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Thread: What Role Does "Skill" Play When Evaluating Music?

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    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    Skill in Classical Poetry is more obvious than in Modernist (or especially Postmodern) poetry, anyone can string a few words together and attach some kind of meaning. Its construction may not so apparent with so many variables. Analogy in music is skill in tonal music is much more apparent than in serial music. In chance/aleatoric music, the skill required is clearly less. Same applies to a Rembrandt compared with abstract painting, no matter what kind of meanings may be associated with the latter. I say it takes more skill to express a clear idea or theme than to leave something in ambiguity. I see some skill in the WCW poem (to me the meaning is clear), but not the extent of say John Keats.

    I like the imagery of the red wheel barrow poem, not just painting a picture of a farm, but also expressing the importance of the wheel barrow (that fact it's red is just a detail) to the livelihood of the farmer/gardener, in so few words. That takes skill. I also have some of WCW's translations of Classical Chinese poetry. It is the same sort of concept / technique.
    Rather than saying "skill" is more apparent/obvious in classic poetry/tonal music than in modern poetry/atonal music, what I'd say is that the bare minimum of competency is more apparent. In tonal music and classic poetry there are a few basic "rules" to be followed, and one can objectively see if one has followed them; in classic poetry that includes things like meter, rhyme, and form; in tonal music that includes things like harmony, development, and form. When you take away these rules, it becomes more difficult to detect even mere competency because it's often immediately unclear whether one has created new forms, rules, and challenges for themselves, or if they've just randomly thrown words/notes at a page and called it a day. However, I think judging actual skill in either is equally difficult, and that, at least in writing poetry, the difficulty in writing well in each is uniquely difficult.

    Classic poetry can be "difficult" in the sense that there are set standards one must comply with; you have to make the meter work, you have to figure out how to get rhymes to fall at the ends of lines, you have to be able to fit the complete idea into whatever fixed form you're working with. However, it's also possible to look at these rules as making things easier precisely because it limits your options. You aren't trying to sift between an unlimited amount of options, but rather are selecting between a few that are pre-chosen because of whatever form you've chosen to work in. Yet the ability to achieve these standards just speaks of a base-level competency, not great skill. In classic poetry I'd actually say "skill" is more judged in knowing when and how to creatively divert from these standards, as it's precisely through the (temporary) breaking or disrupting of form that a poet can achieve certain effects above and beyond the mere pleasing "music" of regular meter and rhyme (Pope wrote about many of the ways to achieve this in his Essay on Criticism). On the other hand, it's also possible to see any given diversion as a flaw--and Ben Johnson thought as much about John Donne, saying he should be "hung" for not keeping the meter.

    Free verse is the exact opposite. Yes, it's possible to write free verse by just writing in complete sentences
    and then randomly
    breaking up the line
    and calling it a
    day,
    but it's also pretty obvious when you're doing this. To write good free verse demands one consider every choice one makes carefully: why break the line here? Why adopt this rhythm here? Or even HOW to establish and divert from rhythmic patterns? Where to break stanzas? Writing free verse gives you no guidelines and thus you're tasked with considering every possible option on its own. WH Auden thought free verse difficult because, paraphrased, one must have a "perfect ear" in knowing where/how to break lines. So while in classic poetry we're often judging skill both by how well poets utilize and creative break form, in free verse we tend to judge skill by how well poets create forms that emerge on their own, not as a part of some pre-determined tradition. I think you can see such formal thought in Red Wheelbarrow, but, again, it's difficult to say how much of that is a result of conscious thought and "skill," and how much is accidental.

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  3. #137
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    That means that when you are arguing a point with someone as you frequently are, you may not really believe what you’re arguing, you may be arguing just to figure out what you really believe. This is useful information. Ongoing, I will find it hard to take anything you argue seriously because it is likely coming from a mind that is unsure about the position being taken.

