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Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting (www.nytimes.com)
171 points by _dps 9 months ago | hide | past | web | 116 comments | favorite

The article quotes studies claiming that people who grow up with conflict in their personal lives are more likely to be comfortable with differing opinions and certain forms of creative debate.

Since there's seemingly some benefit of exposure to these kinds of negative experiences, they mention advice on how to mitigate the negative aspect of conflict.

But I think it's actually great advice to teach children/students these civil, but pseudo-adversarial skills as general purpose cooperative reasoning tools completely independent of conflict-management. From the article:

• Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict.

• Argue as if you’re right but listen as if you’re wrong.

• Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.

• Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them.

These behaviors correlate very strongly with the people I personally have found most intelligent and productive in group settings.

This is fantastic advise for effective debate.

I would add:

* agree on the meaning of the words you use.

* be upfront about how willing you are to be wrong / change your mind (I phrase this as "what would have to be true for you to accept I am right" and vice versa for my beliefs).

I really like the part about agreeing on words, and I'd riff on a bit more with two sub-patterns i've found useful

1) "I see when you say X you mean [specific definition]. Given that definition I agree with you, but I disagree with the definition"

2) "When I say X it seems it means [specific definition] to you. Rather than fight over the definition I will avoid saying X and use different terms so we can keep moving"

This is a really problem with some specific topics like copyright, where the terms were invented for propaganda.

We really need a better word than "piracy".

> be upfront about how willing you are to be wrong / change your mind (I phrase this as "what would have to be true for you to accept I am right" and vice versa for my beliefs).

This would often be a highly productive way to start the discussion, because very often the situation is that one side or the other is vehemently not willing to have their mind changed, which I'd argue is the case with most arguments you'll see on Facebook or Reddit.

* agree on the meaning of the words you use.

Agreed, this is very important.

One way to handle it when the two of you have different meanings for a word is to keep using the word, but add a different qualifier in front for each meaning, i.e. logical proof versus empirical proof.

>• Argue as if you’re right but listen as if you’re wrong.

On the listening side, something that often helps is what is often called active listening. This is where you say back to the person what you think they are saying, and they agree you got it right or correct it until you do. It is amazing how this can often lower the emotional level and make the disagreement more productive.

Note that being comfortable with differing opinions and being comfortable with certain forms of creative debate are two different things. A debate should be a voluntary contest between parties and is only possible if they both share and agree upon a base set of principles as the foundation for the debate. If an atheist and a theist "debate" the existence of God(s) it isn't a resolvable argument since their divergence of principles is at a fundamental level and the only thing they share are certain derived points that accidentally coincide. In this case the parties must either be comfortable with the fact that they differ in opinions or they are not. This does beg the question as to when one should be comfortable with a differing opinion. I suspect that those who have encountered real conflict having a larger comfort area for differences due to their understanding that conflict invites real costs.

In the case where legitimate debate can occur, the rules I usually try and follow/enforce are:

1. Establish the goal all parties wish to achieve (i.e., define success).

2. Establish the point at where our agreement on methods diverged.

3. All ideas should be orphans in that they have no privileges purely due to parentage.

4. Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence or ignorance.

5. Be ruthlessly honest about your own position, to include disclosing the weaknesses you know or suspect as well as disclosing the strengths of the opposing position (especially if the parties holding that position do not know it or present it themselves).

Personally I become uncomfortable when there is unanimous agreement on positions I know to be legitimately debatable, even if I hold that position. In those instances I will promptly switch sides and argue against my own position to insure it has been properly vetted.

In my experience the point that most reliably invites emotional response is failure of #3 since it's hard to move from "my idea" to "the idea." The most insidious failure is at #1 due to either misunderstanding or dishonesty since it corrupts the entire effort but can be very difficult to discover.

Debate isn't always about changing the opinion of the person you're debating with. You can debate to win the audience.

The best debates aren't about winning at all. They are about getting at the truth and broadening your understanding of a topic by exposing yourself to different points of view which can cast light on personal blind spots or holes in your knowledge.

I'm not sure that debate can lead to the "truth".

If you define Truth as being "the thing that actually happened", rather than the more definite "Mathematical truth" I believe that the best you can get at is an understanding of somebodies opinion of what happened, along with the bias that leads to that opinion.

Reading your comment again, I see that you do emphasis "different points of view", so I'm guessing that are actually approaching the same understanding from different directions. I believe outside of mathematics, truth is in most cases just an option depending upon point of view.

I am not talking about the truth regarding a specific incident. I am talking things like more accurate mental models.

My oldest son sees the world extremely differently from me. When we hash things out, there is a lot of added value in hearing the other person's take on a problem space. If we both agree on the same solution having come at it from opposite directions, we can be confident it is a solid solution and not merely an expression of personal bias.

Indeed, but unless you're all operating from a common shared set of principles and a goal there is no argument about means and you're not actually debating but instead just having a pep rally reinforcing tastes.

