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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Beliefs give us the ability to respond quickly in dangerous situations, and anywhere that requires action NOW with no time for cogitation or study. Continued study enables us to hone our beliefs to improve our performance by widening our knowledge, and by enabling us to discover where a belief that steered us onto an erroneous path had been wrong. Those who claim no beliefs of any kind do not get to enjoy any of that. Those who fail to verify their beliefs suffer from harm they cause others.  We should respect each other despite differing beliefs, pay attention when others describe beliefs that may be better, and they should consider with equal attention why you may already have rejected those beliefs or why you think they didn’t work for you. Of course, you have to tell them that. If self-proclaimed absence of beliefs puts you in the midst of an intellectual desert, go ahead and quote a bunch of dry statistics. If you can’t tell them what that should mean to them, they will never care and your ponderous thoughts will mean as little to them as their inanity means to you. Learn to recognize and acknowledge your own beliefs so you can explain to others what those statistics mean in your life. If that seems like too much to expect, the prevalent absence of wisdom among humans may have a lot to do with it.

Wisdom: I believe intellectual power among humans runs the gamut between wisdom and dumbasses. I have observed how the same person can exemplify extreme wisdom in one respect, and extreme dumbassedness in another. Take me, for instance. Just don’t take me home.

Rape: a prime example of dumbassedness is found in whomever concocted the idea that a woman getting raped cannot become pregnant. Has this guy never been intimate with a woman? (It had to be a guy, or a very masculine female). Had he been in a relationship over a period of time, he would know why KY (not named after a state filled with dry women) had been invented. The human body will protect itself however it can in spite of a person’s determination to never give in, and will lubricate the point of entry to minimize injury, especially given enough time by a struggling woman staving off a rapist’s advances. Put the shoe on the other foot: It is at least an urban legend that aggressive men will ejaculate while beating another person to death. Would that prove he’d been having sex?

Opinions: We all share rights regarding our opinions, including myself. This is to what the founding fathers referred when they wrote, “All men are created equal.” That’s my opinion, of course. It seems obvious they knew we did not all possess equal talents, strengths or mental abilities. They also knew that women are of a different gender than men, but were of the species called ‘mankind’, were a kind of huMAN called woMAN, and so would be a part of that. Equality of rights has been vigorously defended in the United States, a process that continues for as long as rights are usurped or challenged.

Whether our opinions result from education, indoctrination or experience, we each regard our own with high esteem and treat them as sacred, it matters little how we gained them nor how well we have tested and verified them. We esteem our own opinions because we believe them. We learn to esteem others who will listen to our opinions in a respectful manner, and to offer helpful suggestions about how we may improve them without accompanying that with ridicule and venom.

Only the reticent among us refrain from sharing their opinions with others, and proclaim the right to do so as freedom of speech, which must include a right to silence. We may not like that others do not often want to hear our opinions, and they may become confrontational if we make them feel we are somehow forcing them to listen. This condition is most apt to rise if they assume (or, realize) we will refuse to listen to their alternative opinions, since a right to silence must also include what we hear. It seems innate that most of us recognize a right to not listen, and sometimes remind each other that each audio device comes equipped with a way to silence it.

The arrogant assume that only their own opinions deserve to be aired, that only their own opinions are correct, and only they have nothing to learn from other people. The arrogant assume that preventing others from airing their wrong opinions will prevent the spreading of evil ideas; that attacking such persons with slander, libel or ridicule will stop them from making their offensive statements; that demanding evidence or ‘proof’ while showing none of their own wins arguments; that logical fallacies are there to serve as power tools against naïve opponents; that what their ‘authority’ wrote must be accepted as truth no matter what; rules they apply to you don’t apply to them; that their resources are valid no matter what, so shut up, listen, and then, go away to lick your wounds. You could, after all, have exercised your right to silence and stayed quiet or gone elsewhere. Arrogance portrays a powerful tool placed in the wrong hands.

Your right to silence would also apply to religious rights and the noisy panderers of many forms of that institution. Notice how the last portion allows “from” to replace “of” with no change in meaning: “… noisy panderers from  many forms from that institution.” Doing so, in fact, serves to clarify it. That freedom from religion aligns with the right to silence to clarify what freedom of religion includes to Americans should be too obvious for anyone not advocating noise pollution to deny. If you say that’s just my opinion, I will reply to thank you for recognizing my right to it, and hope my saying so now cuts down on the amount of noise.

God (specifically, the god named God): I believe this particular god somehow killed itself a long time ago, sometime during the 10thousand years before the birth of Christ in Houston, Texas. It did it while looking all over the universe for a way to make a rock too heavy for it to lift, a way to see the future while avoiding responsibility for all the misery it had created, and a way to answer prayers that cancel each other. When it learned how that was only the beginning of its problems, it tried to commit suicide, only to run against another feature of omnipotence that made him too powerful to die. No one but demonstrable liars have been in touch with it for at least ten millenniums. While all kinds of monotheists express doubt, it seems likely the deists have the best shot at knowing the truth.

Advanced Heathenism: We know who we are. The word heathen, derived from ‘heathers’, referred to the rural population. A putdown reference to the hardheaded folks who would not be convinced to adopt strange ideas outsiders carried to them, equivalent to the hillbillies of modern times, heathenism described a way of life originated by independent thinkers to celebrate their ability to endure hard lives. Used to portray their supposed state of ignorance as due to low intelligence, the newcomers could avoid issues raised by advanced thinking, unexpected from such folk, that demanded convincing evidence. “Don’t just tell me, show me!”

