Tag Archives: debating

Internet Trolls Thrive On Attention—But Please Don’t Feed The Animals

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Political and religious discourse are often anything but respectful. One sweep of social media feeds will reveal personal attacks that would lead you to believe evolution has spawned a human sub-species known as Homo-Internet-trollius—I raise my glass to them succumbing to natural selection. Sadly, professional writers and TV analysts aren’t often much better.

Internet Troll
Internet Troll

To support my blog, I have Twitter and Facebook pages where I invite people to engage in respectful debate—emphasis on respectful. Most people do exactly that, occasionally even swaying me from my original opinion in light of new information. But far too often, the personal insults fly in like birds on a newly seeded lawn.

I choose not to engage these people, I just block them—such debate is not worth my time and aggravation. People may say that this is not very libertarian of me; but I’m not asking for legislation to prevent them from spewing their hateful rhetoric, I’m just walking away so I’m not tempted to lower myself by responding to it. Proper debate involves exchange of opinions, ideas, and facts—nothing else.

A while back, I watched a panel of people debate the idea of a creator in-depth at Chapman University after seeing a similar debate on Stossel—Dinesh D’Souza, Deepak Chopra, and Michael Shermer among the participants. They were compelling discussions largely due to the nature of the discourse. The fact that reasonable human beings could speak about something as passionate as religion; yet be respectful towards each other despite their vehement disagreement was refreshing. It inspired me to strive for more respectful dialogue in my own debates going forward.

The reason for the respectful dialogue is pretty easy to explain however when you understand one simple concept; opinions versus facts. Facts are truths, opinions are interpretations of those truths based on one’s own environment and life experiences. The people involved understood the difference, and debated accordingly. While you are not entitled to your own facts, opinions will always vary from person to person.

For instance, if we look at opinions; conservatives believe higher taxes are wrong, liberals believe that the rich can hardly be taxed enough—neither is right or wrong. While it may be true that historically, lower taxes have proven to be greater economically, to someone who is uncomfortable with freedom or whom religion trumps economics, more government can often reduce their anxiety by eliminating personal responsibility. For those people, authoritarian rule is better, and they’re willing to trade opportunity and freedom for security and forced theology. You often see this in nations who move from an authoritarian system to a democratic one. Rebels act as if they are fighting for freedom, when they’re so often just fighting over which authority they wish to be ruled by.

As political opinion talking heads bring on guests, they frequently lose sight of the idea that opinions simply have no proper answer. You can watch liberals go on rants about evil corporations only to be countered by conservatives going off on the president in a polar opposite diatribe—neither citing facts; merely opinions, but both insisting the other is wrong.

The fact that Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos, and Maury Povich make a living doing what they do has shown that we like to be entertained just as much as we like to be informed. If we’re lucky, they may actually kill each other on the air, right? People insulting each other is far more exciting than two adults respectfully agreeing to disagree. If any of you watched the Chapman University video above and didn’t finish it, you probably got bored; proving my point.

As long as the market desires violence, the art of proper debate will be left to the scientific community, and us political consumers and voters won’t be nearly as well-educated as we should be because we’re getting debating’s version of the WWE—rich on entertainment, low on substance.

Bill O'Reilly vs Barney Frank
Bill O’Reilly vs Barney Frank

So what are some signs of improper debate?

  • If anyone refers to you as a “So-called  _______”

When someone uses the term “so-called” in describing you,  there’s no point in going further. I see Republicans call other Republicans RINO’s (Republicans In Name Only) when they disagree. I’ve had people tell me I’m no Libertarian because I don’t believe in anarchy. I’ve seen liberals attack each other because they don’t agree on gun rights or the evilness of corporations. I’ve even seen religious groups attack their own for how they vary in worship.

No one person is the sole arbiter of what is a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Christian, Muslim, etc. If you feel you most closely identify with a particular group, that’s likely how you’ll identify yourself. These aren’t private clubs you can be kicked out of, they’re names attached to a basic set of ideals. Someone referring to you as a “so-called” anything is simply displaying contempt—an ultimate form of disrespect where they feel you are inferior to them.

  • Inability to distinguish facts from opinions

If someone lays out facts that are incorrect, they should rightfully be corrected. If you really want to do it right; cite reliable sources. But when arguing opinion, anyone who tells you that you are wrong, laughs at your opinion, or cites opinion columns from someone else, are not debating respectfully.