I believe green is the best color, the opposing side believes red is the best color. There is no argument to be had here since we don't agree on a definition of "best" other than "my color."

Very raely is it about convicing the other debater its about convincing your audience that you are corect.

> debate

The last time i had a conversation with an american trained in "debate", it was quickly obvious that reality and truth were the last thing on his mind, but scoring rethoric points was the first.

The rest of your points are good, but i think if you start it out with the word debate, many americans are going to mentally short-circuit to that style of conflict, instead of "respectful conversation".

Debate is a sport over here in America, where high school teams compete. It's just as you say: they are not seeking truth, they are trying to win.

It's reflected in our adversarial legal system as well. I personally don't like it that way, but there are people who think it's the best way.

From a discusion on here a while back hs and uni debation seems to have not much conection to real world parlimentray debates and would fail outside its own artificial world.

In professional politics, debate is an open charade, an excuse to get on camera and rally your supporters. High school and university debate actually care about argumentation, for example, and the electorate very much doesn’t.

Ah I meant real debates not the reality tv shows - a political speech to the masses is not a debate in the strict sense of the word.

For example a motion of no confidence is a serious matter in any parliamentary system.

I haven't found any nationality to have exclusive rights to turning civil debate into a partisan shouting match. But I agree that some people do have that tendency.

Still, such people seem even less likely to be productive if they approach the situation as open conflict — hence the advice to reframe conflict as debate, not to insert debate where it is otherwise unnecessary.

> nationality

I mention it specifically because, in all the nationalities i have talked to, i.e. in my personal experience, the USA is the only one to have a high school debate club culture that's widely spread.

Decades ago, 70's & 80's, saw a progression from the more respectful, objective debate style to the linguistic attack scoring style popular today. It's too bad, because back in the "early days" it taught how to collectively arrive at a solution. Today, not really.

At a minimum, I personally know of active school/university debate societies in the United Kingdom and Australia. And while it sounds like you've had some bad experiences, my personal sense is that the majority of people with formal debate experience are actually better, on average, at staying within the bounds of civil discourse.

Having said that, there is indeed an overly aggressive subset of the population that is, as I think you're suggesting, attracted to debate for all the wrong reasons. But based on the literally hundreds I've met, I'd say as a population they are on average more civil and more likely to follow norms of "fair argument". They are much more likely to aspire to be erudite policy wonks than to be angry talk show pundits. YMMV obviously.

Notably both of these countries are english majority. I went looking for german debate clubs and found that we have some, but also that they're relatively young (the national debating org in germany was formed only in 2001), and were mainly formed based on inspiration by the english language sphere.

I'm also curious what exactly you mean with civil discourse? I don't know which style you're referring to, but i've seen people who cared primarily about discourse being "polite", even if the most horrible ideas were being presented as valid.

‘Debate’ does seem to have strong connotations of a rhetorical fight. ‘Discourse’ has been the preferred word among philosphers and other circles that discuss this sort of thing.

"Debate" has a long tradition of meaning a formalized presentation of opposing views, each represented by a person or team, for the purpose of evaluating relative merits.

"Discourse" is a much broader term and does not imply formal structure, opposition, merit evaluation, or that advocacy of particular ideas is associated with particular speakers.

IMO "Debate" is absolutely the right term for what the advice suggests, which is to reframe a conflict situation into a situation where there are norms of fair argument and expectations of equal access to present opposing views, with the hope of evaluating the merits of said views.

You're right that historically debate was more noble. But meanings of words change.

The problem with debate as it exists today in the english sphere is that it refers to a sport where teams try to argue for views they don't even hold regardless of what they themselves even think about it. Due to the idea that regardless of the actual merits of an idea debated, either team needs to have an equal chance to "win", the whole "evaluating merits" part has in more recent times been deemphasized.

Could you elaborate on why you think the meaning of the word has changed?

If I'm understanding you correctly, it sounds to me like you think the current use of the word in the USA is restricted to one narrow activity of debating societies (formal tournaments where neither side is, a priori, invested in a particular idea and in fact doesn't even know which side of the debate they'll have to represent). This is just one of many things debating societies do, and yes it does have a sport element as you and others suggest.

But, based on my experience (and I have quite a lot with debating societies in both the USA and the UK) I don't think this one activity has come to dominate what "debate" means in the USA. I would be surprised if the average citizen thought in this way.

So I wonder what makes you think this activity has come to be the meaning of debate in the USA, as opposed to just one thing debating societies do?

P.S. purely as an aside I think there may be misunderstanding about the value of people advocating "views they may not even hold". This is only characteristic of tournaments, and is a feature not a bug. Since you don't know until quite late which side you will represent, it forces you to be prepared to do an equally good job representing either side. This is, in my opinion, an excellent mental exercise. At the moment the debate happens, you are arguing something one-sided you may not believe — but in the preparation for the debate you are carefully evaluating the best arguments for both sides.

I think most people take it to mean debate in the general sense, not a competition or sport sense.


