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Offline Chris Pook

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Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« on: November 05, 2017, 18:21:12 »
"....when parents disagree with each other, kids learn to think for themselves. They discover that no authority has a monopoly on truth. They become more tolerant of ambiguity. Rather than conforming to others’ opinions, they come to rely on their own independent judgment."

Quote
Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?

Adam Grant NOV. 4, 2017

When Wilbur and Orville Wright finished their flight at Kitty Hawk, Americans celebrated the brotherly bond. The brothers had grown up playing together, they had been in the newspaper business together, they had built an airplane together. They even said they “thought together.”

These are our images of creativity: filled with harmony. Innovation, we think, is something magical that happens when people find synchrony together. The melodies of Rodgers blend with the lyrics of Hammerstein. It’s why one of the cardinal rules of brainstorming is “withhold criticism.” You want people to build on one another’s ideas, not shoot them down. But that’s not how creativity really happens.

When the Wright brothers said they thought together, what they really meant is that they argued together. One of their pivotal decisions was the design of a propeller for their plane. They squabbled for weeks, often shouting back and forth for hours. “After long arguments we often found ourselves in the ludicrous position of each having been converted to the other’s side,” Orville reflected, “with no more agreement than when the discussion began.” Only after thoroughly decimating each other’s arguments did it dawn on them that they were both wrong. They needed not one but two propellers, which could be spun in opposite directions to create a kind of rotating wing. “I don’t think they really got mad,” their mechanic marveled, “but they sure got awfully hot.”

The skill to get hot without getting mad — to have a good argument that doesn’t become personal — is critical in life. But it’s one that few parents teach to their children. We want to give kids a stable home, so we stop siblings from quarreling and we have our own arguments behind closed doors. Yet if kids never get exposed to disagreement, we’ll end up limiting their creativity.

We’ve known groupthink is a problem for a long time: We’ve watched ill-fated wars unfold after dissenting voices were silenced. But teaching kids to argue is more important than ever. Now we live in a time when voices that might offend are silenced on college campuses, when politics has become an untouchable topic in many circles, even more fraught than religion or race. We should know better: Our legal system is based on the idea that arguments are necessary for justice. For our society to remain free and open, kids need to learn the value of open disagreement.

It turns out that highly creative adults often grow up in families full of tension. Not fistfights or personal insults, but real disagreements. When adults in their early 30s were asked to write imaginative stories, the most creative ones came from those whose parents had the most conflict a quarter-century earlier. Their parents had clashing views on how to raise children. They had different values and attitudes and interests. And when highly creative architects and scientists were compared with their technically skilled but less original peers, the innovators often had more friction in their families. As the psychologist Robert Albert put it, “the creative person-to-be comes from a family that is anything but harmonious, one with a ‘wobble.’ ”

Wilber and Orville Wright came from a wobbly family. Their father, a preacher, never met a moral fight he wasn’t willing to pick. They watched him clash with school authorities who weren’t fond of his decision to let his kids miss a half-day of school from time to time to learn on their own. Their father believed so much in embracing arguments that despite being a bishop in the local church, he had multiple books by atheists in his library — and encouraged his children to read them.

If we rarely see a spat, we learn to shy away from the threat of conflict. Witnessing arguments — and participating in them — helps us grow a thicker skin. We develop the will to fight uphill battles and the skill to win those battles, and the resilience to lose a battle today without losing our resolve tomorrow. For the Wright brothers, argument was the family trade and a fierce one was something to be savored. Conflict was something to embrace and resolve. “I like scrapping with Orv,” Wilbur said.


The Wright brothers weren’t alone. The Beatles fought over instruments and lyrics and melodies. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony clashed over the right way to win the right to vote. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak argued incessantly while designing the first Apple computer. None of these people succeeded in spite of the drama — they flourished because of it. Brainstorming groups generate 16 percent more ideas when the members are encouraged to criticize one another. The most creative ideas in Chinese technology companies and the best decisions in American hospitals come from teams that have real disagreements early on. Breakthrough labs in microbiology aren’t full of enthusiastic collaborators cheering one another on but of skeptical scientists challenging one another’s interpretations.