I see people citing Paul Krugman articles to prove their point on economics, when he’s not done any science, but merely advancing an opinion. I’ve had people cite Ron Paul and Ludwig von Mises op-eds to tell me I’m wrong on my idea of libertarianism. In doing so, they haven’t proven their point, they’ve only proven someone agrees with them or that my libertarian views are different from others.

  • Citations of the same person repeatedly

Science requires that all opinions be considered, respected, and evaluated in order to come to one truth. If a person constantly quotes a particular politician, economist, TV personality, or anything else, this person is not doing anything scientific, it’s the opposite of independent thought. While I personally prefer my opinion reporting come from organizations that are “libertarian-friendly,” I’m at least aware of my bias, and honest about reporting it. I do call my page the Logical Libertarian after all.  

On my RSS reader however, I follow 85 different websites of varying opinions and genres. I make the effort to research any opinion I put forth from several sources when possible, and I will reevaluate such opinions if anyone provides me with new information. Being part of a cult-like group-think crowd is the polar opposite of independent and intelligent thought.

  • All or nothing

Anyone who has agreed with you 95% of the time, but now this 1 in 20 instance where you don’t sends them into a tirade is exhibiting serious signs of bipolar disorder. It’s the underlying root of the word bipolar where there is only a positive and negative, nothing in between. They believe that if you aren’t 100% in agreement with them, you might as well be 0% in agreement with them.

People who take this all or nothing approach aren’t interested in the truth. They want to be the leader of a cult, and expect you to be part of it. That may seem like hyperbole, but think about every cult you know of—how many allowed for varying opinions? There is nothing proper about such behavior. The scientific method relies on varying ideas. Those who view any deviation from their ideology as an insult should be avoided.

  • Anyone using logical fallacies.

Brian Dunning at skeptoid.com has done an amazing job explaining logical fallacies here and here (It was a two-parter).

Skeptoid's Brian Dunning
Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning

 These include straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, special pleading, anecdotal evidence, observational selection, appeal to ignorance, non-sequiturs, post hoc, confusion of correlation and causation, slippery slope, excluded middle, small number statistics, weasel words, fallacy of the consequent, loaded question, red herring, proof by verbosity, poisoning the well, and bandwagon fallacies.

I implore you to either read at the links provided, or listen to the attached audio podcast version for explanations. Brian has done a phenomenal job comprising them; it’s worth your time; as are all Skeptoid podcasts.

The golden rule of debating should be this: Explain your position until your opponent understands you. Let them explain their position until you understand them. If at that point you still don’t agree, the debate is over, you must respectfully agree to disagree—emphasis on respectfully. But whatever you do, remember that internet trolls thrive on attention, please do not feed the animals.

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When, Where, and Why to debate a big government person

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

When I was younger I tended to choose my side then argue it passionately. Often I did so with little care or understanding of my opponents beliefs. I don’t think I was foolish enough to actually believe that I would change the mind of my opposition, but somehow I didn’t seem to grasp the futility of trying to change someone’s mind when it has already been made up.

As conservatives, we must first understand that it is nearly impossible to convince a big government proponent that the government should be the last line of defense, not the first. However, we must keep in mind that, when we are debating, other people may be watching. Many of whom, may be the “independents.”

Partisans will always vote their party and are rarely swayed, but a majority of Americans are either apolitical or independent. It’s those independents that decide elections. That point cannot be overstated and must be understood if you are to have a discussion with your opposition.

Often, these independents quietly listen to both sides make their respective points, then go to the polls and vote without either side being aware they were even paying attention to them. We’re often ignorant to the fact that those on the fence are the ONLY ones to be swayed by who presents the best argument.

So it is important for conservatives to debate big government liberals every chance we get, but with the knowledge of what we can reasonably achieve doing so. Mark Twain wisely said, “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”   It is important that we keep this in mind. So let me introduce you to “Gary’s rules about arguing with a big government proponent”:

Rule #1: NEVER DEBATE A BIG GOVERNMENT PROPONENT WHEN THERE ARE NO INDEPENDENTS AROUND.