You're certainly right about the long tradition behind 'debate', and yet, it does still carry the connotations I mentioned earlier, to the extent that one would likely have to say "let's a have a fair and honest debate about X" in order to temper some of the unproductive tendencies that tend to arise in a debate.

I prefer critical discussions to debates.

dialectic is a more precise word.

for discussion/debate? Unfortunately the word has largely Hegelian and/or Marxist connotations nowadays doesn't it?

Anyway, with (Plato's) Socrates, dialectic doesn't seem to have been two people candidly searching for the truth either - usually it was Socrates expertly pretending to do that, while actually showing some expert just how much he didn't know about his chosen subject.

For me, dialectic and derived words mean Hegelian dialectic. That's 99.99% where I've heard the words used.

Good points though the term debate has become a dirty word to me. I frame it as preferring "dialogue" over "debate" where dialogue refers the kind of exchange you laid out and debate is more of a conflict or competition where the aim is to win rather than advance truth. That's why it's so important to be transparent about your goals and values in an exchange. It's frustrating to let your guard down for a dialogue and find out via blindside that the asshole on the other side of the table only knows how to debate.

The problem is that a "debate" where winning is the aim and truth is not are pretty common.

Certain exposure to them, understanding their basic mechanics, and the skill of telling them from a truth-seeking "dialog", would be valuable for kids.

It's important for the same reason why understanding cognitive biases is important.


If you're just talking about how one word or another primes people's behavior I have no quibble; in fact I may even support such a substitution in some cases.

But I think you are too harsh on the idea of winning as inherently bad. If you are a saint and your opponent is a nazi, you fundamentally disagree on what the truth is. The way you advance truth is by winning (i.e. persuading an audience, or perhaps even your opponent, that your views are correct).

I agree that in general it's best to avoid zero-sum framing. But some ideas are simply incompatible with other ideas, and in those cases the pursuit of truth is inextricably tied to winning a contest.

In my experience, there isn't a whole lot of "winning" in scenarios of fundamental disagreement. Sides just dig in and entrench. Not much to be done there I think. My debate vs dialogue distinction is more about the priming of behavior, as you call it, in the more common scenarios that are well short of fundamental disagreement -- scenarios at risk of turning in to a contest instead of maintaining the spirit of a mutual truth expedition.

"Winning" is hardly ever productive.

"Argue as if you're right but listen as if you're wrong."

How about arguing and listening as if you know exactly as much as you do and nothing more? It's not hard to imagine a case in which both arguing "as if you're right" and listening "as if you're wrong" would be inappropriate or down right foolish.

I agree with the message. I think that it is our civic duty to ensure that debates are possible. Because when a society transcends into Fascism, the first thing that is lost is the right to disagree. If it becomes impossible to question the prevailing dogma and everyone who attempts to do so is labelled a traitor or worse, then the path to totalitarianism is open.

People should remember the Iraq war and especially the build-up to it. Debates were silenced by the rallying call to "Support our troops!" You couldn't claim that the war was a pointless hunt for oil engineered by the oil companies. Because that implied that the "war moms," those who let their sons enlist and fight the stupid war in Iraq, were doing something wrong. Telling it how it was, that whoever travels half-way cross the world to participate in a war against a people they should have no beef with, is committing state-sanctioned murder, was not allowed. I know that is polarizing, but polarizing is whatever a lot of people disagree with. It doesn't mean that it is factually incorrect.

So the next time the US rallies the dogs of war, remember Iraq and what made that war possible. Because it will happen again. When Trump, or his successor, decides that "something has to be done" about North Korea, Iran or Syria, do break the decorum. Don't allow disagreement to become taboo because then history will repeat itself.

Traditionally, once the decision is made to go to war, all debate about the justifications for the war must end.

Countries where the debate continues end up having a social split where part of the nation supports the war, and part does not. This kind of civil division is fatal during war time if your enemy isn't similarly hobbled.

Any war, even the most worthy, is susceptible to having its justifications criticized but the consequences of not being unified during the conflict are so catastrophic that people prefer to criticise wars only after they have been won or lost.

That's certainly true about total war where the nation's survival is threatened by defeat, but it's not true about the kind of limited wars was have seen since world war 2. In fact, because these wars are limited wars for the world powers that start them, but total wars for the postcolonial states in the receiving end, I think it's very correct that the public e.g. in the US continue to aggressively question the rationale for war even after it's begun in e.g. Vietnam, Iraq, and so on.

Henry Kissinger would certainly have been happier to see a US public united behind the Vietnam war effort because it would have made it easier to win in a geopolitical sense, but what about in a moral sense? The US wasn't threatened existentially by failure in Vietnam, and it's right that we didn't adopt the attitude expressed in your comment.

On that note, the US spends almost as much in defense as the entire rest of the world.

Losing a "war" in the middle East would not affect the US very much outside reputation.

I would respectively suggest that most countries in the rest of the world don't behave in such a was as to require this level of excessive spending on "defence". As you state, if you are conducting defensive operations, how can it be that failure of that defence will not impact your country.

