High Stakes

We are engaged in an argument with someone else. We are assured of our stance, and are pulling out all of the stops to come out on top.

But all may not be as it seems. Are we really arguing passionately on behalf of our beliefs - on behalf of an idea - or could it be that we doing something else?


Let us imagine that there are various types of dialogue, classified by what is at stake in the exchange. Firstly we have those dialogues in which something is at stake, a category that we could split further, dependent upon what exactly this thing is. On one side of our split, what is at stake is an element of the individual (pride, reputation), and any gains or losses will be felt within their borders. On the other side, what is at stake lies beyond the individual, and it is this third party that stands to gain or lose the most. Finally we have those dialogues in which nothing is at stake, in which any gains or losses will not be particularly important to any party.

When what is at stake lies beyond us, we are in service to a higher power. We become an advocate for truth, and we must serve it loyally and to the best of our abilities if it is to win its case. Perhaps, in the course of the hearing, we may realise the untruth of our case; that it is not what we thought it to be; and we may then abandon it, acquitting ourselves of our service. When we engage in a dialogue we may hope to convince of the truth of an idea that has captivated us, and the dialogue becomes a form of testing ground. The idea is released from its cage, and we are able to see it fly. Is its flight true and graceful? Can it survive out there?

When we are not in service to truth, then we will most likely be in service to our self, or perhaps more accurately, our ego. It is the self that is at stake, and we argue for the sovereignty of our borders, the excellence of our individuality, rather than something that lies beyond us.

In the first kind of exchange we are concerned with knowledge and truth, and engage in dialogue as a form of expedition, a search for something that currently lies beyond our grasp. In the second instance, we are not concerned with searching, rather with seeking to consolidate or strengthen what we already own. We are the embattled nation, both proud and insecure, alternately fearing and relishing the encroachments of others.

When there is nothing at stake, then an exchange is always a game. Games can be played seriously, but the very fact that they are being played implies nothing of importance is being sought beyond the solipsistic concerns of either player. A game is synonymous with a battle; we set ourselves against another, and seek to win the battle for the gains it will bring us or our familiars. In setting ourselves against another - in saying, "this is a battle, and you are my opposition" - we draw a divide and don our battle-colours, allowing us to identify our team-mates and avoid slaying our own. Whilst those who wear the opposition colours may be like us in certain ways - two arms, two legs, hands and feet - the fact that they are on the other side means that we are no longer amenable to them in the way that we may have been during peacetime.

The dialogue-as-game may seem to be about finding truth - the embattled parties may seem to be fighting for the greater good - but in reality the "greater good" may simply be an excuse for a battle. We could call this a battle of egos: a display of oratory skill, wit, logical ability and so on, in which the conversation becomes a ritual dance; an occasion to flex muscle and flash plumage.

Just as a battle can appear to be about something greater, the search for truth can also sometimes resemble a battle. The difference is in our motives. If truth is what we seek, then the battle is only useful, and justifiable, inasmuch as it brings us nearer to it. As with our earlier analogy, it may be that in that in fighting we realise that our reasons for going to war are flawed; in which case, as befitting someone who has no interest in conflict beyond its usefulness as a tool of truth, we will exit the fray immediately, and humbly.

If we are in service to a higher power, then we cannot allow ourselves to be tempted by the distractions of a game, or the personal gains of battle; and must always be prepared to put its concerns ahead of our own.

................................................................................................................................................................................


God is just out my back door, yet I choose not to visit. I would rather sit alone and scheme on how to be remembered, on what more that I can do here to cement the evidence that I once walked these roads with you. It is a futile exercise. I know it is, and yet I persist.

[Billy Corgan]


................................................................................................................................................................................



Two competing ideological systems may easily be predicated upon fundamentally opposed axioms – in which case to give credence to the opponent’s viewpoint is simultaneously to disrupt the basic substructure of current belief, and its attendant restriction of complexity.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 450


................................................................................................................................................................................


Related posts:-
A Tough Act to Follow
Self-preservation
Only Playing
The Real Thing
Childish Rebellion 
Leaving the Vessel
Tasteful Distance
Arrows pointing at Arrows
Battles and Challenges
The Role of Charities 

No comments:

Post a Comment