Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair

#3: Credentials and Convincing

May 24, 2023 Jarrod Blair Episode 3
Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair
#3: Credentials and Convincing
Show Notes Transcript

Who the heck is Jarrod Blair? And why in the world would anyone listen to what he has to say about being a good person? 

I made this episode for listeners who may be curious about my background and credentials. I discuss the ways in which my credentials help me to tackle ethical questions, but I also explain why I don't want listeners to simply defer to me as a moral expert. Instead, I want listeners to engage with me in a beautiful kind of conversation which is focused on genuinely convincing while remaining genuinely open to being convinced.

End credits song: "Modern Summer" by Alex_MakeMusic on Pixabay

Intro music: "Lofi Heavy Chill Bass & Keyboard" by Phill Dillow on Pixabay

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Email: jarrod@virtuevibes.org

Credentials and Deference Script 

Welcome back to Virtue Vibes, the podcast where we think hard about how to be good. I’m your host, Jarrod Blair, and today, we’re gonna answer a question about this podcast that you might ‘of been wondering about. The question is this: why in the world would you listen to ME, Jarrod Blair, talk about how to be good? Who am I to talk about this stuff? What credentials do I have? Am I an authority on these topics? Should you defer to my judgement?  

I guess that was more than one question, but you get the picture. Who the crap am I and why should you care about what I have to say? 

I gotta say that this topic feels strange for me to talk about.  It feels weird to say “Hello listeners, here’s a list of my credentials and accomplishments. This proves that I’m an expert on how to be a good person, so you should just trust me as I tell you how to do it.” That’s strange, right? And that’s not the spirit in which I want to make this podcast. That’s not really the relationship dynamic that I want to have with my listeners. That’s why I haven’t mentioned credentials so far. It’s weird, and I didn’t know what to say.  

But after getting some feedback from a few of my listeners, I was convinced that it would be a good idea to say something about my background and how it helps me to tackle these topics. So that’s what we’re gonna do, BUT... I’m also going to talk about something that’s waaay more interesting than me and my credentials. I’m gonna describe the kind of conversation that I’ve fallen in love with, which is also the kind of conversation that I want to put on display here on Virtue Vibes. So that’s the plan for this episode.  

But before we jump into that, one quick housekeeping item. I mentioned before that I’m releasing episodes every other week, and I forgot to say the day. So it’s gonna be on Wednesdays. So every other Wednesday is the current schedule. Alright, with that being said, let’s go ahead and jump into today’s topic.  

 

-- interlude--  

 

So let me just say this up front; I'm gonna to be talking about a wide variety of ethical questions on this podcast, but I'm NOT a credentialled expert on all of these subjects. I’ve already made an episode about how to give meaningful compliments, but I’ve never done any formal research on the matter. I wanna talk about how we should treat homeless people, but I have no training or internships working to fight homelessness. I wanna talk about how important it is to let children help you clean, even though they’re gonna slow you down and perhaps make more of a mess, because it helps them feel connected and to learn value of contributing to group efforts, but I’m no child psychologist.  

There’s also some highly controversial questions I wanna cover as well. This is a podcast about virtue, and I don’t think it’s virtuous to sheepishly avoid controversial questions, especially when the way that we collectively answer them has huge impacts on the world.  I wanna talk about things like racism, transgenderism, and euthanasia, just to name a few. But once again, I’m not a credentialed expert in these subjects. So why in the world would you listen to anything I have to say?  

So now that I’ve completely destabilized your confidence or interest in this podcast, let’s try to build it back up in the right way.  

