Argument versus Yelling at People

Unhappily brought to my attention via the miracle of the interwebs, this fellow seems blissfully unaware of the old ‘better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool…’ dictum, and unleashes a monument to unreflective self-unawareness. I hate driving traffic his way, so please, if you go there, leave a comment that makes some rational counterpoint to his spittle-flecked ranting, or maybe point out where the stuffing is falling out of his straw men.

REMINDER: I am of the ‘Pox Upon Both Houses’ Party, and am not defending the GOP – the GOP can go waterboard each other. But I do care about idiotic diatribes that simultaneously violate every norm of civil discourse – let alone logical argument – while claiming the high moral ground. THAT does warrant a smack-down.

By interesting coincidence, Mike Flynn does the heavy lifting of spending some time on the internet attempting to get to the bottom of one of the outrageous stories Whittaker tells to support his handy, all-purpose contention that people who disagree with him are stupid, illustrating the difference between argument and yelling at people.

Here is an obvious point that separates the greenhorns from the playas, argument-wise: you must state your *opponents* position in terms he would agree with *before* you attack it. Note how Mike Flynn posts the link to the story, so that we know – in the words of the people who wrote the story – what he’s talking about. At each point in the essay, when he seeks to introduce a new bit of information, he quotes or links – AND refrains from putting words into the mouths of his interlocutors.

When you are yelling at people – like I am in my first paragraph – you start with your conclusions, complete with a restatement of your opponent’s position in terms he would never agree with, in terms, in fact, calculated to generate the maximum amount of outrage in those you are attacking while generating the maximum amount of head-nodding among those in your bandwagon. Too bad I don’t have a bandwagon. Yet.

An argument, in the hands of a pro, looks like this:

Statement of the general issue

Restatement of the position or positions contrary to the one you hold, in terms those who hold those positions would agree with. Otherwise, you are just talking to yourself and your sycophants.  (a subtle point: there actually must be people holding the position you are arguing against – no fair making up position held by no one.)

Present the arguments used by the holders of the contrary position(s) as strongly as possible, again in terms they would accept.

Now, at last, present your position.

Present arguments that support your position.

Answer each of the arguments supporting the contrary position. It’s nice and honest to acknowledge whatever points in the contrary arguments you agree with.

Once you’ve done all this – which, for political arguments, often only takes a minute or two – you can get down to what you really disagree about and why.

Note that facts may or may not be a part of an argument, but are never arguments in themselves. You can assert that the world is about 4.5 billion years old, or that the Bible is the inherent word of God. So? What’s the argument? It is common nowadays to simply pile up facts and state a conclusion – this practice is not an argument. The argument takes place when you logically explain why your conclusion falls inevitably out of the facts (employing the metaphysics that allow you to say those facts mean anything at all – but that’s another topic)

The point here is that when people start with conclusions calculated to outrage their opponents and then list ‘facts’ that would almost never be accepted as stated by their  opponents, they are doing the 2-part dance of yelling at their opponents and firing up their tribe. No argument is taking place.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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