Why Don’t People Like Good Discussion Formats?

The stuff below is adapted from an FI post. A poster asked why people don’t like higher quality written discussion formats, and prefer to just talk in-person instead. I replied:

I think a lot of it is: basically, for most people who engage in them, “intellectual discussions” serve a similar function in their life to discussions about sports or recent movies etc. There’s not some big distinction in their mind, where there’s some social fluff topics and some stuff they really care about. To them, its basically all stuff to talk about over lunch or at the bar. And maybe something you can try and impress others with by dropping some prestigious quotes/references. For most people who engage in them at all (a pretty small slice of people already), “intellectual discussions” are the raw material for certain sorts of common social interactions. That’s the primary purpose. Such people primarily are social-valuers, not idea-valuers.

People don’t expect to make big progress or learn things from intellectual discussion. They expect it to be something like: “oh you read/like Rand? Yeah, I don’t like her much. Have you read Rawls? I like Rawls. (some quote from Rawls to impress you). Good talk.” But with more social vibes added.

Now consider the perspective where social interaction is the primary purpose of the intellectual discussion. How would someone with that perspective react to a proposal to take the discussion to a written format like private email or a discussion list? Well, such formats take away the primary value they get from the interaction. Such formats remove the social part. The discussion becomes more about just the ideas. So from the perspective of a social-valuer, such a proposal is actually counterproductive. It defeats almost the entire point of the activity for them. So of course those people are not going to do that.

BTW I’m not claiming they care zero about the ideas and topics. They care a little. It’s not a zero value to them. But it’s not primary, because if it were, they would use more effective methods for learning about and discussing ideas…

I remember being super naive about how people approached ideas and intellectual topics. Like people would say they were an Objectivist and I would believe them, but then they thought that compromise in one’s work was necessary and inevitable. And people would say they liked discussing ideas but they didn’t seem to have much interest in actually doing that. I even believed common cultural stuff that said universities were some kind of intellectual place.

Big picture, i think if you’re used to the seriousness that Elliot brings to discussing ideas, it can be super easy to fool yourself about the honesty and integrity of random people you meet who claim to have some interest in ideas. Cuz anything less than Elliot standard just seems kind of bizarre and pointless, and it seems really weird that people would lie about having interests.

BTW, I think it’s easier to fool yourself about other people’s honesty and integrity in engaging in intellectual discussion if you stay within certain standard social guardrails. Like people might seem reasonably engaged if you engage in some pointed back and forth arg-and-counterarg a bit, but if you start going meta and bringing up more methodological issues, they’ll get irate/confused/bored pretty quickly. It’s a bit like they’re acting. The scene has some superficial plausibility if you stick to your lines, but once you start going off-script, oh boy…

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