Thursday, 3 April 2014

Strawmen

I recently argued about the nature of rights with some guy on a message board.

In the end, I'm not entirely sure what point he was trying to make but I have some pretty strong opinions about the way he tried to make it.

He basically rolled out a greatest hits of my least favourite things people can do in an argument - say someone doesn't understand you without attempting to clarify, appeal to completely anonymous authority, rebut only what you perceive to be the weakest sentence of the opposing position, quote the definition of a word from a dictionary - plus pulling out a rather impressive, "I'm getting the feeling you might not be up to this discussion."

More than any of that, the thing that bugs me the most was calling what I wrote "strawman" arguments. Now I can't rule out the possibility that he is actually much more informed than I am about rights and has a much better considered opinion. But if you are the person of superior understanding and you decide to engage in a discussion with others, you are still accountable for how you express yourself. If someone parrots back a bad version of your argument, there is a very good chance it is because you did not clearly state your argument.

Communication involves both a speaker and a listener, so there is always the possibility that someone just isn't willing to listen.  But deciding up front that a listener won't to hear what you have to say is useful to only one end: It maintains your illusion of superiority. If you have any goal other than that, you should be listening to "strawman" arguments with the goal of improving your explanations of your point - or, perhaps, of discovering that someone else actually has a good point.

In university I learned a huge list of logical fallacies. In the last few years I've read a lot about cognitive biases. You should learn about logical fallacies so that you can avoid making them. You should learn about cognitive biases so that you can try to work past them. When you learn about these things to add to your arsenal of ways to dismiss others, you are dedicating your intelligence making yourself more stupid.

3 comments:

  1. That person you were arguing with sure had fun randomly making shit up, insulting you for no reason, and passing off an ill defined and rapidly shifting position as nuanced insight instead of random spewing of buzzwords. Arguing with someone who thinks of themselves as deeply learned because they like ad hominem attacks and refuse to say what it is they actually believe in simple terms is pointless. Feeding the trolls, as it were.

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    1. Not necessarily pointless. In this case there wasn't a lot of time left in the posting period to really go at the guy (though I think he might have been making a face-saving exit there) but I've definitely run people out of threads and even forums in past. In my most extreme example, I argued with one person in the Glitch forums for several days at the end of which they not only stopped posting, but never logged into the game again (a year later their last log in date was still the date of their last post in that thread - http://www.glitchthegame.com/forum/general/17038/).

      In a high-minded way I regard myself as a sort of forum hero. There are a lot of villains out there who have spent a good deal of their lives thinking they are smart because they are so frustrating to argue with that everyone just gives up on them. Getting the last word means getting the win. My goal is to expose to these people that their philosophy 101 arguing is easily countered by someone who has the interest in doing so.

      Oh, and to hurt their feelings to sate my rage.

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  2. i am smarter than you. i know this because i have decided it and when i skim articles on logic and reasoning, i like to store these techniques away in my big douchecanoe hat because those things aren;t nice concepts to help me think clearer; god alone knows how clearly i already think- but to lord it over lesser beings because really arguments are NOT about exchange of ideas or even persuasion. really arguments are about WHO WINS.

    and that's me.

    because you're clearly not up to my standards.

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