Why do we keep talking past each other?

You’re all a smart lot… are we at one of those points in American history (or should we expand this to global history), like before the civil war or in the 60s, where our collective problems seem unlikely to come to an easy conclusion? Is this is the fruits of decades of the “culture wars”? What are possible outcomes? It seems all too often we’re caught in thinking in these binaries of left/right, democrat/republican, communist/capitalist, etc. how do we actually get to a point where we can listen to each other and DEAL with our collective problems?

Also, have I drank too much wine tonight?


this. we need to get practical. “we” as in US Americans, and as Westerners, but also all global citizens. Can we use the internet etc to just start side-stepping governments entirely the way corporations/banks use money to get what they decide done? can we lead ourselves–at least for particular issues we all decide is most important–or are such undertakings doomed to be “too many indians not enough chiefs?” can we crowdsource effective leadership?



I think ego is the biggest culprit. If people can work past their own issues and actually make an effort to understand and have compassion for opposing positions/ideas/thoughts, then it is a lot easier to connect. It isn’t always easy, especially on issues that fire peoples passions, but I do believe it is possible, especially with the kinda smart crowd that frequents these forums.

An easy way to check your blood alchol level is to blow into your mouse for 10sec. If you did then it is too high. :smile:


A good framework for discussing differences of belief/opinion/thought/feelings on a subject is for 1. each party to be given an opportunity to state their case and reasons without interruption; 2. then a comparison made to work out where there is common ground; then 3. a discussion to work out where the parties can meet in the middle to compromise.

However, there are lots of people who won’t compromise at all, so it’s going to fall flat at 3, whatever. There are also way too many people —who might actually compromise if they gave it a chance— who pipe up with “No, you’re wrong!” at 1. without listening at all. Which then persuades the other party that failure at 3 is inevitable 'cos they’re talking to a fanatic, so it all falls down before a rational discussion even starts.

Then you add the fact that the words used often mean different things to the people saying/writing to those listening/reading but people still like to use their labels for things rather than defining mutually agreed terms …

It’s a wonder anything useful ever happens anywhere, really. :frowning:


I think that it’s because with larger groups and and increased connectivity, people worry that they should agree about things. The modern world seems to be based upon the superstition that most people have similar goals and values, and that this is desirable and results in a civil society. This started to break down around the Industrial Revolution, as speech became more free, and communications approaching instantaneous. People became aware that whatever “social contract” had been negotiated was assuming too much. If people believe that 99% of he population feel the same way, those in charge can shape society practically any way they like. But my the late 20th century, it took constant crises such as cold war, war on drugs, war on terror to provide this semblance of cohesion. People finally realize that they are along for the ride, and hardly anybody agrees about anything! So there is disillusionment on quite a large scale.

I think that this is fine, it’s been a long time coming. People should communicate, but not expect to agree. The fair solution, I think is to decentralize, to fragment into much smaller groups where agreeing to disagree on a small scale, but to still be involved are workable. The static, I find, is from the worry that others need to understand and agree - because, after all, we all need to do the same thing. To have the same values, live by the same rules. But this is an anxiety brought about by buying into the idea of expanding monoculture. Many people of the 21st century appear to not easily believe in multiple different societies coexisting - only in subcultures within an encompassing whole, where everything seems safely compartmentalized. Culture shock seems like it should be a thing of the past, but people experience it even now. Even on the same board, or in the same town.

  1. Human nature. No really! It seems people of all stripes have always been like this.
  2. The Internet.

have I drank too much wine tonight?

If you have to ask…

This seems like an oxymoron to me, but you are welcome to try…


For the past six months my wife and I have been clashing over bedtime (“sleeptytime”) for the kids. I think they’re ready for bed, and suggest it, but she’ll say “another 30 or 45 minutes.” Then the kids get all hyper and bedtime is a disaster sometimes stretching until 9pm(all at my feet, because she’s off nursing the baby, or some other nonsense, leaving all the hard work to me!).

Last week, she finally found out how frustrated I was that she was “making” me keep the kids up later. And I found out how frustrated she was that I wasn’t putting them to bed earlier.


Turns out that when she said “sleepytime” she meant “kids in bed, lights out”. But I meant “tv off, let’s go brush teeth, get on our jim-jams, read some stories, and get into bed.”

Which is about a 30-45 minute difference.


This week, implementing an earlier get-ready-for-bed-routine? It’s been 3 evenings of bliss, so far. Kids always asleep by 7:30.

We talked about it. More than once. Really talked. It took a couple of talks to discover the different meanings we were using for the words. And then more talks were needed.

And that’s just for sleepytime.

Gamergate? National Debt? Sex Ed in schools?

We (the larger we, not just my different-politcal-parties wife-and-I) don’t have a chance.


