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Clarity is (almost) everything

These are the kinds of responses I’ve got for making various arguments.

If you criticise those who mock, deride and laugh at beauty pageant contestants, it’s because you want to sleep with said contestants. This despite the fact that you will probably never meet these women. Obviously, you have a sick fantasy that they will see your defense, purchase a one-way ticket to your foreign country, and fly over straight into you (and your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s) bed.

If you criticise those who target innocent women unnecessarily, you think you’re better than all women, that women need men to defend them. This despite not having made mention of women’s abilities – or lack of thereof, apparently – at all.

If you criticse arguments which aim to eradicate all guns, you are a shrill for the NRA or other powerful organisations – despite not being an American citizen and having an Arabic name.

If you criticise people’s ideas and arguments, you are attacking their person – despite never having met, despite the fact that no matter who you are, a bad argument is a bad argument. Einstein saying the world is flat doesn’t change it’s shape.

Online engagements tend to be unhelpful to proper discussion – by which I mean allowing for proper treatment of other individuals and their viewpoints.

I fail to understand this need to act as though the person you’re dealing with is a genuine monster, is really trying to undermine your life and hurt those you love. This doesn’t mean such people don’t exist, only I don’t think it’s everyone who disagrees with you.

Online comments are of course notorious for bad communication and knee-jerk viciousness.

We’d be better off erring on the side of mistakes, looking toward the position that our opposition has simply not considered a new perspective or argument. However, I’ve noted that when trying to mount proper arguments, based on the other person’s incorrect arguments, you can end up being squeezed into the same room as those conveying unnecessarily nasty attacks (for example, name-calling, swearing, etc.)

Thus, even when you are not being nasty, the cloud of nastiness is all that’s seen from the opposition: your cause or view is no longer an entity that needs to be taken seriously by the other side. And thus, people’s positions don’t change and become more reinforced behind a cloud of anger and zeal.

Clarity is necessary. And clarity means proper communication. This doesn’t mean mockery, swearing and derision are never to be used. In certain forms of comedy, in sharp satire, they are powerful weapons that can highlight absurdity; derision and dismissal can have the same kind of effect when appropriately applied.

However, most of us are probably not very good at using these tools. And they can damage whatever cause we’re defending rather than elevate.

Again: there is no language or thought police at work. There is merely reflection on the best ways to communicate; this is about recognising that if you really think various causes matter more than your individual kicks, then you must be willing to undermine instanteous gratification of mocking someone who made a genuine silly argument.

(For example, I basically don’t read comments that have expletives in them because if you can’t communicate without expletives, I assume you’re not interested in conveying your idea to me: you’re more interested in expressing how angry or annoyed you are. Also, isn’t it more impressive to insult someone without expletives?)

Comments

  1. John Morales says

    There is merely reflection on the best ways to communicate; this is about recognising that if you really think various causes matter more than your individual kicks, then you must be willing to undermine instanteous gratification of mocking someone who made a genuine silly argument.

    Leaving aside that your statement is conditional (and thus not universal), it’s also couched as a dichotomy.

    (Sufficient suffices, and that need not be one’s best)

    PS I think (from context) that you meant ‘forgo’, not ‘undermine’. :)

  2. piegasm says

    For example, I basically don’t read comments that have expletives in them because if you can’t communicate without expletives, I assume you’re not interested in conveying your idea to me: you’re more interested in expressing how angry or annoyed you are. Also, isn’t it more impressive to insult someone without expletives?

    What exactly is wrong with expressing anger or annoyance and why does expression of that anger or annoyance necessarily preclude conveying one’s idea to you? That’s tone policing and it’s bullshit.

    In addition, one can say some really vile things without using expletives but, according to your arbitrary standard of civility, that kind of stuff would slide right by you unchallenged while people with legitimate complaints would go completely unheard.

  3. chasstewart says

    It’s not an arbitrary standard of civility. People, in general, don’t enjoy being upbraided like that because that is demeaning and a distraction from the core argument up for debate.

  4. says

    People, in general, don’t enjoy being upbraided like that because that is demeaning and a distraction from the core argument up for debate.

    Right. Calm, rational arguing is not only the politest thing to do, it’s also the best way of arguing in order to get your point across in a clear and persuasive way. Someone can yell expletives in my direction all day – it’s when they provide a clear, thoughtful argument that makes me want to listen to what they’re saying. When their comment is chock full of expletives, it’s (in my experience) usually a sign that they’re losing it, and are therefore less likely to be making a productive and cogent point.

    I’d add the principle of charity to this. If they’ve interpreted my position in a way that satisfies (or even impresses) me then I’m more inclined to take their objections seriously, as I know that they’ve understood what they’re arguing against.

  5. piegasm says

    So out of everything I said “arbitrary standard” is what you fixate on because someone’s feelings might have been hurt? You completely disregard what happened to make the person angry in the first place by ignoring them out of hand because they used the wrong words but you expect them to spare your feelings when they object to something that you said. Being polite and civil doesn’t automagically make what you say worth listening to and using expletives doesn’t automatically make what you say incoherent or irrelevant.

  6. says

    I’m mostly on board with what you’re saying, but (of course there’s a but):

    if you can’t communicate without expletives, I assume you’re not interested in conveying your idea to me: you’re more interested in expressing how angry or annoyed you are

    These are not mutually exclusive goals. Why should people be expected to conceal their anger? What purpose does that serve other than as an ad hominem fallacy?

    Additionally, since people who have emotional reactions to a thing are typically those who are personally invested in that thing, what you’re saying is essentially, “If you care deeply about this thing, I am less likely to listen to what you have to say.” That seems backwards.

    isn’t it more impressive to insult someone without expletives?

