Friday, May 23, 2008

The communication game

Imagine for a moment that you are trying to communicate with someone - maybe it is in an article in a journal or maybe it is in a conversation.

You have a certain amount of time or a certain amount of words in which to make your point. Lets say you are extremely bright and so you compose an argument that is the very best logical argument that could be created in that length of space.
But now you, being very bright, wonder - I know people are not 100% logical - will this actually convince the other party?

Let’s say you decide convincing them of the core point (or winning) is your most important objective and you are willing to (within the bounds of what is tolerated) do whatever you can to achieve that aim.

Now depending on the context you start to think about the basic theories of writing essays that most people know, principles like: say what you are going to prove, prove it and then tell them what you have proven. Also you need to make sure you don’t make the article too demanding to read, and that you referencing experts where appropriate. Also choosing those topics which you think are more relevant and arguing for positions you think are most acceptable. There is a cost to your essay here (because you must remove better ideas in order to obey each rule).

Thinking a little more you decide to there is using words with the right connotations, appeals to intuition, attempts to build the right sort of social bonds and obeying all the social niceties, referencing specific 'experts', and predicting their likely objections (even if irrational) and countering them. There is a cost to the logic of the essay here.

Beyond that there is the realm of complex psychology which I presume the best politicians use, there is what I call the "perspective switch" baiting potential opposition away from the areas you know are weak and a whole range of other strategies too complex to describe here although their applicability is almost independent of what you are arguing.

Now you present your position in the appropriate forum in competition with other ideas and yours emerges on top, a success from your perspective since you believe your idea is right although you regret not being able to present more of the position. Others who did not make those changes watch on envious or frustrated because their expertise (which may be more ‘valuable’ in a purely logical sense) is trumped by your psychology and literary training.

This is very much like politics where(I know it is hard to believe) a lot of people who honestly want the best for their people/country end up engaging in all sorts of destructive behavior.


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