Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Can We Just Have the Same Argument Over and Over Again?

with 4 comments

I used to frequent an online forum that billed itself as a place to meet and engage in spirited discussions with critical thinkers and less critical thinkers of various stripes. I’ll grant the discussion were spirited, and that in fact the population of the forum lived up to the variety its supporters touted. But I haven’t visited in at least a year, and that brief foray was also the first in about two years.

I used to crave the challenge of defending or disproving positions on all subjects. Nothing was off limits: religion, politics, racism, economics, history, science, the paranormal, you name it. Owing to the type of discourse, the majority of forum regulars had – at least it appeared to me – above average intelligence, and I enjoy interacting with smart people (as far back as high school I simply couldn’t understand why various popular kids were popular; I couldn’t stand being around those idiots). Ever since I first began to frequent the forum in late 2005, I learned to reexamine dearly held assumptions, to refine myriad arguments and conceptions about the world.

Of course the place had a lighter side, with puzzles, games, and discussion threads that went on and on with creative silliness. My favorite thread had a user post an “answer” to an unasked question, and the next person to post had to come up with the best possible question for that answer, then provide another answer so the game could continue. For example: Answer: “That’s ‘discreet’, not ‘discrete’.” Question: “So, Mr. President, you want a separate chapter about each intern?”

But eventually, the games and humor portions of the site remained the only ones that held any appeal for me. Returning to the site after a prolonged absence, I found the same issues continually rehashed, sometimes by the same people, sometimes by others, with nary a novel thought or approach. I realized that people tended to talk at each other, not to each other, with each side in a debate seeking more to score rhetorical points than to genuinely pursue understanding or persuasion.

It was about that time that I began to sour on the comments that many news and opinion sites display. Does anyone genuinely think that a reader will be swayed by the opinion of some anonymous post in some corner of the web? Have any of these people stopped to think of the astronomical odds of any opinion forming and solidifying based solely on the input they receive at a given site? There’s no need to answer that question; it’s clear that too many people view themselves as far more important and influential than reality cares to let them be. Getting involved or obsessed with the last word in an online political or religious debate constitutes nothing more than a colossal waste of time.

Not that such a rational argument would sway many of the, uh, personalities we encounter online (and in meatspace, but at least there we can see and avoid them). I’m no Einstein (I’m more a Homer Simpson with hair), but I caught on pretty quickly that people do not tend to be swayed by multiple exclamation points!!!! in their arguments. Nor do BRIGHT COLORS and BOLD TEXT compensate for feeble debating skills. These points seem to be lost on certain evangelical Christians; believers in the paranormal, homeopathy et al; and foaming-at-the-mouth liberal and/or far-right partisans on any political issue (Lesbian Zionist Islamists were the ones behind 9/11, and the government made it happen! Discuss).

I’m just tired of it now. You could try to convince me to change my attitude, but anyone who does that is a fundamentalist moron.

See what I did there? That’s called “poisoning the well.” Another pitfall in debating involves the straw man, arguing against a position that one’s opponent does not actually represent. You, for example, might wish to convince me to read more irredeemably stupid comments, and you would argue that I should change my position because it’s better not to avoid reading news altogether. I could in turn respond with a slippery slope fallacy, arguing that if I begin to read comments, I’ll inexorably find myself caught up in a deadly protest involving abortion clinics. These are just some of the delightful bits of information I absorbed. They’re useful in “winning” debates at the dinner table, but one seldom makes friends by pointing out other people’s logical fallacies.

It’s much easier to bad-mouth them anonymously in some comment, after all.

But you probably don’t have the guts. Go ahead. Make my day. Submit a comment disproving my contentions.

*Sound of crickets*

I knew you’d see it my way.


Written by Thag

March 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Bright colors might not change minds…but flashing lights NEVER fail.

    • I don’t believe you. Probably because you didn’t use flashing lights.


      March 28, 2011 at 7:19 am

  2. Oh no, you’re all wrong about all of this. Because I say you are, and I am always right about stuff like that. So there, Mr. Smartypants.

    Boochen Sundance

    April 3, 2011 at 4:19 am

    • Since I’m ignoring all evidence contrary to my position, I win no matter what.


      April 3, 2011 at 6:59 am

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