If no one ever argues, you’re not likely to give up on old ways of doing things, let alone try new ones. Disagreement is the antidote to groupthink. We’re at our most imaginative when we’re out of sync. There’s no better time than childhood to learn how to dish it out — and to take it.

As Samuel Johnson was growing up, his parents argued constantly. He described a family as “a little kingdom, torn with factions and exposed to revolutions.” He went on to write one of the greatest dictionaries in history, one that had a lasting impact on the English language and wasn’t supplanted until the Oxford English Dictionary appeared more than a century later. Who would be more motivated and qualified to clean up a messy language than someone whose household was filled with it?

Children need to learn the value of thoughtful disagreement. Sadly, many parents teach kids that if they disagree with someone, it’s polite to hold their tongues. Rubbish. What if we taught kids that silence is bad manners? It disrespects the other person’s ability to have a civil argument — and it disrespects the value of your own viewpoint and your own voice. It’s a sign of respect to care enough about someone’s opinion that you’re willing to challenge it.

We can also help by having disagreements openly in front of our kids. Most parents hide their conflicts: They want to present a united front, and they don’t want kids to worry. But when parents disagree with each other, kids learn to think for themselves. They discover that no authority has a monopoly on truth. They become more tolerant of ambiguity. Rather than conforming to others’ opinions, they come to rely on their own independent judgment.


It doesn’t seem to matter how often parents argue; what counts is how they handle arguments when they happen. Creativity tends to flourish, Mr. Albert, the psychologist, found, in families that are “tense but secure.” In a recent study of children ages 5 to 7, the ones whose parents argued constructively felt more emotionally safe. Over the next three years, those kids showed greater empathy and concern for others. They were friendlier and more helpful toward their classmates in school.

Instead of trying to prevent arguments, we should be modeling courteous conflict and teaching kids how to have healthy disagreements. We can start with four rules:

• Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict.
I
• Argue as if you’re right but listen as if you’re wrong.

• Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.

• Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them.


Good arguments are wobbly: a team or family might rock back and forth but it never tips over. If kids don’t learn to wobble, they never learn to walk; they end up standing still.

Adam Grant is a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the author of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” and a contributing opinion writer.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on November 5, 2017, on Page SR7 of the New York edition with the headline: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?. Today's Paper

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/opinion/sunday/kids-would-you-please-start-fighting.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion
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Offline youngger@12

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2017, 01:18:55 »
A little soldiers. As the Greeks say, Po Po Po.
I walk down the street
and I don't give a damn
people, they stare
and they ask who I am
and if by chance I should run over a cad
I can pay for the damage, if ever so bad.

War came upon us by stealth; only when we looked back, could we clearly see how it had come

Offline Hamish Seggie

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2017, 07:21:05 »
A little soldiers. As the Greeks say, Po Po Po.

Clarification please?
Freedom Isn't Free   "Never Shall I Fail My Brothers"

“Do everything that is necessary and nothing that is not".

Offline Loachman

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2017, 08:00:23 »
Meaningless drivel.

Offline JesseWZ

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2017, 02:19:58 »
A little soldiers. As the Greeks say, Po Po Po.

Hi Youngger, you may remember me from such memorable posts as your first one, involving failure in training. You may have noticed by now that you're being "watched" by the Mod team here at army.ca and some of your posting privileges may already be restricted. I feel like you maybe haven't heeded my advice and so I'm offering it again, one last time. READ MORE, POST LESS.

We're not here to crap all over you, but plenty of well intentioned folks have circled the drain here very quickly because they didn't want to get it.

I'll be blunt, my first impression of you is someone who is trying really hard to appear intelligent and have relevant things to add. We don't mind people trying to be smart, but it would be important to know what you're talking about to avoid ridicule. Your profile states you were honorably discharged as a recruit. There's nothing wrong with not advancing past "recruit," but you can't post determinative statements about what the modern soldier on the battlefield needs if you have no experience being a modern soldier or on a battlefield. (see your post in the RMC/Civi U discussion for example).

Finally, your above post. Take a minute to consider what it accomplished.

