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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Argumentative Theory of Reasoning

Mark Twain reportedly said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and you will annoy the pig."

Turns out, Mark Twain may have been right.

Last week, the NY Times ran an article about the assumption of those in the fields of psychological science and philosophy that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth.

The evolution of rationality and the ability to reason, it has been believed, allowed an individual to forge a path of enlightenment to philosophical, moral and scientific thinking.

New research challenges this assumption, and suggests that reason evolved as an extension of the hard-wired human compulsion to win in battle - extended, now, to a war of words.
According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.
Well, that explains a lot, doesn't it?

I call it "The Perry Mason Effect," but the influence could also come from other television show like "LA Law" and "Law and Order".

What we've learned is that prosecutors and defense lawyers are passionate about constructing the strongest possible argument. That's their job. That's what they are paid to do. The belief is that this process will reveal the truth, just as the best idea will triumph in what John Stuart Mill called the “marketplace of ideas.”

What we've learned, however, is that legal cases are not built so much on finding "the truth" but winning. We've seen that politics play a big part. The District Attorney has to be "strong" on certain issues or s/he won't get reelected - or, perform as well in a planned future bid for election as governor.

Justice is supposed to be blind, but political ambition is often blind to justice.

Mr. Mill's theory of the "marketplace of ideas" seems to have been hijacked by the media which often dumps so many biased 'ideas' and speculation into our living rooms and car radios that "the truth" - much less the possibility of a 'fair trial' - is severely compromised.

Somebody's got to win and somebody's got to lose. In today's world, it is more often the case that the one with the best presentation in court wins. Survival of the fittest has extended its evolution into the rhetoric of human interaction.

Beyond debating techniques or compelling closing arguments - or just below the surface of them - is the old caveman impulse to beat someone over the head with a club until you can drag them back to your cave. In these post-modern times, our words have become our club.

Last night, I met to consult with a vestry of a congregation which is in a search process to call a new rector. I've often joked about consultants and now I find that I'm becoming one.

One of the jokes about a consultant is that their job is to look at your watch and tell you what time it is. I must be doing this wrong because I'm finding that it is not as easy as it looks.

The issues before us were two: "the process" and "the prejudices" in the search for a new rector. "The process" part was complicated by an interesting policy and procedure in that particular diocese.

All potential candidates are vetted by the bishop's office - BEFORE the Search Committee is allowed to look over their resumes or interview the potential candidate. It is the bishop's office that presents 3-5 potential candidates for an interview and possible call. In the end, the Search Committee in that diocese is charged with presenting one - just ONE - candidate for Vestry approval.

The Vestry does not have a chance to interview the potential candidate. They are, however, allowed to meet "socially" with him/her before the final vote.

I'm astounded by this practice, honoring and respecting, as I do, the legal, fiduciary and spiritual responsibilities of the Vestry as Servant Leaders of the community of faith. Even so, it is what it is, and there was no sense registering my complaints with that process. You work with what you've got.

So, we talked about the nature of their community and what their profile said about them and what their liturgical practices - and yes, even their budget - revealed about their priorities and values and theology.

We talked about what questions they might ask of the Search Committee to get the information they needed in order to keep everyone on the same page and how to trust the process and the way the Holy Spirit can and does work through politics and personalities.

We talked about family systems and anxiety and the natural inclination in the system to deal with anxiety through triangulation (thank you, Ed Friedman). We also talked about strategies for the Vestry's "non interview" of the candidate at the allowed 'social event'.

We also talked about the Vestry's final vote of the one potential candidate - whether or not it was to be a simple majority, a super majority or a unanimous vote, and what that meant to both the congregation as well as the candidate as a symbol of support for both the candidate as well as their leadership.

Then, we got to prejudices. No, they had no issues with a woman as their rector. No, they had no issues with a person of color as their rector - although, in that community, some . . . umm. . ."challenges" . . . . would no doubt present themselves. I assured them that a person of color in a predominantly Caucasian community would come into that situation with his or her eyes wide open.

Hmmm . . . What about a person with disabilities No problem, really. We've got walkers and crutches and wheelchairs, someone joked nervously. "But, what about pastoral visits," someone mused out loud. Hmmmm . . . . Never thought about that, they all agreed. And, we probably should.

So, let's see, that leaves us with . . .. hmmm . . .. anybody guess? Anybody? Bueller? Anybody?

One woman slapped her hand on the table and said, "It's me. I'm very clear. I can not - will not - accept "one of those" . . . a homosexual . . . as my pastor."

