point until the very end.

That leads me to two possible conclusions:

  1. He is not a logical thinker or debater.
  2. I wasn’t as flawlessly clear and logical as I thought.

My gut reaction was to take door number one. I mean, even now, writing it out and rereading it, part of me still believes it. How does any of his reasoning make sense?

Yet by now, I can no longer deny the well established pattern. I always walk away feeling disgruntled that the other person didn’t do their part to meet me halfway in logical arguments and empathy. I’m always the one believing the other side to be dense and stubborn. Now I even have this sentiment toward someone I’ve known for a decade, who is well educated and has a successful career? Am I just the cleverest person in the world? No fucking way.

The anger is gone. Now I’m simply sad and confused.

I’m starting to realize that I might place too much importance on holding dialogues a specific way. One ought to clarify and solidify each point before moving on to the next. If there is any ambiguity or misinterpretation, it is essential to correct that straight away. If one agrees with some parts of an argument but disagrees with others, one ought to lay out both the agreements and the disagreements. I call out logical fallacies when I see them, because otherwise my brain gets stuck. Is that just how my mind works, or is that snobby intellectual gatekeeping? Do my unspoken “rules” facilitate clarity, or do they only make me seem as though I care more about being “right” than actually learning?

If this is just how my mind works, maybe it’s not well suited to discuss social or political ideas with others at all? That doesn’t make sense to me. In my opinion, everyone could benefit from trying to be as logical as possible. But maybe I am not logical enough to see my own lack of logic? Like Heller’s Appleby, I can’t see the flies in my eyes because of the flies in my eyes?

Either way—whichever conclusion is correct—it appears I lost a friend that day. As bewildered as I was by his fallacies, I was genuinely trying to understand his thought process. If he was over it, he could have at least been respectful enough to say, “That’s not it, but I don’t have time to get any deeper into this right now,” “We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” or even a succinct “Never mind.” Instead, he chose to be insulting, and he isn’t taking it back.

Is it telling that, once again, I’m fixating on communication style and verbiage? Or is he in fact a jerk, one I’m better off no longer keeping in my life?

I don’t know how to think anymore.


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