Did it further the discussion in any way?
Did it provide an opinion on the article posted, or a counterpoint?
Did it take into account any practical experience you have raising children, having family disagreement, or anything else even tangentially related to the topic?

If the answer to the above is NO, don't post. If the post just exists to stroke your ego and attempt to make you look educated it's failing and you will find your time here at army.ca very short.

JesseWZ
Army.ca Mentor
I will be seen and not heard... I will be seen and not heard... I will be seen and not heard...

Offline Colin P

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2017, 10:14:39 »
I can ensure you that my kids fight a lot, including actual sparring, we don't allow them to go for the jugular or go so far as to harm their relationship for the long term.

Offline daftandbarmy

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2017, 12:11:33 »
"....when parents disagree with each other, kids learn to think for themselves. They discover that no authority has a monopoly on truth. They become more tolerant of ambiguity. Rather than conforming to others’ opinions, they come to rely on their own independent judgment."

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/opinion/sunday/kids-would-you-please-start-fighting.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion

"When everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking." Gen George S. Patton

Nothing like a little dissent during the planning process to ensure a higher quality end product. Something we see tolerated less and less these days in many big organizations, sadly.
"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." Napoleon

Offline Colin P

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2017, 13:29:11 »
My wife and I are pretty close on parenting, but it didn't take long for the kids to spot the differences and attempt to exploit them and that was at 3 years old. In example: "I know crying won't break Dad, but it will break Mom, who will break Dad".

Offline Roger123

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2017, 17:10:19 »
"When everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking." Gen George S. Patton

Nothing like a little dissent during the planning process to ensure a higher quality end product. Something we see tolerated less and less these days in many big organizations, sadly.
     When I was in University we were assigned a case assignment regarding whether a company should expand into a new market or remain as is and maintain their market share. One of those assignments where there was no "right" answer, where the critical thinking and explanation for said decision would be evaluated. It was a group assignment. There was about 5 of us and we decided as a group to individually come up with our own decision and reasoning and would debrief as a group regarding the course of action the group was going to take. It was conducted via the internet via google chat because of our conflicting schedules. I had this course as part of a major outside of the specialist program I was doing so I really didnt know the people in class, and our groups were randomly selected. It seemed the group was favoring the " group leader", the type that loves the sound of their own voice and the reasoning behind said opinions are usually shaky at best ( from what I gathered in class).  The final write up was due in 2 days as we deliberated (bad time management, I know !). When my opinion differed from the group ( or leader's) consensus, and when I attempted to argue respectfully and critically, the nature of the chat turned hostile. Long story short, the group leader threatened to kick me out of the group when I kept probing on their reasoning ( the basis of our group mark). It wasnt so much the decision, but the reasoning for the decision that I had trouble with. When the leader threatened to kick me when I keep making suggestions to change certain things, I texted " What the F&#% is wrong with you?", seeing how it was just a discussion on my part with ( being honest here) no ego involved whatsoever on my part. I was concerned about my grade, and was looking to maximize said grade, and my less than professional response was fueled by the childish and quick escalation of the conversation. After my message, I was kicked out of the group, kicked out of the chat. I had a decision. DO my own paper ( 14 page report that was to be split amongst five people ) or hope the prof takes my side and my name is attached to their mark. In the end, I pulled an all nighter, submitted my paper, and the prof agreed to read my paper and I would get the higher of the two papers.
     When I saw the person in class the next day, I asked " so what was that about?". No response. Just looked at me. I then said something along the lines " Funny how you're all tough behind the screen but cant find your voice face to face".
    So yes, shining personal example of how people become very emotional when their view is challenged on its merits and things escalate out of control.

