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  #21  
Old 03-18-2013, 09:27 PM
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Default Double Dogma Dare

I hope this will be the last post in which I write about my experience at APW. In particular, I've been picking over my experience interacting with the self-described skeptics at the meeting, and I think I've put my finger more precisely on what was bothering me.

When I describe myself as a skeptic, I mean in part that I take seriously the motto from the ancient skeptic, Sextus Empiricus: Continue the inquiry!

Dogma, defensiveness, rationalization, or anything else that gets in the way of continuing to inquire, continuing to be open to learning something new, actively considering that I may be wrong even about essential things, are all assiduously to be avoided, or critiqued and questioned when they cannot be avoided.

At my academic conference this weekend, I was surrounded by people committed to genuine inquiry of just this sort. We were questioning the complacent assumptions of our profession as a profession, and sometimes even questioning the need to question.

The session with the skeptics at APW was not like that. Talking with the skeptics was much more like talking to Jehovah's Witnesses.

Or maybe hard-line orthodox Marxists.

What made the problem worse is that they had not one but two dogmas to defend: the supremacy of scientific method, and the inevitability of polyamory.

Like all dogmatists, they had a simple story to tell: all knowledge deserving of the name is the product of logic rigorously applied to quantifiable facts, and anyone who fully embraces this view will inevitably become both atheist and polyamorous.

Around this core belief, they had built a defensive perimeter designed to repel or undermine all genuine questions or doubts, to ensure that they never have to think again about the basic assumptions of the story.

Thinking back, I should have seen the rhetorical devices they used for what they were. I knew they were wrong-headed and insulting, but I didn't, at the time, connect them to their equivalents among religious fundamentalists and orthodox ideologues.

Here are two of them:

1. Insist that critics argue on your terms.

One of the skeptics was quite aggressive in his use of this particular tactic, with his in-your-face insistence that, if you disagree with their method, you must provide a substitute method of your own. This forces on critics the assumption that there must be one true method that can do all the things the sciences can do without being the scientific method.

In other words, they will only listen to alternatives that meet all of their criteria for rigor and usefulness within a particular domain, answering a particular set of questions.

My point, though, was in a different direction. I acknowledge that the scientific method is very powerful in its limited domain, but that it is inadequate to compass the whole of human experience. To argue on their terms, I would have to reduce the full complexity of human thought to the narrow straight-jacket of quantifiable data . . . which is both impossible and beside the point.

As for other methods, I have since called up the names of a handful of them from the history of philosophy. Note that these are, to a one, rigorous and non-mystical: dialectic (Socrates), critique (Kant), determinate negation (Hegelian dialectic), phenomenological reduction (Husserl), free variation in imagination (also Husserl), genealogy (Nietzsche, Foucault), negative dialectic, immanent critique, the hermeneutic circle, and so on and on.

The list doesn't matter all that much. The point is that the possibilities for clear and useful human thought - rigorous inquiry - is much, much bigger than scientific skeptics can imagine.

But it was quite clear none of this would have satisfied the skeptics, because none of these methods is a substitute for the sciences. Many of them, though, are methods of inquiry that put the sciences in their (very limited) place.

So, really, I had nothing to say to the skeptics, probably leaving them with the sense that they had "won" their polemical game.

2. Insult the intelligence of your critics.

At several points during the session, I would raise a point or a question that would be met with some variation of the following: "You know, many people who offer that criticism don't really understand our position."

The parallel that comes to mind is the person who once tried to convert me to Islam, and insisted that I could not offer a judgment on it, one way or the other, unless I had read the Koran . . . in Arabic.

It also reminds me of the great little trick built into orthodox Marxism, whereby anyone who disagrees with Marx must be in the grip of false consciousness, no doubt because they are nothing but a filthy bourgeois.

The possibility that I understood their position quite well but have moved past it seems not to have occurred to them. Instead, they lump me together with sloppy thinkers, ignoramuses, hippie mystics and peddlers of "woo," the more easily to dismiss my comments and questions.

As it happens, I used to inhabit a mental box of about the size and shape of the one they now defend so aggressively. Looking back, I can see that it was . . . rather cramped.

There are no doubt other devices in play to help the skeptics deflect all questions, but they have one thing in common: they are all designed to place strict limits on inquiry. There are some questions they are unwilling to ask, some intellectual avenues they can barely even perceive.