    I would also add that ‘arguing for the sake of arguing’ is unfair to other people. You’re just playing with them, calling into question their views when you don’t really have fixed views of your own.
    I neither see how that is a problem, nor how it's useful information. Arguments should be judged on the strengths and weaknesses of their factual content and rational construction, not on the sincerity of those making them. Of course, if you're looking for an easy way to avoid arguments you don't like, it's always easy to dismiss them because of the person making them rather than actually addressing the arguments themselves, so this is, indeed, useful information about you.

    How is this "unfair," and why is it wrong to question people's views without having fixed views of your own? Never heard of the Socratic method? That's precisely what I like to do when I am unsure as it helps me rationally analyze the strengths and weaknesses of various arguments for and against certain propositions. I seem to recall you mentioning being involved in science before, but this seems like an awfully un-scientific mind-set you've adopted here.

    Of course, it's heartening to see that most everyone here seems to disagree with you; as any rational person should.
    Last edited by Eva Yojimbo; Sep-29-2019 at 00:55.

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  5. #138
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    I see what you mean about definitions. One could also call those essential traits you've noted above experience, acquired from familiarity with skillful artifice (in the case of a creative artist that is). Instinct honed by study and practice if you will. We can all drift off and fantasise - it's obviously a natural proclivity - but as we are talking about a specific reason for doing so here, one embarked on with exploratory intent, then perhaps imagination, play and more pertinent perhaps, focus, could be considered as a complimentary skill set to artifice.

    I would suggest also that the imagination, having been given free reign, is nonetheless partly answerable to technique for if there is no technique, there is no solid ground to leap off and invent. (I'm just talking about concert/art music btw, not pop music).
    The more I've thought about this, the more I think that skill is, in large part, the act of experience sifting through the choices, techniques, and devices one has creatively used in the past and trying to figure out what has worked, what hasn't, and trying to refine the former while eliminating the latter. Sometimes, an artist's early creativity could be seen as experiments, the trying out of different concepts, devices, techniques, in order to discover what works for them, what seems to open up new roads to explore and what leads to dead ends.

    We could also say that skill is the process in which the conscious working out of these creative processes eventually gets into one's unconscious so that they are able to call upon them easily when the time comes while reserving more brain power for other elements that require more conscious attention. This can allow one to more immediately feel when things are working rather than always being preoccupied just with what one's doing.

    Of course, there's little that's precise or exact or objective about this; it's mostly just the continual search for that feeling of rightness, of making the creation match the ideal in one's head, or just being satisfied with wherever the creative path leads you.
    Last edited by Eva Yojimbo; Sep-29-2019 at 01:04.

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  7. #139
    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by janxharris View Post
    Swift's Bad Blood sounds good to me - Ryan Adam's version sounds great.

    One thing I like about hearing covers of good songs is that it usually reveals how tonally malleable they are. Despite this cover having essentially the same melodic/rhythmic content, the tone is completely different. Adams sounds more sad and regretful; Swift's version is more angry and bitter. Adams is more about reflecting on the pain, and Swift's is more about feeling the pain. In particular, listen to how both sing the "still got scars in my back from your knife;" Adams sings it in a matter-of-fact, understated, almost resigned way, while Swift literally spits the word "back" out, as if she's remembering the pain from the event. Even musically, Adams is all nostalgic, brooding sparkle while Swift's is girded by steely and menacing electronics, as if the music is a callus covering the scar from the event.

    Personally, this isn't one of my favorite Swift songs and I don't think I like the Adams version much better, but they do make for a fascinating contrast in understanding how pop artists use sound and delivery to tonally color lyrics.
    Last edited by Eva Yojimbo; Sep-29-2019 at 01:19.

  8. #140
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    Rather than saying "skill" is more apparent/obvious in classic poetry/tonal music than in modern poetry/atonal music, what I'd say is that the bare minimum of competency is more apparent. In tonal music and classic poetry there are a few basic "rules" to be followed, and one can objectively see if one has followed them; in classic poetry that includes things like meter, rhyme, and form; in tonal music that includes things like harmony, development, and form. When you take away these rules, it becomes more difficult to detect even mere competency because it's often immediately unclear whether one has created new forms, rules, and challenges for themselves, or if they've just randomly thrown words/notes at a page and called it a day. However, I think judging actual skill in either is equally difficult, and that, at least in writing poetry, the difficulty in writing well in each is uniquely difficult.

