From Sarah’s Think on These Things blog, a post about how to NOT argue contructively. If you don’t do any of the bad things on her list, you’ll be an excellent person to debate with. Consider this post your Saturday fun!
1. Foster the conviction that all with whom you disagree are personally attacking you.
Even if the individual doesn’t know you, your ideas are your identity. Never mind the fact that this introduces all sorts of strange problems for understanding personal identity. That stuff is not important. What is important is that your very person, and all you hold dear, are being assaulted.
2. Don’t accept the author or speaker’s own definitions of his terms.
For instance, if someone is using the term “idealist” to mean a person who has lofty goals, you could show off your philosophical prowess and point out that he has gotten philosophical idealism (something else entirely) all wrong. It would also be fun to attack a Lutheran who believes in Christian orthodoxy (small “o”) for being a closet Orthodox Christian!
3. Embrace category confusion.
Here is a time-tested example: If the argument is about economics, you may wish to respond by claiming that the author is just racist. You get bonus points here, as this tactic also functions as an ad hominem and as a red herring fallacy (look them up if you are curious).
4. Ignore all qualifiers.
This most often takes the form of responding with a counterexample to an admitted generalization. Example: Your interlocutor is evaluating the drawbacks to social media, and then says “interactions on social media tend to encourage more rudeness than would be likely in person.” You can fire back a response like this: “I’m always nice on Facebook! See? You’re wrong.” Or, “Uncle Joe uses Facebook to encourage invalids connecting to the world via laptop,” etc. You don’t want your counterexample to actually work. So, avoid using the skill in situations where the author has clearly made a universal statement such as, “There are no black swans.” Then, those who are still slaves to logic could refute the universal statement by saying– truthfully– that “Uncle Joe has a black swan.”
These are the things that happen to me daily in dealing with commenters like Sarah stone on this blog. If only Sarah had read this nice list!
I think #2 is the funniest.
The list contains 17 items. If you know someone who would benefit from it, please forward it along!