Things I Most Frequently Wish to Yell at Debates, Discussions, and “Discussions”

Note: I considered whether I wanted to deliver this post in ALL CAPS, to be faithful to the impression of yelling. I decided I’d rather go for the greater readability of lowercase, but eventually I decided there was one item that I’ll yell here in ALL CAPS.

0. Name-calling and toxifying your language will not communicate your point, will not sway others to your side unless you’re doing so by force, and will work against keeping a debate civilized and productive. If you’re going to gratuitously call your opposition an asshole, or just label them as stupid without specifying anything you actually see as stupid, or address them via a slight variation of their name that is irrelevant to the matter of discussion, what you’ll most accomplish is pushing others away and getting them to hate you, so hopefully this is what you’re trying to do when you’re name-calling.

1. The fact that someone can’t spell or pronounce a word properly doesn’t make their point invalid.

2. The right thing to do and the effective thing to do are often quite different. You could be wasting a lot of unnecessary time by not making it clear whether your discussion is to argue what’s morally right or what is most likely to advance what you want to see in the world.

3. No, it is not the case that you should ever only do one of these. It is good to be on the same page or at least to understand what others see as a just world, and it is good to discuss what the most useful or practical way to achieve what one wants is.

4. The fact that a certain underlying property is why many people take a certain action or have a certain sentiment doesn’t mean it’s why the person you’re talking to happens to have taken the same action or expressed the same sentiment.

5. If you assume the reason someone you’re interacting with takes an action or has a certain sentiment as something substantially more negative than the actual reason, this will cause them to not want to work with or talk to you, and will not help with pushing your point.

6. Just because a group of people have a relative tendency to have a certain property doesn’t mean that property is intrinsic to the nature of that group of people.

7. Just because not everyone in a group of people have a certain property doesn’t mean that property is not a problem particular to that group, pervasive in that group, or particularly fueled by the atmosphere and discourse of that group.

8. Even if a majority of people in a group don’t have a certain property, a problem could still be a particular problem in that group, especially relative to others.

9. Telling someone something that they’ve probably heard numerous times even in grade school in a discussion (“you should be nice to one another”, “consider other’s feelings”, “people should care for one another”, etc.) is incredibly condescending and effectively conveys that you think they haven’t considered these things. See number 10 in terms of this.

10. Just because someone chooses to do something against a particular goal doesn’t mean they don’t support that goal. It just means there exists at least something else they consider more important than that goal that they believe is being impeded.

11. Claiming that you work for all people when you really only work for some people makes you look politically deceiving and just saying what will make you sound nice. It’s okay for you to believe there’s some people you wish to help more, but just say so and don’t pretend you’re not.

12. A VIVIDLY DESCRIBED STORY IS STILL JUST ONE DATA POINT. YOUR DECISIONS SHOULD BE MADE ON A GLOBAL UNDERSTANDING OF DATA IN GENERAL AND NOT ON ONE EMOTIONALLY HEARTSTRING-TUGGING STORY. If you further try to guilt-trip someone by saying that everyone who’s human should be moved by that story, and accusing them of not having empathy, you’re being a manipulative person promoting anecdotal evidence over well-sourced data-based knowledge.

13. When you’re arguing by analogy, you better make sure the person you’re talking agrees with you in how to judge the analogous situation you’re referencing.

14. When you’re arguing that an analogous situation isn’t the same situation, you should argue why the difference you’re pointing out is relevant to the central issue of focus. Of course, the situation is different, it’s an analogy. It doesn’t mean anything to point out a difference that doesn’t matter.

15. Most things are not black and white. Most things have a gradient.

16. Just because there’s a gradient doesn’t mean there aren’t clear ends.

17. Just because there’s a grey area doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense to talk relatively within the grey area.

18. Being against “being political” is itself a political move. It endorses the status quo.

19. Just because politics is unavoidable doesn’t mean certain ideas and conversation are more politically heated than others.

P.S. If by the time you’re done reading this your reaction is “yeah, these are all the problems with conservatives; why can’t they be logical like liberals” or “yeah, these are all the problems with liberals; why can’t they be logical like conservatives”, you’re probably part of the problem.


1 thought on “Things I Most Frequently Wish to Yell at Debates, Discussions, and “Discussions””

  1. All of this is true.

    I think the last sentence could be amended to “If by the time you’re done reading this your reaction is ‘yeah, these are all problems with other people, why can’t they be logical like me’, you’re probably part of the problem.” Everyone I’ve ever spent a lot of time arguing with or watched argue has resorted to at least some of these methods. Then again, maybe emphasizing the politics in this is especially important in the highly-politicized era we’re in right now.

    I won’t claim that literally everyone in the world does this, but it seems a common enough human behavior that one should be aware of it. I’m certainly not immune to these (illogical) shortcuts in arguments, and avoiding them is a point of personal improvement. In many cases, avoiding these arguments necessitates empathy, patience, and a willingness to do work – something that might particularly be in short supply by people who feel threatened (whether because of consistent and unfair bias they experience, or because they are used to a certain amount of privileged treatment that they fear losing). The default behavior is self-preservation, not knowledge acquisition. I liked The Oatmeal’s most recent piece, which talked about illogical ways our brain attempts to preserve itself.

    Anyway, I’m rambling at this point. Thanks for this post. (Also, hi! I saw this linked on Mastodon.)

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