Friday, January 20, 2012

the double down
Jim Jacobson on January 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm said:

Mark does readily confess his failures, but then he goes and doubles down on the same things. He should say what the bible says on sexual things in my opinion. Where it is silent, he should be as well. That would take away about 50% of what he has to say.

Of course this is just a celebrity variation.  Admitting to a mistake is hard and what we often prefer to do is not even admit a mistake.  Actually, admitting to not understanding something or not having communicated something in a clear way is difficult, too.  In such situations the temptation is to double down.  Not only did I not make a mistake or lack for clarity in what I was saying or doing I'm going to make sure I double down just to prove you wrong.  It's tough to admit that something seems unclear whether because I didn't track what was stated or that what I stated didn't come across.  The risk of doubling down is that this can create a spiral in which it's safer to stand by what I said then to set that aside with the goal of reaching a shared understanding.  I don't mean agreeing on everything, far from it, I mean something more mundane, simply getting each other in a discussion.

Communication is not a contest even when the goal of communication is to persuade. Effective communicators remember this even if they do not always accomplish this. The goal, and this may be idealistic of me, is to gain mutual understanding. If I talk with you and we don't get each other than once we finally understand each other, even if we don't agree, communication has been successful and we can move on to other points of discussion.  If I talk with a politically liberal friend and we don't agree on X but we do agree on Y I want to proceed from Y so that there's some chance we can discuss our way to some agreement on Z. 

As Bill Buckley put it decades ago, though the liberal and conservative might disagree on the how of policy and on the why of government they can still agree on the what.  This was, in short, why Buckley considered the Randian approach problematic, because it introduced a combative definition of government that, if accepted, would change the nature of discourse.  Now if you think Buckley was totally wrong about that that's not exactly what I'm discussing.  I trust you know I'm simply using Buckley's point as an example. If a liberal and a conservative disagree on how the government should play its role in society they did, at least (forty years ago or so) still broadly agree on what the job of the government with respect to the citizenry actually was. That times and thoughts have changed I'll take as a given so nobody feels like spamming me about that.

The kind of mentality and discourse I would like to avoid, having seen more than a bit of it, is summed up in "I love you but you're annoying" discourse.  There are two reasons.  The first has to do with that word "annoying". Years ago when I was on the moderated Midrash someone posted a remark and someone wrote "I love you in Christ but ... ." The fellow who posted the remark asked, "I see this `I love you in Christ but ... ' stuff.  What does that mean?  I replied, "It means someone's saying they find you annoying."  That's as close to the words I wrote as I can recall. It's not necessarily a nice or fair thing to say but it is blunt and direct. There are times when "I love you but you're annoying" has a place. That place is not necessarily outside a continuing relationship.  It is also not even particularly appropriate within a continuing relationship. 

Then there's the second, more important reasons. Relationships do not thrive so much in the setting of "I love you but ... " regardless what word follows "but".  Were Jesus to relate to us in this way, well, you get the idea.  Husbands and wives, if they want to stay married, can't afford to live that way.  If the setting is an interview as a public figure with a professional journalist then there's no context for "I love you but ... "for anything.  It merely becomes a rhetorical flourish like talk of friends who are conveniences.

There's no point in pretending we love people we don't love in the common usage of the word.  But this does not mean we don't have the opportunity to be patient, kind, gentle, hope-filled, considerate, and so on. Communication is not simple simply because we take it for granted.  It does not become simple even if, say, we got a degree in communication.  It does not become simple because it isn't simple. Any discussion operates at multiple levels of perception and meaning. 

It is possible for a person to discuss something at level A while another discusses at level B.  The person at level B is not necessarily at level A but if a person does not communicate at level B this does not make a person more effective as a communicator.  For instance, if an adult explains something to a child and the child does not understand the adult could decide, "He's just a child so he can't get these things." Maybe that's true, but that does not make the adult a competent communicator simply for deciding that. The adult has still failed to communicate to the child.  That failure won't be a moral failure or an intellectual failure, of course, but it is still a social failure and a communication failure that will, at length, have moral and intellectual significance if the adult does not find some way to learn from the situation.  What happens next, ideally? Well, heh, to quote a certain Amy Grant song love (real love) will find a way. ;-)

Yet Mark Driscoll happens to be a case study of how we may not want to approach all of these things, whether in public discourse or private life.  There is an opportunity to learn from Mark Driscoll's communication as a negative example, something which is a very biblical thing to do. As Jacobson has observed, the man will apologize and then double down.  The pattern is this, he may apologize for how he says something but he will double down on what he was saying later on. It's the difference between saying "I'm sorry about what I said because it was wrong and I hurt you", for instance, and saying "I'm sorry you were offended by what I said and maybe I should have said things in a more winsome way."  For the already convinced the latter reads as though it should be received as the former. 

Now beyond this there are substantical implications and consequences to a man like Mark Driscoll being selectively strict constructionist.  I could write at some length about this but I don't feel like doing so right now in much detail.  For now I will merely note that a strict constructionist permission of sex act X because it is not explicitly condemned vitiates the possibility of condemning social scenario Y when it, too, is not directly and explicitly condemned by a biblical text.  Doubling down is only a good move if you really understand what cards you're playing and to be honest I'm not always sure Mark Driscoll knows what cards he's really doubling down on.

In other words, if Mark wants us to accept that anal sex is all good in the hood because the Bible doesn't directly condemn it then he has concede that if in ancient times there was not direct condemnation of a guy like Jacob wanting Leah and Rachel to participate in a three way that it wasn't condemned.  Was that totally icky?  Yes (sorry about that).  Was that unnecessary?  Not if we seriously attempt to address the problem of Mark Driscoll's selective strict constructionism about biblical prohibitions on sexual activities within marriage.  A man like Driscoll, so apt to employ reductio ad absurdums, sometimes needs to be the recipient of what he doles out to others. The Bible does not explicitly condemn stay at home dads any more than it explicitly prohibits anal sex so if Driscoll wants to play the "I'm a Bible teacher" card and invoke a selectively strict constructionist take on what the Bible prohibits he should think through what this kind of position and method entails. 

 ... and it just dawned on me what a terrible pun is in that last sentence. 

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