April 28th, 2013



I've been thinking about an issue that's been raised in the secular community; I'm not sure it's a good issue, nor a bad one. Let me lead up to it by briefly reiterating a position I do hold that supports my ambivilance on this one:

I've come to support the idea of religious chaplains in the US Military. This is because while generally people's faith is a private matter and doesn't need/shouldn't get government support, when people are effectively wards of the state, controlled in almost every matter by the circumstances of their job, the public/private divide effectively disappears (what is truly private in the daily lives of our armed forces?), and we lose the ability to honestly say "on your own time". Without that divide, the state provides a number of things (entertainment too) that they otherwise would not to meet the needs/desires/happiness of their troops. So long as participation in religious content is optional in the fullest possible sense of the term, I'm ok with military chaplains; having them there, giving them a salary, etc.

Now, the issue at hand where I'm still thinking about things is related to this petition to include seculars in interfaith services. I'll take the "no" stance to illustrate its reasonability (and understand that I'm being a bit of a devil's advocate here and I'm actually ambivalent and still working this over); exclusion of seculars from such events acts as a burden on the content of the event because in making the content suitable for seculars, it dilutes or removes the meaning of such services, because the religious framing is how people live their lives and failing to hook into that (difficult to do without angering/excluding seculars) makes for a very dilute event.

Note that this is a privately-run event, but one with public participation by some high-profile political figures, so there are no legal issues involved; the question is just one of "should" and public pressure. For those of you who don't believe in shoulds outside of "separation of church and state" issues, I don't expect you to feel very interested in this issue. For me, the public/private divide is significant but not deciding; there are plenty of private "should"s in my book.


Not Going for the Face

One of the most important things I believe one should do in arguments is to allow for the possibility of your winning the argument without costing the other person too much face. Most people care a lot about face, even though they probably shouldn't; unless your debate is on behalf of a third party, or primarily for onlookers, if you want to actually convince/influence someone, even partially, you should keep it friendly, show you're willing to give when warranted, and if/when you make headway, be as charitable as humanly possible to their person (even if not necessarily their argument).

I'm always trying to figure out ways to do this better.

It's sadly often impossible to have a charitable conversation with people in activist communities because most of them are rotten enough that if you disagree with them, they'll have a variety of ways to argue that they shouldn't even be listening to you, have a bunch of names to call you, etc. If you find such things interesting, you can watch these antibodies when you see bad discourse standards move from one person to another (this whole "argument from positional privilege" thing in third-wave feminism is a great example). Fortunately, there are good ways to unplug those arguments too, but unfortunately they tend to be very jarring for the person who only knows how to argue with them.