Critical Thinking

On Honest, Open, Clear Communication.

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.




23 thoughts on “On Honest, Open, Clear Communication.

  1. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

    Simple and excellent advice to both practice and preach (for lack of a better word).

    Add, “And do what you say you’re going to do” and you have the parenting 101 in the bag.


      • We always attached this saying to be equivalent to being all grown up. That means a demonstration of it is a demonstration of maturity – not just for the offspring but for the parents especially – which goes hand in hand with responsible freedom.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. carmen says:

    Well, this was certainly a well-timed blog post, Ashley! It characterizes the dialogue I’ve been having the last few days with a certain blogger. I used the word ‘dialogue’ instead of ‘conversation’ because the latter would indicate that the speakers are actually listening to and evaluating what the other person has to say. As you have pointed out, that is sometimes not the case. I have also found that with some people in the blogosphere, (particularly religious ones) responding to logic, good sense, and rational thinking is extremely difficult.
    I am rapidly coming to the same conclusion you came to – that some people are incapable of having meaningful discussions.


    • Hi Carmen.
      Although its been my experience that this type of conversation is usually with religious people, I have also had them with non believers as well. More often than I believe I should to be honest. Usually with an “I’m an atheist, but…” type person. Obviously being an atheist is no guarantee that someone is capable of critical thinking but I’m always very disappointed when I come across this. Surely if you can recognize religion as ridiculous and irrational and belief in God as unfounded, you’d have a leg up on people who don’t. Not always so I am afraid. I found myself scrolling through some of my older posts on my blog and other people’s blogs and just felt like commenting on it. I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to Barry but he’s an example of the “I’m an atheist but…”. Actually, according to him, he’s an atheist but also has beliefs that are “not incompatible with Quakerism” and may or may not subscribe or partially subscribe to pantheism, depending on what day of the week it is. I would say that he’s the most wishy-washy, waffling, non-committal, vague, imprecise, escape-hatch-leaving “debater” I’ve ever talked to. It’s literally impossible to define words and affix labels to anything at all in his mind – as far as I can tell.
      May I ask with whom you are having this “dialogue” with? I wouldn’t want to butt in and comment on it but I’d be interested in see what has transpired and if it is similar to my own experience. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel comfortable, it’s simply for curiosity’s sake on my part.


    • When I start to get a bit (a lot) frustrated, I do my best (which isn’t always foremost in my mind when i send off a quick response) to remember that the vast majority of other readers sympathetic to the blogger do not comment. It is for them that I continue to bang away at the door of close-mindedness. You never know when you might say just the thing that gets someone somewhere to actually think and say to themselves, “Hey, that’s a good point that the blogger won’t respond to/ avoids/refuses to consider/fails to account for, and I wonder why?”

      The usual responders have a style that I think give some people cause to pause, some reason to doubt their shared belief… like the drunk uncle at the wedding that gets too embarrassing to be around or who starts to get too loud, and obnoxious. The Comedy Sojourn is a case in point. It’s not very funny and it is getting hammered for many of the stupid posts it presents.

      We all do what we can and that is enough.


    • While I would in most cases agree with a blanket statement like that, I would like to try to understand how it applies to my post of any of the comments in here. Can you expand on that statement so that I may get a better understanding of what you mean?


      • Hi Ashley, First let me say that I like your blog and your attitude of inquiry and that I am myself all for deductive logic and Honest, Open, Clear Communication.

        My comment was on “A blog dedicated to advocating for reason and common sense against daily assaults from religion, alternative medicine and other nonsensical quackery.”

        While deductive logic is always correct, common sense and and even reason can be problematic and depend on time and place and many other subjective factors.
        ( By the way, I am no fan of religion and alternative medicine etc.)

        Do you agree?


        • I’m not sure that I do agree – especially about the part about reason and common sense being “problematic”. If there is another less “problematic” set of senses to appeal to that are superior, I’m not aware of it. Can you give me an example?


  3. Carmen says:

    Good morning! You folks stay up later than I do. 🙂
    Yes, Tildeb has provided links to two of the most frustrating conversations I’ve had/read this week but I think he has a valid point. The ‘lurkers’ are following, as well, and are sifting through their perceptions. From my perspective it seems that good, sound, rational arguments are so clearly the most persuasive but it’s amazing to me to realize that those on the other side of the argument are so convinced that theirs is the right answer. I really must shake my head at times. ..


  4. Hey Carmen and Tildeb,

    I had every intent of finishing the last 2 chapters of Anthony Grayling’s “The God Argument” while having a drink on the back deck last night, but I found myself scrolling through the “conversation” you had between the dynamic father/daughter duo. I particularly liked the conversations with Arkenaten where just trying to pin down Dad on the name of the God and the daughter on whether or not she accepts evolution takes multiple posts because they can’t/won’t answer the question. If that’s not proof that they have no intention of having any kind of honest conversation, I don’t know what is.
    I’ll say this for them though – at least they haven’t blocked/banned you guys (yet) I know that’s setting the bar pretty low, but it’s better than several other more “tolerant” people I could mention. Ha ha ha

    P.S. I do hope Ontologicalrealist comes back and expands on his statement from last night. I’d like to know what he meant by it.


