Argumentation:

1.   Why Arguing with Fundys Doesn’t Get Us Anywhere

by Lloyd Harrison Whitling

Despite the nasty nature of most of them, arguments are good events for humanity. By ‘good’, for the moralists among us, it means they are of overall benefit to us (wherein ‘bad’, of course, would mean they are detractive of benefits. Nobody ever mentions that there is neutral ground between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ that ought to be considered and defended as often and diligently as any of the rest of it). It is because we have been encultured to see anything that requires actual thought and knowledge as evils (or, ‘bads’) that we fail to appreciate argumentation enough to seek out the best ways to go about it. Here, for your enlightenment, is page one of The Mad Poet’s approved process for argumentation along with many insights as to why arguing is so often a counterproductive process. Page two is here.

Let me set the record straight right at the start: I am not a college-educated “expert” on much of anything, and do not hide that fact, but on this subject I am an expert with experience. I do not know what professors teach their students about proper procedures for argumentation, if anything. If there are classes about it, they are either forgotten by the students, or the materials offered are about counterproductive methods that fail to work. If there are not classes about it, or those classes were not (as they ought to be) required, then college students are left to learn their lessons in the same place as the average most of us: on the streets and backwaters of the world. Good luck with that!  Get your lessons right here!

Your goal is never to win, but to incite a thinking process. Your Fundy opponent’s goal is to take and keep control. Whose aims do you think are going to dominate?

RULE: Never let your opponent choose your topics. She will choose them with her comments, wherein she will play the role of temptress whose aim is to lure you away from all you know to be right and good and have her way with you. Never respond to the temptation to go astray, be she Lilith or Satan.

RULE: Gather up your facts and keep them in mind or your argument will get derailed. Any discussion will proceed along certain paths. Those paths have one beginning point, but can stray in many directions. Those directions will depend on the goals (overt and covert) of the participants more often than they will of anything to do with rectitude and relevant acumen on either side. They may also depend upon the laying down of ad hominems, red herrings and strawmen, whether or not intentional, that serve to lead the opponents off their courses. All in all, whether they get anywhere depends on if either side has an idea of a destination. Your Fundy opponent has a goal. Yours must be firm in your mind. Without that, you will never retain control, your necessary primary focus in any discussion. Sometimes, the destination ought to be what gets incorporated into the first statements of an argument. When that does not get acknowledged, it is all downhill from there.

Principled Assertion: Your Fundy opponent has her principles, as do you, but hers are weak from absence of real support. Realize that she will compete with you for control, and if you relinquish that you will have given away the prize. Know your evidence, how it supports your assertions, and why hers depends on opinions and hearsay (secondhand information) to even exist. Your goal is not to shred her views. Your only goal is to assert yours. You are not there to debate her views. You are there to assert to her and educate her about the principles by which you live. You will fail at that by talking about her beliefs. You will maintain control only by continuously asserting your own.

To accomplish that, you will have to actually know what you do believe. You will need to know why you believe that rather than something else. If you are an atheist, you will have to acknowledge that, yes, there are factual aspects of life that objective evidence leads you to accept as true, and other things that absence of supporting evidence requires you to conclude are false or irrelevant. So, make a list and put OBECTIVE EVIDENCE at the top. Everything else will arrive from there.

Rule: Think as you go: “What did I start off talking about? Am I still talking (or writing) about that? Am I still following my list/plan/agenda? Am I still on target?” Derailment of any argument occurs when someone makes a comment, statement or assertion with which someone else disagrees enough to make a countering assertion or negative comment. Any countering assertion determines the direction (or misdirection) of all that follows (and all statements made by either sides (or, all sides)) from this point on fall under the headings “Countering Assertion”, “Manipulation”, or “Agreement”.

Since agreement is not conducive to argument (but offers a laudable goal seldom achieved), we will stick with “Countering Assertion” from this point on, under the heading, “Manipulation”.

Manipulation

Countering assertions possess certain recognizable characteristics, the intent of which is to lead the opponent(s) astray. We will recognize those characteristics as belonging to tactics used by those with goals that do not always portray a high level of integrity. We could give those tactics names to increase their tangibility to our minds. Tactics that do not support the materials being discussed, that are counterproductive to such support, can be found in any list of logical fallacies. They are called ‘fallacies’ not so much because they are untrue, but because they lead arguers astray and prevent them from accomplishment by derailing the discussion, or because they are illogical. While the intentions of those who resort to them might be innocent due to ignorance, they get oftentimes used as tools for purposeful manipulation. The effect is the same in all cases, to lead the discussion astray and into areas where the manipulator feels safe.

A short list of countering tactics would include Digression, Principled Assertion, Avoidance, Deflection, Personal Attack, Feel-Good, Power-Play and Revenge. All are as apt as not to have overlapping characteristics.

The most common form of countering assertion, which could serve as a sub-heading for all the rest, is Digression. Digression gets applied by several means, all of which serve covert purposes (so covert, in fact, their proponents are sometimes not aware of them) by derailing the discussion process. We cannot deal with others’ hidden agendas here, as there are as many of them as there are people. We can deal with how to recognize the tactics of Digression.

Personal Attack may be the second most common form of Countering Assertion. It occurs when the Countering Participant fails to stick with the subject matter and, instead, makes a statement about his/her opponent. Such statements may often be of a mild nature that will go unnoticed as ad hominems (directed to the man rather than the discussion’s subject), but their emotion-stirring digressive nature places Personal Attack as an important subheading under Digression.

The format for Personal Attack is made recognizable by its nature: It is about the opposing person or group, or opposing statements themselves rather than their contents. Many statements may be directed to “you” instead of dealing with anything relevant to the materials. It may be about an opponent’s poor spelling or grammar. Any statement that attempts to show an opponent in a less than attractive light is a Personal Attack, including derogatory statements about what an opponent has said, and despite any laudatory statements that might also have been made, since they are also about the opponent and not the content.

