In the last post, I lauded authentic relationships and conversations, and decried the larger, cantankerous slugfest taking place in international affairs/economic policy/PTO meetings. My main appeal was to abandon the practice of attacking people rather than ideas (ideas are fair game), and to die to one’s ideas, so that they may live or die on their own. The latter is simply to reject stereotypes: That is, people should hold ideas, and not vice versa.
The observant reader will notice, however, that I applied the type “introvert” to myself. And that was not a plant, not a rhetorical device. It was an honest use of the word, which I later decried.
Or did I?
Let us use it as a case study.
A – Say someone approaches me and says, “You are not really an introvert. You are an extrovert.”
Is this an attack on my person, on the idea, or on my application of the idea?
It seems to be the last; our interlocutor is not saying, for instance, that I am a bad person, therefore I must be an extrovert. Nor is he saying that the notion of dividing people into introverts or extroverts is a false dichotomy.
Rather, he is saying that the belief I hold in my head – “I am an introvert” – is a false one. So long as this is the subject – “Is Ed an introvert or extrovert?” – the challenge is fair game. It is a challenge to the idea that I hold in my head.
B – Say someone else approaches and says, “You are not an introvert, because there are no such things as introverts.”
What is the challenge here?
Obviously enough, it’s a challenge to the idea that these categories – introvert and extrovert – are legitimate ways to classify human beings. Now, the basis for this challenge may be any number of things (for instance, the challenger may want to say that all labels are invalid), but in this case it is still a challenge to an idea, not to me as a person. The whole notion of classifying myself as an introvert may vanish, never to be employed again, and still I may live as I am. I maintain whatever worth I naturally have.
C – Say someone tells me, “You only think that way because you are an introvert.”
What is the challenge here?
Now this does challenge me as a person, and it is this use of labels that I was decrying. This, of course, is the genetic fallacy.
The problem with this challenge is that it is illegitimate (not the person issuing the challenge, mind you, but the idea of the challenge). Being an introvert has no necessary bearing on the truth value of my ideas – I may speak the truth, and I may lie, and I would be an introvert the entire time. I will show you.
“I am 32 years old.”
“I am 63 years old.”
You know, at least, that both cannot be true; I will vouch and say that the former is true. Now, imagine I said either of these things, with a straight face, and met the same challenge.
Me: I am 32 years old.
Other guy: You only think that because you’re an introvert.
No sir. And yet, even when the accusation seems more relevant, it holds the same logical force: That is to say, none.
C-1 – Let’s draw one more distinction, just to be clear. Let’s say my idea was one that pitted introverts against extroverts. Then I might say:
“It is only natural for a person to want to be alone for several hours every day.”
Now, of course, the accusation is relevant AND it has a bearing on the truth value of my statement. Namely, the challenger might counter:
“You only say that because you’re an introvert.”
And the challenger might (ought to?) continue:
“If you were an extrovert, you would think the opposite.”
(I fear I am boring my reader, but this simply makes the point clear) The challenger goes on:
“Namely, a great many people – perhaps half of the living population – do not want to be alone so many hours of the day. They might require several hours in the company of others in order to achieve happiness.”
But you see, this is on topic. In the next post, I will explore how it might seem on-topic, but actually strays significantly away.