Funny thing. I found myself admiring her for her honesty and integrity.  Give me someone who can honestly admit their prejudices and take a stand any day over those who profess to have none and smile and nod and then cave into conflict in the name of "peace". 

No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace.

Now, I should tell you that I revealed nothing about my own personal circumstances. Only that "we" had six children and five grandchildren and that family was my first vocation and highest priority.

Some of the other Vestry members sprang into mildly, barely concealed outrage. They asked her questions - very pointed questions - which she answered gracefully but with clear conviction. She had her own perspective of the world and how it works. She had her understanding of the Bible. She has no problem "dealing" with homosexuals - why the children of some of her best friends are homosexual. She just would not - could not - accept "one of them" as her pastor.

She would not be moved.

There was no arguing with this woman. There was no amount of reasoning with her. She believed what she believed and, I might add, displayed an enormous amount of courage and grace to be the obvious "odd man out" in that group. By the furtive looks and glaces I was getting from some of the Vestry members, it was painfully obvious that some were somewhat embarrassed by her, although they also had obvious admiration and affection for her.

Funny thing. I found myself intervening to defend her and back everyone off. Yup, I'm that committed to the idea of God's unconditional love and inclusion of absolutely everybody. Clearly, she has her prejudices and biases, but she ain't no bigot, if you understand what I'm saying.

Besides, I've been in this place too many times before. I remember one "event" - long ago - some attempt or another at reconciliation with the "orthodox" among us, in the days when we thought that still might be possible. You know. Before the "orthodox" got on their high horses and left for the Global South.

Louie Crew - Blessed Louie Crew - and I were sitting at a table with one older woman who, for most of our dinner and for two hours after dessert, berated Louie about how he could "change".

Louie - Blessed Louie - gently, patiently, told her one story after another. He told her the sweet, sweet story of how he and Earnest had met at the local YMCA - at the elevator, as I recall. He told her romantic stories of how he and Earnest had courted and how they "married" themselves in their own living room, using the 1928 Prayer book - the only book available at the time - and then carried each other over the threshold.

He told her stories of the racism (Earnest is African American) and homophobia he initially encountered from his parents and family and neighbors, and how he had come to forgive them, and they came to love and accept them for who they were.

The woman was adamant. Louie could - if he prayed hard enough, if he wanted it bad enough, if he loved Jesus enough - change and become "normal".

I was amazed by his stamina and his unfailing gentle, caring, loving, patient spirit. I would have thrown in the lavender towel hours before and gone to bed to punch a few pillows.

Finally, even Louie - Blessed Louie - grew weary. He looked at the woman, smiled gently and said, "I'm going to go to bed now, but before I leave, I'd like to ask you a question, if that's alright".

"Why yes, of course," she said politely.

"You have a daughter right?"

"Why, yes," said the woman, "two of them."

"Well," said Louie, "If I were to "change" as you ask, might I ask you something?"

The woman smiled broadly. She smelled victory. "Of course," she said.

"If I were to "change", which of your two daughters would you allow me to marry?"

The woman looked startled. "Why, neither of them!" she exclaimed.

And Louie - Blessed, Sainted Louie - smiled at her sweetly and said, "Of course not. Because you know that I can't change, don't you? And, it would be disastrous for your daughter and your family - and me."

The woman looked astounded and completely befuddled as Louie affectionately patted her hand, stood up, bowed like the Southern gentleman he is, and said, "Good night."

That experience with Louie taught me more about the "Argumentative Theory of Reasoning" than any article in any scientific journal ever could.

I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the most powerful politics and the most difficult personalities.

I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit because I know she has worked in my own life, transforming and reforming me like so much clay on a potter's wheel.

I believe that the Holy Spirit will work through that woman and that Vestry. I trust Her to work through their process to call the best person to do the work of ministry in that place as their rector.

And, if the best person for the position of rector happens to be Queer, I trust the Holy Spirit to work on that Vestry woman's heart and lead her to make the best decision for the health and well being of her soul and her own salvation.

I can hear Shekinah giggling, even now, when that Vestry woman - one day, in the not too distant future, I suspect - discovers that the priest who led their discussion last night, the very one and the same person she lauded with praise for her pastoral guidance, also happens to be .... "one of them."

One of this morning's lesson was from Acts 5:27-42. It's the story of conflict in the early church about the "new teaching" of Jesus which the disciples were preaching all over Jerusalem.

Members of the Sanhedrin were outraged and brought them before the high priest. Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!"

The story continues at verse 33:
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Leave them alone! I think that's the best example of "Argumentative Theory of Reasoning" I've heard. Leave them alone. If it is of God, it will have out.

