Monday, October 24, 2011

Debate v. Dueling Lectures

One big mistake people often make is to assume that they're the baseline; the norm by which all others should be judged.  They all imagine that they're the obvious default position, and anyone who disagrees with them is close-minded and stupid, because they have the normal position, which requires no explanation or proof.  As if such a thing exists.

And I don't even mean this just for politics, but for everything.  In every debate, argument, or heated discussion you hear, people always assume themselves to be the open-minded, clear headed moderate; while anyone who disagrees is a close-minded fool with their heads up their rears.  And they do that, not by positioning their arguments to be open-minded, or by actually being open-minded, but by positioning the point of the debate itself, so that whatever their point is, that's the one that's open-minded.

And so they're not arguing about whose facts and opinions are relevant, but rather, they're arguing about what the entire debate is about; yet they don't realize that, as they're so pisspoor at debating that they imagine they're having a real discussion.  And so you have a Christian who insists that the debate is about whether or not the Atheist can prove that God doesn't exist, while the Atheist insists the debate is about whether or not the Christian can prove that God does exist.

And these simply aren't the same debates, as both sides are insisting that the other side has to prove their argument; and neither of them sees the need to prove their argument.  And since the Christian isn't proving that God exists, the Atheist proclaims victory by saying the default position is that God doesn't exist.  And since the Atheist isn't proving that God doesn't exist, the Christian proclaims victory by saying the default position is that God does exist.  And they both agree that the other person is close-minded for not seeing this obvious logic.

And of course, the big joke here is that the reason they're doing this is because neither side can prove their point, which is why they keep insisting that the debate requires the other person to prove the point.  And this is something I learned a long time ago, which is why I'm agnostic; thus removing me from the requirement of proving anything.

My big secret to any debate: Find the winning argument and stick with it.  And if you can't support your claim, don't make it.

And seriously, pay attention to this the next time you see a bad debate.  You'll realize that they're probably not even engaging in a real debate, but rather, are merely jockeying for position as to what the debate is about; with both sides insisting that the subject of the debate is how they're open-minded and don't need to prove anything, while the other person does the same thing.  It's quite funny, once you realize that.

When Headlines Lie

And this came up because I saw a headline at TPM titled Mission Accomplished?  Questions Remain For White House on Iraq, Afghanistan.

And this headline clearly implies that our plan to withdrawal from Iraq was in question, even referencing the "Mission Accomplished" jab at Bush's attempt to pretend the conflict was over early; as well as an outright claim that questions remain.  And as evidence that I'm not imagining this, I should note that all the pro-Obama people didn't like the headline because of this implication, while the anti-Obama people liked the headline and used it as a pretext to knock Obama for his position on Iraq.

Yet…I read the article, and it was a series of questions and answers from a Whitehouse conference call and had absolutely ZERO unanswered questions.  Not even one, as the article wasn't an analysis piece about unanswered questions.  It merely reported a Q&A from a Whitehouse guy answering questions and had no analysis at all.  In other words, the headline was the exact opposite of what the article was about.  And while I'm sure there are still many more questions remaining, there wasn't one remaining question listed in the article; so the headline shouldn't have said there were.

And so I pointed that out, as well as mentioning that the writer of the piece, Susan Crabtree, has been making a habit of writing speculative articles that imply damning information; which upon further reflection turn out to be bogus.  And while I made it quite clear that the article was helpful, as it was mostly a dictation of the conference call, the headline gave the exact opposite impression; acting as if there were reasons to believe the answers were still in doubt.

Here's my opening shot:
Questions remain?? What questions? This article had questions, and then gave answers. And that would mean that the questions DON'T remain. Are there OTHER questions about this? Or was this a misleading headline to feed into people's worries that the Obama Admin is doing something sneaky? If anything, the headline should have been "White House Answers Questions on Iraq, Afghanistan," as that's what the article was about. Answers, not questions. And if there are still questions remaining, then maybe you should have told us what they are.
Dumb Debate

And so for someone to disagree with that, they'd need to show that the article asked lingering questions, or that it showed the troop pull out was in doubt.  But that's impossible, because the article did neither; nor did it purport to.  It was just a bad headline that didn't belong on the article.

But of course, the world wouldn't be complete unless there was at least one person to tell you you're wrong, and so I had a guy twist everything around, and insist that my criticism was wrong; due to my pro-Obama bias.

What was his point?  That the article was good, but the headline was intentionally misleading, and that's a good thing, because that's what newspapers do.  And anyone who criticizes that does so because they hate any article that doesn't praise Obama.  Seriously.  He agreed with everything I wrote, except he felt my criticism was wrong because it's good for headlines to trick us.

Here's his opening statement:
Actually I thought this story provided answers by the administration to questions many have raised, including myself. You people are so Obama crazed any article that does not claim him the greatest person ever sucks in your opinion.
And note, his first sentence was in agreement with what I wrote.  My problem was the headline, not the article.  And he never disputed that.  He just kept insisting that I was mad because it was a pro-Obama article that didn't praise Obama enough; even though I kept telling him that I liked the article.