    Classic poetry can be "difficult" in the sense that there are set standards one must comply with; you have to make the meter work, you have to figure out how to get rhymes to fall at the ends of lines, you have to be able to fit the complete idea into whatever fixed form you're working with. However, it's also possible to look at these rules as making things easier precisely because it limits your options. You aren't trying to sift between an unlimited amount of options, but rather are selecting between a few that are pre-chosen because of whatever form you've chosen to work in. Yet the ability to achieve these standards just speaks of a base-level competency, not great skill. In classic poetry I'd actually say "skill" is more judged in knowing when and how to creatively divert from these standards, as it's precisely through the (temporary) breaking or disrupting of form that a poet can achieve certain effects above and beyond the mere pleasing "music" of regular meter and rhyme (Pope wrote about many of the ways to achieve this in his Essay on Criticism). On the other hand, it's also possible to see any given diversion as a flaw--and Ben Johnson thought as much about John Donne, saying he should be "hung" for not keeping the meter.

    Free verse is the exact opposite. Yes, it's possible to write free verse by just writing in complete sentences
    and then randomly
    breaking up the line
    and calling it a
    day,
    but it's also pretty obvious when you're doing this. To write good free verse demands one consider every choice one makes carefully: why break the line here? Why adopt this rhythm here? Or even HOW to establish and divert from rhythmic patterns? Where to break stanzas? Writing free verse gives you no guidelines and thus you're tasked with considering every possible option on its own. WH Auden thought free verse difficult because, paraphrased, one must have a "perfect ear" in knowing where/how to break lines. So while in classic poetry we're often judging skill both by how well poets utilize and creative break form, in free verse we tend to judge skill by how well poets create forms that emerge on their own, not as a part of some pre-determined tradition. I think you can see such formal thought in Red Wheelbarrow, but, again, it's difficult to say how much of that is a result of conscious thought and "skill," and how much is accidental.
    I don't think the choices in line breaks and rhythm in free verse make that much of an impact. There are some obviously awkward ones, but when you narrow down to a reasonable few, they work about just as well, and it becomes a toss up. This is an interesting piece that shows some of WCW's thought process and various versions of his translations of Chinese poetry. I've read many various translations, and personally don't think WCW's are the greatest of translations.

    https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/...jonathan-cohen
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    Indeed, why not MacL. I was just being specific to what I know best, I do however suspect that some pop artists would lose an edge if they embarked on learning more about composing technique. I for one am grateful that the likes of the Beatles had the sort of gift that needs no instruction, the sort of gift that is rarely bestowed, able to find its own distinctive way.
    Interesting idea. As Eva Yojimbo has suggested, one of the "skills" could be that which has become subconscious and flows without effort; what we might otherwise call 'feel' I suppose, acquired through the legendary 10,000 hours practice perhaps? Disrupt the subconscious and it's like thinking about walking: you fall over.

    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    My analogy in music is the move toward atonal music. I don't believe Debussy is a good example, since his music has great order, clear harmonic patterns. I would say Schoenberg is a better example as the move toward less entropy. The construction (rhythms, harmony) is more loose.
    Well both would be appropriate examples of composers who chose not to write classical symphonies - the only point I was making.
    "I left TC for a hiatus, but since no-one noticed my absence, I came back again."