Like weeds in the heathers, today’s heathens spring forth where they are not wanted by the gardeners for the various gods. They ask too many unanswerable questions, run at the mouth with ideas of their own, and seem attracted to literature that, in older times, would be forbidden, banished and burned. In some places, in today’s world, such heathens run in the unkempt furrows among the favored plants with no shame showing, proud as if they think themselves beautiful and useful. And, why should they not?

Rather than the Druidism or Paganism of our origins, modern heathens have adopted science as our source of inspiration and awe. It appeals to our need to understand the hows, whys and whats of our existence in a way that also appeals to our sense of the beautiful. It furnishes a shared interface we can learn to apply for ourselves, and forgives us with glee when we discover a new truth that banishes the old, as must occur in growing minds. Our mentors find no real need to cudgel us into acceptance of their instructions; flashes of insight cudgel us with joy. The wise ones find ways to show us the reality behind their words, and banish doubt with demonstrations and predictions they can make about “What will happen if…” in the here and now while we live. We see. We see. We see, and thrive from the experience. We see. We do, and understand what once seemed inexplicable. Science provides for us what other ones would take away.

Unintelligent Design: Some people must assume the god they worship is incredibly stupid and inept, and I find many reasons to believe that. One reason for thinking so is the idea of someone finding a watch and being unable to discern whether it had been made by man or a god. One would be hard put to find a capable modern human being unable to discern what differentiates a natural object from a man-made device. Even children’s creations are generally recognized as such. A wristwatch, given the crude ‘design’ of Nature, shows nature’s designer to be incapable. The watch has a label and a numbered dial. The label may say “Bulova”, “Ingraham” or “Westclox Scotty.” The dial may be imprinted in any of many languages. It may be digital or analog, mechanical or electronic. It may have shiny metal gears inside, or carefully laid out circuits and components. It matters not at all. If anybody had ever found a naturally formed watch, recognition of that astounding discovery would be instant for all but the densest of us. The finder would receive instant fame, acclaim and wealth.

Labels: A handy device that serves many purposes, labels are used to provide names to designate animate and inanimate items to provide identification for purpose, stage of development, process, name an event, to provide reality for the nonexistent, and to demean those deemed unworthy.

Morality: By whatever other label atheists want to prefer, their fears of being thought ‘Christian’ weaning them from common sense, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are recognized in other human beings and applied to our own actions. In a reality setting, we see morality as vastly different from that described in fantasy-based creeds. That is our own reality-based sense of morality at work and it is too important as a real phenomenon to deny. It rises out of our recognition of pleasure and pain we have caused to others, that they have caused to us, and that we have observed in the interactions of others.

In that setting, we cannot deny how good and evil show as measurable phenomena. Pain and pleasure can be measured in the nervous systems of animals, including humans, as also can the comfortable state of relaxed balance that gives us a sense that everything is right and we suffer no stress. Aside from religious influence, the American system of secular justice and ethics gives voice to this awareness through a system of law. Religion gives its nod of recognition with threats of wrath and the promise of Heaven. Why try to make truth out of ridiculous imaginings when that causes more harm than good? If a god exists, we must call it Nature and learn its laws the only ways available: by observation and trial; by prediction and testing; from events recorded in verified history that we can reproduce in our own era and record the results; by learning from failures as well as successes; by shelving the untestable to await the information needed for valid trials; by insisting on ‘show’ and rejecting ‘tell’; and by refusing to proclaim faith in the bearers of unsupported tales however appealing they may be.

Logic can suffer from a whole list of fallacies in the hands of the uninitiated and the manipulators who prey upon, and grow rich from, their naïve victims. New religions spring up overnight because of that, and swarm across the countryside to fill those naïve brains with goofy claims and powerfully futile notions. Logical functioning depends a lot on the materials used as sources. Reality based logic must gibe with what is found in the real world for its proponents to decide an argument has been correctly stated. Ecclesiastical logic develops arguments from religious scripts and pious insights and defines a religious view of truth accordingly. The reality-based argument that says religions are founded upon unsupportable premises is true, therefore, only from a reality-grounded stance. From an ecclesiastical stance, physical reality is seen as a temporary illusion that ends with physical death when the afterlife takes over.

Over the decades of my own life, my own belief has shifted from full acceptance of ecclesiastical logic to endorse the reality-based. Doubts about gods had no part in the beginning of that shift; doubts about God’s messengers drove it to completion as their own actions made it increasingly obvious that even they did not fully endorse ecclesiastical logic’s sources. Many—maybe most—ecclesiastical people do not practice their proclaimed beliefs in anywhere near the manner prescribed in their scripts. A frightening percentage make it plain they have granted their devil the role played by the God in the scripts, are addressing the devil as ‘God’, and are accusing scapegoats of worshiping the former god named God who now occupies the devil’s place. Reality-based logic, however, built upon itself over the years, grew stronger and became a kind of magical system that knows its place and establishes rules by which we can determine many aspects of our own future wellbeing by applying action/consequence consideration onto what we do now. My own errant life can serve as a prime example of the damage done to our elderly selves during our naïve youthful years. Whatever I learned during the half-century that passed between those two stages of my life led to the most important belief that follows.

Hedonism, in the form I have named Equatarianism, makes full use of some modern concepts related to balanced behavior to discover and establish conduct codes for individuals alone and within social settings. The term ‘individuals’ applies to individual persons, groups, assemblies, cities, counties, states, countries and all organized bodies of people whose behavior may affect others in any way. Application of Grrnt’s Rules in either form would pave the way to a just legal system, a citizenry healthier both mentally and physically, and a less stressful life for all. This is my belief, gathered over decades of time as pieces of a puzzle that, when finally assembled, informed me we had known this all along. May Epicurus be vindicated after all!