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Whys and wherefores
April 3, 2006 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Reasons and explanations.
posted by semmi (28 comments total)

 
That is a really interesting article. It's going to take awhile to sink in. I can feel my brain stretching. :)
posted by Malor at 12:54 PM on April 3, 2006


Gladwell is great and covers a fascinating gamut of subjects. Past articles.
posted by grobstein at 1:13 PM on April 3, 2006


At first blink I would like to say he has crossed the shark jumping tipping point. Of course I won't because I wouldn't want to break any windows, bite like a pit bull or be a tattletale.
posted by srboisvert at 1:24 PM on April 3, 2006


At first blink[...]

You're probably right, then
posted by grobstein at 1:25 PM on April 3, 2006


It's funny because the book review is actually all about Gladwell's style. He turns technical explanations into stories and that is what makes him appealing as a pop science writer.
posted by srboisvert at 1:39 PM on April 3, 2006


And turning stories into technical explanations is what makes Gravity's Rainbow so unreadable.
posted by mystyk at 2:12 PM on April 3, 2006


What's up with the umlauts in "reëxamine?"

Sorry, I'll continue reading. That just struck me as odd. Is that the new way to spell it?
posted by Citizen Premier at 2:48 PM on April 3, 2006


That's a dierisis, the New Yorker's fancy way of saying the double vowel is actually two different syllables. I think it's more like the old way to spell it.
posted by bigschmoove at 2:51 PM on April 3, 2006


CP - it's a New Yorker style quirk. The do it with the double vowels in words like cooperate as well.
posted by raedyn at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2006


Or ignore me, and instead listen to bigschmoove instead who knows the proper term. =)
posted by raedyn at 2:56 PM on April 3, 2006


Ah, thanks.

Fascinating article.
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:06 PM on April 3, 2006


Good read
posted by Smedleyman at 3:15 PM on April 3, 2006


Interesting, I'm still digesting the ideas. Though my initial inclination is that this theory of stories, codes and whatnot is an uncomfortably clean and simplistic and absolute a division of the many complex factors behind people's explanations and interactions. There's not enough grey areas, or overlap. The reduction of the abortion debate into storytelling vs. convention seems a laughably simplistic analysis of a massively complicated and intricate subject.

Though it is certainly a thought-provoking article and idea. The part about the mugger and the woman was quite remarkable. Makes me wonder how this sort of thing was dealt with before we had courts and suchlike, and when people rarely left their own villages. It also makes me think of Bresson's L'Argent somehow.
posted by MetaMonkey at 3:33 PM on April 3, 2006


The reduction of the abortion debate into storytelling vs. convention seems a laughably simplistic analysis of a massively complicated and intricate subject. - MetaMonkey

Actually, simplifying the arguments like that made something click with me about the whole debate. I found it a useful way to look at how & why the two sides don't even seem to hear what the other is saying. And for people who are staunchly on one side of the issue (no matter which side) it IS simple.

On first blush this seems like a different way to talk about framing.

Interesting. I'll have to think about this some more.
posted by raedyn at 3:56 PM on April 3, 2006


Worse New Yorker style convention: The umlat or spelling focused with two s's?
posted by trey at 4:02 PM on April 3, 2006


That's a great article--thanks, semmi---i can't believe they actually do that in the UK all the time tho--is it a special thing just for sometimes? isn't the justice system overwhelmed by all that? and does he get charged anyway?

and of course, for me, instead of walking away rethinking those codes and framing and stuff and explanations in general, i'm fixed on those people, and also on how deeply unsatisfying it is for the kid to be shut up with a convention (don't be a tattletale) instead of listened to, and how he learns a valuable yet very shitty lesson in who cares about what happens to him and who doesn't and who wants to listen to things that are important to him, and how a mugger in the UK gets much better treatment than a kid.

The Cheney example really told me that it's not that all people come to a story or an explanation from different places or in different ways--that's understood--it's that some of the stories and explanations are about fact and helping others not meet the same fate--i.e., good and socially beneficial--and others are just not--cynicizing or obscuring or simply having a bad effect. Isn't it about the goals and animating factors underlying which reason, which explanation----all statements and interpersonal relations, really?
posted by amberglow at 4:06 PM on April 3, 2006


...Tilly argues that we make two common errors when it comes to understanding reasons. The first is to assume that some kinds of reasons are always better than others—that there is a hierarchy of reasons, with conventions (the least sophisticated) at the bottom and technical accounts at the top. That’s wrong, Tilly says: each type of reason has its own role. ...

i guess i disagree with this, and think that the role assumed for whatever reason is what's overwhelmingly important and needs to be examined, not the reasons given as a result of the role.
posted by amberglow at 4:16 PM on April 3, 2006


Worse than that: trey adding an apostrophe because there's more than one S.
posted by emelenjr at 5:08 PM on April 3, 2006


Trey: Personally, I adore diëreses. I didn't realize that the New Yorker does this until right now.
posted by aubilenon at 5:11 PM on April 3, 2006


... Tilly argues that we make two common errors when it comes to understanding reasons. The first is to assume that some kinds of reasons are always better than others—that there is a hierarchy of reasons, with conventions (the least sophisticated) at the bottom and technical accounts at the top. That’s wrong, Tilly says: each type of reason has its own role. ...

