Foxfier on Internet Debate

The American Catholic is blessed with many fine commenters, regular visitors to our blog who enliven and illuminate our comboxes.  One of the finest of our commenters is Foxfier who is unmatched in internet debate.  Go here to read her classic debate with “Sal”.  On her first rate blog Head Noises, she has written her rules for arguing on the internet.  I wish they could be engraven on every blog that allows comments.  Here beginneth the Foxfier Lesson:

1) You do not have the right to a reply.
The only person involved in an argument on line which you can control is yourself. Argument from ignorance is still invalid– just because they didn’t responds to your spittle flecked rant from nowhere well researched and calmly argued response to their post, even if it has been five minutes a long time since you posted. Not everyone will check back at a post. Not everyone will read or heed even if they are subscribed to comments.

Some people will make rules about who they will or will not spend their time on– I have a three strike rule; three indications that continuing would be a waste of time, and I will stop trying to have a conversation. I’ll still debunk false or misleading claims, but that is because Google will find the conversation and it makes sense to counter false or misleading information everywhere you can, if it might mislead others.

  2) Wiki isn’t a source.
 Wiki is edited by non-experts, with their biases intact. It’s like walking into a room and asking a question, then listening to the loudest folks as the truth. Wiki is, however, a great way to get some information to start from– give you an idea what to search for. This leads to my next point….

  3) Make your own argument.
 By this I do not mean that you have to be a unique flower with only your own special view and none of those icky shared opinions, especially if said arguments are shared by lame parents authority figures. The strength of an argument is inherent, not based on who is making it. I mean that if you are supporting a position, make the arguments. Don’t link to an information page and berate the other person for not going, sifting through the dross and trying to find an argument for you.
 Linking to a detailed, cited argument for your view is alright– in many cases, it’s a superior way of arguing, since it keeps the comboxes nicely clear, and allows for a lot more detail. For example, here  (Sadly, link is broken because the blog moved, and the comments are no more; here’s the article, though.) a poster named Aaron links to a white paper that consists of a short statement and argument, with the option of greater detail if you download the information. Which also leads to:

  4) Be familiar with basic definitions. 
If the topic is biology, know what “organism” means in that context; if there are multiple meanings for a word and you wish to focus on a specific one, define the term as you are using it. If you wish to discuss torture in the context of treaties, link to a treaty and offer the relevant definition. If you’re using an unusual definition, don’t be surprised if the opposite side calls you on argument by bizarre definition rejects it.

 This is not to be confused with a common form of #3– “go look it up!” If you find yourself about to type that, stop, find the definition, post the link. If it’s as obvious as you think, it will make them look foolish; if not, problem solved!Go here to read the rest.  This internet of ours is still in its infancy.  It has a vast potential in many areas, but especially in the sharing of information and the give and take of debate on the internet.  Suggested codes of conduct like that drafted by Foxfier can help us all in realizing more of this potential.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. And here I thought I was in trouble…..

    (It makes more sense with the strike throughs, for those going “what is that lump of jibberish?”)

    Thank you greatly for the link!

  2. There’s one thing I might add that perhaps encompasses several of Foxfier’s points: respond honestly. A lot of combox exchanges soon become unreadable because one (if not more) of the parties involved appears to have no intention of arguing honestly. Substantive posts are met with obsfucation, red herrings, question-begging, inappropriate appeals to authority, strawmen, ad hominem arguments in general, or just plain dodged. If someone has posted substantive arguments, respond in kind. If the arguments aren’t substantive, you may respond pointing out the fallacies of thought, but in my experience the majority of time the response you’ll get will simply be more of the same, in which case it’s obvious the person isn’t interested in honest debate and it’s time to leave.

    It seems to me these days that the left is especially prone to dishonest argumentation, apparently because leftists seem to value more highly how they feel about an issue rather than what they think about it. Much ink has been spilled and many electrons have been used to analyze why the left, in the form of the Democratic Party, did so poorly in the most recent elections. One factor which I think played an underrecognized role in the Democrats’ shellacking was the honesty (or the lack thereof) of their candidates. Voters had legitimate concerns about the economy, unemployment, the new healthcare regulations, and the budget deficit among other issues. When they asked the Democratic candidates about these issues, however, for the most part they didn’t get honest answers but instead got either obsfucation or personal attacks (“it’s Bush’s fault”, “the Koch brothers/Fox News/talk radio are feeding you lies”, “you have to read the bill to find out what’s in it”, “that’s racist/sexist/homophobic”, or just the general if unspoken impression that voters are stupid and need to listen to their betters). The voters took note and voted accordingly.

  3. May I also add that just because it’s a blog comments section it doesn’t mean you should dispense with the rules of grammar and proper capitalization. it really annoys me when i c people right like it’s an im chat. what up with dat? 😉

  4. So that’s what Foxfier looks like 🙂

    Excellent rules and I thank her for coming up with them. Here’s another pet Internet debate peeve (and I certainly have been on both sides of this): one debater writes a long rant, with about 20 separate points or questions asked of another commenter. The other party in the debate comes back and addresses points 1-5. The person who wrote the rant then comes back and says “Ha! I see you totally ignored my excellent point 14!”

    One thing I’ve always wondered about are those odd ducks who leave comments in threads that scrolled off the front page weeks or months ago. The only reason I’m aware of them at AC is because of your nifty “Recent Comments” feature. It seems that both the occasional militant atheists and frothing anti-Semites somehow childishly feel they’ve “won” a debate if they get in the last word in on a thread on a Catholic blog. It reminds me of an adolescent spitting on church in the middle of the night and then running away, congratulating himself on his wit and bravery.

  5. Donna V-
    My husband drew that when we started dating; the character got randomly cursed with being a were-fox. When I found it again after we moved, I couldn’t resist!

    I know some of the comments on old posts are from searches– either automated ones or someone just looking for information. (automated is usually trolls, information can go both ways)

  6. I read all 403 comments to that post, and all I can say is, wow. Impressive.

    I’ve taken the advice to heart, too – I had someone leave a comment at my blog earlier today, and rather than let it go unchallenged – he claimed that the National Catholic Reporter has a large number of readers – I responded with:

    Define “large numbers”. Cite your source.

  7. LarryD, if it makes it any better, it was at least half as tiring to write as it was to read!
    (The tactic of sticking strictly to the initial point must work– it’s gotten me wildly insulted, accused of being a woman-hater and called all sorts of mutually contradictory political groups. ;^p )

  8. “he claimed that the National Catholic Reporter has a large number of readers”

    People who use it as bird cage liner or to wrap fish shouldn’t count! Nor the unread copies that the local Father “Spirit of Vatican II” keeps having the parish buy.

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