This is true with the current realities of oil supply, maybe not so much 10 or 20 years ago. With indefinite domestic/local supplies now established, I really wish we could let them live their lives without our interference.

Calling it “defence” is almost Orwellian... when the majority of the budget is spent on attack and offence in other countries?

> Traditionally, once the decision is made to go to war, all debate about the justifications for the war must end.

"traditionally"? This makes starting a war the perfect way to unite a country. Dictatorships and oligarchies seems to love this trick.

> This kind of civil division is fatal during war time if your enemy isn't similarly hobbled.

For dissenting citizens losing a war is often much better than dragging it longer or even winning it.

See Germany in WW2 for example.

I showed 'Crockers Rules', after Lee Daniel Crocker, to my mum and my sister over Christmas, as I thought it might help all of us indicate the level of acerbic comment we are currently able to process.

"Declaring yourself to be operating by "Crocker's Rules" means that other people are allowed to optimize their messages for information, not for being nice to you. Crocker's Rules means that you have accepted full responsibility for the operation of your own mind - if you're offended, it's your fault. Anyone is allowed to call you a moron and claim to be doing you a favor. (Which, in point of fact, they would be. One of the big problems with this culture is that everyone's afraid to tell you you're wrong, or they think they have to dance around it.) Two people using Crocker's Rules should be able to communicate all relevant information in the minimum amount of time, without paraphrasing or social formatting. Obviously, don't declare yourself to be operating by Crocker's Rules unless you have that kind of mental discipline.

Note that Crocker's Rules does not mean you can insult people; it means that other people don't have to worry about whether they are insulting you. Crocker's Rules are a discipline, not a privilege. Furthermore, taking advantage of Crocker's Rules does not imply reciprocity. How could it? Crocker's Rules are something you do for yourself, to maximize information received - not something you grit your teeth over and do as a favor."

How silicon valley.. maximize efficiency at the expense of all culture and social norms!

No need for complex social relations, I will process information, more than ever before (because there is so much of it now!), like the great logical-positivist that I am!

Moreover, I certainly do not have any political positions embedded in my norms-steamrolling worldview, because all there is, in fact, is information.

This seems like an uncharitable read. The whole point of Crocker Rules is that you opt in. No one forces you to accept Crocker Rules (that would indeed be steamrolling). You declare "feel free to say things that might insult me", not "I'm going to assume you don't mind being insulted".

Personally, I've found this to be a very useful tool with people who are conflict-avoidant. I tell them "if you're afraid of offending me, please don't hesitate, I promise I won't get mad".

Sometimes I go as far as to suggest something they might be thinking that might be offensive in order to get the ball rolling and show them there won't be negative consequences.

For example: "Hey I wonder if you're concerned I'll be offended if you propose throwing out my work and replacing it. Don't worry, it's fine. I just want what's best for the project, so if you're holding back because you're concerned I'll be upset, you can relax."

I've got to say, I love the idea. I am always getting into trouble for not "playing nice" when I'm discussing something with somebody I don't agree with. It is very difficult to talk with people when the immediate assumption is that you are rude and offensive when all you want is a chance to get your opinion heard.

- You are are participant in society, so your preferences indeed affect other people

- the example of the project at work is benign, especially since the outcome doesn't matter to you. What happens then the issues are about personal skin-in-the-game, like someone coming after your means of living, gentrification of your neighborhood, attacking the behavior of your significant other, etc..

I think we must be interpreting the meaning of Crocker Rules differently.

You say the example I gave is benign — so is it fair to assume you believe that this behavior is useful in at least some cases?

You're right that I have the "luxury" to do so in that situation because the outcome isn't particularly painful.

And you're also right that it would be difficult to opt in to Crocker Rules when discussing something with huge stakes and emotional charge. But that's why it's opt-in ... no one should try to force you to accept it, and you can choose to accept it depending on context.

I would probably not volunteer for Crocker Rules with someone proposing something that would grievously harm my family.

(and just to be clear: I never actually use the term, I always use in-context statements like the one in the example).

I can certainly appreciate the desire to not overreact to every little thing, and try to discuss things calmly, yes

More Silicon Glen, if you really care about origin stories. My family tends to conduct a lot of discussion at full volume with lots of swearing, so being able to say, 'fuck off, not playing by Crocker's rules', is pretty useful.

edit: And Crocker himself is an Aussie.

> Anyone is allowed to call you a moron and claim to be doing you a favor. (Which, in point of fact, they would be. One of the big problems with this culture is that everyone's afraid to tell you you're wrong, or they think they have to dance around it.)

Is calling someone a moron the best (most information-optimized) way to tell someone they're wrong?

I'm in favor of truth being more valued in this culture, but I don't think being too polite is the root of the problem.

> Is calling someone a moron the [most information optimized] ...

Think of it not as "please be rude to me, that's optimal".

Think of it as "I'd rather have the truth delivered rudely than a polite falsehood or slience."