I love debating politics on Facebook or in person when others are around because I hope to sway a few independents. I have no intention of actually swaying the liberal themselves because I know that’s virtually impossible. Big Government vs small government is often a core belief, just like religion, and it is rare someone lets go of that. I can only hope to present a better argument than my opponent for those who are watching. However, arguing with a big government type by yourself is utterly pointless unless raising your blood pressure was recommended by your doctor. So don’t waste your time even trying.

Rule #2: ALWAYS LET THEM SAY EVERYTHING THEY WANT TO SAY.

Always let them say everything they are trying to say because, more often than not, they will shoot themselves in the foot. Let’s talk about Nancy Pelosi’s famous, “We have to pass the bill to see what’s in it” statement. Had I said to someone prior to that that Nancy Pelosi is not very bright, people might have thought I was just being mean or simply didn’t like her. The more she speaks and makes statements like that, the more she demonstrates it all on her own without me having to come off as mean-spirited. So by all means, if you get one that’s about to spew nonsensical ideas, let them do so without interruption. Independents are smart enough to know insanity when they hear it. So let them hear it without interruption.

Rule #3: MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY’RE SAYING.

This is important because you want to demonstrate you’re the intelligent one in the argument.

I’ll give you an unrelated example that always annoys me. Comedians often joke about those annoying mattress tags and the illegality of removing them. To most, it seems like big government nonsense. However, it is only illegal for the SELLER to remove the tag, not the buyer. This is because the tag outlines the chemical content of the mattress so that a buyer with allergies can know prior to purchase if they’re facing a potential health hazard sleeping on the mattress. Unscrupulous salespeople may have removed such tags because the information on them might cost them a sale. However, the buyer legally has a right to know that stuff before they spend their hard earned money. So if you make such a joke, people who understand why the tag is there will be aware of your ignorance regarding the subject, and to them you’ll look like a dolt.

So in order to dismantle someone’s argument, understanding it is crucial lest you risk looking like the ignorant one.

Rule #4: ACKNOWLEDGE THE GOOD INTENTIONS OF WHAT THEY’RE SAYING, AND THEN TELL THEM WHAT IS WRONG ABOUT THEIR ARGUMENT.

Communism is evil! We conservatives have felt that way since the beginning of time. However, independents that grew up reading the story of Robin Hood are not often as convinced.

Ronald Reagan once joked, “How do you tell a communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin”

He was making a humorous quip as he often did so well, but it demonstrates a valid point. Some independents are that way because they have little interest in learning about politics and the fundamentals between capitalism vs. communism. For many, it’s simply a boring subject. If you tell them robing from the rich and giving to the poor is evil, they’re not going to buy it.

So if I were to argue against socialism, it is important I acknowledge the morality of the notion that if we all pooled our resources and worked hard as a unit, no one would be left behind and no one would live in poverty. Once you acknowledge that, THEN you move on to the how it has historically played out in the real world.

The importance of empathy for your opponent cannot be understated. If you debate that way, independents will get the impression that you gave your opponent’s view serious consideration before deciding it was wrong based on the historical data. It shows objectivity, which is critical to being seen as the most genuine person in the room.

Rule #5: STICK TO HISTORICAL FACT, SCIENCE, LOGIC, AND REASONING. LEAVE THE EMOTIONS AND ATTACKS AT THE DOOR.

When one wants to be entertained, they watch a comedian. When they want to learn something, they ask a scientist. If you’re debating, you’re trying to educate. So leave the personal attacks to the other side. Big government types LOVE to call us small government folks evil, greedy, heartless, etc., and they often use much more colorful language to do so.

DON’T BITE! Stick to the facts and show that you’re above the name calling. While attacks can be entertaining, they’re rarely seen as the work of a genius. If all they do is call me names and tell me I’m an idiot, and all I do is recite historical facts, science, logic and reasoning to counter their argument, who do you think will win the debate in the minds of the viewers?

We all know the cliché that those who profess their innocence the loudest are that much more likely to be guilty. Even if you’ve never heard the cliché, you’ve probably experienced it by watching an episode of Judge Alex. So less passion and more logic in your argument will assure you’re deemed as “the smart one”. Don’t get drawn into a fight. Let your opponents act like schoolyard bullies while you recite facts, make intelligent points, and show objectivity and reason. You can’t help but sway a few independents to your side debating like that.