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    Interesting idea. As Eva Yojimbo has suggested, one of the "skills" could be that which has become subconscious and flows without effort; what we might otherwise call 'feel' I suppose, acquired through the legendary 10,000 hours practice perhaps? Disrupt the subconscious and it's like thinking about walking: you fall over...
    I've had several conversations over the years with composers (in media) who have no formal training - such is the result and impact the advent of the DAW (digital audio workstation) has had in media composing - and some have wondered if they would benefit from learning. Having been privy to some of their work and in some cases, excellent work, it was clear that learning would be a hindrance to their unbounded creativity, stymieing their uniqueness by instilling doubt and uncertainty in their compositional process. My recommendation to those who where convinced they needed to know more, was to tread slowly and with much deliberation along the way. One does not need to know everything there is to learn about composing in order to do it imv, especially in media work and for some, I believe it is far more effective to just learn what you need to in order to be more incisive at producing what you want to say. As one learns, one finds an affinity with certain methods whilst rejecting others as not being personally useful and in this way, one begins to understand more about oneself.

    It's important to note though that these composers where working within popular genres and used a common stock of musical language. An attempt at anything more musically complicated did begin to show deficiencies and lack of practical know-how in their approach, often requiring professional help to meet deadlines - things like orchestration and necessary composing (part-writing, spacing, combinations etc.) one associates with competent scoring.

    I may have missed Eva's post you refer to, but from what you say, it sounds like what psychologists call 'flow' - which to me means the ability (in composing ) to work almost without thinking. I've experienced this on several occasions and sometimes can't quite recall how the notes that emerge from the rubber marks on the ms got there, let alone make themselves visible through the rubber smears... In mine and other formally trained composers cases no doubt, one ideally feels the secure footing of those many hours of study and practice spent on technique gently and subconsciously advising and informing creative decisions, without demanding too much compliance.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Sep-30-2019 at 08:15.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    Rather than saying "skill" is more apparent/obvious in classic poetry/tonal music than in modern poetry/atonal music, what I'd say is that the bare minimum of competency is more apparent. In tonal music and classic poetry there are a few basic "rules" to be followed, and one can objectively see if one has followed them; in classic poetry that includes things like meter, rhyme, and form; in tonal music that includes things like harmony, development, and form. When you take away these rules, it becomes more difficult to detect even mere competency because it's often immediately unclear whether one has created new forms, rules, and challenges for themselves, or if they've just randomly thrown words/notes at a page and called it a day. However, I think judging actual skill in either is equally difficult, and that, at least in writing poetry, the difficulty in writing well in each is uniquely difficult.

    Classic poetry can be "difficult" in the sense that there are set standards one must comply with; you have to make the meter work, you have to figure out how to get rhymes to fall at the ends of lines, you have to be able to fit the complete idea into whatever fixed form you're working with. However, it's also possible to look at these rules as making things easier precisely because it limits your options. You aren't trying to sift between an unlimited amount of options, but rather are selecting between a few that are pre-chosen because of whatever form you've chosen to work in. Yet the ability to achieve these standards just speaks of a base-level competency, not great skill. In classic poetry I'd actually say "skill" is more judged in knowing when and how to creatively divert from these standards, as it's precisely through the (temporary) breaking or disrupting of form that a poet can achieve certain effects above and beyond the mere pleasing "music" of regular meter and rhyme (Pope wrote about many of the ways to achieve this in his Essay on Criticism). On the other hand, it's also possible to see any given diversion as a flaw--and Ben Johnson thought as much about John Donne, saying he should be "hung" for not keeping the meter.

    Free verse is the exact opposite. Yes, it's possible to write free verse by just writing in complete sentences
    and then randomly
    breaking up the line
    and calling it a
    day,
    but it's also pretty obvious when you're doing this. To write good free verse demands one consider every choice one makes carefully: why break the line here? Why adopt this rhythm here? Or even HOW to establish and divert from rhythmic patterns? Where to break stanzas? Writing free verse gives you no guidelines and thus you're tasked with considering every possible option on its own. WH Auden thought free verse difficult because, paraphrased, one must have a "perfect ear" in knowing where/how to break lines. So while in classic poetry we're often judging skill both by how well poets utilize and creative break form, in free verse we tend to judge skill by how well poets create forms that emerge on their own, not as a part of some pre-determined tradition. I think you can see such formal thought in Red Wheelbarrow, but, again, it's difficult to say how much of that is a result of conscious thought and "skill," and how much is accidental.
    Good post Eva. All one needs to do is substitute "poetry" with "music". Your words on free verse are akin to atonal thinking, except that with atonality, one ideally imv needs even more discipline than tonality to justify one's creative choices and to make the work valid, that is, as opposed to a hands down on the keyboard without regard to sound approach, which of course anyone can do.