You may say that's a false dichotomy — surely everyone should just tell the most informative truth and be polite. But this is often just too taxing, or not even possible depending on language and social skills. This is especially true on contentious topics.

It isn't about calling someone a moron, it is about being able to respond, "Thanks, I can be fucking stupid at times, can you show me where I am being moronic here?".

It is also about being able top unguard your own language should you know that the other person is operating by the rules, not to be insulting, but so to not worry about it for that conversation and so not having to run that whole level of extra processing.

I tend to swear a lot, as do most of the people I both work and socialise with. If I were to work with people of a more delicate sensibility, conversations would take a lot longer.

But you could further optimize your communication by dropping the profanity.

A listener declaring Crocker's rules says they will not be offended, but at best, profanity communicates your emotional reaction to a situation. In seeking optimal communication of information, profanity is largely wasted bandwidth.

> But you could further optimize your communication by dropping the profanity.

I have certainly been in stressful situations with people where I was confident they were struggling to say what they really meant because they were angry and trying to remain civil.

Giving someone permission to vent at you, in the interest of also giving you a truth they've struggled to present politely, is one of the functions of this practice.

I think you may be taking "optimally" to mean something like "ideally"; in this context I take it to be "the best available". It would be ideal for the angry person with the important truth to find a polite way to present that truth — but with emotion involved the best available option may be to accept some profanity along with the truth, in preference to the truth being hidden behind an attempt to stay civil.

I understand "optimally" to emphasize concision and clarity.

Profanity is either seeking to evoke an emotional response, or basically just "very" as DoreenMichelle says.

As such, profanity is semantically a really poor intensifier.

While a listener declares Crocker's rules in order to optimize communication by saying "I won't take offense," a speaker can optimize communication by clearly stating what is wrong, rather than just "This is !#$%&, you !$_&!"

It isn't that simple.

I work really hard at editing out profanity when I write online. The reality is that I swear like a sailor and the running joke in the family is to quote that movie line "you go into a bar and sailors come running out." I basically use the eff word like other people use very.

So when I write something full of profanity, it doesn't suggest I have really strong feelings about it or am trying to attack or insult people. It usually means I was writing while tired, distracted or a bit under the weather and failing to put in the extra effort to mind my Ps and Qs.

I am aware that it causes problems at times for me to use so much profanity when I post things online. It isn't uncommon for me to go back and try to edit out the worst of it after I post it.

But the converse of that is this: it takes extra effort for me to come up with alternate phrasing and this takes bandwidth away from me focusing on more substantive elements. If someone actually thinks I have good ideas and they want to know what I think about something, they will get more useful info from me more frequently if they don't give me shit constantly about how my foul mouth is an excuse to just not listen to the substance of my points.

There are plenty of people who punctuate their speech with colorful language. Colorful language can be a rich way to express some concepts and trying to clean it up can actually lose something.

So given that I am hardly the only person on the planet who just habitually peppers their speech with profanity, I think one use of this standard is to agree to ignore that element as a minor style detail in order to focus on the substance of their ideas.

People from bad neighborhoods often have foul mouths. Expecting them to politely and articulately elucidate their points without profanity can be a form of classist and racist gatekeeping that excludes them from serious discourse.

I don't have an easy answer for you. I do try to clean up my language when speaking "in public" whether online or off. I just wanted to note that the issue is more complicated than that.

The emotional reaction isn't wasted bandwidth.

Consider; "Get some water now, please.", when compared to; "Get some fucking water now!". One of these will usually elicit a much quicker reaction.

The root of the problem is more embedded in 'emotivism' in which ethical sentences do not express propositions but emotional attitudes.

I do wonder how people could operate in this manner when presented with opinions that challenge their world view. Challenge somebodies religion, sexuality (especially if they are homophobic) or belief in their country and your are almost certain to trip them from civil discussion into emotional outburst in very short order.

Or, perhaps restore training in the Scientific Method.

A root of the growing divide between Left and Right is that neither party realizes how easily falsified their claims are.

Scientists realize that they are wrong almost always, and that when they are right, their hypothesis is usually very narrowly defined.

If people were trained to realize that they were almost always wrong by the time they reached 6th grade, you’d see a lot more openness to debate, and far fewer entrenched positions - and much more liberty allowed by/to everyone, I think.

Presently, kids exit grade school pretty much believing that they are pretty much “right” in everything they believe. This is tragically false, and a foundation for a lifetime of deep disappointment.

I don't know if NYT's assessment of the study is accurate (the study is paywalled), but here's the key paragraph for people trying to decide if this or the study is worth reading:

>> It turns out that highly creative adults often grow up in families full of tension. Not fistfights or personal insults, but real disagreements. When adults in their early 30s were asked to write imaginative stories, the most creative ones came from those whose parents had the most conflict a quarter-century earlier. Their parents had clashing views on how to raise children. They had different values and attitudes and interests. And when highly creative architects and scientists were compared with their technically skilled but less original peers, the innovators often had more friction in their families. As the psychologist Robert Albert put it, “the creative person-to-be comes from a family that is anything but harmonious, one with a ‘wobble.’ ”

Referenced study: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656698...

