There has been no shortage of people criticizing the Stronger Men’s Conference, largely on the basis of the video linked above. There is clearly plenty to criticize here!
However, once again it has been disappointing to see how social media tends to facilitate fundamentally lazy, inattentive, reactive, self-serving, and incurious engagement with such phenomena, even for many people who could do a whole lot better. Hardly anyone makes any serious attempt to understand what such a video is arising from, although most presume that they already understand it. Rather, such a video merely becomes another means by which we can all reinforce our priors, publicly align ourselves against some supposed opposing viewpoints with some reasonable allies, and enjoy the shared frisson of outrage. It encourages a shallow impressionistic engagement with issues, and discourages a careful interpretative one.
It is important to be clear that my criticism here is not aimed primarily at particular persons, although they are worthy of some criticism for their failure to resist the tendencies of their environment of discourse. My concern is that social media itself is an environment that tends to encourage the production of careless analysis and the steady reinforcement of our prejudices. By situating us so firmly in an intensely social realm, it leads us to privilege judgment as a means of social alignment over judgment sought through understanding. The result is boring and entirely predictable judgments, rather than the stimulating quest for discovery that attempts at true understanding drive at.
The short-circuiting of the process of understanding occurs as knee-jerk judgments forestall any close attention to the phenomena to which they react. In cases like this the judgments seem to be immediate, precluding even any consideration of questions the phenomena might provoke in us. However, even when questions are asked, one seldom finds much thought devoted to them.
Asking a good question takes thought. It both requires and creates the sort of attention to a phenomenon that is illuminating. A good question produces investigation and discovery. A good question elicits things from the reality or person being questioned that a poor question does not.
For instance, you will find out a lot more about people if, instead of asking lots of lazy and dull information questions of them (What did you do today? What is your job? etc.), you ask questions that elicit their feelings, values, and purposes (What do you find most rewarding/challenging about your work? What was the highlight of your day? Where do you go to find encouragement? etc.). It doesn’t take much to change the sorts of questions we ask, but doing so is an expression of our interest in actually getting to know people, and the effort will often be noticed and appreciated. Also, when we start to ask such questions of people, we will soon discover that they are usually considerably more interesting than we might otherwise have given them credit for being. Whether it is a matter of listening to people solely for our cue to jump in with what we want to say or the selective attention whereby we pounce upon those things that seemingly validate our prejudices, while failing to attend to those that challenge them, we are constantly in danger of closing ourselves off from the possibility of genuine discovery or surprise.
We too easily presume that our questions are the right ones. However, asking the right questions of something isn’t easy. To ask a really good question, you need to spend some time just listening and being attentive. You need to ask other good investigative questions, questions designed to reveal what you do not yet understand. You need to train yourself to notice things that others miss. And, if we are truly asking good questions, we will almost certainly find that we will have our work cut out for us if we are to answer them well.
All of this having been said, I want to throw this open to people in the comments. Attending closely to the video and its contexts, what do you notice? What are some of the illuminating questions that we could be asking?