    A post which contains expletives does not necessarily constitute an insult. In any case, this is a purely subjective claim that has no bearing on any principle of clarity.

  7. chasstewart says

    I’m not saying that people who angrily curse while making arguments don’t also have a good argument but I don’t see why the receiver should have to wade through that bile to get to the argument at hand. There are responsibilities on both sides of conversations that must be attended to if there is any hope for a productive session. The speaker must respect the receiver by not demeaning them or insulting them and the receiver must be charitable towards the speaker’s argument so that they are reckoning with the best possible form of their argument instead of the poorest form.

    This is not to say that you, piegasm, have to abide by these rules everywhere but in all likelihood your position will be better received if you respect the person with whom you are speaking. If not, you are liable to piss off the receiver and they will ignore your argument. I guess you could blame that person for not being tough skinned enough but I would blame both sides for needlessly escalating the conflict.

  8. piegasm says

    Again, why is the person angry in the first place? If they’re angry because you said something that caused them to be justifiably angry, why do they then have to spare your feelings before you’ll listen to them? You didn’t consider their feelings before you said the objectionable thing, and you’re willing to dismiss them out of hand because they won’t extend you a courtesy you wouldn’t extend to them.

    As I said above, the absence of expletives doesn’t mean you haven’t said something incredibly vile that the listener wouldn’t have every right to be angry about. But you’re allowed to say what you said to MAKE them angry while they’re not allowed to BE angry lest you dismiss them out of hand because they don’t conform to your standard of civility when they react to your objectionable behavior. That is pure, unmitigated bullshit. When you say objectionable things that make people angry, guess what? You damn well deserve to have people angry at you and to hear about it.

  9. Tauriq Moosa says

    Great points. It is not foolproof and I certainly read all comments and consider them. Indeed, it’s the ones filled with expletives that usually stick since I worry I’ve touched on an issue that is deeply sensitive to people: however, the paradox for me is that it also indicates this person probably isn’t then interested in actually communicating but merely shouting at me.

    I agree: it’s paradoxical and can appear backwards. You summarised the worry very well. I might have to address that in a future post.

    What I should’ve stressed was that this is not foolproof, but a rough guide when I have to wade through comments. It’s a guide as to who I should respond to, not who I listen to. For example, yours didn’t swear at me but made recognise my shortcomings in my communication – which I’m glad about. It makes me recognise my shortcomings, my mistakes and I will hopefully improve in the future.

    Really great comment. Thanks!

  10. Subtract Hominem says

    Again: there is no language or thought police at work. There is merely reflection on the best ways to communicate; this is about recognising that if you really think various causes matter more than your individual kicks, then you must be willing to undermine instanteous gratification of mocking someone who made a genuine silly argument.

    I’m curious about these “best ways to communicate” that you mention. I’ve been under the impression that since different people are best reached by different tactics, the actual best approach is a wide variety of voices saying the same thing: some of them intimidating, some of them witty, some of them polite, some of them educational, etc. And yes, some of them will indeed be rude on occasion, not only to get attention for the given cause, but to affect change by complementing the other voices and playing “bad cop” to their “good cop,” as it were.

    Is this not the case? Is this type of diversity actually a hindrance rather than a strength?

  11. says

    Good post. I agree.

    In fact, I think that in online communication, it is probably a good idea to go out of one’s way to be charitable in your interpretation of what others are saying, for the very reason that online communication is difficult (no non-verbal communication, etc).

    I think you’re going to get some flak for the opinions you’ve expressed here from some garden-variety FTB commenters who eat, live, breathe thrive, and survive off of internet drama. I hope you aren’t too put off by it when it starts to happen.

  12. chasstewart says

    Right now, you seem angry that I haven’t even said anything objectionable. I’ve just stated how I would rather be spoken to and I’m presuming that most people would enjoy the same respect. You say that’s unmitigated bullshit and my only guess is that you assume me to be callous towards people I might offend but that’s assuming way too much. In fact, I would hope that if someone is upset at what I type or say then they would be able to relay to me exactly what I did wrong and give me options to fix my behavior. And, more than likely, I’d be able to understand them better if their conversation wasn’t laced with condescension or obscenities meant to hurt my feelings.

  13. says

    I think you’re going to get some flak for the opinions you’ve expressed here from some garden-variety FTB commenters who eat, live, breathe thrive, and survive off of internet drama. I hope you aren’t too put off by it when it starts to happen.

    And this comment right here is totes drama-free.

    /sarcasm

  14. nakarti says

    I think the tl;dr is: obscenities are not an argument. If you need to be obscene to make a point, maybe you don’t have one to make.

  15. Fred C. Dobbs says

    To paraphrase an old adage:

    “Profanity where necessary, but not necessarily profanity.”

    If someone NEVER uses profanity in a thousand posts then drops one, it’s undoubtedly for a good reason. That’s a sign that the person’s words should receive MORE attention, not less.

    There ARE times when profanity can be excusable and understandable. Claiming use of profanity is a reason to ignore someone is arrogant, pathetic and weak.

  16. Steven Brown: Man of Mediocrity says

    I, personally, have no problem with people swearing and think everyone has a right to express themselves as they want.

    But. That doesn’t mean anyone is under any duty to listen to you. Some people don’t like being sworn at and they have every right to not engage with people who cuss at them. If you insist that people listen to you regardless of what you’re saying and how you’re saying with it… Well there is a name for that round here and it involves fruit and ice.

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