I guess I’ll start by sharing my academic background. I’m a serial academic, like s-e-r-i-a-l, as in the phrase “serial murderer,” not the food, even though the food is great, oh my gosh have you tried cinny-toast-crunch? MH Mh mh. ANYWAYS, I love school. It’s actually a problem haha. I currently have bachelor's degrees in Biblical Studies and Business Administration from Arizona Christian University, I have a bachelor’s degree in physics with a minor in philosophy from Arizona State University, and a master’s degree in Philosophy from Virginia Tech, where I wrote my thesis on the ethics of racial profiling. I’ve done all this while maintaining a 4.0 gpa and receiving various awards and scholarships. I guess I’m just trying to say that I have a knack for learning things in an academic settings. Because of this knack for academic success, me and everyone who knows me kind of just assumed I’d become a teacher or professor someday. But a few years ago I dropped out of an excellent philosophy phd program at the University of Southern California after my first semester due to some serious health issues, and I haven’t been on a college campus since. During my time doing philosophy in graduate school, I began experiencing severe depression and a sense of disillusionment with what’s happening in that academic discipline, particularly among the ethicists, but I’ll have to talk about those details another day. Since then I’ve taken some time to reassess how I want to move forward, and I’ve decided that public-facing philosophy addressing practical, relatable issues in a jargon-free way, using spoken formats (like this podcast) or video formats (like social media) is the route I want to take. I really love that I can easily share this content with family and friends, which I didn’t feel like I could do with my academic work. So I hope you enjoy it. 

Another relevant piece of my background is my time living in Japan and learning the Japanese language and culture. I've lived in Japan for roughly 14 months, and I’ve studied the language both formally and independently for about 6 years, and I’ve been watching anime characters get swole and beat up bad guys since I was 8 years old. (That counts for something right?) 

So how does any of this help me to tackle ethical questions like the ones I mentioned earlier? I think two things stand out to me. One is just the variety and intellectual diversity I’ve experienced in these different corners of the world. I’ve gotten to hear the ideas of super-smart conservatives during my Biblical Studies degree, and I’ve also gotten to hear the ideas of super-smart liberals while studying academic philosophy. I’ve been able to engage with nobel-prize winning physicists and learn how scientists view the world during my time studying physics at ASU, and I’ve even gotten to experience a culture with VERY different norms and ethical codes than the ones I grew up with during my time in Japan. I hope to try and bring the best ideas I’ve learned from these different parts of the world to the table, and I hope it’s both refreshing and interesting to hear.  

The second part of my background that I think will be helpful when tackling ethical questions is the analytical skills that I've been developing in the background of all of my degrees, but most explicitly in my study of philosophy.  

I didn’t know what philosophy was for a long time, and a lot of my family probably still wonders what the heck I was studying. So for those of you who aren’t familiar with what exactly philosophy is, let me explain it with a familiar scene. Imagine it’s a major holiday, like Thanksgiving, and you are sitting down with all of your extended family eating a lovely dinner. Then something happens. Your cousin Suzie says she doesn’t want any turkey legs, and that she’s decided to become a vegan.  

 BOB: Uncle Bob then asks, “What in the world would you do that for?” 

SUZIE: Suzie replies, “I just heard that our farms are really harming the environment.”  

BOB: “What the hell are you going on about Suzie? Look outside. Sun’s shining. That tree is green. The environment looks just fine to me.”   

SUZIE: You just don’t care about the planet Bob. You’re just selfish and stupid. What kind of world do you think your grandkids are going to have to live in? You just don’t care. And you probably don’t even love them. You probably don’t even love ME. 

Jill: Sweet Aunt Jill then chimes in, “OK now that’s enough. Let’s just calm down. Suzie is right in her own way, and Bob is too. Everybody is right. Let’s all live our own truth and enjoy these mashed potatoes.”  

SUZIE: “Is there butter in those potatoes?” Suzie asks 

BOB: “Aw shut your trap Suzie. Eat the potatoes or get the hell out of here.” Bob exclaims. 

I’m sure you’ve experienced conversations like this that end up being both unproductive and just downright nasty. This happens because the people involved don’t know how to keep the conversation on track. They don’t know how to make good inferences from one idea to the next. They don’t know how to engage with different perspectives without letting their emotions hijack the conversation.  

Let’s think about what just happened. At one point, there was a pretty poor step in Bob’s reasoning. He said that because sun is shining and a tree is green outside, that the environment is just fine. But this ignores the fact that the environment could be getting worse on average slowly over time, even if the particular tree outside looks great. This is a bad inference. 

