Thursday, March 07, 2013

How to Win an Argument

Many times we encounter someone online who is obviously wrong. Of course, in the spirit of generosity, we politely point out that they are mistaken and should reconsider their entire Weltanschauung¹ since is has lead to them to absurd conclusions. More often than not, our generosity does not provoke the expected gratitude, rather, we are repaid with a barrage of facts and logic which are entirely beside the point (after all, the person is simply wrong).

When you find yourself in a situation like this, the key to winning the argument is simple: don't actually argue. Instead, with a few simple techniques, you can gain the moral victory that is rightfully yours, disposing of yet another Internet ingrate. It's not very difficult if you just keep a few things in mind.

First, don't make the mistake of actually analyzing the argument of the misguided fool you are to dispose of. This is not only a waste of time, it's downright dangerous. I can't tell you the number of sad cases where perfectly righteous and intelligent people have been seriously damaged by considering the "argument" of one of these fools. You see, many are quite intelligent and so they've laid all sorts of rhetorical traps. Often, they will use facts that you agree with and put them into a logical framework that supports their crazy position! Even the strongest of us are vulnerable to such trickery. Stay away from "argument".

You might be asking, "how can I win an argument if I don't argue?!". See, that's the kind of sharp analysis that is going to make you a success here. It's really surprisingly simple. You simply need to appear to argue. It is the same thing as really doing it, and there is no danger that you will change your mind by absorbing the crazy ideas you are fighting. Remember: we already know that these extremists are wrong. The fact that they can confuse others with clever reasoning doesn't make them right.

It turns out that quite a long time ago some Greeks had a similar problem to ours. They had a perfectly good philosophy and some "intelligent" people wanted to make all sorts of "reasoned" objections to it. Of course, like any philosophy, there were plenty of things you just had to understand to see why it was right. It's a sad thing but intelligence is no guarantor of "getting it". It's like Louis Armstrong said about Jazz, "Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know." These people just didn't get it, so how to keep them from messing it up for everyone else?

Here's where they got clever. They figured out what I am talking to you about here, that convincing people you are right is much more important than actually being right. Now, these guys were academics, so of course they made a big mess of it. Way too complicated. But, there are some things they came up with we can rescue. Think of it as a service to them, we can use their stuff to do good. So, I'd imagine by this time you'd like some practical advice. Let's get started! There isn't just one path to follow here. You will have to learn these techniques and apply them according to what you encounter.

Arguments are based on words, keep an eye out for dictionary violations.
These people just love to violate the dictionary. They will use words in the most twisted ways. Many times you can easily win right at the beginning by quoting good old Webster. One of the best references it the 1913 edition of Webster which has the real meanings of words in it. It was published before these people could take over the dictionary business, so it's reliable. If you catch them in a dictionary violation, that alone invalidates their argument. There is no defense against this. Just keep repeating it. Eventually, they will argue with you about the meaning, but you have Webster on your side.
Demand proof for everything.
These guys just love to say things without showing proof. An easy win is to demand proof for every claim. Don't worry about whether the claim is reasonable, or commonplace, or whether its truth would validate the argument. Don't get confused about why you are demanding proof. It's not to show that the thing isn't true! The purpose is to show that it might not be true. This being the case, you just need to discredit the proof they provide. Sometimes it's easy as pie. If they link to Wikipedia, just say, "Wikipedia is not a reliable source". Everyone knows this. If they link to some partisan website, well, how can that be trusted?! If they link to a blog, heck, that's worse than Wikipedia! If they manage to find a source not so easily impeached, don't panic. All you have to do is say that the source does not say what they claim it does. Remember, if you can make the argument about the sources instead of their point, they've lost.
Become morally outraged.
This is a great one because it goes right to the heart of things. I mean, they are morally corrupt, after all. Look for anything that is just not morally acceptable and make it the issue. It will show everyone else just how bad this person is, and why it doesn't matter what they say. Anyone so reprehensible can't have anything worthwhile to say. You will probably find others who agree, and help to chastise your opponent. Keep in mind that the issue over which you become exercised needn't be something you are normally concerned about, nor something very important. It just has to be something that appears to violate the ethos of the group, or at least of your own supporters. This will allow you to dismiss anything the person says as coming from a "poisoned well". Cool, eh?
Ignore context, take each thing as if it stands alone.
One of the ways these people confuse things is by tying together a bunch of facts and ideas. If you take each of the points they raise as separate, you have a lot better chance of derailing their argument. Keep the bits isolated, don't argue about two at once, just focus on disproving a part and the whole will collapse. This is a general principle to apply to all of the above.

Well, there are many other techniques you might employ, but they are generally variations or specifications of what I have taught you here. As you practice, you will get better at it. But always keep in mind, winning an argument is about appearance. The winner is the one left standing, not the one who is "right". We already know that you are right, arguments aren't going to prove anything about that, they just confuse the onlookers. So, focus on winning and help to keep things on the right track for everyone.


1. Weltanschauung is German for a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group.

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