There's another study linked, but the rest is anecdata built on famous people that, personally, wasn't too illuminating on a skim. It might be interesting to read for the narrative.

I wonder how technology could be used to enhance debate. What if each side of an argument had a fixed percentage of talk time, enforced by software? Would people ratchet down their arguments and stop interrupting each other? Would they conserve their time so they can get a lengthy last word? What if you actually LOST time when you interrupted the other side?

You might enjoy poking around some of the links here https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Debate_tools

I would emphasize one background assumption, viz., the importance of the respect for and appreciation of truth. Otherwise, we slip into sophistry where we are less interested in truth and more interested in deploying words as weapons and instruments of power.

I wouldn't encourage children to fight but when children are accompanied by adults at all times and have all their conflicts mediated for them, it almost certainly stunts their social skills. Similarly, banning all physical contact in primary schools is a poor way to encourage emotional health... for any mammal.



Sam Harris impresses me in his podcasts when he has guests he disagrees with that the disagreements can become intense, but when they reach the end, he's back to friendly and cordial.

It's often hard to disagree on content without anger or other personal emotions, but his doing it inspires me to improve my skill at it.

Good example - I was also going to mention Sam Harris. Another thing he does is state his guest's position in his own words, and then ask the guest if he got the position correct. It's a good way to start a discussion and avoids the occurrence of two people arguing about a caricature of each person's position, instead of their actual position.

I really don't want to say this in an uncivil way but can people please stop spamming Hacker News with these articles full of cherry-picked scientific studies from New York Times or can their posts be automatically weighted less if their goal is to promote articles from NYT?

It's really frustrating having to spend a couple of minutes to read seemingly interesting articles only to find out a few minutes later it's probably someone writing for his own gain (well... popular media).

The first scientific journal article that is linked to appears to use the word "parental" to refer to the relationship between a child and her/his parents instead of, and as suggested in the article, between parents (see "parental warmth" and "parental restrictiveness" in the abstract of the journal article). The second scientific journal article that is linked to is used to argue that "architects and scientists were compared with their technically skilled but less original peers"—but the article that is linked to only mentions architects (apologies, but not actually too sorry, if it's actually because of the pay wall and that the authors did not mention scientist in the abstract).

This is probably considered an emotional, and potentially uncivil, response. But it's really, really frustrating. Just because some guy has a PhD doesn't mean what they write is credible when they quote scientific journals—I know plenty of people who have PhDs but what they say are far from credible.

I mean, is it even at all surprising that people who are subjected to an environment with more conflicting views (both good and bad) of any kind are probably less likely to comply and think more?

EDIT: expansion of why I think the interpretation of the first article I mentioned is wrong and cherry-picked. Added emotional sentiment at the end.

This is not an "article," it is an opinion piece, published in the opinion section of the Times.

An opinion piece is kind of like a Medium post- the view of an author with a clear point of view. Often explicitly by someone in the field or with an "axe to grind". This is a feature not a bug. They are giving experts a forum for debate.

An "article" should be more neutral, more widely sourced, and reports the opinions of others vs the author. (It goes without saying that this is clearly messy and you can't remove all bias.)

I see this frustration about "opinionated articles" incredibley often in critiques of opinion pieces in major newspapers and I can only assume that is because "how to read a newspaper" is a skill which is not taught and also because the web with its direct links makes identifying the differences harder.

The clue here that this is an opinion piece is the "Review" section of the NYT, and the identifying bio at the end about the author.

I'm not sure I should engage here, but since I submitted the article and you seem to have a big problem with it and consider it "spam" I'll just say:

1) I have no agenda to promote the NYT (feel free to check my submission history)

2) I personally have never seen anything like a "spamming" effort with respect to NYT articles here. If you have, perhaps consider it was a transient cluster of articles (which can happen from time to time for entirely benign reasons)

I'm sorry the article frustrated you, and I think it's fine to point out possible problems with cited studies.

I think you have every right to engage—not least because I started my response emotionally to begin with (and thinking why there are so many "good" NYT articles all the time).

I honestly did not mean to offend you in particular and, given what you said, I really am regretting having made an emotional response without considering and qualifying all parts of my arguments now—I did not consider the possibility that one may or may not have considered (and/or may or may not have the technical insights into) all the references in the article when I commented. I would have shared something that I think is interesting without understanding all parts of it.

Please accept my sincere apology for lumping everyone together (in fact, maybe there really isn't anyone who want to promote articles and people just happen to read NYT more often than any other sources), and I really didn't meant to offend you by venting my frustration. :(

EDIT: typo. Clarification.

No offense taken — and I think you bring up a good point about the study. Have a good day :)

Newspapers like NYT have successfully hacked hacker news into getting a lot of its attention. A really high proportion of the front page comes from newspapers, and what I've noticed these past years is that the comment threads and articles for these newspaper stories are both of really mediocre quality.

