Thursday, March 2, 2017
Of Punks and Posers
I’ve never really enjoyed the long back and forth of political or religious arguments. The very small enjoyment factor of sharing ideas quickly dissipates in the face of angry rhetoric, insults, and juvenile games. Over the years I’ve started to notice the same behaviors from these insincere people. The most amazing part is that these behaviors are the same despite widely varying topics ranging from sports, to politics, to religions, and I’ve even been harassed by Alien Covenant fanboys. Because I choose to focus on serious and substantive discussions of topics instead of insincere flame wars that at best feel good in the short term but don't lead to substantive discussion, I have written down a list of behaviors that these people exhibit and which act as a deal breaker for me:
This is an individual that always manages to find a fallacy. While nobody is immune from occasionally using fallacious reasoning, these posers often invent fallacies and then use the manufactured mistakes to ignore the substance of the argument. For example, one individual cited a book that I happened to review. That review was negative, but I made sure to describe the shallow arguments. I deliberately refrained from commenting on the author’s character, even though I had been the subject of his personal attacks. But instead of reading the review and commenting on its substance the individual simply hid behind the supposed fallacies I committed.
The fallacy cop trick is further enhanced, well diminished actually, when the individual actually commits the same fallacy in their response to me. It tends to be one of the most used and abused fallacies out there, so instead of playing fallacy cop I tend to mock how silly those terms are by simply using them.
Related to the fallacy cop is the pettifogging grammarian. That's just a fancy way of describing somebody who will obsess over a typo or two, which are common in extemporaneous writing on social media, instead of engaging the argument. I encountered this annoying behavior so much I actually looked up a word for it. Pettifogging is excessive or undue emphasis on petty and unimportant details. As you'll begin to notice, its a perfect word for describing the nonsense in many of the online debates you'll encounter so you should keep it handy.
Burden of Proof:
At some point in a discussion somebody will demand evidence. This is insincere because instead of discussing the merits of the argument being debated, it places an unfair burden on one side or the other. Social media isn’t really conducive to citing evidence to begin with since there aren’t ways to place substantive footnotes in them. You can only cite one link at a time, and inline citations are time consuming. But the people requesting these items don’t really care to read or look up the footnotes on their own. It is usually just a smarmy way to appear interested in the conversation without offering real counter evidence or cogent rebuttal. It’s a way to manipulate the situation to make it look like an opponent is an insincere blowhard, when it’s usually those that request proof that are insincere.
This is less mature than a 7th grader but still frequently used. Mitt Romney was called Mittens, Trump is Cheeto Jesus, and so on. This is pretty self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how many otherwise educated people do this. These are terms of derision that do nothing to enhance the discussion.
This one is harder to notice but much more pervasive. There is such a thing as describing events which is different than offering an analysis of events. An example might be the time I had to delete and moderate the insults of radical libertarians on my blog. I clearly explained in the comments why I did so. They had called me every name in the book on multiple occasions and they had no right to do so on my blog. They unfairly interpreted the event and said that I had “thrown a tantrum.” Well no, that’s editorializing to make me sound like a child, it’s not accurate, and its actually just a more subtle insult. I had deleted their comments because there are only so many times I can be called a sophistic, terroristic, warmongering liar and anti-Christ. (Those insults are both real and common in discussing with the Geoff Biddulph Connor Boyack strain of radical libertarianism.)
Those are the major discussion deal breakers that transcend boundaries, here are some uniquely Mormon deal breakers:
Gratuitous Comment about Underwear
Unfavorable Comparison to Lord of the Rings
Questioning of intelligence and mental health (a subtle but real form of ad hominem)
Calls for Peer Review
The last part of the equation is knowing when to walk away. The biggest factor for me was realizing that most of my arguments online were a way to show how much I knew. Ironically enough, it was a product of my insecurity that forced me to prove how much I knew. They weren’t designed to win friends or convince opponents, except to convince them of my superiority. Most of my opponents were the same way, or they simply wanted to cast insults, vent their anger, or use shallow debating tricks without actually having a conversation. But nobody ever ends the conversation saying something like, “You have utterly defeated me with your superior intellect.” Online conversations will go on as long as you invest in them but quickly die when you don’t. The handful of opponents fanatically devoted to the argument will think you’re an idiot no matter how many or few times you respond to their (often) insincere requests. All things being equal then, it makes sense to spend less time than more on a fruitless debate.
So in short, the best way to win online arguments is simply to walk away. At the very least, I’m sure you have better things to do with your time, and don’t need to fluff your ego with online fights. I’m secure enough in myself, my education, my well thought out positions, and my career as a writer that I don’t need to prove it to every punk and poser on the internet. This might open me up to charges of being arrogant, or “hiding” behind my degrees. But ironically enough, those arguments are just more editorializing and personal attacks that won’t goad me into an argument. They do just the opposite in fact as I know who I am, what I’m capable of doing, the better ways I could use my time, and I have a clear list of deal breakers that my potential online opponents too readily provide. Thanks for reading and make sure to check out one of my recent journal articles. I’m off to work on my next book!
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