Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Coherent thinking and diversity

Some of my academic training is in philosophy. The good teachers I had would always stress one important point: that we should strive for coherence in our thinking. Now, I am always quite flabbergasted when I encounter fuzzy thinking that seems unaware of its implications. For instance, visible minorities can become victims of discrimination, usually based on "racial" appearance. The perpetrators are for the most part "white" people. Yet, some members of these minorities would in turn discriminate against others based on sexual orientation and gender without any awareness that the processes of exclusion, the technologies of discrimination, are pretty much the same in both cases. The discourse of exclusion is identical. You make fun of the outsiders, you say how you appreciate them, you say how you have friends among them and yet you belittle them, and so on. I find it then very ironic when someone is ranting on about the paternalism of "white" people but is doing exactly the same towards women or gays and lesbians. A remedial course in philosophy would be very useful for the people concerned.

You may want to peruse the courses offered by the Wits philosopy department:


Adam N. Mukendi said...

Hi Thomas,
You know so well to argue on your convictions-I really appreciate that. You far better in giving coherent thinking because may be you did and do well in philosophy.
However, I think that you should take more efforts in time to not taking discussions in a personal way. Because, by doing so you will get frustrated and angry consequently; you’ll lose your points.
You are right-we shall all have equal right

Thomas Blaser said...

Is this not the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves: how much do I invest in an issue? Recent self-help books and gurus tell you not to take things personally. And I agree, at times it helps. At other times, you can only change things when you do take things personally. Successful people usually do not take things personally in the sense that they don't lose their cool. Francois Mitterand is a good example. No matter how insulting his opponents were against him, as former member of the French underground and used to nerve-wrecking situations, he would never lose his cool. Did he take things personally? I bet with you he took many things personally otherwise he would never have achieved all what he did.

Roy Blumenthal said...

Hiya Guys...

I'm with Thomas all the way on this one.

1. Coherent thinking is an essential skill.

2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (If you want to talk against colonialism, racism, sexism, then you need to walk your talk in ALL areas. Homophobic comments are pretty revealing.)

3. I don't know, given the evidence, whether or not Thomas 'took things personally', nor do I know what exactly either of the parties MEANS by using the phrase. It seems more a case of Thomas making a principled stand about a homophobic statement in an open forum. That MAY or MAY NOT be 'taking it personally'. Regardless, it's about taking a stand.

4. I saw a disturbing statement in one of the emails that followed. It said something like, 'I have gay friends. I don't agree with their choices, but...' That is a most perfidious argumentative error! And it's a terrible piece of rhetoric!

It's an argumentative error because it assumes that there is a 'right way', and that anyone who 'deviates' from that 'right way' is a deviant, and is therefor to be regarded as 'sub normal'.

It's a rhetorical nightmare because it reveals all sorts of things about the person who MADE the statement. It exposes all manner of thinking flaws, biases.

5. Issues of principle don't necessarily require diplomacy. I'm not gay, and I was pissed off with the pink shirt reference. It contained all manner of assumptions about the world and the people in the world. It was not a very clever statement to make, and it's certainly uncalled for.

6. Discrimination sucks.

Blue skies

PS: Thomas... why did you unsubscribe from the Yahoo group?

Ijeoma Uche-Okeke said...

Thomas, you raise an important point here. I always say that living in this country has been a most profound source of education for me in life. I can point my fingers at a number of things I don't like about South Africa, but if I look closely at my own society back home, I can identify equivalents of the same issues under different labels. As to getting 'personal', you need to have the personal conviction to achieve change. I would imagine there a various approaches to getting 'personal' though.One must be careful not to misconstrue this. These issues are very thorny and always generate passionate debates. There are no ready answers.

Thomas Blaser said...

Thanks for all the contributions to this debate. It co-incided with my realisation that I needed to cut-down on my extensive email traffic and I decided to de-register from the bloglines yahoo list. I have, however, registered to with the bloglines website to receive direclty the pearls of wisdom Roy habitually sends out.

Valentin said...

I am not sure I understand all that discussion about "coherent thinking" and "getting things personally".
Could anybody, please, clarify with me briefly what "coherent thinking" means. I've done philosophy extensively in Bulgaria, but that term was never clear to me.
With regards to "getting things personally", there could be few meanings to that term.
It might mean you "get offended too easily", you constantly draw reference to your personal life and experience and you judge people and real situations "subjectively" and with bias.
It might also mean you always feel people use you as an example when they illustrate a certain point ("any point about life in general)even if they don't.
Then you beleive that they refer to you in a good or a bad way. However, this is more likely to be a "complex" that you have.
Therefore, we need to clarify what "getting things personally means" first of all (or what Adam meant in his comment mentioning this).
Then we can analyze!

Thomas Blaser said...

'Coherent thinking' means that in any given statement you make, there is a logic to your argument that is meaningful. My point is that if we take on the issue of discrimination, it is not sufficient (and if we want to be coherent)to focus on ONE aspect (ie. racial) of discrimination. Rather, coherent thinking would indicate that we are aware of the different manifestations and contexts of discrimination(gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.)

The second issue Valentin raises proves my point. Allegatios of taking things 'personal' sound rather fuzzy to me and demonstrate a lack of coherence in making an argument.

The English language adjective 'coherent' comes form Latin, 'cohere' and means 'to stick or hold together' (see for a definition

A coherent argument is one that is tight and cannot be easily criticized and taken apart.