Twitter and the Evolution of Reasoning – Part 1: A Right Old Classic Tragedy

Cret_Comedy_and_Tragedy

AppleMark

Twitter is a great resource for the quick dissemination of information, and it is hard to imagine being without the sharing of links, ideas and resources on Edu-Twitter these days.

And then… there is the ‘debating’ value of Edu-Twitter….

According to Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber’s The Enigma of Reason, the power of human reasoning didn’t evolve in order to help us better conquer the world through problem solving, nor even to help establish for us the ‘truth’ of things. No, they contend that it evolved to close-down dissent, chase-out cheaters, and seal-up the ‘in-group’, thereby improving our ability to function, survive and thrive as a powerful group organism in a primitive world.

In other words, we have evolved and sharpened our thinking skills in order to be very good at quibbling, arguing the toss and separating people into ‘us and them’. (Gossiping is another evolved trait designed to bond-us together tightly with our kith and kin.) Additionally, we have honed our talent for ‘confirmation bias’ – attending to and celebrating those parts of arguments or bits of evidence which support our case – whilst being blind to the power or even existence of arguments or bits of evidence which don’t. I’m sure I’m falling victim to it right now (and probably so are you).

It’s true that, sometimes, some of us are in a position whereby we can shift our opinion and even our overall worldview if we do hear a really good logical case. We genuinely can hear a speech, read a book – or even a single article – which completely changes how we see things, but we normally require quite strong emotional preparedness, and probably a sufficient level of previous doubts, that we’re already waiting for the straw which will break the camel’s back. We then take on the super-reinforced mantle of ‘the convert’; it is much harder for us to shift back again.

Essentially, we very rarely keep an open mind on a big topic once we’ve come to a public decision on it, or have decided to adopt a particular worldview which gives us a sense of identity.

Over the past week or so there was yet another messy Edu-Twitter furore, which reminds me both of a truly unfortunate classic tragedy, and also of just how close to Mercier and Sperber’s picture of reasoning Twitter, and indeed Social Media as a whole, brings us.

It was absolutely classic ‘Us and Them’ tribal behaviour, and it thrived on a bit of initial naïve emotional ‘button pressing’ by a person writing a blog on one side, plus a corresponding emotionally charged misreading of exactly what had been said by those targeted on the other side. Their resulting righteous indignation – and urgent warnings that saying such things could land the writer in real trouble – was then taken by the initial provocateur as a sufficient threat for them to delete their blog and Twitter account.

In response, fellow members of the provocateur’s tribe leapt-in to defend her, escalating the Twitter sniping and leading to an increase in skirmishes with the initial ‘victims’ – now being pilloried as ‘persecutors’. These counter-attackers could have politely and clearly pointed-out the semantic misunderstanding [the initial criticism suggested that the accused had publicly ‘sneered at and denigrated’ the principles ‘espoused’ by a particular school, but this was misread as stating that they had ‘sneered at and denigrated’ the ACTUAL school – which they said they had never done, and which could consequently be defamation].

However, instead of pointing out this misunderstanding, and possibly getting-in a bit of teasing about this careless misreading, they decided to portray the overreaction as a deliberately knowing strategy to bully-out a supposedly vulnerable person who happened to publicly disagree with them.

Whilst the Twitter venom focused on decrying with increasing moral outrage the actions of individuals, a blog post was then launched by the rescuing side in order to take the offending incident, and the – now firmly interpreted as callous – actions of the isolated ‘victims-come-persecutors’ as something which could be GENERALISED to be something indicative of their tribe as a whole.

I got caught-up in the furore myself at this point – not quite knowing the full details, but not liking the smell of the rhetoric on the blog post, and suspecting that there was an attempt to make some political capital by blowing-up a much more nuanced situation.

And so…. here we are, with me trying to ‘step back a little’, and ponder just how much we can learn about ourselves from Twitter, the evolution of reasoning, and a distastefully messy ‘right-old classic tragedy’.

In a follow-up to this post, I discuss the dynamics involved when people seem to engage in debate on social media.

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13 thoughts on “Twitter and the Evolution of Reasoning – Part 1: A Right Old Classic Tragedy

  1. I’m wondering if you think that the first response, which was to take legal action claiming you’ve been misrepresented, is a complete over reaction thereby intimidating a blogger who had already responded by deleting names from the offensive “blog?

    People who make legal threats with so little provocation need to take a good hard look at themselves as do people who try to make excuses for such people and others who trawl around to find further ammunition to silence a voice they don’t agree with. It was despicable and cowardly behaviour. ”

    If you can’t argue your points/ideas threaten to sue and that will keep the pesky dissenters all quiet…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Tempe that to my mind it was an overreaction, and not something I would do. But then I don’t have a career dependent on a wide public reputation. I don’t think it was a strategic bully-boy ploy ‘just because that’s what Progressives do.’

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      • The threat to dox and speak to employers comes only from one small group of progressives, repeatedly. If you have examples of it the other way then I am all ears.

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    • Tempe

      You fall into the same trap as Oldandrew above and in other places.

      A post was placed on the internet that was very likely defamatory. I am not a judge so I can olny express a lay view, as can you and Oldandrew.

      The possibly defamed individual then took the action of placing a comment on the post which indicated that they believed that the post contained a defamatory statement. The post asked that the individual who was using an anonymous account provide their real name so that the defamed person could contact them to clarify their legal position. This seems to me wholly reasonable and proportionate.

