Why I Hate Advocacy
August 4, 2003 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Why I Hate Advocacy. Baseball, politics, and programming languages? Mark Jason-Dominus created a classic article that is really about the general human tendancy towards flawed dialogue and the pitfalls surrounding evangelism, even though it's specifically directed towards the perl programming community. Indeed, as in the past, some may see the "spectre of Metafilter itself" in Mark's words.
posted by weston (19 comments total)
One other thing I thought I'd note: Mark walks the walk. Near the time he must have been writing this article, I had a question about a CPAN module which he'd author. I didn't understand why he'd coded it a certain way and was curious, and so I asked a question on comp.lang.perl.misc. I got one somewhat rude response, and then a very polite (and informative) response from Mark. From an evangelism standpoint, it's clear which of the two responses is more effective.
posted by weston at 11:21 AM on August 4, 2003

Us-versus-them is not a way to be an effective advocate... "Passion doesn't convince. Passion makes you look like an idiot or an asshole.'' ...This style of advocacy may be fun and easy, but it isn't effective. You have to lead people, not drive them before you.

I am passionate in advocating that all political posters on MeFit drop their "us-versus-them" posturing and begin applying their giant brains to this problem of tribal advocacy crapping up the realm of ideas. Is is possible to develop a rhetoric that resists the slide into tribal self-pleasuring? Doing so would probably be not unlike the creation of a programming language. Let's figure this out...
posted by Faze at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2003

Faze: Simple. Eliminate political parties, and convince anyone who thinks one political school of thought or leader has all the answers that they'd probably be better off killing themselves.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:43 AM on August 4, 2003

This essay by Mark really hits on something. You can port his argument to most anything: fruits, vegetables, cars, Apple vs. Microsoft, etc.

One thing I've noticed is that as media personalities get more and more outraged and furious, so do the people around me. Or maybe it's the other way around. In any event, it's not bad to be passionate, nor is it bad to advocate something.

But it's best to keep your head and think about what other people say, and what you say back to them.
posted by rocketman at 11:46 AM on August 4, 2003

You can port his argument to most anything

Isn't that strange though? I agree completely, but why and when did we become such a confrontational, zero-sum society? I notice this and am bothered by it on a regular basis. In fact, I'm going to beat the shit out of the next person who makes me think about it.
posted by yerfatma at 12:05 PM on August 4, 2003


Space Coyote - In the midst of a larger discussion, someone suggested that having no political parties was indistinguishable from having one political party. I was intrigued, but thoroughly unsure of what to make of that proposition. Any ideas regarding that thought (from anyone reading this) would be greatly appreciated.

posted by NortonDC at 12:06 PM on August 4, 2003

i read the article linked here some time ago, and it still resonates. it's not difficult, in my experience, for advocacy to become evangelism (and to then become proselytization).

we can make objective choices about politics, or programming, but we often don't because our choices are functions not only of the circumstances at hand but of our past experience. if i wrote some good software in perl, i might want to stick with perl rather than some untested language. if i've always voted democratic, why should i change?

if i may theorize: people fall into this gloom with politics where you only focus on the negative aspects of the one you aim to demonize. bill clinton lied: well, yes, but dozens of politicians lie. george bush lied! again, yes, but dozens of politicians lie. it matters what they lied about, in the bigger picture: bush lied about nuclear arms material, whereas clinton lied about sexual relations. to the demonizer, it doesn't matter because all that is important is the weapon that they wield: in my example, outrage at being lied to.

to concede sexual relations is a small thing would be to yield that weapon, so the clinton demonizer asks him or herself: if i've always hated clinton, why should i change? the bush demonizer wonders: if i've always hated bush, why should i change? a lot of argument here seems to be based on subjective values that others quite possibly can't relate with.
posted by moz at 12:16 PM on August 4, 2003

I think the root of the problem is that we tend to organize ourselves into tribes. Then people in the tribe are our friends, and people outside are our enemies.

This is the root of just about every problem (along with its corollary, the need to have a tribal leader to whom we defer). It seems to be hard-wired into us, and the older I get the less I find myself able to believe that we'll ever escape it.
posted by languagehat at 12:37 PM on August 4, 2003

D'oh, someone started thinking about one of my flippant remarks again. I'd say, though, that a possible difference between one political party and no political parties is that there is no central body directing what the policies of this party are. Of course then you get back to the problem of wealthy people being able to create more of a presence for themselves..

