This is why trying to learn by ‘reasoning’ and ‘logic’ on social media typically doesn’t work.

“Rape / rape-culture is a big problem in India? Sure, we can ‘discuss’ it over comments and come up with a way that can definitely solve it”.
“Caste issues? No problem. ‘Solution’ should be the focus; what’s the point in ranting about the problem”?
“I don’t know the problem enough? Then educate me no? Tell me what is wrong in my ‘reasoning’? I am here to learn – teach me, educate me”.

We Indians love to reason. We also love to offer solutions – to every problem that we spot (especially if we are men). In fact we loving offering / talking about solutions so much that we never have the time to learn – by reading / consulting experts – about the underlying issues. We want to take the short-cut of learning by reasoning and logic.

Now if you are in a class and a teacher is teaching something, you should definitely ask questions. You should reason and try to understand the logic of what is being proposed and taught (unless obvious). You will learn better that way.

Even in case of peer-to-peer learning, say when you have missed a class and want a friend to explain the topic that you missed, you will learn better if you ask questions and get into reasoning and logic. For a short time-period this friend has essentially taken over the role of a ‘teacher’ and the nature of this relationship is well understood. And that is why reasoning works.

But that’s not usually the case with most social media conversations. There is no clear teacher-student role allocation. By default, both parties act like teachers (or so I have generally observed). And that’s why nobody ends up learning anything by reasoning and logic in most social media conversations.

The possible learning scenarios provided both parties accept their respective role in the conversation

When persons with limited knowledge (or even some knowledge) acknowledge that they are the student in a conversation, they can definitely benefit by reasoning, but only if they engage in a conversation with an expert. Such conversations rarely happen.

I often find myself in the “some knowledge” category and get turned off when it becomes obvious that the person I am conversing with has limited knowledge on the same subject. A – it is not my job to teach (it takes time and effort), B – I may not be able to do a good job of teaching them because I am not an expert yet (and possibly will never become one) and C – the time and energy that I will save from avoiding to converse with the person, can be devoted to actually learn something useful (by researching / reading more on the subject I already have some knowledge in).

When a person with limited knowledge in a subject claims that s/he is genuinely interested in learning more, I often cite point B and try to make them read good books directly (in short making them access ‘experts’). But you’d be surprised what I am often told – ‘oh I would love to learn but I don’t have time to read books and all that’.

I am of course talking about subjects / topics where a lot of research and theorizing has already been done and books after books have been written. This includes caste and gender topics. For a totally new subject, every one would essentially have ‘limited knowledge’ and reasoning and logic with a mutual learning spirit could possibly be helpful. But for well known and well researched subjects, it is usually a waste of time in most scenarios, if ‘learning’ really is the objective.

When I (with ‘some knowledge’) am conversing with someone who also has ‘some knowledge’, at times reasoning and logic is useful. This is especially true when the tone of conversation is on the lines of – ‘hey these insights that you shared are useful, and I have some more complimentary / contradictory insights to add if you are interested”.

Such tone eventually encourages both parties to go back and study specific things in more detail (source could be books but it could also be shorter stuff like blogs / podcasts / videos).

But such learning usually does not happen when the discussion is simply on the line of logic and reasoning – which often is the case when one party has ‘some knowledge’ and the other party has limited knowledge.

The language of the jackal

One of the reasons conversations on social media (where typically it’s not clear who is the teacher and who the student is) creates more conflict than learning, is because both parties end up using the language of the jackal.

(c) 2020 – Amrit Vatsa

This language theory comes from Marshall B. Rosenberg (I read about it in a beautiful short book called “The Communication Book – 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day” that I had randomly picked up at an airport one day; it is part of my must-read book-list).

The language of the jackal causes the speaker to feel superior and the person being addressed to feel bad. Typical examples of jackal language are:

  • Analysis: ‘That’s wrong, because…’
  • Criticism: ‘The mistake you made was that you…’
  • Interpretations: ‘You do that because…’
  • Appraisals: ‘You are smart / lazy, you’re right wrong…’
  • Threats

The use of jackal language (aggressive) leads to counter-aggression and you can imagine how much ‘learning’ really happens once a conversation goes down that path.

By the way, the reason Rosenberg labelled the other kind of language (where one observes without evaluating, acknowledges feelings etc.) – language of the giraffe is because giraffes apparently have the biggest heart in any land animal! I had no idea; did you?

Anyway, this brings me to the last part of this blog-post.

If reasoning and logic is often pointless on social media and nobody learns much anyway, why do so many people still indulge in it?

In my observation, it’s mostly men who love debating on topics where they have limited knowledge. This could have something to do with their systemizing abilities being more than empathizing abilities (about which I have written separately). In such a scenario, men want to quickly jump to ‘solving things’ or finding a ‘net net conclusion’. The rush is so much that there is little patience to spend time in self-researching the subject at large. Logic and reasoning are mistaken as sufficient tools to extract enough knowledge from anyone so that some solution / overall conclusion can be discussed ASAP.

When a person ends up indulging in this reasoning-based learning again and again, he often ends up believing that he now ‘broadly’ knows all the ‘key things’ there are to know in the subject. With this attitude (and false confidence), his subsequent conversations with others become even more arrogant and jackal-ish (in spite of no real knowledge – just reasoning).

The worst lot take it upon themselves to ‘educate’ everyone else. It’s mind-boggling – the confidence of these reasoning-based pseudo learners – especially if the person happens to be an upper caste male in India. What has gender and caste to do with the person’s confidence? See the figure below (another communication theory from the same book).

Mikael Krogerus, Roman Tschappeler – The Communication Book

So yeah, that’s all for this post. The next time someone asks me to educate them on a topic because I know so much, I will just make them read this piece! Good idea? 🙂 Or that would be too jackal-like? 😀

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