walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

A Few Remarks about ... the Weather

Possibly the most misleading subject line I have ever produced.

Evelyn and Madeline are having tea. Evelyn has cousins who live in Seattle, and she goes to visit them every year. She used to go for weeks at a time, once spending an entire summer and often spending her entire winter break from school. Because Evelyn is now Gainfully Employed, she visits less often. Madeline has been to Seattle one time, in August, and is excitedly telling Evelyn about her trip.

Evelyn says, "I really miss the clouds. It's always cloudy in Seattle, and I really like clouds."

Madeline replies, "I didn't see a single cloud the entire time I was there."

Evelyn and Madeline will probably continue discussing things like Seattle's Great Wheel, which of course Madeline went on, but which perhaps Evelyn hasn't been on yet, and restaurants which they both adore, such as Wild Ginger. However, they might not. Evelyn might think Madeline was arguing with Evelyn's experience of Seattle.

Evelyn might say, "Well, you were there in August for what, 5 days? Hardly surprising that you didn't see any clouds."

To which Madeline might reply, taking offense at Evelyn displaying contempt for her limited experience of Seattle, "You _did_ say _always_. I guess you must not have meant _always_."

Then Evelyn might attempt to justify her use of language, by saying, "What, you don't recognize hyperbole?"

The next thing you know, the tea date is over and Evelyn and Madeline may never speak again.

What went wrong? Well, Evelyn _was_ using hyperbole, and she was expressing some nostalgic envy of Madeline's trip. Madeline could have reinforced their affective connection by saying, "Oh, I know you miss Seattle. I wish you could have come with me!" or, if that is risky -- Evelyn might take her up on that and Madeline prefers to travel alone -- "When do you think you'll get to go again?" or something similar. Instead, Madeline identified a logical inconsistency between her experience and the surface meaning of Evelyn's words and pointed it out to Evelyn, quite baldly. Not even a, "That's weird. I must have been there during the only 5 days of no-clouds that city has had in forever!!!" to soften the contradiction.

If Madeline had a high degree of commitment to precise use of language and truth-telling at all times, she could have _still_ avoided a direct attack on Evelyn by asking, "Is it usually cloudy even in August?" prompting Evelyn to supply an implied qualifier.

Once Madeline entered her scrappy contradiction, Evelyn has to make a choice: do I want to attempt to salvage this conversation/relationship, or is it going to be scorched earth from here on out. If she had wanted to salvage it, she could say, "I was using hyperbole. Some August days there are no clouds at all, and there are bans on washing cars, watering lawns, etc. I tended to stay indoors with air conditioning, or go see a movie when that happened. I blotted those days out as too traumatizing to remember." She's now meeting Madeline on her literal, precise, highly committed to truth-telling level, and continuing to share her internal state/emotions in an effort to repair the damage done to the relationship.

I'm kind of a Madeline sort of person. I wish I were not, and I _try_ to be more like Evelyn, because I can really tell when reading Evelyn and Madeline go at it in reality that Evelyn has a lot more influence and friends than Madeline does. Madeline is sort of an ass. On the other hand, Madeline is pretty much our last hope when it comes to pointing out the naked emperor, so it's good to have both approaches out there.

Lately, I've been thinking about Madeline and Evelyn in terms of rhetoric, dialectic, forms of argument, etc. Evelyn's argument is that it is cloudy [always] in Seattle. Obvs, Evelyn is wrong, however, Evelyn only has to change that word always to usually, most of the time, frequently, typically, etc. to be right. Madeline's response to Evelyn's argument with a counterexample is weak. Either Madeline thinks that her counterexample is representative, and she is arguing that it is frequently, typically, often, perhaps even always, not cloudy in Seattle, or she is being an asshole, and bringing up a piece of evidence she knows is not representative. Through dialectic, they could, if they could be civil to each other, conclude that indeed there are cloudless days in Seattle, but they are infrequent. But if Madeline wants to _convince_, she should have framed her bald statement. "Well, there were no clouds when I was there for five days. But you have spent a great deal of time there, and weatherunderground.com and other sites show a very high frequency of cloudy days in Seattle. My experience was unusual. It really is almost always cloudy in Seattle." Nobody is going to argue with that, certainly not Evelyn, altho it really is going to make us all think that Madeline is probably on the autism spectrum.

I cannot imagine why a reader would still be reading at this point, so it should now be safe to say what I meant to say.

If Evelyn had instead said, "Men harass women all the time. There is a problem with masculinity culture. Men don't even _realize_ what they are doing," and Madeline had responded, "My brother doesn't harass women", Madeline may well be right. Does Madeline believe her brother is representative of men? If so, she is contradicting Evelyn's thesis. But if Madeline believes her brother is unusual in his fair minded, considerate treatment of all humanity, bringing him up as a bald counterexample to the thesis that men harass women is Not Convincing and, in fact, the opposite of persuasive.

I sort of wish we were doing a better job of teaching rhetoric/dialectic, altho surfing the web suggests that the people still explicitly teaching this stuff are sufficiently disturbing to me that I'm prepared to rethink this proposition just because I don't want to hang out with people like that. In any event, I know it's tempting to be Madeline. It really is! I'm Madeline. A lot. But sometimes, just adding a few qualifiers of your own can bring the other person's prima facie falsehood quite a long ways 'round to being something true, or at least that you can nod along with over tea. "There is such a long history of poor treatment of women. It's definitely a cultural problem and one I believe has a cultural solution. I know my brother works very hard to be part of the solution. I just wish more people could be like him."

And now, this is so long, I can no longer bring myself to continue. I'll leave the whole mental illness/crime argument for another day.

ETA: Oh, I have a bit more to say about the weather. Madeline might have heard what Evelyn said and decided not to respond to it directly, but to continue to chatter on about her not very good meal at the Space Needle and how she fell into Lake Union while kayaking but it didn't really matter because it was such a hot day that it felt really good. Internally, because Madeline respects Evelyn, Madeline might now have the experience of five days in Seattle of no clouds AND a statement that it is ALWAYS cloudy in Seattle. If Madeline stores these separately, and then talks about Seattle with Natalie, she might say, in rapid succession, that it was gorgeously sunny, "Not a cloud in the sky!", and "It always rains in Seattle!" and "It's always cloudy in Seattle", confusing Natalie enormously. So there's value in rhetoric even to people who opt to absolutely never contradict anyone ever, because it can help us figure out internally how to reconcile contradictory ideas, beliefs, data, etc.
Tags: politics

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