     
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 17:14:15 by Roger123 »

Offline daftandbarmy

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2017, 17:56:54 »
     When I was in University we were assigned a case assignment regarding whether a company should expand into a new market or remain as is and maintain their market share. One of those assignments where there was no "right" answer, where the critical thinking and explanation for said decision would be evaluated. It was a group assignment. There was about 5 of us and we decided as a group to individually come up with our own decision and reasoning and would debrief as a group regarding the course of action the group was going to take. It was conducted via the internet via google chat because of our conflicting schedules. I had this course as part of a major outside of the specialist program I was doing so I really didnt know the people in class, and our groups were randomly selected. It seemed the group was favoring the " group leader", the type that loves the sound of their own voice and the reasoning behind said opinions are usually shaky at best ( from what I gathered in class).  The final write up was due in 2 days as we deliberated (bad time management, I know !). When my opinion differed from the group ( or leader's) consensus, and when I attempted to argue respectfully and critically, the nature of the chat turned hostile. Long story short, the group leader threatened to kick me out of the group when I kept probing on their reasoning ( the basis of our group mark). It wasnt so much the decision, but the reasoning for the decision that I had trouble with. When the leader threatened to kick me when I keep making suggestions to change certain things, I texted " What the F&#% is wrong with you?", seeing how it was just a discussion on my part with ( being honest here) no ego involved whatsoever on my part. I was concerned about my grade, and was looking to maximize said grade, and my less than professional response was fueled by the childish and quick escalation of the conversation. After my message, I was kicked out of the group, kicked out of the chat. I had a decision. DO my own paper ( 14 page report that was to be split amongst five people ) or hope the prof takes my side and my name is attached to their mark. In the end, I pulled an all nighter, submitted my paper, and the prof agreed to read my paper and I would get the higher of the two papers.
     When I saw the person in class the next day, I asked " so what was that about?". No response. Just looked at me. I then said something along the lines " Funny how you're all tough behind the screen but cant find your voice face to face".
    So yes, shining personal example of how people become very emotional when their view is challenged on its merits and things escalate out of control.

   

And, sadly, your experience in an academic setting is shared by big organizations I've worked with on a regular basis. Mostly, I find it's the 'dissenter' who winds up leaving and moving on to bigger and better things, so there's hope AFAIC!
"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." Napoleon

Offline youngger@12

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2017, 18:14:32 »
Quote
Hi Youngger, you may remember me from such memorable posts as your first one, involving failure in training. You may have noticed by now that you're being "watched" by the Mod team here at army.ca and some of your posting privileges may already be restricted. I feel like you maybe haven't heeded my advice and so I'm offering it again, one last time. READ MORE, POST LESS.

We're not here to crap all over you, but plenty of well intentioned folks have circled the drain here very quickly because they didn't want to get it.

I'll be blunt, my first impression of you is someone who is trying really hard to appear intelligent and have relevant things to add. We don't mind people trying to be smart, but it would be important to know what you're talking about to avoid ridicule. Your profile states you were honorably discharged as a recruit. There's nothing wrong with not advancing past "recruit," but you can't post determinative statements about what the modern soldier on the battlefield needs if you have no experience being a modern soldier or on a battlefield. (see your post in the RMC/Civi U discussion for example).

Finally, your above post. Take a minute to consider what it accomplished.

Did it further the discussion in any way?
Did it provide an opinion on the article posted, or a counterpoint?
Did it take into account any practical experience you have raising children, having family disagreement, or anything else even tangentially related to the topic?

If the answer to the above is NO, don't post. If the post just exists to stroke your ego and attempt to make you look educated it's failing and you will find your time here at army.ca very short.

JesseWZ
Army.ca Mentor

My apologizes, English is my second language. I am under the impression you don't like my sense of humor. You are right, I've never known the camaraderie of soldiers when facing death. Actually I was looking for friends, sorry.

Edited to add quote box.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 19:26:06 by Scott »
I walk down the street
and I don't give a damn
people, they stare
and they ask who I am
and if by chance I should run over a cad
I can pay for the damage, if ever so bad.

