Sunday, April 1, 2012

Arguments and Discussions...learning the rules

I was struck by something that commenter Erin mentioned in response to my post about data that I hate.   She ended her comments with this:

I teach this stuff to my AP students...I love trying to get them to understand how to break apart political rhetoric and other arguments around them. I figure even if we disagree wildly in politics or social issues, at least I'll have an intelligent opponent to argue with someday. 
I like that, because I fully endorse that approach to life.  That's part of why I wanted to do a blog like this.  Quite some time ago, the Assistant Village Idiot put up a post I liked very much (and can't find now...circa 2007?) about how far too many people treated their political opinions as though they were defense lawyers....never giving an inch, never admitting that anything they had said or cited could be wrong or skewed.  This makes lots of people defend really stupid things.

In my office, this flowchart hangs just to the right of my computer:

I often have fantasies of taking it down during debates and serenely handing it to the other person whilst telling them to try again.  Sadly, I have never done this.  The fantasy keeps me going some days though, doubly so in political debates.

Though I'm probably preaching to the choir hear, I feel the need to state for the record:  Just because something you cited is wrong does not mean you are wrong.  You can keep your belief while also admitting that something that agrees with you is a load of crap.  That actually makes you a better person, not a worse one.  This is not an April fools joke, people actually can operate like this.


  1. Waaaaaaaiiit just a minute - do these "rules" imply that you are not the worst scum of the earth for disagreeing with me?

    I've been hanging out on DU this morning, and that seems to be the ground rules for the discussion THERE.

    It makes for interesting commentary. And a whole lot of jury duty.

  2. It's a comment I've made a few times, so you may be remembering it as a composite over a few weeks. I'll see what I can find.

    I like Volokh Conspiracy, but it is a legal blog, so that tendency is strong there. The adversarial nature of debate is entirely appropriate in some contexts, such as law. (Note: the reason that we read stories abot some really knuckleheaded argument an attorney is trying to sell is because he likely hasn't got anything better to work with. You have to say something.)

  3. Quote over at Volokh today, in the context of the SCOTUS hearing argument on the individual mandate, which was originally dismissed as a long shot by most law profs, liberal and conservative. Using language for "tactical reasons," at least if done intentionally, seems contemptible.

    "Some may have used dismissive language for tactical reasons: Defining the challenge as outside the realm of serious academic debate might (at the margins) make it less likely to be taken seriously by the courts. And these efforts were then countered by efforts of mandate opponents who argued in response that the issue should be considered mainstream and not frivolous and thus (at the margins) make the challenge more likely to be taken seriously by the courts."