I was recently on holidays and I managed to spend quite a bit of time playing catch-up and listening to podcasts that I had downloaded over the past couple of months or so. I recalled listening to one of Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcasts that featured Maryam Namazie as his guest. I tried my absolute best. I really did. I made it about 3/4 of the way through before I shut it off and deleted it. It was abundantly clear to me, that Maryam Namazie has zero debating skills, can’t even consider any viewpoints that conflict with her own and can’t even answer a cut and dried, simple yes-or-no question. For example – Sam asks her “What percentage of jihadists are Muslim?” Much rambling nonsense ensued, but no answer was forthcoming. I saw a response post in the Godless Spellchecker blog about this podcast that I thought summed it up very well. It was a conversation between a pragmatist (Sam Harris) and an ideologue (Maryam Namazie). While both are committed to the same cause (the intolerance and eradication of Islamism), Sam is the only one willing to offer solutions (whether or not you agree with them is another matter altogether) that could be practically carried out and gave his reasons for doing so. Maryam on the other hand is able to speak only in useless ideological platitudes and vague generalities. She offers only critiques of others solutions (like Sam’s profiling for instance) because it is “bigoted” apparently but offers nothing in the way of her own ideas. After an hour+ of listening to this vague imprecision and question-dodging crap, I decided to cut my losses and not waste any more of my time.
This gave me pause to consider many of the conversations I have had with different people on different blogs over the last couple of years. I have come to realize that there are people who are incapable of having meaningful discussions about a topic because it is literally impossible for them to consider other viewpoints. For me, usually the first sign is that I am told I “don’t understand” or that I am “misunderstanding” what they mean. I get that an AWFUL lot. I ask for explanations and further follow-ups to make sure that I am interpreting what they mean correctly. This usually devolves into back-and-forth reply/response (that would, I am sure if I continued, literally go on until then end of time) posts over the meanings of words, the meaning of phrases, the cultural differences that can cause “misunderstandings” when speaking to people in different countries, etc. Amazingly, all of the “misunderstandings” are attributable to short-comings on my part. NEVER, EVER to the person I am speaking with. Evidence, logic and reason to counter what I consider to be flawed thinking? Even using dictionaries, Wikipedia and reputable internet sources to determine meanings of words? No, those won’t do. There’s always more to it and I just don’t understand – and I never will. You name it, there isn’t a reply that can’t be made to demonstrate why I “misunderstand”. The conversations I have had very much remind me of the conversation between Sam and Maryam. Whereas I feel that I am committed to understanding the message a person is trying to convey and commenting on it (usually criticizing it, because that is the nature of these types of conversations), if my adversary has not made the same commitment, then the conversation is going to go nowhere.
Now this is NOT to say that the whole thing is pointless because I think a conversation like the one between Sam and Maryam is very valuable. It is very valuable in that it points out not only what someone thinks but how they think and how they defend what they think. It’s one of the reasons why I admire Sam because I not only know what he thinks, but I see him demonstrate how he thinks and give reasons for why he thinks what he does. I agree with most of what he says but not everything. Maryam on the other hand, demonstrated very clearly to me that she has very little capacity for critical thought, and couldn’t even attempt to debate Sam on his “bigoted” stance regarding profiling by answering simple questions. This allows me to make use of my precious time by deciding who I should listen to and who I shouldn’t.
So why did I make this post? To convey a simple message. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If challenged, be prepared to defend your views. If your typical response is to just keep “clarifying” what you wrote because they other person “just doesn’t understand”, perhaps consider that you’re not interested in challenging your own thinking and that you’re not interested in learning anything, but are more interested in making statements and assertions that withstand all scrutiny no matter what.