The productive frustration of hearing an argument that's missing your perspective...

Eventually, this will be about teaching: specifically, reading and discussion

On a recommendation from a friend, I was listening to an episode of Dan Carlin's Common Sense podcast in the car yesterday. From what I gathered, the show consists entirely of Carlin's commentary on current events. He began the episode with a story in Newsweek about a demand by Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director general of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), for all European governments to alter their gun laws so that Jews could legally carry guns, in order to protect themselves from terrorist attacks.

Carlin was presenting this as a case study about why European attitudes to guns are too rigid, and he was making a case that the right to protect yourself is a "human right". 

Now, on one level I just want to write a post about how wrongheaded Carlin's premise is, but I'm not going to write that blog post. All I'll say on this subject is that based on Rabbi Margolin's reasoning (that gun laws should be relaxed for groups of people who are in danger of attack based on their religion), then the only people in Europe who need this exemption more than Jews need it are Muslims, and I doubt Margolin would be receptive to a deal in which Jews & Muslims were both exempt from European gun laws.

OK, enough of that. I don't want to write my reaction to Carlin's argument - I want to write about my reaction to Carlin's argument. First, a confession: I turned it off before he was finished. I'm not proud of this, but I became aware that I was so frustrated by the podcast that it was ruining my mood, and I was on the way to visit a student at his internship site, so I didn't want to carry my frustration to my meeting with the student. Since then, I keep thinking about the podcast - so much so so that I brought it up with two different people afterwards. This got me thinking about why I was thinking about it so much, and here's what I think it boils down to:

I get incredibly frustrated by listening to an argument in which...

  1. I care about what's being discussed
  2. I'm unable to contribute, and
  3. I can see an obvious point that is not being articulated
And this, finally, brings me around to teaching.

The frustration of listening to an argument in which no-one is making the point you want to make is a beautiful educational tool - because it's almost impossible not to engage with the text, and articulate a response, when you feel this frustrated. If I knew I was about to go to seminar about Carlin's podcast, I A) would have kept listening, if only to make sure I didn't look stupid by leaving out some important aspect of his argument, and B) would have been desperate to get in the room and talk about it. Now, this feeling of frustration is not sufficient to lead to good reading, good discussion, or good writing (it's entirely possible - easy, in fact - to get angry about a piece of writing without reading it properly) but it's a heck of a good start. 

Next steps...
I'd love to build a library of articles that have this frustrating, "I've got to respond to this or I'm going to explode" effect. Let me know if you want in on this!

1 response
Good idea! I think one of the tasks of being a scholar is to educate yourself to the point where you have an opinion about what is being left out in the disciplinary conversation. One of the hard things about higher education is that the literature often assumes this background on the part of readers (ie a large, tacit, set of assumptions and expectations), which takes years to develop. Getting the right text for the level of knowledge of the student is difficult Or, to put it another way, when I was 17 I read Rousseau's "The Social Contract" which is extremely partial and opinionated, but at the time - not having studied the Enlightenment or thought about political philosophy and human nature much - I just thought "Yeah, seems fair enough", because I missed that was being left out of his argument.