Most of these stories are disguising ephemeral, unproven theories under the guise of longer term truths.

Not to mention that after reading a few you get blocked by their paywall...

I agree.

I've submitted a Ask HN: ban nytimes lately - and got banned. Ive also sent an email to moderator asking for a feature that allows the ban of domains per user.

Note that I've actually enjoyed this post, but anyway, if someone wants to read nytimes, he knows where to find it.

EDIT: what's my opinion precisely you may ask? I think those are not hacker news per the guidelines. They are often general - good - but not really surprising. Therefore they are kinda platitude.

EDIT2: currently, there is 2 newyorker.com, 2 nytimes.com, 2 economist.com on the front page. And it's like that every day lately.

Probably a better practice than commenting here about is:

1. Flag articles you don't want here.

2. Don't participate in discussion of those articles, not even to talk about how you don't want them here.

3. Submit, upvote and comment on things you do want here.

I used to self post my own writing fairly regularly. I mostly have stopped. I don't feel it really goes well even though I posted stuff for a time in part because some people said they wanted to hear from me. I am still trying to figure out what exactly to write about these days, having recently abandoned a bunch of projects.

And I am saying that to try to make the point that what people say they want or don't want in comments seems to have a poor signal to noise ratio. I haven't personally found it to be a reliable indicator of what works on HN.

A much stronger indicator of interest or lack thereof boils down to "voting with your feet" as a means to indicate what isn't wanted here and "voting with your wallet (attention)" as to what is wanted here.

Give attention to things you want here. Starve other things of attention. Even if it doesn't have a notable impact on what appears on the front page, it will positively impact your experience of the site

  Flag articles you don't want here.
This is how unexplained flagging (there are no categories to explain why a reader is flagging) becomes a problem. People then flag articles that they simply disagree with, as opposed to using flags only to signal inappropriateness (spam, language, duplication, self-promotion, etc.).

For example, Craigslist used to have different flags for different reasons, e.g. Prohibited by policey, Spam, Illegal Content, Wrong Category, Sex for Money, etc. Now it's a unary, generic flag only.

HN has a counter measure: vouching. So if something gets flagged, people who think it doesn't deserve to be can counterweight it with a vouch.

I am old and cranky and at a point where I would rather see more of that than more off topic pissing and moaning about what one or two individuals would like to see or not see here. It's lots of sound and noise, but no real action. I am suggesting they take action because my experience suggests that's both more effective and more satisfying.

But, then, in some sense, I am being a hypocrite. I probably should have just flagged and downvoted their off topic, annoying comments rather than trying to make suggestions.

So, whatever.

I probably should have just flagged and downvoted their off topic

You did the right thing.

You didn't "get banned". Users flagged the submission, presumably because it was off topic.

>if someone wants to read nytimes, he knows where to find it

If someone wants to discuss the merits of a particular NYT article they think may be of interest to this community with this community then this is the place to do it.

Sure but lately "of a particular NYT article" has become a lot of articles.

Imagine the front page of HN is filled with articles like that, would you still read HN? I dont think so. Therefore, those articles are at the bottom of the standard and instead of more of them, we want less.

Well, if the front page was filled with articles of any one particular type/subject, I wouldn't still read HN. The diversity, such as it is, is part of the attraction. (Anyway, I'd way rather not have endless BTC articles than NYT articles.)

Although [disclosure] I didn't actually read the article. How many people do that regularly on here? Often I figure the discussion here is more interesting, more worth my time, more intellectual-curiosity-gratifying, ranging over more associated topics and questions, than the original article. Plus the top-voted comment, as here, often offers a TL;DR.

At times it's gotten so bad I've been tempted to write a scriptlet that matches nytimes items on the front page to flag and then hide them.

Most of the time, its contentious rehashing of tired old rhetoric, and it crowds out more interesting material.

I agree 100%.

I hate these NYT articles and those from other similar publications, but the silver lining is that I spend much less time checking Hackernews and more on things I enjoy.

> I know plenty of people who have PhDs but what they say are far from credible.

Reminds me of fun quote from a polemical essay written by a professor from Boston College:

"I have verified over and over again the principle that there is only one thing needed for you to believe any of the 100 most absurd ideas possible for any human being to conceive: You must have a Ph.D."

I block myself from all sites that Media Bias Fact Check has on any of their lists of biased sources. It has greatly improved my experience of the internet, similar to hiding YouTube comments. I'd rather waste a few seconds clicking an unreadable link, than waste a few minutes reading something I don't want to be influenced by.

I visited their site. I'm intrigued. I'm curious what sites you have left after doing this? Where do you find yourself getting world news, for example?

I no longer read the NYT, Washington Post, Fox, CNN, etc.

Reuters is my main source of financial and world news, and it's mostly for productive reasons. On Twitter I try to follow people who are knowledgeable in their domain, and I frequently get exposure to current events through them. Bonus points to follow two experts in the same domain who think differently, and see what they say about the same thing. For random political stuff, I like Snopes and factcheck.org.