I have a problem with this statement too. My problem is that Tilly's view of reasons as rhetorical tools causes him to judge reasons differently than I do. If reasons are judged based on their ability to signal information and navigate socially Tilly's view is valid. That is not the criteria that I would choose in examining what makes a class of reason better than another.

I think, for me, what makes one reason better than another is 1. Providing Accurate (credible) information about causes as they relate to effects, 2. Providing an appropriate sense of Scale as to the relative importance of the various factors, and 3. Providing New information about the situation. essentially I'm judging reasons on their value as information as opposed to their values as social tools. (I'm sure there is plenty of other criteria I use but these things I thought of at the moment)

So to me an "accidents happen" is barely a reason at all, what is illuminated? Is this a comment against a deterministic universe? No it is jargon. It is not appropriate reason for use in adult discussion. "The sun was in my eyes" is fine, I may not have been aware of the position of the sun relative to your eyes, the direct sun can and does make it difficult to see, certain tasks are difficult to complete successfully without the faculty of sight. The reason succeeds at informing if I believe it is accurate and that the inability to see was a large factor in the accident the reason is acceptable.
posted by I Foody at 5:22 PM on April 3, 2006


emelenjr: Good point.
posted by trey at 5:51 PM on April 3, 2006


Actually, simplifying the [abortion] arguments like that made something click with me about the whole debate. I found it a useful way to look at how & why the two sides don't even seem to hear what the other is saying. And for people who are staunchly on one side of the issue (no matter which side) it IS simple. - raedyn

Indeed it does give some insight into understanding the factors in the abortion debate, but no more than any other way to split the debate into teams. A similar arguement could be made that one side is rationalist and one is emotional, or pragmatic vs ideological, or whatever. But the actual issues at hand are much more complex than that even if many of the arguements aren't. I should confess I haven't really followed this debate as it's not really an issue in the UK.

Another way to dispute this would be to ask, do the pro-choicers really not use stories? Do the pro-lifers really not use code and convention? Firstly, of course both 'sides' use a variety of arguements, and secondly, each person who supports either position will have their own way of looking at and explaining the arguement. Or to put it another way, it is only that simple if you choose to simplify it thus. It seems simple for many on either side, because it is so much easier to argue about (and believe) simple things, not because of all this code and conventions business.

What I'm trying to get at is that the theory boils down to yet another attempt to reduce complex human interaction into simple labels. Much like the popular notion of 'cognitive dissonance', it may be a useful tool for interrogating and gaining limited insight into certain kinds of interaction, but it is not a useful way to understand something as fickle and many-layered as the human psyche (which I believe is the issue at hand), most especially when looking at something as complex as politics, or as sensitive and passionately-supported as abortion.
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:52 PM on April 3, 2006


I think, for me, what makes one reason better than another is 1. Providing Accurate (credible) information about causes as they relate to effects, 2. Providing an appropriate sense of Scale as to the relative importance of the various factors, and 3. Providing New information about the situation. essentially I'm judging reasons on their value as information as opposed to their values as social tools. (I'm sure there is plenty of other criteria I use but these things I thought of at the moment)

And i'll throw in that information (and misinformation) are totally social tools as well. They all are, and their value can't be separated i don't think. He should have also asked, "Why give a reason anyway?" in all sorts of situations (and what that actually means--accountability, responsibility, communication, power relations, etc), and then moved on with the information gotten first from those answers to try and codify various types of reasons.
posted by amberglow at 10:06 PM on April 3, 2006


amberglow:

> i guess i disagree with this, and think that the role assumed for whatever reason
> is what's overwhelmingly important and needs to be examined, not the reasons
> given as a result of the role.

Seconded. Sure conventional reasons have a role in social discourse but so does a punch in the mouth. When I'm offered a conventional "explanation" I feel as if I've been offered Ring Lardner's "'Shut up," he explained."

posted by jfuller at 4:13 AM on April 4, 2006


But it's also a matter of personal style. Many people are perfectly content with conventiontional accounts; others always want the details, to an annoying degree. An old girldfriend once fixed me with a baleful stare and said "You scrutinize too much."
posted by jfuller at 4:20 AM on April 4, 2006


I do research in a similar area to this from a philosophical/logical perspective. The only problem is that there are way more forms of explanation/reasoning (think styles I call them) than this author credits. For example you can answer someone with a joke i.e. the reasoning is; 'it's true because it's funny'. And not to mention paradigms...
posted by leibniz at 5:27 AM on April 4, 2006


If you found the article interesting, check out the book (I just ordered it yesterday) -- Chuck Tilly is both a very sharp sociologist and an excellent writer.
posted by gum at 7:38 AM on April 4, 2006


So where is the line between supplying an illuminating story and bullshitting your way out of a situation?
posted by Danf at 10:37 AM on April 4, 2006


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