Friday, January 17, 2014

3 Presuppositions about Blogs, Personal Opinions and Information You Find on the Internet

I was concerned recently that a friend was circulating a blogpost that contained opinions that could be used in damaging ways. The response I got to expressing that concern was this: "[that the] point was delivered without rigour seems to me to be the point of a personal blog in which one writes opinion pieces."

Now I'm confused about the point of posting on the internet. Let's examine the options.

1) Blogs are for posting personal opinions which everyone should understand have been developed without evidence or logic and so can be broadcast and disseminated without evaluation.

This is not how I write a blog post. I write in the hope that it will connect with something in readers that will allow them to think more clearly and work through issues with the balance of an outside perspective. It's a conversation in which I get to do the talking and am held to the same standards I would be held with in a face-to-face conversation. If I take a strong position, I expect to be asked what evidence I have to support it.

2) Rigorous thought is something to be saved for special occasions.

Do you know people who do this? They are really, really good at precise reasoning some of the time and completely undisturbed by logic and evidence at others. The mayor in Toronto wants us to think that this is who he is. Sometimes he is providing sound management to the city and sometimes he is telling the world that he was in a drunken stupor when he decided to try crack.

Clearly, some people do save their best reasoning for specific circumstances. However, when you think of the people you respect for their thinking, is this how you think of them? Do you think that they will turn sound reasoning on and off to conserve thinking power? Or do you expect that someone who thinks clearly will want to think clearly all of the time? You might expect that, since thinking begins in unconscious process and that does work the same way all of the time.

3) You cannot be held responsible for how people respond to your communication.

This is tricky. On some levels, obviously people take things in different ways, read with more or less skill and good will, and may take things out of context and use them in ways the writer never intended.

However, in NLP it is considered useful to take the position that "the meaning of my communication is the feedback I get." So if I write a piece that hits enough known anchors to make it easy for people to take a predictable action, then I am responsible for the response I get.

The piece in question wanted to dance around a difficult hiring issue. The issue in its broadest terms is this: one kind of person and one kind of thinking dominate a field. Should the field seek diversity or does that just lower its standards? No one is saying that people who are different are necessarily less competent, but surely everyone can see that if you force new thinking into a field you weaken it.

Well - I don't see it. I don't see it based on historical thinking that spans more than centuries of history and includes many different fields and cultures. I don't see it based on an analysis of how people are actually hired and how accurate most hiring processes actually are at predicting success (not very if you trust research). I see big holes in the argument.

The results of a piece like this are twofold. People look at the people who are 'different' in their field and wonder if they were hired by quota and are really less competent than the people around them. Just in case that's true, they consider it whenever that different person does something different. The other result is that people only hire to the highest known standards. This means they hire people who can do the things the people hiring can do. The leading edge doesn't move very far, because people are only valued for meeting standards that have already been set (so the bar never goes any higher).

But then, I am just a rigorous thinker. And rigourous thinkers really spoil the fun when someone wants to use the internet to spread ideas that are just 'personal opinions' not designed to have an influence on anyone who reads them. After all, "I read it on the internet" is practically the same as saying "it's an urban legend and no clever person would fall for it." Isn't it?

For the record, all of my opinions are personal, subjective and part of my own experience and values. Especially the ones I argue with the most rigour.

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