It's all very depressing, though the territory of Nunavut in Canada are trying to have a government by concensus with no political parties, and it seems to be working out so far. link. I think the only way to ever make any process work is to discourage adversarial behaviour and be open-minded.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2003

Ken Boulding used to say: There's two kinds of people in the world, those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't.
posted by jasper411 at 12:42 PM on August 4, 2003

NortonDC: I can't even figure out how not having political parties is even possible. There would still exist a tendancy, and perhaps even a need, to break candidates up into groups in an effort to better distinguish the differences between them. We could erase the terms "democrat" and "republican" tomorrow and still think of politicians as being either liberal, conservative, or moderate.
posted by Witty at 12:52 PM on August 4, 2003

That's a bit of a chicken and egg problem, though.. Are people's extreme differences of basic opinions a product of their own decisions and thoughts, or did they come from absorbing the general opinions of those whom they happened to identify with because of one single issue?
posted by Space Coyote at 12:58 PM on August 4, 2003

Us vs Them. Rigidity. safety in having the easy answers right at hand so you don't have to think too hard. The comfort of a black and white world that seems easier to comprehend and navigate than the one we live in with the mixed grays. The reason organized religion and party platforms chafe against many persons that don't want to fall into step with a fixed set of rules. The dogmatic response instead of the thoughtful 'perhaps you have a point' conversation.

But then most people think they're reasonable. When you're inside your own head with your basic assumptions of the truth, it can be impossible to see outside. I feel so frustrated when I listen to someone like George Will make an argument. He states some basic assumptions with which I do not agree, and then extrapolates to some larger point as if it were based on obvious logic. But his basic beliefs are so different than mine, and he is arrogant about his belief in his correctness. Where can the middle ground be found in such a situation?
posted by Red58 at 1:17 PM on August 4, 2003

this is interesting, and important, but I think the reasons we end up doing this are not that difficult to work out, and I don't think it's only a question of tribalization. We need to organize the world, so we need categories. Categories necessarily simplify things; if they didn't, there would only be one thing in any given category (a unique object).

To take the political parties example, if we had no political parties, we would each have to assess every individual candidate based on her previous votes, and while this could be feasible, there would still be an underlying "political category" applied to the individual in the sense that we could predict future action based on past action - we wouldn't say 'democrat' but the category, e.g., 'bill clinton' would still have meaning, and we would likely still compare people similarly ('he votes for people like bill clinton' rather than 'he's a democrat').

So while being blinded by categories is stupid, having preferences for a method or belief is not.

The boundaries of a particular category are an interesting question, as the more extended the group becomes, the less likely it is to be strongly meaningful ("animal" means less than "mammal" which means less than "human being") and in some cases, the extended groups will be less accurate (you may be a democrat without agreeing with the entire DNC platform, eg). If, as in politics, there is actually competition between two routes, it isn't surprising that people defend to a fault the side they consider "better". The question there is whether compromise is a strength or a weakness...
posted by mdn at 1:22 PM on August 4, 2003

Despite that he saw blatant similarity,
He struggled to find a distinctive moiety;
All he found was vulgar superficiality,
But he focused it to sharpness
And shared it with the others,
It signified his anger and misery.

Them and us,
Lobbying determined through a mire of disbelievers,
Them and us,
Dire perpetuation and incongruous insistence
That there really is a difference
Between them and us.
-- from "Them and Us," by Bad Religion
posted by CrunchyFrog at 1:25 PM on August 4, 2003

Our Bog is Dood
posted by monkey.pie.baker at 2:08 PM on August 4, 2003

The gostak distims the doshes.
posted by languagehat at 3:22 PM on August 4, 2003

The question there is whether compromise is a strength or a weakness...

That's the $50 question, indeed. From my experience, people generally divide into two groups: those who see truth as absolute and reality as fixed; and those who see truth as a funciton of perspective and reality as a construction.
posted by squirrel at 9:27 PM on August 4, 2003

I think the root of the problem is that we tend to organize ourselves into tribes. Then people in the tribe are our friends, and people outside are our enemies.

The neighboring tribe eats monkey meat. They are not civilized. They are not real humans. We must kill them before they corrupt our children.

The question there is whether compromise is a strength or a weakness

Definitely a strength. It is the difference between a politician (say, for example, Gingrich) and a statesman (perhaps Feingold.) Ack!! Try your own examples between bare-knuckled power and compromise, mine may not work for some.
posted by nofundy at 4:54 AM on August 5, 2003

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