Much Ado About

So, Ralph posted a link to this piece of Loud Thinking. I read through it, thought it was kind of silly, and said so – now I’ve been challenged to repeat myself in some kind of constructive detail.

Fair enough. But it’s going to require some annoying rhetorical technique, and it’s not going to be all that interesting if you haven’t read the background; it might not be interesting even then, unless you’re also enticed by the original argument.

Quote’n’paste, ho!

Now, I’m viewing the entry as an isolated text, not really considering the context of the surrounding entries or the blogger behind it all, and I’m probably in violation of the Conventions of the Weblog Medium. I may think some of the ideas contained therein are silly or wrong or whatever, but I’ve never thought it a Bad Thing to put half-formed, silly, or wrong ideas in a blog for public display; quite the contrary! Feedback is good, discussion is good, things that make me reconsider or refine my own beliefs are good, kittens are good, ice cream is good.

Anyway. I’m wanking, you’re wanking, we’re all wanking here. If I seem to expect a mere blog entry to conform to rigorous standards of some kind… I don’t. Rigorous standards make for shitty blogs. The flip side is that sometimes, things send me into rant-mode after triggering associations with other ideas I’ve vehementely, validly disagreed with – associations which might or might not be valid from the author’s perspective. Had the author been boring enough to refute them in advance, they might never have come up, but then I wouldn’t have bothered reading or responding to the entry in the first place either.

Today, the main association we’re looking at is “people who view other people in money-metaphors are all crazy Objectivists who don’t believe anyone has inherent worth at all and impose stupid materialist rationalisms on everything and pretend science justifies their cold horrible thinking even when it doesn’t and say mean things to big-eyed orphan match girls and hate puppies and and and … !!!” Silly, yes, but it might help put my remarks in context – it’s what was in my head when I read between the lines.

Now for the quote’n’paste.

Relationships between people can only endure when the parties diligently honor the balance on their interaction account. Or, for me to reward the sharing of your thoughts with attention and enthusiasm, you must be willing to do the same.

I object to the implication that listening to people is a draining, unpleasant experience that must simply be suffered in silence if we wish to know the joy of prattling our own thoughts at a receptive audience. Anyone reading this or other blogs must realize that other people’s thoughts can be interesting on their own merits; and you probably know at least one or two people in real life where your interactions consist mostly of one-way storytelling, but the stories are so enthralling that you don’t mind.

Say, I value heated discussions, you the sharing of daily life trivia. Each exchange will bring my balance further out of sync with yours, until one of us deems it necessary to evaluate the relationship. That will be the point of no return, and the relationship will change. We’ll lose interest in the relationship.

So I tell you about my breakfast, we have a heated discussion on the moral implications of eating bacon, staying kosher, or being a vegetarian, and then I say how I like my toast. Telling you about my breakfast and my toast makes up for the argument about bacon, the bacon discussion makes up for my stupid toast, and we’re even. Maybe I’m missing something here, but it seems like we can maintain at least a neutral balance. And shared circumstances – maybe we’re neighbors, and we feel safer if we go together when we take our dogs on midnight walks – can go a long way to further our relationship too.

A deficit on the interaction account can only exist for so long, before the relationship becomes in need of evaluation. The likely outcome being, that I’ll write off the investment already made, if I can’t reasonably expect it to improve shortly. No need to keep throwing attention or other social valuables after an under-performer. I have few reservations in viewing the investment already made as a sunk cost.

Here, I think we get to the heart of what tripped me off – in some circumstances, I believe that the “sunk cost” of time invested in a relationship can create a moral obligation to continue to work to improve the relationship, rather than merely writing it off as a lost cause. Parental figures – biological, legal, or informal – are a perfect example; you can’t just write off your investment in a troubled, sulky teenager. Depending on your worldview, marriages, half-senile old grandparents, mentorships, or mental illness might also be included.

Any description of human interaction that fails to address these kinds of obligations is going to be dangerously incomplete, both from a descriptive standpoint (people do feel these obligations, and therefore act in ways that would be inexplicable in a pure balance-sheet model) and a prescriptive one (it’s in our own best interests to dissolve draining relationships, sure, but we can’t always act on our own best interests).

Hoom. There are two kinds of internet arguments: the first is where two people are in such fundamental disagreement on such basic premises that they can never resolve the issue, and the second is where two people spend enormous amounts of energy defining their terms and clarifying their positions and making up lots of outlandish hypothetical scenarios before they realize that they don’t actually disagree at all. I’ve been ridiculously long-winded, but I think this is shaping up to be a disagreement of the second kind.

I want some supper.

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