The Failed Interlocutor: those who will never get it

The title of this post is a bit ambiguous, which I suppose is appropriate. I tried to churn this out about a week ago but I cut my hand and had trouble typing. Here it is now.

Dialogue is great. It’s the best way to learn sometimes. One of the best things I’ve done for understanding more and becoming a better thinker and listener was delving into twitter. There’s something so beneficial to the character limitations that allow for easier communication and getting to one’s point quicker.

However, many times dialogue is mired by a person’s refusal to learn (cit ref, just about all of Plato). This persists disgustingly. There are several thematic archetypal examples of people who are terrible at having an open discussion, but I’m going to focus primarily on one trend I’ve recently noticed when it comes to online and in person discussions. This is the person who just doesn’t get it. I’m going to discuss not a particular person, but a series of people who I or friends of mine have dealt with recently.

The archetype, the failed interlocutor:

This failed interlocutor wants to understand. This person often times will try to get private attention from someone asking “I don’t understand what you mean by X, educate me” (this question itself is heavily problematic and for another time).

The failed interlocutor is trying. In fact, it hurts this person that there is a communications break down. However, this person additionally is the very cause of the communication breakdown due to holding on to a few harmful “principles”(willful ignorance). These principles are hard-fought or deeply entrenched within the ideological framework of this person’s life. Often, it seems that these principles are the cause of a very painful cognitive dissonance within the person’s worldview. Since they are so deeply entrenched these principles are often what is holding them back from being able to learn anything new from harmful experiences. For example, I’ve known countless women (including many within my family) who have been abjectly screwed over by misogynist cases of abuse, yet nevertheless conform and pressure others into the very same heteronormative patriarchal structures that have ruined them.

This is perhaps the worst part of those who cannot understand from dialogue; they are tirelessly hurt by the same thing that a mental paradigm shift from discussion would solve. The cognitive dissonance is so great, that often times they are unable to recognize a new position as anything but a cognitive dissonance itself. Paradoxes compound upon paradoxes. Despite trying, despite wanting to understand the alternate position, the failed interlocutor only gets confused and frustrated and the conversation ends with the failed interlocutor feeling guilty or inadequate and the other feels just as frustrated and pitying.

This is cyclical. The failed interlocutor continues in trying to understand. The other takes pity on the failed interlocutor and is led straight back to frustration and pity.

For the other person, the failed interlocutor would be able to understand them if only the failed interlocutor relaxed some blinding principles for a moment and understood more openly and empathetically. But the failed interlocutor is stuck in the mud.

The solution in dealing with the failed interlocutor:

Nothing. There is no solution or remedy. That is, there is nothing that another person can do for the failed interlocutor; the only solution is from the failed interlocutor.

The other cannot win over the failed interlocutor through pity or through violence or through better diagrams. The failed interlocutor must change one’s approach in order to understand.

This nonsolution is hard but one can only stay firm, otherwise gets emotionally mired in the failures of the failed interlocutor as one’s own.


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