I think most people are honestly afraid to try to understand people they disagree with- to the point where they actually find it offensive to even be asked to. Once we decide who the bad guy is, it’s extremely verboten to humanize them.

Of course, the more I try to get into the headspace of “bad” people, the more I realize that everyone has the same moral basis and the same instinctual drive, we just have radically different ideas of what to do about it.

Take this for example:

It’s not about “equality”, it’s about fairness. Everybody wants fairness, everybody wants to be treated fairly, everyone is willing to treat others fairly- But nobody can seem to agree on what exactly constitutesfair”. In the cartoon, the conservative honestly believes that it’s perfectly fair to have everyone start off on equal footing, while the liberal believes that “fair” is determined by the result rather than the starting point.

Everybody believes in a basic respect for human life- The biggest political debate of our time is between those who think human life is so important that it needs to be protected from the moment it begins, versus those who think it’s so important that it shouldn’t even begin unless it has the chance to thrive.

We’re also fundamentally tribal. Right down at our very core, we’re programmed to distrust outsiders and protect our own. However you define “us”, you will always operate as though “we” are more important than “them”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing- It also gives us things like family ties and loyalty and self-sacrifice and cultural bonds. Everybody roots for the home team. It’s when we make the jump from “same”=“good” to “different”=“bad” that it creates problems.

Have to leave off there- More later.


believe me I’m skeptical. I’m just wondering if there’s a sweetspot to where the bullshit involved in random people rallying effectively becomes less than the bullshit of bureaucracy, red tape, and bribes. though I suppose moneyed interests will manage to bribe a bunch of little people rather than one govt. person.

Equality, to a MLB owner.



Even at the village level these same problems happen.

Who do you think “we” are? Does your “we” share your definition of what the collective problems are, and agree to accept responsibility for solving them? We talk past each other and at cross purposes because we haven’t yet agreed we’re on the same page, having the same conversation, sharing the same goals.

Great questions.

As a person with my reputation. I can say that, for the most part, we( me and the many people who disagree with me ) are speaking two different languages.

Just go with it. You are in a no-judgement zone. Says me.

The problem isn’t that we’re talking past each other. We’re social animals, and we have rich, complex languages so we can argue about what to do next. The problem is we lack agency.


Expand on this point, please… depending on who we are, our access to different kinds of agency is different.

Well, who do you think WE are? I’m in general talking about human beings, but it could apply to Americans, Boingers, people in this or other threads, etc.

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It seems like a common theme in every conversation I’m in, whatever the circumstances of the participants. Everyone feels they’re at some sort of an impasse. Even when I listen to interviews with those who seem possessed of significant social power, there’s a strong note of frustration. Notes of optimism seem forced. I’d like to think this is the calm before the storm – except I’ve been hearing that metaphor for over ten years, from people who’ve been saying it for twenty or thirty years.


I’m reminded of some things Michael Nagler said in his webcast (that used to be available on UC Berkley’s site but apparently got lost in the shuffle) on Peace & Conflict Studies. I’ve got the audio somewhere. If I was a bit more sure of the rights on it, I’d post it up since it wasn’t removed from publication on purpose (Mike, if you’re out there, let me know how you and UC Berkley would feel about this; It’s a really valuable course and it’s a shame it’s no longer available on the web).

Anyway, the gist is that in order to come to an understanding we have to really listen to each other and we have to really want what’s best for the other party. And do to that, we both have to recognize each other as human. In that moment. Though Mike didn’t say that precisely.

I think on the whole, we tend to treat our fellow combatants as symbols rather than whole humans. The difficulty is that if I treat the other party in a discussion as a whole, fully realized human but they treat me as a symbol, I will lose my position and cede things I need.

Considering I’m on the losing side of the global conversation on things I’m likely to be fighting about, this isn’t a tenable position for me to take.

Which brings us back around to something else Mike said. You can’t be nonviolent (or, in this context, treat your opponent as a fully realized human being) if your opponent doesn’t recognize you as human.

So many on the “winning” side of the argument see themselves on the losing side of the argument, further complicating matters.

Note: I no longer call myself a pacifist but that’s a complicated subject that’s fairly off topic. If the PACS concept of pacifism was the dominant definition, I would still consider myself a pacifist but explaining that would, again, be really off topic.

ETA: Oh, wait. I don’t know if this is the right course or not but there is a Youtube series of one of Mike’s courses.


Despite not being very optimistic on the whole, the latest generation gives me a lot of hope with regard to this. It’s one of the shining points of tumblr, actually. Not the platform itself but the level of self-examination and education that happens there is really heartening. On a lot of sociological subjects, there’s an education to rival anything you could get in a college.

Of course, there are also tons of misinformation and roving bands of people issuing death threats and generally harassing people so I don’t want to make it sound utopian. It has the same problems as any other social media site. >_<


Glad you resolved things. Still, a 30-45 minute difference was commendable parenting to begin with.