    The straightjacket of limitation is often the most liberating of all approaches and ensures cohesiveness.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Sep-30-2019 at 08:42.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    The straightjacket of limitation is often the most liberating of all approaches and ensures cohesiveness.
    Stravinsky agreed emphatically that limits free the imagination. He asked Balanchine for clear guidelines when the latter commissioned ballet music. Tchaikovsky worked within strict limits of meter, tempo and expression specified by his choreographer, Petipa, and found the experience of writing The Sleeping Beauty a particularly happy one. I've experienced the liberating power of limits as a ballet accompanist; I always ask for a clear indication of the desired movement, its character and tempo, in order to stimulate my imagination in improvising an accompaniment. The more specific an artist's goals, the better his work is likely to be.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Oct-01-2019 at 00:16.

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    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    I don't think the choices in line breaks and rhythm in free verse make that much of an impact. There are some obviously awkward ones, but when you narrow down to a reasonable few, they work about just as well, and it becomes a toss up. This is an interesting piece that shows some of WCW's thought process and various versions of his translations of Chinese poetry. I've read many various translations, and personally don't think WCW's are the greatest of translations.

    https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/...jonathan-cohen
    I have to fervently disagree with your opening statement. If you're not going to make use of line breaks or nonce rhythms in free verse you might as well be writing prose. Red Wheelbarrow, eg, is a poem which shows how line breaks can be used to manipulate expectation and create surprise, as well as emphasize certain linguistic patterns inherent in whatever is being written.

    Thanks for that link, I'll check it out ASAP.

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    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Stravinsky agreed emphatically that limits free the imagination. He asked Balanchine for clear guidelines when the latter commissioned ballet music. Tchaikovsky worked within strict limits of meter, tempo and expression specified by his choreographer, Petipa, and found the experience of writing The Sleeping Beauty a particularly happy one. I've experienced the liberating power of limits as a ballet accompanist; I always ask for a clear indication of the desired movement, its character and tempo, in order to stimulate my imagination in improvising an accompaniment. The more specific an artist's goals, the better his work is likely to be.
    This talk of limitations also reminds me of a humorous scene from King of the Hill when Hank reluctantly took up basket weaving and ended up being good at it. The teacher complimented him on his work and asked him to talk about his creative process and Hank said: "Well I just took your materials and tools and the time allotted and this is what I came up with, there was nothing creative about it."

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    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eva Yojimbo View Post
    I neither see how that is a problem, nor how it's useful information. Arguments should be judged on the strengths and weaknesses of their factual content and rational construction, not on the sincerity of those making them.
    This is a classical music forum where people discuss their likes, dislikes and perspectives about classical music. I assume that someone I spend my time discussing these things with is sincere about their position. I also assume that they are not ‘arguing for the sake of arguing’ which incidentally in the real world -and not, inexplicably, in your world- is considered to be a pejorative, not positive activity.

    You admit that for your own purposes at any given time you may be arguing for the sake of arguing and you don’t put any value in being sincere during the process. I’ll spend the precious minutes of my life elsewhere.

    Of course, if you're looking for an easy way to avoid arguments you don't like, it's always easy to dismiss them because of the person making them rather than actually addressing the arguments themselves, so this is, indeed, useful information about you.
    On this forum, I am not known as someone who avoids difficult issues or arguments even with some of the most argumentative people. But these people tend to have well-thought out opinions that are sincerely theirs and not a [I’m still formulating my true position, but I’m going to mess with him or her by arguing every little detail and parsing every sentence, as if this is my opinion, but is really a constant unannounced devil’s advocate, because, well, I’m really not sure about any of this].

