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comment by lil
lil  ·  1992 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate

I'm not in complete agreement with all the author's points, but I can relate to the "devil's advocate" bit.

    I sometimes play devils advocate sincerely to represent a missing part if a discussion.
I have nothing against points being discussed, discounted, explored, or augmented in the search for opinions worth holding. Here's my problem -- some people say, "Let me play d.a." and what they mean is "Let me bring up a whole bunch of arguments that I don't really believe in, just to poke holes in what you're saying and "play" with you - not particularly in the search for opinions worth holding, but to make myself look smarter than you." ... anyway, I'm blathering with generalizations which I hate -- but if it happens again, I will try and remember.

and I should avoid commenting on articles unless I want to engage the whole article - ya think?





thenewgreen  ·  1992 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    and I should avoid commenting on articles unless I want to engage the whole article - ya think?
-Nah, it's nice to discuss bits of it and I would never assume that you agreed entirely with something just because you commented on it.

PS. Wish I could have been in Boston yesterday. We need a big Hubski meet up. I'm thinking we should all go to Solid Sound Festival 2015

_refugee_  ·  1991 days ago  ·  link  ·  

YES

user-inactivated  ·  1967 days ago  ·  link  ·  

If they're able to poke holes in your argument by playing d.a., does it matter why they're playing d.a.? They just poked holes in your argument.

One would think the soundness of your argument would be a better place to call your attention.

lil  ·  1967 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thank you for poking a hole in my statement, and, In theory, I'd be inclined to agree with you. Arguments deserving holes should be poked and I'm open to hearing sincerely held counter-arguments.

The soundness of an argument, in my world, isn't the only important thing. In my world - which I admit has its limitations - the sincerity of the other person and my trust in that other person are also important.

I can remember a recent discussion in which, after throwing out a bunch of statements, the other person said, "I'm only playing devil's advocate." We were discussing whether or not ambition is a good thing in women. My underlying assumption was that women have difficulty with ambition often because they were uncomfortable seeking recognition for their achievements. Their socialization made it more acceptable for women to give recognition to others rather than seek it for themselves. I cited studies and examples found in the book Necessary Dreams: Ambition in a Woman's Changing Life by Anna Fels.

The other person began to argue that ambition was bad in everyone and that ambition in general should be shunned, giving examples of the horrors and dangers and terrible outcomes of ambition. Then, concluding with the "I'm only playing devil's advocate" line.

So there's my example.

The conversation did not seem like a good use of my time.

Maybe this example makes my point clearer.

user-inactivated  ·  1966 days ago  ·  link  ·  

> The soundness of an argument, in my world, isn't the only important thing. In my world - which I admit has its limitations - the sincerity of the other person and my trust in that other person are also important.

Not knowing what 'your world' is, I can only make generic observations here.

The point you're making is absolutely a valid one. I'm a freelance software developer, which means my social interactions run a very large gamut of experiences. One the one hand, I'm very much a technical person, on the other, I deal with a lot of business/management types, and the way they view the world is vastly different (with good reason).

I came across an observation once years ago that really solidified in words things I had started to implicitly understand. That observation went something like this:

A business leader can walk into a meeting and sway the entire direction of the meeting through the sheer force of his personality. But a developer, no matter how they try, cannot fix that bug in the software through personality alone.

This difference often times causes a vast disconnect when the worlds meet. Obviously these are two extremes. Developers do exist in social contexts, and business leaders need to understand reality, but the needs are very different and what they value is different as a result.

It is not merely about the person wanting to be a dick, it's about what that person values. If they're a more technical person, they're going to value trying to find problems because if they don't, it means a bridge that collapses with people on it, or a 2am phone call because some server went belly up (I'm being hyperbolic here to make a point).

BUT At the end of the day, regardless of what the person values, if they did actually poke holes in your argument, you yourself should be self-reflective enough to be able to examine why that is. Perhaps it's the context, and perhaps it's because you're wrong.

After all, that developer still needs to understand soft skills such as social awareness, and that business leader still needs to be able to navigate reality correctly.

lil  ·  1966 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I can see how there might be situations where "let me play devil's advocate" is an important tool to ensure that there are no surprises, where scientists pop the fantasy bubbles of other scientists and insist that they speculate about different outcomes

Take perhaps the example of the Challenger exploding:

Roger Boisjoly: Let me play devil's advocate. What if the cold weather causes the seal on the O-rings to fail?

Actually Roger did warn them, but no one listened. Was it a lack of trust or an overwhelming desire to not delay the project any further?

Making decisions about other people's life-or-death situations should require questioning all aspects of a project. I have no objection to that. It just seems that the phrase "let me play ..." makes the process seem less sincere.

Instead of bringing up the an argument that way, I'd begin, "I'm wondering whether you considered this."

I'm being idiosyncratic here. The phrase irritates me and I find it is often used to not really listen to the other person. Instead of arguing the opposite of what someone offers, first make sure you have really listened to them and understand them before challenging it.

Other phrases irritate me. One is this: "With all due respect" - it seems to really mean, "I think you're an idiot."

But that's a topic for another day.

    BUT At the end of the day, regardless of what the person values, if they did actually poke holes in your argument, you yourself should be self-reflective enough to be able to examine why that is. Perhaps it's the context, and perhaps it's because you're wrong.
I agree.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply and explanation.

longstocking  ·  1967 days ago  ·  link  ·  

This is exactly my problem with people like this, and in this field (STEM) there are assuredly no shortages of them... It is very rare to find someone speaking with good intent in my experience, at least in the younger twenty-something crowd popular with startups - if they have something to say, it is almost always to one-up someone else. Entertaining this is not worth anyone's time, and its pervasiveness is part of why I've all but given up on having a professional presence whatsoever.

lil  ·  1966 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    if they have something to say, it is almost always to one-up someone else.
There's no question that people communicate badly. I can see how their behaviour might lead to this:
    its pervasiveness is part of why I've all but given up on having a professional presence whatsoever.

I hope in the long run you will have a full life which includes a professional presence. People who need to one-up others instead of authentically listening definitely grind us down -- We can talk further about this in a PM if you like.

user-inactivated  ·  1967 days ago  ·  link  ·  

It does.

It's not being intellectually honest in the argument. It gives a back door so that, if you do crush the other person's argument, they can escape out the door and claim they don't necessarily agree with the argument they posed.

That being said, I think the D. A. can be a legit approach, if the person using it genuinely wants you to think about the other sides of the argument.