Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Signing Off

I've written before about my internet arguments. I have a pretty good record of taking on trolls - at least good considering the fact that it is generally regarded as strictly impossible to take on trolls. I was confounded a few months ago by someone who claimed that they simply couldn't understand what I was saying. Now I have a new defeat.

Discussing whether it was okay for the US government to maintain a secret extra-judicial kill list based on secret evidence, I was challenged to say what I would have done instead in the wake of the airplane attacks on the US in 2001.

I basically answered that I would have used diplomatic means to exert pressure where possible to bring those involved in planning the attacks to justice and that I would remind everyone that dismantling liberties in the name of anti-terrorism would be a huge victory for terrorism.

In reply, I got this:
With all due respect, in practical terms this is no guarantee of anything stronger than hand waving.
I sighed and said this:
This would be a strong and meaningful point if the current American tactics were guarantees that there would be no further terrorism.
And he came back with a really great line:
I see. So unless there is 100% efficacy against terrorism we might as well adopt a stance with virtually no efficacy.
Here's a lesson in how to win an argument:
  1. Use loaded language like "guarantee" that puts your opponent in an unreasonable place
  2. Hope they use that language back at you
  3. Complain about their loaded language
He and I have a reasonable disagreement about facts. He thinks that empowering the government to kill whoever it wants based on secret evidence is an effective way to reduce terrorism and is totally worth it. I think that when you have an international criminal syndicate who's funding model is, "Well, people hate the US so much that if we just kill American citizens they'll hand us cash," you have to reconsider the root of the problem instead of just using more violence to solve it. Obviously I'm right and he's wrong, but I would say that, wouldn't I?

But by telling me my approach couldn't "guarantee" a good outcome, he tried to put an unreasonable burden of proof on me. I wasn't having any of it, and somehow he decided that made me manifestly unreasonable.

This is why people say it is impossible to argue with internet trolls. But I want to say something right here: you should never assume or even believe that anyone is a "troll" in the sense that people use the word. If someone ever says that they were just trolling, the correct response is, "Hey, you acted like a stupid jerk and I think you are a stupid jerk, joke's on me, right?"

I don't think this guy is some kind of bad argument savant who is having a laugh at people who try to argue with him. I think he is someone who has been instructed by events in his life that what he did there in that argument was a reasonable thing to do - a good way to win arguments. Often people judge themselves the winner of an argument if the other party walks away frustrated.

It's sort of like winning a game of pick-up basketball by being a known pedophile who everyone else refuses to play with. It's a win by default.

This way of thinking is so absurdly predictable. He responded to me pointing out how he was behaving. I could have written his response myself. I should probably make a rule for myself that I won't talk to people if I know exactly what they are going to say back to me. I should just go grow slime mold instead.

This is the world, this is reality. We live in a system that exerts pressure on us to behave like this.

Once, in talking about me to a person who had never met me, someone said, "You can't win an argument against Humbabella, you can only make him smarter." If this guy has taught me never to read anything he writes again then I guess I'm a little bit smarter than I was, but it feels pretty Pyrrhic.

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