Well, it has taken the rapidly degrading state of conversation on the internet to pull me out of my self-imposed, unannounced blogging break.
I don’t know about your facebook feed, but mine is filled with lots and lots of people disagreeing with each other, sometimes quite respectfully, but often not. If you are one of those blessed few who has not noticed this phenomenon, that is wonderful! Here is a cute picture of a puppy. You may stop reading now.
If you are still here, let us together embark on a crash course in proper ways to engage in productive arguments.
Please note, this article is not inspired by anyone in particular but is the fruit of dozens of conversations I have participated in, and hundreds more that I have observed.
1. Avoid Confirmation Bias
We are all guilty of it, myself included, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to avoid it. Look at the other side of the argument. Realize that there is a chance that you might be wrong, or at least that the other side holds a more nuanced position than you previously thought. Don’t keep yourself in an information bubble and only read sources that confirm your views. Before you post something on facebook, take a minute to fact check it.
Here is a perfect example from a few years back:
That is terrifying and it seemed plausible so people went ahead and shared it.
Only trouble is they got it all wrong. As this Detroit-based news station reported:
Hundreds of people in Dearborn are taking a stand against ISIS and terrorist attacks
What was really pictured was a group of Muslims gathering to PROTEST ISIS, not march in support of them. That kind of changes the story completely.
2. Assume that your “opponent” has rational reasons for their views unless they give you concrete reasons to believe otherwise.
If they are using poor logic or incorrect data, tactfully point it out to them. Don’t dismiss their views by searching for some non-rational source for their beliefs.
Here are some gems that I have gotten:
“You’re just hormonal.” Which translates to, “Silly woman, ideas are for men.”
“You just think that because you are a millennial.” I guess they are right, I should go get my sippy cup, and wait till I am over 40 to have any opinions.
“If you hold that opinion it might be because demons are influencing you.” . . . .um?
“You think that way because of the Dunning-Krueger effect.” In this case, the implication being that I can’t appreciate Donald Trump’s immigration policies primarily because I am less intelligent.
These are all examples of ad hominem attacks.
Don’t criticize your opponent, criticize their ideas. Even if you strongly disagree with them, don’t dismiss their ideas out of hand as having no basis in reality. Talk with the person, find out WHY they believe what they do. If you disagree with them address their mistaken assumptions, or logical leaps, not why you believe they as a person have thus far been unable to see the truth. Maybe you will find their ideas are more rational than you initially thought.
3. If you realize your opponent is correct on a point, admit it.
The purpose of the discussion should be about TRUTH, not verbally beating the other person to a pulp. Enough said.
4. Be charitable.
Finally, and most importantly, assume the person you are conversing with has good intentions. To this end, it helps not to get into a tribalist “us vs. them” mindset. Everybody is seeking after the good (either real or perceived), people just have different ideas of how to prioritize goods, or how to go about achieving them. For example, those on both sides of the gay marriage debate believe that love and marriage are very important things. The disagreement lies in whether the state should recognize homosexual unions as marriage and confer the same benefits as it does to heterosexual married couples. Let’s not assume that the other person is secretly intending to bring about the collapse of society or hates everyone who disagrees with him.
I find it very important to avoid cursing and name calling. Saying, “F#%@ that orange man, and his little wall too” or “those idiot liberals deluded by the Main Stream Media ” is not going to convert anyone to your viewpoint.
May I ask my readers to do me a favor? If you catch me breaking any of my rules while arguing either online or in person, call me out on it; just do it nicely, pretty please.
Together we can make America’s arguments more calm and productive, one facebook post, and holiday gathering at a time.
What are your favorite logical fallacies? Bonus trivia, who can guess how many times my kids woke me up last night? I’ll give a hint it was more than five.
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