How To Argue Online

Wednesday, December 29, AD 2010

One of Megan McArdle’s readers provides a guest post on useful tactics for “winning” online arguments. If you spend much time fighting on the internets, many of the items here will sound familiar. Indeed, I think I’ve seen all of these used here at TAC by various regulars at times, and there are a few where I found myself thinking “Oh, that would be so-and-so’s favorite tactic.”

Enjoy a chuckle.

7 Responses to How To Argue Online

  • A good post could be done on tactics for combox warfare on Catholic sites. One popular technique is to cite a few passages from an encyclical by one pope to “win” a debate on a contentious subject. Never mind what other popes may have written on the subject, ignore the history of the Church on the subject completely, and certainly never concede that the pope perhaps was making a general statement that might not fit all situations. Throwing in a bit of Latin is always a neat touch. Then, when other commenters resist the fact that you have “won”, you can, more in sorrow than in anger, either imply, the best tactic, or state flatly that they are dissenters and that they are not now arguing with you but the Vicar of Christ.

  • And of course, don’t forget that no intra-Catholic-blogsphere throw-down is complete without accusing someone of engaging in a heresy at least 1000 years old.

  • Great link. I think remembering to use humor is essential to good commenting…humor can have drawbacks, but on the whole the worst comment threads result in denunciations and anger; well targeted humor can help get the discussion back on track more often than not.

  • no intra-Catholic-blogsphere throw-down is complete without accusing someone of engaging in a heresy at least 1000 years old.

    Ha. Well, there are only so many ways for people to be wrong; a dim analogy of one form or another to a heresy – like a mildly supportive papal statement – is nearly always easy to generate.

  • To further refine Donald’s suggestion, perhaps what is needed is a definitive guide to Catholic blog fallacies. Most will be genuinely recognized fallacies but just with a Catholic flavor, others will be somewhat unique to the Catholic blogosphere. The fallacies are interesting in that they work so well in conjunction with one another!

    Heresy Fallacies: Accusing your opponent of heresy without identifying the article of faith denied and usually basing it on something not even remotely dealing with heresy. Usually the charge is leveled at someone who doesn’t agree with your political policy prescriptions. i.e. Reductio ad Calvinism. “You disagree that every family making over $50,000 a year should be taxed at 80% which is a clear indication of Calvinism, something I have come to expect from people of your ilk”.

    Etymological Fallacies: Derailing a conversation or accusing your opponent of ignorance for either not accepting your excessively broad or an inappropriately narrow definition. Examples:

    …Fallacy of Relativistic Definition: “Not all anarchists are people who oppose governance, some, like myself are for an all-encompassing dictatorial state”.

    …Fallacy of Anal Nitpicking: “Ah ha! I got you now! You said that all people have a right to life. The Catholic understanding is that people are PERSONS and you just betrayed your inherent radical Calvinistic individualism! Heretic!” (Note how well different fallacies can be combined to work together).

    …Inconsistent Etymological Fallacy: (Yes, one can apply the above two fallacies at the same time, plus legitimate usage!). “The problem with you on the Right is that you don’t know what a conservative really is, this no doubt due to your radical individualistic Calvinism.” Words have meaning and they have context. It’s not uncommon for a word to have different meanings in different contexts. We are rational beings so we can use our ability to categorize to make good use of these things. In the above example, we have someone being rather anal and condemning the (legitimate) usage of a word being in a particular context (conservative as applied to the US political parties) all the while exercising legitimate context usage when he/she says “the Right”. Even though, the Right technically dates back to the French Revolution and refers to those, oddly enough, that would be considered “Conservatives”. Bringing in the “C” word has the dual effect of counting as a Relativistic Definition AND a Heresy Fallacy.

    These are just a few. Please add your own observations.

  • Don’t make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions you have no respect.

    If you must, conclude with one of the more subtle philo-theological insults like, “I am praying for you.”

  • Hmm. Funny how a certain blog provides us with most of the examples for fallacies.