War came upon us by stealth; only when we looked back, could we clearly see how it had come

Offline youngger@12

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #11 on: November 07, 2017, 18:28:08 »
     When I was in University we were assigned a case assignment regarding whether a company should expand into a new market or remain as is and maintain their market share. One of those assignments where there was no "right" answer, where the critical thinking and explanation for said decision would be evaluated. It was a group assignment. There was about 5 of us and we decided as a group to individually come up with our own decision and reasoning and would debrief as a group regarding the course of action the group was going to take. It was conducted via the internet via google chat because of our conflicting schedules. I had this course as part of a major outside of the specialist program I was doing so I really didnt know the people in class, and our groups were randomly selected. It seemed the group was favoring the " group leader", the type that loves the sound of their own voice and the reasoning behind said opinions are usually shaky at best ( from what I gathered in class).  The final write up was due in 2 days as we deliberated (bad time management, I know !). When my opinion differed from the group ( or leader's) consensus, and when I attempted to argue respectfully and critically, the nature of the chat turned hostile. Long story short, the group leader threatened to kick me out of the group when I kept probing on their reasoning ( the basis of our group mark). It wasnt so much the decision, but the reasoning for the decision that I had trouble with. When the leader threatened to kick me when I keep making suggestions to change certain things, I texted " What the F&#% is wrong with you?", seeing how it was just a discussion on my part with ( being honest here) no ego involved whatsoever on my part. I was concerned about my grade, and was looking to maximize said grade, and my less than professional response was fueled by the childish and quick escalation of the conversation. After my message, I was kicked out of the group, kicked out of the chat. I had a decision. DO my own paper ( 14 page report that was to be split amongst five people ) or hope the prof takes my side and my name is attached to their mark. In the end, I pulled an all nighter, submitted my paper, and the prof agreed to read my paper and I would get the higher of the two papers.
     When I saw the person in class the next day, I asked " so what was that about?". No response. Just looked at me. I then said something along the lines " Funny how you're all tough behind the screen but cant find your voice face to face".
    So yes, shining personal example of how people become very emotional when their view is challenged on its merits and things escalate out of control.

   

This is why I love mathematics. The correct answer proves itself. Were you right, or was the professor right or was the group right. Was there any way to evaluate your mark. Was the teacher successful in business? Did his or her course make you more successful in life. What is the majority doing now?
I walk down the street
and I don't give a damn
people, they stare
and they ask who I am
and if by chance I should run over a cad
I can pay for the damage, if ever so bad.

War came upon us by stealth; only when we looked back, could we clearly see how it had come

Offline Roger123

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #12 on: November 07, 2017, 19:35:11 »
Did his or her course make you more successful in life. What is the majority doing now?
     
      I enjoyed the material of the course. It was interesting reading the text. I resented that I had to show up to a lecture or lose marks, while the professeur added nothing of value to my own self study. The experience opened my eyes to the petty and childish nature of some adults, even in a high ranking Canadian university. Dont know or care enough to find out what some of these people are doing. Realized, though, that such an experience is an outlier to the many positive group collaborations I have had in my academic career. Those are the people  I check in on and hope the best for.

Offline Journeyman

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #13 on: November 07, 2017, 22:38:27 »
.... shining personal example of how people become very emotional when their view is challenged on its merits and things escalate out of control.
Listening to a quite well respected, retired, LGen speak today, he mentioned this one-liner on group-think: "disagreement does not equal disloyalty, but it needs to be informed and contributory disagreement."  The general sub-topic was the requirement for intellectual engagement by all ranks in the future current battlespace.


[I can't believe he stole my line about "opinions vs informed  opinions"  ;) ]
There’s nothing more maddening than debating someone who doesn’t know history, doesn’t read books, and frames their myopia as virtue. The level of unapologetic conjecture I’ve encountered lately isn’t just frustrating, it’s retrogressive, unprecedented, and absolutely terrifying.
~Chris Evans

Offline daftandbarmy

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #14 on: November 07, 2017, 23:18:24 »
Listening to a quite well respected, retired, LGen speak today, he mentioned this one-liner on group-think: "disagreement does not equal disloyalty, but it needs to be informed and contributory disagreement."  The general sub-topic was the requirement for intellectual engagement by all ranks in the future current battlespace.


