24 August 2006


Chris Capel of Metablog has a good long post about “Why and how to debate charitably,” which offers several rules.

Treat the person’s position as if it were your own

You cannot read minds
People are not evil
Debates are not for winning
You make mistakes
Not everyone cares as much as you
Engaging is hard work
Differences can be subtle
Give up quietly

The internet teaches us that many people don't know this stuff, which I tend to forget, making me occasionally a sucker for trolls. It breaks my heart, because I do love a vigorous exhange with thougtful folks I disagree with: it brings me to understand other folks better, helps me understand what I think more clearly ... and occasionally even changes my mind, I hope for the better. But that kind of argument is, as Capel says, a demanding craft.

Worse, though there are certainly times when I encounter folks who lack these kinds of skills for doing fruitful argumentation, it seems like a lot more often one encounters folks who don't seem to know what critical thinking even is, which seems like a deeper problem than Capel is addressing.

On those occasions, I am reminded of Charles Babbage, who had designed a clockwork computer in the late 19th century, and said this about his efforts to fund its construction:

On two occasions I have been asked, “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
When one encounters an interlocutor who misunderstands your statements so profoundly that you cannot follow what their misunderstanding is, is argument even possible?


Kate said...

Have dinner with your father?



Chris Capel said...

Hmm. If you're really determined, you could take a didactic approach. Ask the person to explain their understanding of things step by step, as if they were teaching you their viewpoint, getting them completely out of debate mode. They might not be able to do this, because their thoughts are so muddled in their heads, (or willing to do this, for various reasons,) but if they can, it should give you plenty of information to work with to fruitfully continue. If their position shifts around right after they explain it, though, it's probably hopeless. In that case they either don't understand the subject well enough, or they're not willing to ever admit they're wrong under any circumstances.

thorn Coyle said...

I found this today - tangential but related:

"Unfortunately, too many who have learned to argue around the house come to assume that contention and its cousin contentiousness are the natural processes of every argument. Worse, if our parents were below-the-belt arguers who said terrible things to each other and to each of us in the heat of family arguments, there's a strong probability that we tend whenever our ideas are challenged to reach for an 'ad hominem' retort, that is, an attack not on the other person's facts or argument but on some personal vulnerability unrelated to what is being argued. If you grew up in this type of argumentative household, the very idea of juxtaposing 'reasoned' with 'argument' may seem lame, if not oxymoronic."

- from "Thinking Like Your Editor"
by Susan Rabiner and Alfredo Fortunato

Brent said...

Wow! Johnathon, I can't believe that you are still thinking about this. And you just wrote about it? I must have had far more impact on you than I assumed to have. Just kidding.

Lighten up dude. Also, try not to take yourself so seriously. I don't. I don't take myself that seriously either, lol!

Is it possible to troll your own website? I seem to recall YOU paying a visit to MY website. Hmmm (Brent scratches his chin).

I thought I told you that I respect your opinion, but still disagree with you. Isn't that good enough?

Dude, I was totally messing with you and yanking your crank, just to piss you off --and it worked, didn't it?

You have made way too much out of this.

You see, the genius of my posts, is that they stir up controversy. Any good blogger knows that. Why would I want to post a bunch of articles that I expect everyone to agree with? How would that be the least bit interesting?

I must admit, that I learned this technique from other successful bloggers. I'm not putting myself in the same category as some of these guys/gals. I will say that my blog has expanded a lot over the summer. Perhaps eventually people won't be saying "who in the hell is Brent Roos?"

In any regard, thanks for the link. I suppose bad publicity is better than none at all, right? Good to see that your intentions are good though, like calling me a troll.

Again, is it possible to troll your own blog?

And to Chris Chapel: how is someone's opinion ever wrong?

Sounds a bit elitist to me.

I respectfully disagree with all of your opinions, except for Mom. Dinner sounds great!

Jonathan Korman said...

Some of my readers may wonder about Brent, who speaks to my point so vividly.

In my original post, I linked to a blog post of his, where he and I had an exchange in comments. It's the link where I refer to myself as a “sucker.”

I leave it to my readers to make their own determinations about that exchange—whether I am a sucker, Brent is a troll, and his posts are works of genius.

Since Brent asks about the subject, I should confess that my exchange with him on his blog did not piss me off. Rather, it disappointed me, contributing to the thinking about dialogue on the Web and elsewhere which surfaced in this post.

Brent said...

Dude again, your putting too much thought into it, in the first place. You should try reading some more of my blog, if you would like to understand some more of the irony that I use in my posts. As such an expert in blogging, you ought to know this.

Hey dude, I like your style, and I'm not buggin'. Are you? Again, I'm not sure how I can actually troll my own blog. I would not also even consider this response trolling, because since you happen to be talking about me, I hope that you will at least give me a fair opportunity to defend myself, and/or explain my true nature.

Perhaps it is that you take blogging far more seriously than I. I love my readers --even the ones who hate my guts. You don't hate my guts do you Johnathon? I don't hate yours. In fact, I'm reaching out. But I write for fun. I do not write in an attempt to sway someone else's opinion, because I have not the power to do so. It is up to the individual. I can point someone to facts, but that is all.

In essence, there is no reason to make such a fuss over a two month old post. Quite honestly, I forgot all about it.

If I can offer a bit of advice, like how I see things: try not to look at everything through the lens of something being a political issue. I find that some people actually search for ways to validate and confirm their own politically biased outlook, by going out of their way to contradict what others think. Don't fall for it, man.

Division is what the people who lust for power, want you to have. When you fall prey to this division they have succeeded in this. When we unite in an unbiased and fair demand for liberty and equality, those who seek to divide us are rendered completely impotent. This is one of the main reasons why I am not affiliated with any political parties. I find also, that most politicians care far more about their own power, than anything else. My advice is to see political disagreement as a good thing, as debate is the absolute foundation of our free democracy.

Jonathon, I know that deep down, you feel the exact same way.