Vying for third place prominence is the Feel-Good assertion, a form of ad hominem. Most often a result of a glandular discharge, such assertions may be entirely irrelevant in any manner, as they result from an emotional outburst without much involvement of actual intellect. If responded to at all, Feel-Good assertions will almost always lead the discussion into personal attacks and flaming. The best response, if one must be made, is with mirth absent of insults. Agree with the assertion if you can do so without losing face, and allow your good humor to backfire on your opponent by maintaining control.

Assertion: “Ahh, you’re such a sweet, nice person, your ugly mother must have gone to another neighborhood to conceive you.” Rejoinder: “Well, I’m glad you think I’m so nice. I worried for a long time that we might be related.” See how the discussion has already veered so far away from the original subject that neither side can remember what it had been about. A quick “Thank you,” followed by an immediate response to his previous argument, or addition to or restatement of your response to it, is required here to get things back on track. This is likely the most effective path to take, and deserves repeating whenever your opponent attempts to derail you, even where it does not make sense.

Avoidance may well be the third most common tactic. In argumentation, it is not a synonym for Digression, but is yet another subheading. It refers to common tactics that yield the same effect as would simply overlooking an opponent’s assertion. The avoiding person may actually agree with the assertion that had been made, but has gotten so involved in some minor point that agreement went unexpressed. More likely, and always suspect, avoidance is a covert attempt at derailment. Be aware, however, of how avoidance could be a signal from your opponent that you are the one slipping away from the topic, as you must do the same to steer her back on track

Deflection might be a close cousin to feel-good and avoidance, since it refers to any response that directs thought and attention away from a worrisome statement. The feel-good example also represents deflection.

Power-Play is a close synonym for One-Upmanship. Any attempt to hornswoggle or pull a scam belongs under this heading, as do any attempts to assert authority over an opponent, as in any attempt at gas-lighting or Gish-galloping. Such attempts are not only unfair, they act as detractive devices that are counterproductive to any good argumentation goals. They show an absence of honest intentions. A rewarding effort would be to learn how to spot this in others’ arguments, to learn how it might be used against yourself.

Revenge operates as a “get-even” tactic and is a favorite modus operandi for Internet Trolls. Standers-by will most often be unaware of what is going on unless they are informed about the specifics. Since trolls are often secretive and keep their true identities hidden, their opponents may also be unaware of this element in their agenda because it, too, may be kept covert.

Persons bent on employing Revenge may also be inspired to do so as a result of having lost a previous encounter against the opponent (or, an apparent member of the opponent’s group), or as an effect of blaming the opponent (or someone seen as being “of his group”) for some real or imagined evil.

Principled Assertion (Focus), on the other hand, refers to a tendency to develop real alternatives to an assertion. It is an attempt to show why the assertion is wrong or how it can be improved, or why it is irrelevant. To apply Focus may appear to incorporate digression, but that is because the digression is actually away from fallacious statements a participant has made, in order to keep a discussion on track. (See Page Two about this) Such statements are avoided because their counterproductive nature has been recognized by the focused participant, who also recognizes that any attempts to explain that will also serve to derail the discussion. Focused participants realize that if a discussion is to be worth their time and energy, prevention of derailment must be given a high priority by them.

So, to summarize, our incomplete list recognizes these as fallacious and counterproductive:

  • MANIPULATION:
    • DIGRESSION:
      • DEFLECTION:
        • Deflection
        • Countering Assertions
        • Personal Attack
        • Feel-Good
        • Avoidance
        • One-Upmanship (Power-Play)
        • Revenge

Those seven items (including Deflection as a sub-heading of itself) all serve to detract from Focus, which can only be maintained by Principled Assertions. Focus is, regrettably, the least-often employed tactic in argumentation, making avoidance of focus the most common tactic. Focus maintains the purpose of argument, whereas any other tactic serves only to detract from that purpose.

Focus can be employed by keeping simple procedures in mind, and diligently applying them. Those procedures involve questions, such as:

  1. What is the actual subject of this discussion? Do you know an answer?

_______________________________________________________

 

  1. Is the assertion to which I am considering a response pertinent to that subject?

Y__ N__

 

  1. If not, can I respond in such a way as to keep on track?

Y__ N__  How?____________________________

 

  1. Is that assertion about me?__ about my own statement?__ or germane to the subject?__

 

  1. If it is not germane, should I avoid it? Y__ N__ (if it cannot be made germane, choose Y).

 

  1. How can I assert my own views in the most germane manner without reinforcing my opponent’s position, without resorting to personal attack, and in the most persuasive way possible? (See Page Two)

________________________________________________________

 

  1. Can I learn anything from my opponent’s statements?

Y__ N__

 

  1. Am I, or is my opponent, making positive assertions intended to impart information, rather than negative assertions that do nothing but tell what is wrong with statements that have been made and/or the person who made them?

 

  1. Am I wasting valuable time and energy with this opponent now?

Y__ N__

 

  1. Can I find any way to turn this discussion toward a positive result?

Y__ N__

 

  1. If not, then why am I involved with it? ____________________________

Those may not be all the questions, and the list of digressive assertions may be far from complete, but keeping them in mind will serve yourself—and humanity in general—by maintaining a sense of wellbeing that results from an increased understanding of all the kinds of events in which we get involved, and in which we see others involved, at all levels of society. Honest goals ought to be to impart information, to inspire thought, to learn from others, and to seek and portray tangible truth so it can be made recognizable. The goals should never be to attack or degrade others, nor to foster the spread of misinformation. Leave that for the nasty people.

 

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