Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Science of Listener Attention -- UPDATE

If -- if -- your goal is to persuade people, Brian Eisler's rules for civil comment section behavior is a good place to start:
... [Heart of the Matter] has a comments section. Sounds simple enough, but as even a cursory glance at the comments of most political blogs will show, many people would benefit from some guidelines. Here are a few I hope will help.

1. The most important guideline when it comes to argument is the golden rule. If someone were addressing your point, what tone, what overall approach would you find persuasive and want her to use? Whatever that is, do it yourself. If you find this simple guideline difficult, I'll explain it slightly differently in #2.

2. Argue for persuasion, not masturbation. If you follow the golden rule above, it's because you're trying to persuade someone. If you instead choose sarcasm and other insults, you can't be trying to persuade (have you ever seen someone's opinion changed by an insult?). If you're not trying to persuade, what you're doing instead is stroking yourself. Now, stroking yourself is fine in private, but I think we can all agree it's a pretty pathetic to do so in public. So unless you like to come across as pathetic, argue to persuade.

3. Compared to the two above, this is just commentary, but: no one cares about your opinion (or mine, for that matter). It would be awesome to be so impressive that we could sway people to our way of thinking just by declaiming our thoughts, but probably most of us lack such gravitas. Luckily, there's something even better: evidence, logic, and argument. Think about it: when was the last time someone persuaded you of the rightness of his opinion just by declaring what it was? Probably it was the same time someone changed your mind with an insult, right? And like insults, naked declarations of opinion, because they can't persuade, are fundamentally masturbatory. And masturbation, again, is not a very polite thing to do on a blog.

Argue with others the way you'd like them to argue with you. Argue with intent to persuade. Argue with evidence and logic. That shouldn't be so hard, should it? Let's give it a try.
I discovered Mr. Eisler's very sensible etiquette guide for people who seek to persuade other's to see their POV when I followed a link back to Mr. Eisler's most recent post -- "Greenwald Derangement Syndrome" -- which begins as follows:
"I just read an article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine that was so silly and self-indulgent I wasn't going to comment on it. "
No word on whether Mr. Mr. Eisler plans to continue punditing in this fashion until he goes blind, or if he plans to continue only until he needs glasses.

UPDATE:  The astute reader will have noticed that the point I was making had nothing to do with civility per se, but was about abiding by one's own stated rules. Hence the prominent "-- if -- " in the first sentence.


mahakal said...

What about the rules of blogger civility? I seem to recall there was a campaign back in 2006 or so to get us to agree to such a code. But then, what do you call the kind of blogging you do about people who you think are being ridiculous? Is is just masturbation? Or do you have a point? I thought you did.

kfreed said...

Eisler: "Greenwald wrote a book(s)..."

As did Sarah Palin. So?

It amuses me to no end when Greenwald's fansters point out that we must nod approvingly when Greenwald (and Paul) start in on their Obama = Nixon claptrap because...

Well, don't you know that Glenn Greenwald wrote a book?!?

steeve said...

"have you ever seen someone's opinion changed by an insult?"

I don't think I've seen someone's opinion change, for any reason, ever. It's easier for someone to go through the eye of a needle than to admit being wrong in an anonymous forum.

It's easy to make a list of don'ts. "Have you ever seen someone's opinion change by using the word 'purple' in a message? Never use the word 'purple' in a message."

It's far more difficult to make a list of dos. "You can change opinions by following these guidelines. See examples here, here, and here."

Worldviews are reshaped behind the scenes. A few people think for a few years and emerge different on the other side. Who knows what precipitates that? Maybe it's being called a boil on the ass of history over and over again. Maybe it's being ridiculed for being an evidence-averse dinosaur.

Lumpy Lang said...

Notice how Droneglass never permits the focus to be diverted from the form of the story to the content.

Since he can't defend what 'his' government is doing, this shell game (and an implicit contempt for his readers) is all he's got left.

Anonymous said...

Nope, wrong on all counts. The only reason a person changes their opinion is out of fear. fear of the other, the unknown, or the hated.