Then Suzie did some quite nasty things. She started to attack BOB’s character by calling him stupid and lazy, and then she questioned his love for his grandkids, and even his love for her. These things are meant to hurt Bob, but they have no chance at helping him understand her point. 

Finally, Jill tries to fix the situation and calm everybody down, but she end’s up muddying up the conversation even more by saying that everybody is right and we should just all live our own truth. 

So to get back to my original question, what is philosophy, and how is it helpful for discussing ethical questions? Here’s one way to answer that: the tools of philosophy are a set of emotional and intellectual skills that stop conversations from devolving into chaos like the one we just heard. The tools of philosophy help conversations to be productive, and to get us closer to the truth. And when we want to ask difficult and important questions that have no clear guidelines or methodologies for how to answer them, it’s these tools that we have to fall back on. That’s what philosophy is all about.  

So I hope this somewhat explains how my experience in philosophy should be helpful as we try to tackle tough ethical questions. Even though I'm not an expert in many of the specific areas we will cover, I’m going to do my best to bring these tools of philosophy to the conversation so that discussions remain productive and healthy, even when talking about difficult topics.  

 

--- Interlude--- 

 

I’ve been rambling about my background and credentials for long enough. But now I wanna talk about the kind of conversation that I want to encourage here on virtue vibes, which are the kinds of conversations I’ve fallen in love with. I’m talking about conversations where people focus on genuinely convincing others while remaining genuinely open to being convinced.  

So throughout this podcast, you’ll often hear me trying to convince you, or the guests that come on the podcast, of some ethical claims. I’m going to do this by sharing various REASONS that I have for believing those claims. I hope those reasons are good ones. I hope they’re compelling, and that they resonate with things you’ve also noticed about the world. And if they seem like solid reasons to you, and you feel like you understand and agree with those reasons, then they become YOUR reasons, not mine, and you might end up being genuinely convinced of the things I’m talking about. 

Here a big point I want you to notice about this process: you don't have to DEFER to me and my judgment. In fact, I don’t WANT you to defer to me. I don’t want you to think “well, JARROD said this, so it must be right.” Instead, I want my reasons to be so compelling, and so understandable, that instead of having to defer to my judgment, you become genuinely convinced. 

I heard an interview recently with a rap artist and fashion designer named Kanye West, aka Ye. He was asked what he wants his legacy to be, and this was his answer, paraphrased, “to be forgotten... Who designed the sidewalk? Who designed the water fountain? Who designed the stop sign? Who designed the stop light? These things are so ubiquitous that the person that designed them is forgotten. If it’s a good idea, it’s a god idea.” End quote. His point was that truly good ideas can catch on like wildfire and become so influential that the designer is forgotten.  

I think something similar can happen in ethical conversations, but on a much smaller scale. I’m hoping that my reasons are so clear and understandable and compelling that you latch onto them and, in a sense, completely forget about me. In other words, I want you to be genuinely convinced, without needing any deference to me whatsoever. 

But this won’t always happen. Sometimes you won't be convinced of what I’m saying for one reason or another. Maybe what I said was confusing or hard to follow, or maybe I was just plain wrong, which I’m bound to be sooner or later. And for these times when you are not genuinely convinced, I have another goal I’m aiming for, which is this: I want to have articulated each step in my reasoning so clearly that you can see exactly where I went wrong, which helps YOU to be able to convince ME.  

This is kind of like showing your work in math. If you turn in a problem to your teacher and your answer was wrong, but all you did was write the final answer without showing any of your work, they would have no way of knowing how to help you correct your thinking. But if you do show your work, the teacher can say “look here on line 4, you didn’t distribute this negative sign correctly, which sent you off track for the rest of the problem.”  

So for the times when you disagree with me, and for the times when I really am wrong, I want to show my work in detail. By doing so, I’m not only trying to genuinely convince you, but I’m also trying to help you to be able to genuinely convince me, because you can show me the exact step in my reasoning where I made a mistake. This is the kind of beautiful conversation that I want to promote here at Virtue Vibes. 