    • carmen says:

      Well, I can’t (or won’t/wouldn’t ever!) speak for Tildeb, but I’ll take it as a compliment that we upstaged Grayling. . . 😉 The convo continues this a.m. (on the latest thread)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG! (Figure of speech)

    I just read through the convo in a little more detail and noticed how John B bounces back and forth between different “Definitions” of atheism/atheist in order to continue his straw-manned argument(s)

    In Chronological order
    Atheism is a faith position: “The atheist, faith-based position is that no Gods exist.”
    Atheism is a faith position: “Lacking a belief in gods is a position.”
    And it’s kinda whiny too: “And it’s kinda whiny too. ”
    Atheism is nothing: “Atheism is nil. Void. Nothing. Can’t get simpler than that. ”

    And why does John hold all these simultaneously incompatible views and make up stuff from thin air?: “Because you (tildeb) keep(s) offering all manner of comment. Apparently you’re (tildeb) the one who doesn’t understand there’s no content. ”

    Atheism is nothing: “How is it possible to be Anti-atheist when Atheism is a void?”
    Atheism is nothing: “If Atheism is a void, there is nothing to demean.”
    Atheism has doctrines and religious texts: “Of course you have doctrine and religious text. You’ve linked to them before. They are the writings that you accept as plausible enough to convince you that atheism is true. ”
    Atheism has doctrines and is a belief: “Everyone has a doctrine. Not all doctrines are correct. The whole point of these posts is to explore which belief is best.”
    The theist doctrine is better than the atheist doctrine: “You have helped me establish which of our doctrines is better.”

    Atheism is simultaneously a faith position, a belief and nothing and has doctrines and religious texts to buttress its claims.

    I can’t understand why you guys are having such a hard time conversing with him! (and his daughter)
    Ha ha ha ha ha ha!


      • Check out this conversation I had with Barry to get a sense of what I mean. My comments start at around 1/2 way down the page.
        Frustrating rather than comical but he makes my point absolutely perfectly – why it’s impossible to have a conversation with him because he can’t figure out what I mean by the word “god” and how he is surprised that I don’t know that some obscure theologian in New Zealand has made up his own definition (that god is a metaphor) which Barry agrees with it. Because as we all know, theologians are probably the go-to source for word definitions – not dictionaries written by lexicographers. They’re incomplete.


        • I guess I take a different perspective on him, Ashley. I think he is trying to be diplomatic. He, like many Canadians, cannot imagine the fervour of the religious fanatics encountered online. I have family in Australia and have visited there often, and their society (as well as the New Zealanders) pretty much operates as an atheist state. That is, if you’d refer to religion in Canada as ‘discrete’, I think it is even less of a force there. (I’m more familiar with Australia than New Zealand, but I have the idea that they are much the same- perhaps New Zealand would be considered even more open-minded) Of course, that’s my own opinion from interacting with many people there. ..there could be an undercurrent that I am unaware of. Certainly there are zealots there, as I have interacted with a few online.
          I get the impression that Barry is highly intelligent and perhaps trying to keep as open a mind as possible. Also, many (including me!) have trouble articulating EXACTLY what we are trying to convey. Although it may be crystal clear in our own minds, when it is transferred to ‘paper’, our meaning is misconstrued. Just a few thoughts before I dash out the door. . . 🙂


          • There is a point up to which diplomacy is useful. I’m not very convinced of it’s usefulness when talking between 2 people though. He seems to go out of his way to disagree with me and make sure that whatever meaning of a word that I use (the common dictionary definition or a Wikipedia page), he uses every other meaning BUT that one. I recognize that he claims he has Asperger’s and that his makes communication difficult. I absolutely believe him. However, I notice that once he takes a position on something, there’s no budging him from it. No amount of reasoned argument, no amount of counter evidence and no amount of dictionary definitions will ever do. There was just no way that neither I, nor tildeb could convince him that Eva saying that she used to be a hateful, intolerant atheist who used the God Delusion as her bible to justify her intolerance and hatefulness, was a slight against atheism, the New Atheist movement and The God Delusion. Not a slight actually, but an outright lie in that the God Delusion doesn’t promulgate such views. There will always be something that I am not understanding or overlooking. I don’t think this is attributable to his Asperger’s. I say this because if he is as obtuse as this throughout his daily life, I don’t see how he could manage to do anything. He’d be in a perpetual state of confusion and uncertainty about every single aspect of his life from going to the bathroom to getting the groceries to paying his telephone bill.
            Although he’s a lot more civil and more intelligent than John B, and I’m not entirely convinced he means to be this obstinate, I don’t see that much of a difference between him and John B. Conversations with both of them lead nowhere.


            • You’ve obviously had more conversations with him than I have. I read through some of the ‘Eva’ debacle, and it seemed to me that she was an Australian. . . perhaps he knows her personally? That might account for his defensive stance on her opinion.
              You are correct, though, about the ‘going nowhere’ comment! 🙂 The words, ‘deliberately obtuse’ come to mind. . .


              • If I am not mistaken, Eva is from Australia but I know for sure that Barry is from New Zealand. I never got the impression that they know each other personally.
                He’s certainly obtuse – in the utmost extreme. Whether or not it’s deliberate or not I don’t know. He has aspergers and some of the symptoms are being verbose and using meaphors useful only to him.
                In any event, I’ve more less given up trying to talk to him because it’s like talking to a brick wall.


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