Scary stories from a lovely place

Opinion: The trump card of experience

Lately I’ve been into reading discussions/arguments that take the form of comments after news stories or blog posts. (I’ve been hoping a Kimlovesjozi post would attract some back and forth, not necessarily with me involved, but so far no joy.) I’m finding it interesting from a human point of view. It’s amazing how people think and express themselves. I don’t even really care what they’re talking about, it’s the method and what the writer is unknowingly revealing about him or herself that fascinates me.

So far I’ve concluded the following about humanity. Unsurprisingly people are bigoted against another race, class or gender and they have no qualms in expressing this, no matter how offensive they are being. People aren’t smart. This has surprised me. I’m sure most of the people writing have some form of good education – that usually comes through in the grammar and use of language. But they often don’t understand the article they’re commenting on, or misinterpret other people’s remarks thus leading them to express their own nonsensical argument. I can bear with this better on blogs, which can be pretty subjective anyway, but on more serious websites or in face to face conversation it doesn’t make sense to me.

What I’ve found most frustrating is that people are either too lazy or don’t seem to know how to form an argument without making it subjective or personal. For example, I was reading an article on punishing children by smacking on the Sydney Anglicans website (very exciting stuff). I didn’t actually read the whole article because it was too long and I wasn’t even that interested in the subject matter. As I read through the handful of comments I was disappointed to see that no one really engaged with what the author was saying. They merely gave their experience of raising their children.

It went something like this – “I have 5 children and I used to smack them, only on the legs, after I gave them three warnings. Now they are all very smart, successful adults and we are great friends.” Then someone will counter it with – “My wife and I punished our children in various ways when they did something wrong. We didn’t give them chances or make threats, rather we wanted them to learn obedience from the word go. And our children grew into obedient, honest young people and all now have families of their own.” If people just argued the essence of these statements, without the personal examples or subjective evidence, then their words would be more credible.

This sloppy and counter-productive form of debate is pretty common when it comes to parenting. I think that’s because raising children is bloody scary and it’s easy to feel the need to justify decisions regarding feeding, sleeping, forms of punishment, etc etc etc. And it seems like any discussion can be won by saying “I did …… and look, my children are fine!” It would probably help new parents if more experienced parents didn’t just use the ‘fine-ness’ of their children as evidence. If people expressed facts behind different perspectives that would make for helpful, and more interesting dialogue. Presenting personal experiences has a place, but I would prefer to see it at the end of an argument, after objective information has been presented, rather than as the meat in the sandwich.

It’s not only true of parenting though. I’ve seen it in discussions of all different kinds. It’s hard to counter experience with objective fact. And it’s so unfashionable for there to be one right way these days, anything is subjective and can be true for an individual. The experience argument is popular and acceptable. But in my opinion, it’s not a good way of proving a point and it pushes an argument flat onto it’s bottom. Thus continuing dialogue and learning doesn’t happen and we are left with experiences to guide us.


6 comments on “Opinion: The trump card of experience

  1. Bec
    February 27, 2011

    True… like this one time I posted a comment… 😉
    Thinking particularly of comments on larger sites, where comments are filtered, I think something that doesn’t help the matter is so often it seems they leave out comments that try to create a structured, well thought argument and post comments where people are sensationalising their own experiences… I guess it all helps to get more people fired up and wanting to read more and comment more because we all have our own experiences that differ from the ones presented… unfortunately I know it works on me sometimes.

    • kimlovesjozi
      February 27, 2011

      Good point McEvoy. I hadn’t considered that there’s often an editorial element at work.

  2. Tim
    March 1, 2011

    I think one of the issues on the internet is anonymity – and I don’t mean that in the usual “you can say what you want because no one knows you” way (although that is a problem)

    Rather, particularly on the parenting issue, we feel the need to justify ourselves by proving that we have the credentials of having raised “perfect gentlemen”

    Real life doesn’t tend to work like that – you mostly end up in conversations with people who you know well enough not to need to hear their credentials. I know which of my friends have well behaved children (and which ones think they have well-behaved children who are actually incredibly naughty when Mum+Dad are not around).

    I like to get the wisdom of other people’s experience – but it really only works when I’ve seen enough of them to know whether to trust their supposed wisdom. That’s not really possible on a public website, despite people’s attempts to prove their experience.

    • kimlovesjozi
      March 1, 2011

      More golden wisdom from the Vernum household. Your kid is going to be really smart.

      This is really true Tim, and I think that people present this perfect image of themselves in all different ways, on the net and in real life. What confuses me is that people’s kids seem to be the same all the time, they seem to operate on a clockwork kind of schedule of living and behaviour. Silas is different every day and I wonder if all babies really are.

      • Bec
        March 1, 2011

        It’s likely just that Silas is much more interesting and creative then most… although I imagine it’s somewhat just babies in general too 🙂

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This entry was posted on February 27, 2011 by in Slice o' Opinion Pie and tagged , , , .
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