Overall, I care much less about the news than I used to. There are many societal issues that interest me but I have learned that keeping up with minute to minute noise is a waste of time. I can read in-depth things that describe broad trends and useful facts, and prefer that to my old addiction to the news. It's not just to avoid getting influenced by biased stuff, but to avoid wasting time.

I wonder why I got downvoted. Thought I was being pragmatic and useful; who knows?

I completely agree. Post studies directly, as opposed to mainstream media interpretations of selected studies, especially from political outlets like NYTimes.

I wish HN had less political content, although I think the community does a good job flagging political content off of the front page.

My destop browser and RSS reader have links to NYT removed. Unfortunatley, the browser plugin I made to do it doesnt work on mobile Firefox and I havent cared enough to fix it. Every NYT article I've accidentally opened on my phone since has only reenforced my decision to put them in the list, especially when I see "Click to load full article".

A bit off-topic, but...

How come when I click and drag on text on this article, instead of highlighting it, it goes to the next article?(!) What kind of UX is that?

This is sort of why me and my wife pick fights with our kids where we can. We stress them to the point of snapping, then cool them down. It feels a little like bullying, but we cut back and emphasize that we still love them.

My 5 year old daughter in particular inherits the stubbornness of both her parents. She often she says something she regrets immediately (e.g "I hate you!"), cries on realizing it, but refuses to take it back.

We teach them that disagreements are perfectly normal. Differences in opinion should be embraced. And while you disagree with someone, you don't take it personally and dislike the person.

Shows like My Little Pony are excellent at this. While these shows have a villain and plot, the drama and conflict in most of the episodes revolve around growing up and dealing with stark personality differences. Friends will argue a lot, but the shows highlight that this doesn't end a friendship. And even someone who was 'evil' can turn over a new leaf.

She had a rough first week of school. Was picked on by a classmate, admitted she spent much of the day crying. But she goes home, opens up My Little Pony for inspiration. Then she's excited to go to school again. A couple of weeks later, she has solved the conflict with her classmate.

This is from someone on the receiving end and is probably slightly older than your kids—I think it's great that you are teaching your kids how to deal with conflicts and making them think, but I'm not sure that stressing them to the point of snapping is a good thing.

My dad did that to me and he still does it occasionally even when I'm "in the right"; I think he probably means well (he claims that he does when I confront him about it), but it's still an awful feeling that doesn't make me thankful of what he does or like him more. If you really do make your kids feel like that you are bullying them, maybe you should consider cutting it back a little.

Yeah, there's a very big difference between friendly debate and bullying. Having been exposed to both from my parents I can assert that one gave me life skills and the other gave me trauma and problems with interpersonal relationships that I'm still recovering from.

Haha, my eldest child is 5. We kind of stress our kids since they're young enough to communicate. They don't enjoy it in the moment, but bear no grudge.

We try to be very careful with damage control. We honestly talk it out. My daughter is good with labeling her feelings. She would say things like "Mom loves to pick on me for no reason, but I know she's just kidding," or "I was really angry with you this morning, because you glued the wallpaper without me, but I'm not angry anymore."

And when they do get angry, we talk it out, what they're pissed about, say sorry, and how to fix it.

I think it's sort of like exercise. We take care to not go past the 'injury' point, but sometimes it happens and we try to avoid it next time.

I do not pick on my kids without reason and they are able to express they are angry about wallpaper too. There are plenty on naturally occurring points of difference and topics, there is no need for me to go out of way to stress them out to the point of breaking.

I teach them that if some kids do that to them, it is their right to defend themselves or retaliate (otherwise they would end up submissive victims of bullying, have seen that when I was child multiple times). I also teach then that if someone do it to others, it is their right to defend that other person too from bullying.

I'm assuming there's a little bit of a vernacular mismatch here. People hear that you're "picking on" the kids or stressing them intentionally and conflate it with actual pettiness or degradation, instead of training the children to process and understand criticism without getting defensive, which is probably more along the lines of what you mean. I'd suggest you use words that are less likely to cause false associations on this topic, as it is highly sensitive.

That said, I think that the child's tolerance usually develops organically via interaction with other children, and the biggest way to help with this is to give the child a lot of siblings.

We should be careful not to "overengineer" our children's childhood, especially not in ways that are ripe for misinterpretation in hindsight.

> This is sort of why me and my wife pick fights with our kids where we can. We stress them to the point of snapping,

That sounds...healthy...

I hope you are merely expressing something really, really badly. Because this sounds like emotionally abusive, unhealthy behavior being justified as some kind of good preparation for a dog-eat-dog world.

Yeah, I think something got lost in translation. I suppose "bullying" and "snapping point" have more sinister meanings in other cultures, and not the playful meaning I intended.

Please nobody do this. This is unhealthy at best and abusive at worst.

...and also extremely manipulative.

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