You see, as it turns out, pigs do sing. Their song is just not one that humans can appreciate. But, I think God does. Indeed, I think it was God who taught them to sing in their own way.

The trick is not to try to teach pigs to sing in a way that is pleasing to us, but to find a way so that their voices can blend in a heavenly chorus that is pleasing to God.

That may not make sense, but then again, this is not an argument I'm looking to win.

I'm just singing my own song, is all.

16 comments:

Susan Hagen said...

"The trick is not to try to teach pigs to sing in a way that is pleasing to us, but to find a way so that their voices can blend in a heavenly chorus that is pleasing to God."

With a hat tip to Bill Staines I offer you this.

All God's critters got a place in the choir.
Some sing low, some sing higher.
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire.
Some just clap their hands, or paws or anything you got now.

Susan Hagen

Grandmère Mimi said...

Clearly, she has her prejudices and biases, but she ain't no bigot, if you understand what I'm saying.

Elizabeth, I like your post. Most of all, I admire your patience with the woman on the vestry who would not want "one of those" for a rector. But I don't understand why you say the woman is not a bigot.

Wait. I do understand. Let me rephrase and move away from name-calling, which I try (not always successfully) to avoid. The woman's attitude is one of bigotry, right?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I've always loved that song, Susan

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - According to Wiki

A prejudice is a prejudgment, an assumption made about someone or something before having adequate knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy. The word prejudice is most commonly used to refer to preconceived judgments toward people or a person because of race, social class, gender, ethnicity, homelessness, age, disability, obesity, religion, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics. It also means beliefs without knowledge of the facts.


A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs. The predominant usage in modern English refers to persons hostile to those of differing race, ethnicity, religion or spirituality, nationality, inter-regional prejudice, gender and sexual orientation, homelessness, various medical disorders particularly behavioral disorders and addictive disorders. Forms of bigotry may have a related ideology or world views.

In terms of my patience: Well, sometimes you just have to pick your battles. This was not one I was willing to engage. In another circumstance, maybe. I only pick up my sword when I need to these days. Thankfully, the rest of the Vestry did most of my fighting for me. Much more effective that way - when straight people take on other straight people.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Well, I suppose to know whether the woman exhibited prejudice rather than bigotry, which seems by definition, somewhat worse than prejudice, you would have had to say, "I am a lesbian," which I sort of wish you had done. :-) Call me combative, which I probably am.

One explanation of the difference between prejudice and bigotry is that prejudice pertains more to the realm of thought and bigotry more to actions on the basis of prejudice. I don't find the explanation entirely satisfactory, but it is helpful.

Hutch said...

Glad to hear you are involved in the process - it is wicked for all involved in more ways than one. I remember one Search Committee dinner where - in truth - between dinner and dessert, when it was revealed that my partner (the priest) lived with a gasp woman - they said, we are done and rose to escort her back to her hotel with dessert left sadly behind. Or those churches that say they have no problem because that is what the Bishop wants them to say, and they come up with absolutely NO reason you aren't the match - you just ARE NOT RIGHT. I agree with you - honesty is best and it is actually kindest to all and as you say, the Breath of God will blow through all rooms eventually. For my partner's sake, and all priest's sake, I wish the process was more "Christian". And that the church being separated from the laws of the land were used to make them BETTER than those laws, and not ways to get around them - sexism, ageism, and all those other isms that the Church uses while it praises itself for not being like the world. Jeez - sound a little strident. Might the process we are currently in be weighing just a little heavily?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, Mimi. A person can think whatever they want, but they just can't take away my Civil Rights or do or say anything that's hateful.

She was NOT saying, "If you call a Queer person, I will leave the church." She said, "I could not have a Queer person as my pastor." She made no threats. She did not try to manipulate anyone. She simply took responsibility for her prejudices.

I can live with that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hutch - I know. That's really what I meant. I can't tell you how many times Queer people have told me of having been in situations similar to the one you describe. Or, worse, having been called as the "token" so the congregation could say, "See? See how liberal/progressive/warm/welcoming we are?" Or, the congregation that won't engage in mission b/c, turns out, hiring the Queer person was their "mission" so everyone will think how wonderful they are. Makes me sick.

Give me a good old fashioned bigot any day. If they are wearing white hoods over their heads, even better. They may be hiding their faces, but both their prejudice and bigotry are right out there for everyone to see.

Liz "pansyliz" said...

