June 30, 2015

The "I'm Right; You're Stupid" Argument

"Talking Heads 1" by Fran Hogan
As humans, we debate over many issues, which way is right or wrong or more useful. We call these arguments. The word argue is based on the reconstructed Proto-IndoEuropean root *arg- "to shine, be white, be clear" (also related to Latin argentum for silver). Arguments should shine light on an issue and make it clear. Expressing opinions in a respectful manner leads to issues becoming clearer. Usually we can combine approaches to reach a solution.

However, some "opinions"  are truth, belief, or scientific fact. You can argue all you want with gravity, but stepping off a cliff will still lead to a certain injury or death.

Argumentum Ad Hominem or the Personal Attack

Resorting to personal attacks is a common tactic in our society. These attacks vary and can be outright, subtle, or sarcastic. No matter how the attack is presented it is still a logical fallacy. It hurts others, and it only makes it more difficult to come to a real solution. We may question someone's actions, motivations, and credibility if it is relevant to the argument. 

Passive-Aggressive Put-downs

Passive-aggressive arguments often appear witty or educated, but they are still personal attacks! They may not say directly that you are stupid, unhinged, too emotional, but they imply it. These manipulations are more insidious than direct attacks. It is designed to make someone feel stupid or worthless without implicating the aggressor. Passive-aggressive manipulation is a form of dishonesty because the aggressor hides behind a facade of civility.

Direct Put-downs

I don't condone outright name-calling, but I prefer it over passive forms of put downs. It is more honest. And hey--it is more exciting! Kidding. I'm tired of politicians, activists, fanatics, and news pundits on any side calling each other names. Stick to the issues or talk about something else. Sometimes two sides won't ever agree, so there is no point for the debate.

Truth Matters

The truth matters whether it be spiritual, physical, scientific, and so on. We cannot deny truth when discussing issues because this will not lead to a solution. In this case, errors--whether intentional or accidental--should be called out in a respectful manner. This is not a personal attack, but seeking the truth. After all, the purpose of an argument is to shine light and make things clear. When an opponent is dishonest in any form, their credibility should be questioned.

Absolute Rights, Wrongs, and Neutrals

Many things are absolute rights or wrongs, no matter what people call it. Good cannot be called evil, nor evil called good. Most arguments are over neutral or trivial subjects. A trivial, neutral subject would be whether soccer or football is better. It doesn't matter in the eternal scheme of things. There are also situations where there are multiple ways to approach a solution. How we solve the problem of poverty has several approaches from the public and private sectors, many which are viable. The key is to maintain civility, respect agency, and dignify the poor in such discussions.

The Spirit of the Argument

When the spirit of contention enters an argument, the truth is lost amid the fight for dominance (see 3 Ne. 11:29). This is true even if someone may be technically right, but contentious. Arguments only achieve solutions when there is respect and truth-seeking on both sides. If one or both sides have the spirit of contention, then the argument achieves only hurt feelings. When someone testifies of truth in the spirit of meekness, others who are receptive will understand the truth too, even when the other person is contentious. After stating the truth, it is time to walk away.

Common Ad Hominem Attacks

We come across several different types of personal attacks when discussing issues: "I'm right, you're stupid;" "I'm right, you're crazy;" and "I'm right, shut up." These attacks, whether direct or indirect, hurt people and can become abuse as gaslighting.

I'm Right; You're Stupid

Is there any reason to insult someone's intelligence? Everyone has innate intelligence, with or without formal education. Everyone has a brain to think things through. All we need are the facts. Someone may have less formal education, but that doesn't mean they haven't spent the time studying or have experience in that area. Sometimes you don't have to study something in-depth to have an informed opinion. Sometimes, we instinctively know whether something is right, wrong, or neutral.

I'm Right; You're Crazy

First off, "crazy" is a relative term. Calling someone crazy is an abusive technique and throws logic out the window. This attack is often used on anyone an opponent disagrees with, whether that person has mental illness or not. Mental illness--like anxiety or depression--does not affect a person's reasoning capability. In the case of paranoia or hallucinations, this only interferes with reasoning for a time. Unfortunately, we discount the mentally ill too often, thus making them frequent targets of abuse.

Attacking Beliefs as Deceived or Delusional

Some claim moral or religious people are delusional or deceived because of their beliefs. Everyone has a belief system or religion, whether it be secularism, Judaism, humanism, Islam, atheism, Christianity, Buddhism, and so on. Some religious beliefs are truths that are spiritual and not quantifiable. It is a matter of faith. Other beliefs can be proven, but people will still choose not to listen. Some say they can speak with God, but they are sometimes ridiculed as delusional. That would make the majority of the world delusional. Praying is not delusional: it is an act of faith.

If we chose to ignore our moral beliefs, we would have complete anarchy. We don't have to agree on all beliefs to have a meaningful discussion. We need to respect each other.

I'm Right; Shut Up!

If this isn't an obvious affront to logical argument, I don't know what is. This defeats the purpose of seeking a solution. There are several ways to shut up an opponent: tell them to shut up, ignoring them, walk away, discredit them unfairly, jail them, sue them, hurt them. Several tactics are "legal": to sue someone into silence, threaten them with allegations, invade their privacy and so on.

There are times when you have to walk away from an argument in the case of personal attacks, lies, and contention. There is nothing to be accomplished at this point. Simply state the truth and go. 

Agree or Disagree Agreeably

There is no winner or loser in an argument. Anyone going for the symbolic victory only causes contention. Both sides "win" when they show respect to one another (including apologies). If there's no consensus afterward, simply disagree agreeably. There can be other discussions, or a truce. Really, everyone wants to be heard and understood. We want to feel validated, whether we are right or wrong.

The goals of an argument are to shine light on truth, make a clear path for solutions, and to show respect.

How have you dealt with these type of attacks? How do you disagree agreeably?