He went on to say "The aricle IMO is pro Obama because it gave the Obama administration an opportunity to dispel rumors and innuendo," as well as saying "sometimes the story contradicts the headline to foil those that read the headline and comment without reading the story."

Got that?  It's pro-Obama propaganda for the Obama Admin to tell people what their plan is, thereby dispelling rumors and innuendo.  And he insisted repeatedly that the reason for the bad headlines was to trick trolls who don't read the articles so they'd write stupid comments that didn't apply to what was written; and this is a good thing.  As if the best way to combat trolls is to have them write comments that are even worse than normal.

Right.  And he kept insisting that *I* was the one digging my hole, and needed to quit digging.

Defining the Debate

And the problem is that he refused to engage on what the argument was really about.  The argument was about my statement, so he needed to say why my statement was wrong.  Yet, he agreed with most of what I wrote, while his point about misleading headlines was embarrassingly dumb.

So instead, he flipped things around by ignoring what I wrote and insisting that I was mad because the article didn't do more to praise Obama.  No longer was the debate about the misleading headline, as he insisted that the debate was about my inability to rationally think about stories involving Obama, and he refused to back down from that, no matter how often I told him that we were in agreement.

Here was his final comment:

I know when to quit. TPM, you're bad, bad, bad website with your tricky headlines.
Susan Crabtree, you don't like our Obama and I am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Happy y'all? Good night.

In case you couldn't tell, that was sarcasm.  I kept saying this was about the headlines and not Obama, and this guy couldn't see passed that, and kept insisting to the end that we were mad about an attack on Obama.  And as long as he kept thinking this was about Obama, rather than taking our words at face value, it was impossible for us to even engage in debate, as we simply weren't discussing the same things.

He was trying to mock our love of Obama, while we were trying to get TPM to not have bad journalism.  And seriously, this wasn't a big deal.  I wasn't going to boycott TPM over this or anything.  I was merely calling an attention to an example of bad journalism, in hopes that TPM wouldn't do that again.  I wasn't trying to make a federal case about it or anything.  But once he attacked my credibility, what choice did I have but to defend myself?

And because I defended my position and didn't capitulate to a nonsense argument, I was automatically deemed a close-minded fool, deserving of mockery and derision.  Anyone else see something wrong with this?

The Rules of Debate

And as I said, this is fairly standard in any bad debate.  Not only are they not listening to their opponent, but they refuse to even engage in the same debate.  Each side is trying to position the argument to one that favors them, as it requires their opponent to prove their point, or insists that their opponent is biased against the truth.

And sadly, they never really engage in the actual debate at all.  They're just flailing about, as they lack the intellectual capacity to form real arguments and support them.  And the problem here is that people assume that the point of debate is to convince the other person that they're wrong. When, in fact, the point is for people to share their POV's and the facts supporting those views in order for both people to hash out Truth.  I know that sounds quaint, but that's the idea.

Unfortunately, since most people don't even know why they believe what they believe, as it's often just emotional appeals and team politics (i.e. Repub v. Dem, Christian v. Atheist); they can't ever really explain why they believe what they believe. Therefore, they lack the very tools required to engage in even a basic debate. It's like trying to row a boat without any oars: Nothing hits the water and they just sit there frustrated and looking stupid.

If you can't explain to someone why you believe what you believe, then you can't possibly engage in real debate. That's why the vast majority of debates are dueling monologues, which serve no other purpose than a pretext to insult others and feel satisfied that everyone really is as stupid as they imagine them to be.

And sadly, even when I play by the rules and attempt to engage people on their own terms,  I can't get people to make a proper debate.  Because again, they can't support their assertions, and if you're not willing to immediately accept what they've said without question, then you're close-minded and don't know what you're talking about.  As much as people pretend to loathe insult wars, when you ask them to support their claims, you really freak them out.

1 comment:

Betsy said...

Two thoughts. Referencing one line in the post. I sometimes want to scream at the people around me here in Texas that "POLITICS IS NOT A TEAM SPORT". You do not have to vote for Republicans because they are your team!!!!! (wishful thinking of course, humans are humans after all)

The other thing is that one thing I have learned in 70 years, but have to keep reminding myself of, is that other people do not necessarily think like I do. It is of course, default for people to assume that other people think the same way they do, despite all evidence to the contrary---this is at a more basic level than what baseball team youlike of course. However, experience needs to teach us that other people do not think and feel about even the most basic things the way our brain sees things. If everybody could just begin to grasp that--it would help. I get this reinforced by looking at those little internet polls on things. It makes it very, very obvious in the most simple way that people do not think the same way, even about things that I think everybody certainly would agree on--no they do NOT.
It doesn't help that youngsters are not taught to think logically, to discuss with other people and come to agreement etc. Also I believe that debate societies don't do that either--they just pick a side and defend it--a lot of help that is!