[I can't believe he stole my line about "opinions vs informed  opinions"  ;) ]

Dave Snowden's 'ritual dissent' model is a good one:

Ritual Dissent is a workshop method designed to test and enhance proposals, stories, ideas or whatever by subjecting them to ritualised dissent (challenge) or assent (positive alternatives). In all cases it is a forced listening technique, not a dialogue or discourse. The basic approach involves a spokesperson presenting a series of ideas to a group who receives them in silence. The spokesperson then turns their chair, so that their back is to the audience and listens in silence while the group either attack (dissent) or provide alternative proposals (assent). The ritualisation of not facing the audience de-personalizes the process and the group setting (others will be subject to the same process) means that the attack or alternative are not personal, but supportive. Listening in silence without eye contact, increases listening. Overall plans that emerge from the process are more resilient than consensus based techniques. Ritual Dissent is meant to simulate the process of delivering new ideas to management or decision-makers, and to open up new thinking to necessary criticism and iterations. The process is meant to enforce listening, without disruption. The scenario replicates real-life proposal making especially with regards to new and non-conventional ideas – as more experimental approaches are commonly met with the most challenges from management.

http://cognitive-edge.com/methods/ritual-dissent/
"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." Napoleon

Offline Chris Pook

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #15 on: November 07, 2017, 23:24:08 »
Sounds similar to the old debating society model - two teams, random subjects, coin toss on who is for and against, five minutes to prepare.

As for the difference between opinions and informed opinions - that is for the listener to decide. 
"Wyrd bið ful aræd"

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #16 on: November 07, 2017, 23:53:19 »
As for the difference between opinions and informed opinions - that is for the listener to decide.
"Sad!"

You decide the attribution of the quote.
There’s nothing more maddening than debating someone who doesn’t know history, doesn’t read books, and frames their myopia as virtue. The level of unapologetic conjecture I’ve encountered lately isn’t just frustrating, it’s retrogressive, unprecedented, and absolutely terrifying.
~Chris Evans

Offline Chris Pook

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #17 on: November 08, 2017, 00:44:49 »
I agree, regardless of attribution.  It is sad. 

But as Churchill said about democracy - it is the worst solution/system, except all others.

The human condition - no absolutes available, probabilities are the best we can do.

Slainte mha  :cheers:
"Wyrd bið ful aræd"

Offline Chris Pook

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Re: Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?
« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2017, 16:16:30 »
Brilliant article from Fraser Nelson with a great quote from a New MP and a Churchill vignette.

From the New MP - Kemi Badenoch "As Woody Allen said about sex, 'If it's not messy, you are not doing it right'. The same is true for democracy. It is not always predictable, it's results not always elegant."

Kemi is a Conservative Black Nigerian Londoner with a Scots surname as ancient as they come.  Brilliant.

The Churchill vignette is highlighted.

Quote
If you feel like British democracy is falling apart, don't worry: everything is working as intended
FRASER NELSON
Fraser Nelson 16 NOVEMBER 2017 • 7:10PM
 
Britain's uniquely feisty and flexible system has allowed us to avoid the worst of populist rage

It’s fairly easy to panic about the future of Britain if you spend too much time looking at the House of Commons. Our MPs are in a flap. Most of them voted against Brexit but were given new marching orders last year and 
are trying to work out what comes next.

This newspaper recently revealed that at least 15 Tories are set to defy the Government on Brexit. That’s if the members of the Cabinet can agree on anything. All of this is mocked in Brussels: how to negotiate with such a partner? Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, has been more blunt, referring to Britain’s “political, monetary, constitutional and economic collapse”.

That’s one way of putting it. Another is to say that we’re witnessing British democracy at its very best and most effective.

It is the citadel of British liberty; it is the foundation of our laws; its traditions and its privileges are as lively to-day as when it broke the arbitrary power of the Crown and substituted that Constitutional Monarchy under which we have enjoyed so many blessings.
Winston Churchill on the House of Commons
Last year, the public voted to defy the advice of almost every single political party leader: it was always going to be traumatic. The vote for Brexit was one of those great democratic shocks imposed on our parliamentarians from time to time. It was destined to upset and discombobulate those inside the House of Commons, but also to realign them with public opinion – and, in so doing, kill off populism. So far, so good.

Look abroad, and it’s hard to find a country that does not have a serious problem with populism. In Germany, Angela Merkel is still struggling to form a government because the far-Right Alternative für Deutschland did so well in the recent election. Marine Le Pen won a third of the vote in this year’s French presidential election, almost twice as much as her father ever managed.