      The comment provided a link so that the author of the post might research the issue of defamation.

      The author of the post then admitted that they had been unwise to make said statements and removed the named individuals from the post. They said that on reflection they would think more carefully in future.

      I don’t believe the potentially defamed person acted further. I am not aware of any further communication. That really should have sorted it and had not Oldandrew and his cronies piled into the situation making accusations of trolling and trying to silence people then it is likely the thing would have gone away. Oldandrew has even placed and pinned the information on his blog. There is no threat of legal action. There is no mention of the word “sue” https://twitter.com/oldandrewuk/status/862007076742021120.

      It is I imagine possible that such threats were made even though in all of the abuse I have not seen them quoted.

      The issue now however took on a persona of its own.

      It became a progressive plot from people that Oldandrew believes had form to drive a new blogger from the internet. Oldandrew then seemed to get the bit between his teeth and with others started to dredge up previous incidents that had occured in an Ad Hom way that is surely shameful.

      Oldandrew admitted that he is not a lawyer, yet he believes that his assessment of the situation that the poster of the blog is without fault is the correct one. He posted and pinned the above mentioned information to his site and somehow he sees the pinned information as a threat intended to drive someone from the internet.

      I think it quite likely that hadthe cronies not waded in, the thing would have quitened down but that would not have suited the “crony purpose”, to further the cause therefore we saw all of the vitriol from the usual suspects.

      You have posted this tempe….

      “I’m wondering if you think that the first response, which was to take legal action claiming you’ve been misrepresented, is a complete over reaction thereby intimidating a blogger who had already responded by deleting names from the offensive “blog?

      People who make legal threats with so little provocation need to take a good hard look at themselves as do people who try to make excuses for such people and others who trawl around to find further ammunition to silence a voice they don’t agree with. It was despicable and cowardly behaviour. ”

      If you can’t argue your points/ideas threaten to sue and that will keep the pesky dissenters all quiet…”

      You have now compounded the onlandrew drivel by calling the response “despicable and cowardly” on the basis that it threatens legal action when it does nothing of the kind. It points out to the poster that the post was potentially libellous and that remains the case despite Oldandrew’s self indulgent nonsense.

      The comment did not suggested misrepresentation, it suggested that lies were told, and you are incorrect. The names were removed after and as a result of the comment.

      The comments of yourself and Oldandrew and cronies simply have been those that have fuelled the issue and likely originally promoted the poster to close their accounts. It is also possble that the anonymous poster read the article referred to in Oldandrews pinned tweet and decided it was best to close the accounts to be safe. I have no idea and neither do you.

      I agree with Chris here, that it looks like tribal behaviour. I believe the tribal bit started when bloggers started to attack the potentially defamed with ad hom attacks. Quite what would have led someone to become so nasty so quickly I can only speculate about.

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      • I remain steadfast in my belief that this was an overreaction and the threat of legal action was extreme. I saw the response by TN before she took her blog down and she sounded very upset and afraid. Obviously she was afraid, so much so that she took her entire site down. I think that is a terrible thing. I don’t believe what TN said anything that should produced such a response.

        Please lets not pretend these people were trying to be helpful. They were trying to silence TN. My sense is these people are either super-sensitive to criticism of their beliefs or that they are trying to silence free speech. I know of other progs who have threatened legal action and send everything off to their lawyers. I myself have been relentlessly attacked and bullied by prog. teachers here in Australia for daring to not share their high regard for progressive teaching methods. This was a bullying campaign that left me very deflated and made me leave a particular forum. Some people said the most despicable/cruel things and prog. teachers all liked their posts. I have not scene this from the Trads. though I’m not saying it doesn’t happened. Andrewold actually asked anyone with any evidence that trads were trolling/bullying and I haven’t seen any responses yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Tempe – I’m only speculating here – I never saw the full initial exchanges: If Teaching Newbie had had it pointed-out to her – by anybody including Old Andrew himself – that all the things she had posted about her school could quite easily end-up in front of their eyes due to the number of clues which she had left, would that not in itself have been sufficient reason for her to feel afraid and to delete her site? I think OA claims that he had direct messages saying that she feared others were actively out to make sure that that now happened, but – even so – if the potential was there, hasn’t it done her a good service to ensure that that she didn’t ultimately find herself in front of a disciplinary? Indeed, why didn’t people on her own side spot such a pattern and offer such advice?

    To suggest it was ALL about her being directly ‘threatened’ or ‘bullied’ is naive. She clearly suddenly FELT threatened and realised the precariousness of her situation from a school position as much as anything. A quite important salutary lesson to anyone who thinks that they are safe to say anything about anyone on the internet without it coming back to them, just as long as they use a pseudonym. Clues build-up and the internet doesn’t forget very easily. This is why I personally don’t disguise my name; it keeps me focused on wider public issues, and more reflective on exactly the way I say things. Perhaps this whole episode should act as a chance to make sure that all potential new bloggers understand the limits of the exciting new playground that they are entering. We give these warnings to the children we educate, but it’s not just the children who are new to all this.

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  3. Pingback: Twitter and the Evolution of Reason – Part 2: Naked and ‘Civil’ Aggression | Stepping Back a Little

  4. It might be worth noting that Teaching Newbie also received hostility from others on Twitter; for example, receiving the accusation of being a hoax account or/and being someone working at Michaela.

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  5. Pingback: Twitter and the Evolution of Reason – Part 3: The “Justification” for Injustice | Stepping Back a Little

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