    How is this "unfair," and why is it wrong to question people's views without having fixed views of your own? Never heard of the Socratic method? That's precisely what I like to do when I am unsure as it helps me rationally analyze the strengths and weaknesses of various arguments for and against certain propositions.
    Again, this is a classical music forum where I don’t waste my time with someone trying out their Socratic method and ‘arguing for the sake of arguing’. There are others here who will I am sure will be happy to be used for your enjoyment. Carry on.

    Of course, it's heartening to see that most everyone here seems to disagree with you; as any rational person should.
    Well of course, there is an absolute groundswell of support here for ‘arguing for the sake of arguing’ and insincerity. I looked up the definition of ‘rational person’ and it said ‘anyone who agrees with EY’.
    Last edited by DaveM; Oct-01-2019 at 02:53.

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    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    Tell me if I'm wrong, but the thrust of your post implies that you no longer choose to dialog with EY because EY might have evolving or sometimes inconsistent views. Are people then to swear an oath that the positions they hold are ones they have held for eternity and that they pledge never to change their minds? I have espoused all sorts of things over a lifetime, and it is through both reflection and discussion that I--and most of us--get to where we are.
    Again a nice sequel to your last sermon and just as irrelevant to what’s going on here. It’s also disingenuous to anyone who sees your manner of ‘reflection and discussion’ in Groups.

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    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    This is a classical music forum where people discuss their likes, dislikes and perspectives about classical music. I assume that someone I spend my time discussing these things with is sincere about their position. I also assume that they are not ‘arguing for the sake of arguing’ which incidentally in the real world -and not, inexplicably, in your world- is considered to be a pejorative, not positive activity.
    First, I'm sincere and have strong positions about many (if not most) of the things I discuss; second, for everything else I'd call it being unsure more than insincere, and the only "lack of sincerity" would be me making arguments I'm unsure about in order to test them out. I do this as if I was sincere in order to provoke rebuttals that might point out flaws on the argument/position. Third, you ignored my point that it should be more about points (facts/logic), not people.

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    On this forum, I am not known as someone who avoids difficult issues or arguments even with some of the most argumentative people. But these people tend to have well-thought out opinions that are sincerely theirs and not a [I’m still formulating my true position, but I’m going to mess with him or her by arguing every little detail and parsing every sentence, as if this is my opinion, but is really a constant unannounced devil’s advocate, because, well, I’m really not sure about any of this].
    But again, who cares? If the "I'm still formulating my positions so I'm going to mess with him/her by arguing every little detail and parsing every sentence" person manages to point out a flaw in your position, why does it matter if it came from them or someone who was sincere? The facts and logic stand or fall on their own, and people who are unsure are often in a position to better see the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. One of the values of rationality is precisely that it prevents the kind of dogmatism that comes from people overlooking/glossing over the flaws in their position/beliefs. To be rational is to be open to having your mind changed by evidence, and where that evidence comes from, or who delivers it, shouldn't matter.

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    Well of course, there is an absolute groundswell of support here for ‘arguing for the sake of arguing’ and insincerity. I looked up the definition of ‘rational person’ and it said ‘anyone who agrees with EY’.
    Thus far, StrangeMagic, MacLeod, and Enthusiast have agreed with me; nobody has agreed with you.

    Frankly, I'm finding YOU to be disingenuous right now as you clearly have a personal problem with me and are looking for (irrational) reasons to ignore/dismiss me. I know this because others have made the same or very similar arguments I've made in this thread and others and you've ignored them in favor of focusing (antagonistically) on me. Clearly I've gotten under your skin for some reason (perhaps because of your failures to rationally rebut my points?) and you're looking for an out.
    Last edited by Eva Yojimbo; Oct-01-2019 at 03:21.

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    Again a nice sequel to your last sermon and just as irrelevant to what’s going on here. It’s also disingenuous to anyone who sees your manner of ‘reflection and discussion’ in Groups.
    I hope you change your mind about withdrawing from discussion.

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