Populists sit in the parliaments of Austria, Italy, Spain and Sweden, and in the governments of Greece, Hungary and Slovakia. Mr Rutte only managed to hold onto power following elections this year after telling migrants to “act normal or go away,” something that no British prime minister would ever utter.

Austrian supporters of the far-Right Freedom Party celebrate election results, October 2017 CREDIT: VALDRIN XHEMAJ/EPA
But in Britain, populism is dying on its feet. The British National Party, the only racists in our democratic system, won almost a million votes in the 2009 European elections but then saw their vote fall by 99 per cent. This was mainly thanks to Ukip, which having achieved its purpose lost 
85 per cent of its votes at the last election. Brexit is assured and Nigel Farage has been discharged, left to roam talk radio studios and the American after-dinner circuits.

Much as though I hate to admit it, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn also shows the system working as it should. Labour had run out of ideas and candidates and his new brand of radical Left politics certainly chimes with the frustrations of a young, propertyless generation.

Abroad, this led to the creation of parties like Syriza and Podemos. Here, our old-fashioned party system allowed for this renewal to take place within the official opposition.

So Britain now has no shortage of people shaking their fists at the establishment, threatening to bring the whole show down. But they are doing so from inside Parliament.

I was in Cambridge last night for the Tanner lecture series about politics and architecture – not as abstract a topic as you might think. When the House of Commons was destroyed by a firebomb in 1941, there were calls to replace it with a modern, European-style semicircle where MPs could sidle up to each other and seek consensus.

But Churchill was opposed, saying a consensus within any political class poses a real danger to democracy and an invitation to populists. After all, he said, those semicircular European parliaments had not handled populism very well. “We shape our buildings,” he said, “And afterwards our buildings shape us.”

So they decided to keep a chamber that only has 450 places for 650 MPs – precisely to guarantee the kind of drama we are witnessing now with the discussion of the Brexit Bills.


The place is designed to feel like a bear pit. Visitors are always struck by its size, how it looks more like a film set replica than an actual parliament and how the politicians are lined up snarling at each other like animals on a leash.

I’ve seen one particularly well-upholstered MP find a seat by walking up to a packed bench, aiming his bottom at a non-existent space then starting a descent: it seemed to work. It’s no one’s safe space. MPs who speak can expect to be shouted, bayed or laughed at, any mistakes mocked mercilessly.

Even a well-functioning government would struggle to maintain its dignity in such a system; a divided one has no chance. But that is the whole idea.

To see Ken Clarke deploring Brexit, then being cheered from Labour benches, is what Churchill had in mind when he said democracy needed these “episodes and great moments, scenes and rows”, ideally between MPs squeezed up together because such battle is “better conducted at close quarters”. Without the drama, he said, Parliament loses its hold on the public mind.


It’s this drama, even a sense of mutiny and bedlam, that denies populism the space it needs.

In her maiden speech a few months ago, the Conservative MP Kemi Badenoch expressed it in a less Churchillian way. She quoted Woody Allen, to the effect that if sex was not messy then you weren’t doing it right.

The same, she said, is true for democracy: the fact that the biggest arguments are being had inside the chamber, rather than outside, is a sign of our system working as it should. And the vote for Brexit was perhaps the greatest ever vote of confidence, both in this political system and in the project of the United Kingdom.

And this is perhaps why public opinion on Brexit has barely changed since the referendum. The MPs were given a jolt and were never expected to take it very well. The idea was to start a long journey to reinvigorate politics and to protect the British political system, which represents the ultimate triumph of custom over logic.

Months, perhaps years, of awkward political readjustment lie ahead of us. It will be of no comfort to the MPs embroiled in such an agonising process, but it really is going according to plan.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/16/feel-like-british-democracy-falling-apart-dont-worry-everything/

Nobody does chaos better than the Brits - which has confounded the Continent's need for order and propriety for millenia.

Unlike Canada Brit MPs aren't even entitled to a seat.  They have to fight for a spot on the benches.  650 members with space for only 450 skinny people.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2017, 16:20:48 by Chris Pook »
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