They are, in that sense, anti-skeptical.

So, here is my double dogma dare to scientific poly skeptics: stop parroting the canned arguments you've learned from your sacred texts (Dawkins, Harris, etc.); take off the blinders, drop your defenses, and leave some space open for deeper and more genuine inquiry, for thinking what only seems to you now to be unthinkable.

In short: Continue the inquiry! I dare you!

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-18-2013 at 10:11 PM.
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  #22  
Old 03-18-2013, 09:56 PM
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Default An Urban Picnic

I haven't yet come up with a nickname for she-on-whom-I-have-had-a-crush-for-nearly-two-years. I'll have to come up with one, soon, though, because I can't go on referring to her as she-on-whom-I-have-had-a-crush-for-nearly-two-years.

Now, as a bit of background, she is one of the few people who knows my marriage to Vix is non-monogamous. This was a bit of an accident - I think? - because she asked me about it, once.

Two years ago, she was a graduate student at my institution, and she took an independent study course with me. Toward the end of the semester, after we had finished talking about the academic subject at hand, she somewhat tentatively opened a new line of conversation.

She said she was starting a new relationship and that she was struggling with the question of exclusivity. What did I think? Should romantic relationships be exclusive?

I already had a crush on her, by that point, which was . . . extremely awkward. I have a very strong sense of my professional obligations, and was determined not to let my rather intense feelings for her get in the way of treating her just as I would any other student.

I had to steady myself a bit, hoping I didn't betray anything, and told her about the then very recent decision Vix and I had made to open our marriage, and the ethical underpinnings and boundaries of that decision.

We didn't discuss it again.

For a long time.

Today, the two of us met for a brown-bag lunch. We sat outside, despite the gray skies and impending rain. We talked about all sorts of things, but the conversation came around several times to the weekend just past. At first, I only told her about the academic conference. Later, with only a little trepidation, I came back around to telling her about the other conference I attended. I also told her a little about Vix's travels with Doc, and alluded to some of my recent struggles, and the resolution of the struggles.

She seemed genuinely curious about what it's like to have an open relationship, how we handle particular situations - such as the fact that Vix, Doc, and I will be attending the same event next weekend - and how complicated the feelings must be.

She seemed to approve of the idea of relationships as intentional, not merely habitual.

Then we talked about other things.

I think that was enough, for this particular lunch. It was quite a big step for me to confide in her as much as I did, and to acknowledge to her the fact that she is one of the few people in my working life in whom I can confide.

(Oh, to be clear, she is no longer a graduate student. She now has a research job at the same institution.)

We'll probably meet for lunch again in a couple of weeks; it seems to me she enjoyed the conversation as much as I did.

After lunch, I took one further little risk. I sent her an email, thanking her for meeting me and more directly expressing how glad I am to be able to confide in her.

Then - and here's the risky bit - I wrote that there are other things about myself I might have wanted to reveal, but that I didn't want to presume on our friendship.

(I can hear some of you laughing about this, now. This was a risk? To me, yes, it was. I am an intensely private person, and revealing so much of myself to another person - especially a person in whom I have been so intensely interested for so long - feels like a tightrope walk over Niagara Falls.)

I don't know whether it was wise or foolish to write what I wrote. I want to proceed very slowly and mindfully where she is concerned, in part because of the potential awkwardness involved in telling her about my long-standing crush, given the context of our first meeting.

If I do ever tell her about it, I want to be sure I can frame it in such a way that she knows I have no particular expectations, that I would not want to impose or presume anything, and that if it came to a choice between friendship and nothing, I'd choose friendship.
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  #23  
Old 03-18-2013, 10:39 PM
ThatGirlInGray ThatGirlInGray is offline
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Reading your thoughts about APW, especially in combination with and contrast to your other conference, has been very interesting. I don't know APW at all, being on the West Coast, but I have some experience with other types of conferences and I wonder- would the people putting on the conference be interested in your feedback regarding that particular panel? If they are open to listening to feedback from participants, it might help inform some of their panel choices for next year, potentially improving the experience for many.
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  #24  
Old 03-18-2013, 10:50 PM
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Originally Posted by ThatGirlInGray View Post
Reading your thoughts about APW, especially in combination with and contrast to your other conference, has been very interesting. I don't know APW at all, being on the West Coast, but I have some experience with other types of conferences and I wonder- would the people putting on the conference be interested in your feedback regarding that particular panel? If they are open to listening to feedback from participants, it might help inform some of their panel choices for next year, potentially improving the experience for many.
I was wondering that, myself. But then, one of the organizers of the conference was on the skepticism panel . . .
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Old 03-18-2013, 11:13 PM
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Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
I was wondering that, myself. But then, one of the organizers of the conference was on the skepticism panel . . .
It might be worth a shot... who knows if all the conference organizers have the same POV.

