I enjoy a good, intellectual argument and I seek them out on a regular basis. Arguing is, I believe, a great way to get to know someone and also a great way to exercise your beliefs and assumptions against another mind. That said, I have disappointingly found most people mostly unqualified to have such arguments with me. Not because they are not intelligent, I think many probably are, but because they simply do not know how. With this in mind, here’s a list of do’s and don’ts in conversation that I often run into:
- Tell me what I think. Ask me.
- All too often I run into people who believe they know everything about what I think because of a label I accept. Labels such as ‘atheist’ or ‘liberal’. There is a huge and vast variation among thought in these philosophies (if you can call ‘atheism’ a philosophy) and it’s silly to tell someone they think one thing when they’re telling you that’s not true. Furthermore, there’s a lot of untruth that is spread about every philosophy or opinion a person can have.
- Tell me what I am saying.
- Sometimes I will miss-speak or say something that can be taken in a variety of ways. English as a language is often ambiguous. I will not hold it against anyone if they take me the wrong way but once I correct that mistake and say, “No, that is not what I meant,” you’ll not get anywhere with me by arguing about that with me. I’ll probably start wondering if you might be stupid.
- Nit pick
- Sometimes a person may have their facts a bit wrong or (referencing above) glaze over a complicated issue in a trivial manner when the details are not pertinent to the point. If I quote the wrong answer to “2+2” that doesn’t mean my thesis about computer science is wrong…it means I made a mistake. Sometimes it’s an important mistake that destroys my thesis, at which point I’ll refer you to the list of “do’s” below…
- Tell me I’m wrong when I’m speaking in hypotheticals to introduce a line of reasoning
- All too often to get a point across you must first speak in simple terms, which rarely reflect reality because reality is a complicated mother fucker. If I say something like, “If we assume a large group of people who all agree on everything,” don’t tell me that people don’t agree with each other on everything. I might start wondering if you might be stupid or illiterate.
There’s probably many more, but those are the ones that have bugged me of late.
- Back up your opinions
- Very often I’ll write up a somewhat long essay or whatever that contains a thesis and my reasons. I very rarely go into a long diatribe without laying out why I think so. To have someone then say something like, “You’re wrong,” or, “Paine was right and thus…” (when I’m saying why I disagree with Paine) is somewhat silly. The only thought I have about that is, “Thanks for reminding me what your opinion is.” It tells me nothing, doesn’t pay respect to my reasoning (and is thus in my view a form of disrespect: “You’re wrong because I said so.” – yeah, fuck you too), and won’t change my mind of course…because you’ve given me nothing new to think about. If I’m saying why I disagree with someone you can probably bet that I’m familiar with what they’ve said so just saying they’re right or I’m wrong…you may as well just go masturbate. I honestly don’t care.
- Know the difference between a fact and your opinion
- Fact: The American Constitution has a 2nd Amendment that gives us the right to bear arms. Opinion: that means every tool and weapon that operates through the use of some sort of explosive ordinance to fling a projectile. Also an opinion: That means muskets. To make your opinion mean shit to me, beyond the, “that’s my friend’s opinion and I respect that he/she has one,” you need to show how the facts support it so that I can then decide if I can share that opinion.
- Show why my error dismantles my thesis.
- If my thesis is that everyone actually agrees that there needs to be some sort of gun control, for example, and that we just disagree on how much…telling me that there’s gun laws doesn’t exactly tell me why my thesis is wrong and if that’s followed up with a bunch of attitude the probably result will be that I’ll start wondering if you might be stupid and I won’t want to talk to you about anything remotely interesting anymore. Show why my error means that my entire thesis falls apart. Explain it to me, or give up the pretense of intellectual conversation.
- Saying “fuck” doesn’t mean my opinion became invalid. That’s stupid.
- Telling someone they’re too young to understand is extremely rude and is an ad hominem. It doesn’t mean anything except indicate that you might just be stupid.
- Saying someone is stupid is not an ad hominem unless you use it as the only form of rebuttal. Sometimes stupidity can be demonstrated.
- Try to start a conversation by being a dick and you’ll probably get a less than intellectual response from me. You can try to use that to claim I can’t hold a conversation but the truth is that I simply don’t want to because, well…you’re being a dick.
Having a real intellectual conversation about things, and we clearly need more of them, is about instructing your opponent why they are in error. It’s not just repeating the same crap over and over or screaming your opinion the loudest or labeling and then discounting people without taking the time to listen. The only kind of conversations that interest me are the ones in why I get to share what I think with people who can respect that, who are willing to learn and who are also willing to instruct. If you can’t do those things then I’d much rather we just get drunk and talk about boobs or something. I find that kind of thing stimulating as well. What I don’t particularly like is having “friends” sit there and tell me what I think because I’m a “liberal”, call me liar, pound on me over trivial minutia that don’t seem to mean shit and generally disrespect me in every way. You may not know that’s what you do when you start acting like that, but it is.
There’s nothing wrong with just having different opinions and not wanting to talk about it. I totally respect that and again, we can get drunk and talk about boobs or something. If you do feel the need to talk about your opinions though, just know what I see the rules as. If you can meet them I’ll talk with you about them and you may find we learn a great deal from each other. If you honestly cannot then just hold your opinion, let me have mine, and stop fucking calling me names and shit.