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!