As a mono partner, it'd certainly be nice to sit in on one of these things to find common experiences and tools to help those of us on foreign soil in our relationships (as well as to get to meet other folks in a position like mine face-to-face). My fear is that I would go to something, and it would either be a hookup market, or something like this that would serve more to alienate me than to educate or help me.

Besides, anyone looking to educate should bring themselves to their students' or attendees' level and answer questions, rather than find themselves above them.
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  #26  
Old 03-19-2013, 12:49 AM
ThatGirlInGray ThatGirlInGray is offline
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Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
I was wondering that, myself. But then, one of the organizers of the conference was on the skepticism panel . . .
Even more reason to, then. Other organizers may need some evidence from attendees to make changes. Worst case scenario is they blow you off, right? You don't lose anything. I suppose it's possible they could try to black-ball you from the conference. If you'd like to go back, that would be a problem. But as long as you present it similarly to the way you did here, without insults, there hopefully won't be any backlash.
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  #27  
Old 03-19-2013, 02:35 AM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Hm. Even if I wanted to contact the organizers of APW, I'm not sure I have any way to do so. I've looked through the entire website for the event and found no contact information whatsoever.

I did, however, find this:
What if I'm not polyamorous (or [insert label here])?

We welcome participants from a variety of backgrounds, orientations, and levels of experience. We especially encourage those that consider themselves as "seeking" or "curious" to attend and learn more from their peers.

If you are not a proponent of polyamory or its intersecting sub-cultures and social movements, you are also welcome to attend. Remember that you will need to participate in a respectful manner. Ideally, you should have an open mind and a willingness to listen to and discuss differing opinions and perspectives. Please see our Rights and Responsibilities section for more details on what is expected from our participants.
Note how it is incumbent on them - the non-poly Other - to have an open mind . . . not upon us.

Ahem.

I'll keep looking for contact information. In the mean time, if anyone knows any of the organizers of APW, you could point them to this thread.

[Edit: I searched the site again, and found no "Rights and Responsibilities" section.]

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-19-2013 at 03:14 AM.
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  #28  
Old 03-19-2013, 08:49 PM
dingedheart dingedheart is offline
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Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
There are no doubt other devices in play to help the skeptics deflect all questions, but they have one thing in common: they are all designed to place strict limits on inquiry. There are some questions they are unwilling to ask, some intellectual avenues they can barely even perceive.
What are questions they are unwilling to ask ? And did you raise those questions at the event?
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  #29  
Old 03-20-2013, 09:26 AM
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Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
After lunch, I took one further little risk. I sent her an email, thanking her for meeting me and more directly expressing how glad I am to be able to confide in her.

Then - and here's the risky bit - I wrote that there are other things about myself I might have wanted to reveal, but that I didn't want to presume on our friendship . . . I don't know whether it was wise or foolish to write what I wrote.
I think what you wrote was very appropriate, and sweet in an old-fashioned way, like how people wrote letters back in the days when we actually used pen and paper.

Go slowly, absorb it all, take risks when it feels right to do so. It doesn't matter how big or small the risks are - they still matter. I think you are doing great.
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  #30  
Old 03-20-2013, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by nycindie View Post
I think what you wrote was very appropriate, and sweet in an old-fashioned way, like how people wrote letters back in the days when we actually used pen and paper.
Yeah, way back in the day . . . in the 1990s.

I'll have to think about my tendency to be or to come across as old-fashioned. Maybe it's just a nicer way of saying I'm uptight. Or maybe I only seem uptight because I hold myself to standards of conduct that seem to have become obsolete.

I think there's something to be said for a degree of formality in how people interact, though only up to a point. Early in a developing relationship - of any kind, from business relationships to possible romantic relationships - it can be a way of being mindful, of avoiding missteps and misunderstandings. The trick, I suppose, is to not let the forms take over and become mindless.

As I say, I'll have to think about it.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-20-2013 at 01:38 PM.
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