Anonymous said...


Caustic blogging isn't calibrated to influence the target of ridicule, but the audience reading the screed. Taking DG as an example, I doubt much of what he's written has been persuasive to David Brooks, but his work has on occasion illuminated Brook's dishonesty to other readers.

I suspect that this is the reason some liberals take such a dim view of Greenwald. It is not hard to get the impression his writing is more calibrated to accuse liberals than persuade them.

Oh well, whadda'ya going to do.

- Nonny Mouse

Anonymous said...

Eisler's commentary is interesting though. He may very well be right about Chait, and other people who dismiss Greenwald's expose because they dislike Greenwald, when he invokes the phrase (ugh) Greenwald Derangement Syndrome. Decoupling Greenwald's personal grievances from his reporting is a necessary task, given the importance of the issues he is championing.

On the flipside, Eisler's earlier commentary illustrates again why I've never considered DG's focus on pushing back against some of Gleen's assertions as beyond the pale.

-- Nonny Mouse

Anonymous said...

Lumpy -- That's because Driftglass' problem with Glenn (on this topic) has never been anything more than dislike of the man coupled with dislike of his tactics.

It is only in your fevered imagination that not on board with Glenn's every assertion = enemy of all that is pure and holy. How terribly frustrating for you that not everyone will hold your hand as you leap to that conclusion.

- Nonny Mouse

Tom Huck said...

"Greenwald Derangement Syndrome causes journalists (and others) to focus on BS and gossip instead of a discussion about how the government has been illegally spying on the American people. Sufferers of GDS experience swollen egos and shrunken reason; place the personal above the professional and the petty above the profound; and most insidiously of all, become blind to the very behaviors that should alert them they’ve taken ill."

That's you (all), my friend (s).
I gotta say that your bud Perlstein dropped the ball in a most ridiculous way with his book-reading-historian's parsing of how TCP/IP network technology works. I mean he looked like a whiny little fairy pouting about how Glenn G is a big meanie.

Two days later I watch Greenwald at the socialism conference, introduced by Scahill (who is to your boy Taibi what IF Stone is to l'effete John Updike) Greenwald hit one over the fence at that gathering and made you guys look like ineffectual whiny ballerinas.

So I am guessing

(1) That whatever your previous IT job was, that you don't really have a grasp on the scope or architecture of the surveillance or the implications to business, creativity, intellectual property or even competitive capitalism itself. Thus you couldn't pull your friend Perlstein's head out of his dunce cap. And you are not at all catching exactly what all this implies or entails. So accordingly it is much more fun (and seemingly relevant to you) to bash Greenwald for being a "whiny shit" wile the guv you luv is smashing a boot across the world's face. OK fine.

(2) Either that or you've gone so far down the boojwa rabbit hole that at this point you don't care what Daddy Bush's Carlyle group has access to, and you've given up serious political analysis in favor of Science Fiction Trivia.

That is of course your right but please don't expect to get paid for it at anywhere the same level you were before.

I say this because for the past several years you have been more than an inspiration to me and a lot of other people - and now at a most serious and critical juncture you seem to be otherwise engaged.

mahakal said...

Tom Huck's point (2) seems quite valid to me. But I think Driftglass can expect better financial compensations than before, club membership has its privileges after all.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure a blogger who uses the term "pig people" regularly should be lecturing on the art of persuasion. Not that I disagree with said term. But a similar remark can be made about the use of "foul" language -- it may be effective, but it allows your adversaries to summarily dismiss you.

mahakal said...

UPDATE: The astute reader will have noticed that the point Driftglass was making was if: "If -- if -- your goal is to persuade people" - not abiding by one's own stated rules, but how to be persuasive, and not writing for the purpose of self-pleasuring.

Hamfast Ruddyneck said...

@Mahakal: That's the strangest thing about all this--I don't think Driftglass is getting compensated for morphing into "Driftbrooks".

Maybe someone left a pod in his pad circa 2008?