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Breaking People

I wrote:

I can break anyone. I can ask questions, criticize errors, and advocate for more progress until they give up and refuse to speak. No one can handle that if I really try. I can bring up enough of people’s flaws that it’s overwhelming and unwanted.

Anne B. asked:

Have you done this? Would you do it again? It seems mean and not very productive.

Thanks for asking. I think lots of people have issues with some things I say or do, but don’t discuss it. That silence is lame and non-truth-seeking.

I have been sufficiently critical in discussions that people no longer wanted to discuss.

Sometimes this happens by accident. I barely say anything and they already hate discussion and leave. Sometimes it happens with people who didn’t even speak once, they just read half of one of my blog posts or FI essays and that was it, they’re done, time to slam their mind closed and never ever think about my ideas.

Sometimes I’ve been persistent with bringing up issues and pointing out issues. What do you do when someone says “I am 100% honest, I love criticism, and I know everything! Prove me wrong!?” It’s hard to just say, “You’re a liar, so I won’t discuss with you.” Then (if they didn't just get offended and leave) they'd accuse me of evading the issues, not having arguments, etc. So what I’m more inclined to do is actually argue the points. And if they keep going, I keep going. And then, well, they hate it and get fed up with it after a while (even when I hold back the majority of criticism I could say).

It’s hard to get out of discussions when people claim to be willing to discuss, because I claim to be willing to discuss too. So if we both are serious thinkers who want critical discussion, then who will end the discussion and why? I’m genuinely happy to discuss the issues, and I don’t want to pretend otherwise. So if I stop the discussion, then what do I say? That I’m stopping the discussion because of some flaws I accuse the other person of having? But they’ll dislike that even more than the impersonal discussion we were already having... But if I just keep discussing the issues with zero personal comments, many people get more and more upset and unhappy until they reach a breaking point and halt discussion.

A good example is my recent discussion with Robert Spillane. He initially pretended to be a rational thinker who can deal with criticism and who is interested in thinking. That was a lie. And after a while he totally wanted out of the conversation, but wouldn’t admit it clearly because his desire to quit the conversation contradicted his self-image. He wanted to keep thinking of himself as a rational intellectual, and he didn’t want to do anything that clearly contradicted that. So he started looking for excuses to blame me and quit. That general pattern is common.

Should I declare halfway through a conversation that the other guy is irrational – which he totally denies – and stop discussing the issues and ignore his lies? :( Or perhaps refuse to discuss the issues and only participate in the meta discussion of whether he’s a liar? But he’d like that discussion even less. If I even mention he’s dishonest, that bothers people, but it’s the truthful explanation of why I stopped discussing... Alternatively I could just go silent and not explain, but that sucks. Or I can keep discussing – since they are giving clear consent and participating and claiming they want it – while suspecting they’re a bad person who actually dislikes it.

And my Paths Forward material is, in a way, a threat to people because it criticizes the rationality of the method of just refusing to discuss stuff, and criticizes the common excuses people use. Paths Forward is not about any particular person, and it’s true and important ... but it can also be scary and upsetting for people with various common flaws and irrationalities... What should I do about that? Especially with people who deny having those flaws and irrationalities.

My attitude is: I can and should continue doing reasonable stuff, and if some people interact with it in a way where they get upset, feel bad, reach a breaking point of not wanting to think about FI anymore, etc, that’s their problem. It’s sad and I’d like to do something about it, but I don’t think it’s my responsibility, and I don’t think there’s much I can do about it.

  • I want to be publicly available for discussion of ideas.

  • I don’t want to drop discussions for no reason given.

  • I don’t want to lie about why I stop discussing to protect others. I don’t want to come up with the lies they want to hear so they feel good, and basically try to manipulate them in just the right way so that they’re happy (despite their ongoing conflicts with reality). I don’t want to offer a safe space at all, let alone offer what people want even more: to pretend they are having real discussions, but then I somehow make it a safe space for them while they feel brave...

  • If I end discussions honestly by saying the other person isn’t good enough, people don’t like that and will try to debate how good they are. That will get into meta discussion criticizing their morality, scholarship, thinking methods, etc. This will bother people more than the initial, impersonal discussion of some topic like capitalism.

  • If I end discussions honestly by saying the other person doesn’t want to discuss, they will deny that. They are open-minded, super rational, and want truth-seeking discussion, they claim... (Not everyone but this comes up a lot with the kind of people who’d even begin a discussion.) So then I have to call them dishonest, go silent, or else this method of ending the discussion didn’t work. Plus I don’t like the possibility that I misjudged someone and I’m ending a discussion with a genuinely better person just because I thought I saw some subtle signs something was going wrong, and then I assumed they weren’t good enough to discuss the potential problem openly.

  • It’s really hard to tell how upset people are or aren’t about discussions because they put a lot of effort into hiding it, and they lie. This is especially true over text so their voice tones and facial expressions don’t give them away. And even if they type out some angry stuff as an initial reaction, they can delete it before sending their message, so I never see it. And I hate to judge people as bad without it being really clear. I’d rather give people the benefit of the doubt ... but then when I treat them as a decent person that actually doesn’t go well for them if they aren’t a decent person...

Suggestions? (BTW even asking for suggestions is dangerous. It encourages people to make suggestions which I've already thought about way more than them. Then they can get hurt when it turns out their suggestion isn't valuable, and I respond with criticism instead of thanks. But it's also awkward and problematic to try to say "Really good suggestions?" And if I say that, then it's even more risky for someone to make a suggestion, because then they're claiming their suggestion is really good by posting it, and then they look even worse when they receive criticism and it turns out to be crap. Similarly I've run into problems asking people for advice, tips, etc, because I'll go ask someone who thinks he's good at something which I think I'm bad at, and then when we talk it turns out I'm way better at it than they are, and I also have much higher standards, and that's embarrassing for them. And people don't want to face realities like this.)

More thoughts:

I only share criticism and comments in hopes of positive reactions – e.g. the person learning something or pointing out a mistake I made. But I've realized that no one else thoroughly likes criticism, and therefore they'll all break if I openly, honestly and persistently share my best ideas (including challenging dishonesty I spot, while optimistically thinking they'd want to find out about and try to solve the problem).

This situation sucks for me. I don't want negative interactions. People are both bad and dishonest about communicating what would and wouldn't be a negative interaction. I have to guess a lot. I like discussion but I strongly prefer to focus on thinking about the issues instead of managing the fragility of others. But people find rational, critical discussion overwhelming and unwanted, so normally I hold back over 90% of what I could say.

People are less threatened by educational material outside the context of a discussion, especially when it has severely inadequate guidance for applying it to their own lives. I can speak more freely in that kind of context, without hurting people, because it doesn't make much difference to people.

This is an open, large problem which no one else is helping with much. DD ran into the same problem with the world and it broke him even though he at least had one person (me) available to speak openly to without having to shelter me.

Elliot Temple on September 13, 2017


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