The story about L Crew was wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

How appalling the Rector search process is in that Diocese. i would be fighting that if i lived there.

i have tried to explain the same question of prejudice versus bigotry to young people. The idea of prejudice and bigotry are real for young people regardless race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, body size....there is ageism and it does not just mean people throw out what the older members say or do, it is alive and well in the lives of young people. i have not worked at a church yet that has not created conflict with the sextons who would always blame a mess on the teenagers.

Thanks for sharing and showing healthy ways to handle prejudice and begin a discussion on prejudice and bigotry. We certianly could use more conversations.

As a pondering.....i wonder if there is any relationship to prejudice and bigotry in the increasing bullying behavior in our society?

LFS liz

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Children see. Children hear. Children listen. Children learn.

Violence is violence and bullying is one form of violence.

I always ask, "Where are the adults?" Where are the parents?"

Mary-Cauliflower said...

Thanks for this post. Having been a member of a search committee, I can certainly agree with Hutch that the process is tough. Knowing that time only moves forward doesn't make it any easier - we cannot order up candidates who devote themselves to leaving us unchallenged. It also feels brutal that there is only one face-to-face interview, as it makes figuring out that all-important "chemistry" nearly impossible. I think that if a search committee is functioning productively, people can be honest about their sticking points - while they acknowledge that the best choice for the parish may not satisfy their personal "must/must not haves."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MC - I've been on one rector search committee - a thousand years ago - and three episcopal search committees. It is a holy, sacred task. And, and, and. . .so very difficult. I can't say how important it is to have a sense of trust between search committee, Wardens, Vestry, consultant(s), Interim, and the bishop's office. The process is just as important as the decision. Indeed, without a good process, you can't really expect a good decision.

But, I don't have any strong feelings about this, do I?

Douglas Becker said...

Perhaps you can appreciate the new definition of consultant from my book, "Assertive Incompetence: An Introduction to Management Malpractice":

A consultant is a person you hire to tell you the time. They borrow your watch, tell you the wrong time and then leave, taking your watch with them and you pay them.

Or words to that effect. I did it from memory. What can I say. It's been a decade.

The fundamental problem with group think gestault making decisions these days is that rationality has been tossed out the window in favor of emotional decision making, generally centered around lust. I would submit to you that this is a dysfunctional way to make decisions, but people don't want truth or facts, they just want to feel good about the decision they make, no matter how good or bad -- particularly in the long run -- it may be.

And so, for the most part these days, people are stuck with mediocre decisions based on their lack of logic leaving dissatisfaction from their compromises in the wake of fulfilling their lusts.

For the most part.

Occasionally, the right decisions are made, but mostly by time and chance. Or maybe God has mercy and forces the decision to make things turn out His way.

I would think.

Hint: Before the pig sings, make sure his lipstick is applied properly.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Gee, Douglas, That perspective seems to me, at least, to be pretty sadly tilted toward sarcasm. I haven't found that consultants take your watch or your money. Mostly, they leave you with questions that are designed to lead you to deeper truths. The "Joke" about my more abbreviated comment is that the consultant doesn't make things up - s/he simply points out the obvious things which have been hiding in plain sight. Sometimes, that's really, really helpful - after you've slapped yourself upside the head for missing the obvious. That's not the fault of the consultant.

As for community decision making and the process of consensus building - yes, it is tedious. Yes, it can be cumbersome. But, in the end, I'd rather have people say, "Bad Decision" than "Bad Process".

That's just me.

Douglas Becker said...

Elizabeth, you have to understand that I worked for Government [then Corporations, then Government again].

That should be all the explanation you need, except that for the cults I've been in, except for the name on the door, you can't differentiate between Government, Corporations, Academia (I also worked at a college) and Cults (and some may argue that Government, Corporations and Academia ARE Cults).

You are right: It's better to use process, because if you just do it any which way, you end up with disorganized chaos. At least with process, you can end up with organized chaos, at minimum.

Again, times have changed in most venues over the past 50 years in wildly chaotic ways and, for the most part, with notable exceptions [which appears to be in your area], decision making boils down to brain storming and then what feels best for everybody emotionally. Fifty years ago, there was much more objectivity in the various business venues (and this is in recognition that there is a business aspect to organized religious bodies, though it is usually not the major part of those bodies which are Spirit inspired -- differentiating them in significant ways from One Man Show Cults).

This is in recognition of the fine work you do as what appears to me to be the exception of the rule wherein process has been seriously degraded over time in a weird sort of entropy, with the caveat that we all need to be vigilant -- especially these days.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for that clarification, Douglas. I would only add that most mainline religions could not be considered "cults".