This might sound pretty basic to you. You might think, “well duh, you’re just describing a normal debate,” but I assure you that its harder than it sounds, especially when discussing tough ethical questions. It takes a lot of work and a lot of emotional maturity to focus on genuinely convincing others while remaining open to being genuinely convinced. People’s emotions flare up, they become angry, they become impatient, they become defensive, they’re often quick to resort to bullying and guilting people into believing the same things they do. It’s really hard to focus on the process I described, but in order to have a better chance at finding the truth, it’s incredibly important that we do so. 

I mentioned in the beginning of this episode how it would feel so weird for me to say “I’m the expert on being a good person, so just trust what I say.” I think one of the reasons why this feels so weird is because everyone, every single person with a functional mind, whether they know it or not, has ALSO been working on ethical questions their ENTIRE life. They’ve been observing the world around them and developing their own ethical principles that they use to guide their lives. Someone might get hurt as a child and start to believe, “Wow that hurt. I should play it safe from here on out.” Another person might get betrayed by a friend and start to believe, “I should keep my friends at distance, and be sure to hurt them before they can hurt me.” Another might feel incredibly loved by their parents, and start to believe, “I should try to love other people well so that they can feel secure and become the best versions of themselves.” These are all should statements. They're answers to the question, “how should we live?,”... right? They are tiny ethical principles, and ethical beliefs that people develop throughout their lives. Some of the wisest, most moral people I’ve ever met had no formal training or credentials in ethics, but their insights were excellent. That’s because everyone has the opportunity to do ethics well, if they choose to do so. Everyone is in the lab of life.  

People also develop beliefs about how to treat people from different races, different religions, and different ideologies, and their beliefs are embodied with feeling of pride, disgust, devotion, hatred, etc.  Everyone is doing ethics. They always have been. 

This is one reason why ethics is quite different than some other fields where people will more readily defer to an expert. Consider expertise in programming. I don’t know how to program, like... at all. Not even a basic HELLO WORLD program. So if I needed some advice on which programming language would be best for some tasks I need to get done in my business, and an expert told me to go with a language called C+, I’m just nodding my head and following that advice. I’m not a programmer, and so I’d be happy and eager to have expert assistance. But for ethical questions, the situation is often quite different. Throughout my life I’ve been developing and emotionally embodying principles for determining how I should live. So if some expert were to come along and tell me I had something wrong, and that I should live differently, I’m not gonna be too eager to just up and change my ethical beliefs that I’ve been developing, embodying, and even identifying with my whole life. This kind of change is super difficult because ethics is such a personal ordeal. And note that I’m not saying that you should NEVER defer to experts on ethical issue s, I’m just saying that it’s incredibly difficult do so. Also, it’s hard to know who exactly the expert’s are among the wide variety of ethics teachers in the world, whose ideas often conflict with one another. 

This is why the process of genuine convincing I described is so beautiful, and so important, especially when talking about ethical issues. We face a world where people from all kinds of different backgrounds have been developing, embodying, and identifying with various ethical systems, and those systems conflict and butt heads against other people’s ethical systems. This is the source of much personal, political, and religious conflict and strife in the world. But we have a TOOL to help with this. We don’t have to be stuck alone with our own ethical systems, inevitably bound to drift away from those of other people. We can TALK about them, and learn from each other, even on highly emotional and personal topics. And in the process of genuine convincing, and remaining genuinely open to being convinced, we can truly UNDERSTAND new perspectives and course-correct our ethical systems, WITHOUT having to just shut off our mind and simply defer to some expert. I think this process can save friendships. It can save marriages. It can prevent nations from crumbling internally. It can even prevent wars.  

So that’s the spirit in which I’m coming to you on Virtue Vibes. I’m not coming to you from on high, I’m coming to you from phoenix, Arizona, in the U.S., in the year 2023, and I’m throwing myself out into the world, hoping to find people who care about being good and who want to engage in this beautiful tango with me. It’s the dance of mutually enlightening conversation, convincing and being convinced, all in an effort to make this world a better place. If that sounds like you, then I’m so glad I’ve found you. Stick with me on this journey of discovery. Let’s come together and try our best to think hard about how to be good. This is Virtue Vibes. 

 

-Outro Music 

 

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