How to argue

Correct argumentation is obviously a very broad topic, and I cannot hope to present any sort of ultimate guide on it. My goal here is more humble: to present principles that I personally have found useful, especially in the context of arguing on blogs and in the comments. This was initially an update of something I wrote in 2014, but I ended up rewriting the whole thing.

If you’d like to see any particular point expanded out, please express your interest!

1. Identifying Goals

90% of everything is crap, and that goes for arguments too. It is worth considering what you want in an argument, and whether the argument in front of you fulfills your purpose. Arguments that do not fulfill your purposes should be dropped. You could be spending that time on more productive arguments, or for that matter playing video games.

Truth vs Power

Some arguments are about finding truth, and others are about acquiring power.

Truth is the same for everyone, so truth-seeking arguments should in principle be cooperative. You don’t want to win every truth-seeking argument, you only want to win the ones where you started on the correct side. Being good at arguing means being good at losing arguments when you are wrong.

Power-seeking arguments, on the other hand, are competitive. The winner of such an argument usually gains legitimacy, or perhaps decision-making power. Since few people willingly give up power, these kinds of arguments rarely result in any participants being convinced.

Most of this post addresses truth-seeking arguments rather than power-seeking ones.
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On voting strategy

In a voting system like we have in the US (“plurality voting”), we may apply something called the median voter theorem. The median voter theorem says that in a face-off between two candidates, the candidate closer to the median voter wins. Here we’re assuming a one-dimensional preference scale (e.g. left to right) and that voters choose the candidate who is closest to them on the scale. The winning strategy for each candidate is to move closer to the median until they are nearly indistinguishable, and each has about 50% of the vote.

As a result, you can see many politicians shifting their views over time, carefully tracking the median view. In the US, voters seem to be uncomfortable with this optimal strategy, and thus they demand that politicians put on a show of having believed in their current views all along. And then when politicians visibly contradict their previous views it’s used as a gotcha. This is incredibly tedious.

Of course, it does not really seem like the major candidates follow the median. Trump and Clinton, are, after all, very far apart! In fact, I’m puzzled why US presidential elections don’t hew more closely to the median voter theorem. I imagine this is a subject of study for political scientists, but I only have baseless speculation to offer. And of course I’m ultimately trying to say something about the current election cycle.
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No causal comparison

cn: sexual assault and victim blaming are discussed briefly as an example.

Often we observe some phenomena or trend, and we wish to explain what caused it. Different people can disagree on the cause. Or perhaps they agree on the causes, but disagree on which causes are important. Bold claim: There is no objective way to assess the relative importance of two causes.

I’m making a purely abstract argument, but I’ll offer a few provocative examples:

1. Is a given human trait caused by genetics, or the environment?

2. Is personal success caused by hard work, or by lucky circumstance?

3. Is terrorism caused by politics, or by religion?

4. If a woman is victim of sexual assault, is that caused by the perpetrator, or by risky behaviors on her part?

5. Is our knowledge of physics the result of scientific research, or is it the result of the continuing absence of an earth-destroying supernova?

Among these examples, we’d obviously like to say that some causes are more important than others. We are welcome to say so, but there is necessarily an element of subjectivity in our words.
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Linkspam: June 4th, 2016

Did you know that FTB is still accepting applicants?  Apply by June 16th!  This page has information about who you should contact and what information you should provide.

And now for my monthly linkspam.

When a Negative Statement Becomes a Claim – Crys talks about an argument she had about whether bisexuals exist.  She argues that the negative statement (bisexuals don’t exist) is the one with the burden of proof here.  As I said in the comments, skeptics/atheists have a tendency to deny personal experiences on the grounds that they’re not science.  But if you look at actual scientific research on sexual orientation, researchers mostly just ask people for their personal experiences.  Skeptics, you’re doing it wrong.

Identities formed by trauma are still valid – Gosh, this is a really major topic among aces, because traumatic experiences with sexual abuse are after all quite common.  Some aces feel that trauma might have caused them to be asexual, or it might have impacted their sexuality in other ways.  Some aces simply don’t know how trauma impacted them, and will never know.  Aces with trauma are put in a precarious position, where many people question the validity of their identity, and the ace community itself will gloss over their existence.

Anyway, you can read all about this in Miri Mogilevsky’s article.  There are also many personal experiences out there, but I wouldn’t link them, since privacy is a serious issue.  If this subject is of personal importance to you, you can find things in my blogroll.

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Origami: Reverse square tessellation

IMG_0863 (small)

Reverse Square Tessellation, a model by yours truly.

Most of the origami I do is modular origami, but I dabble in other branches of origami too.  This here is an origami tessellation, a folded pattern that could hypothetically repeat infinitely in the plane.  I’ve made a few tessellations by origamist Eric Gjerde, but this here is an original.  Further photos below the cut.

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Sexual revolution = sexual assault?

In 2015, I saw an article called, “I’m A Gay Man Who Loves Sex (And Here’s Why That’s Suddenly A Problem)“, by Noah Michelson. Most of the article is about defending the sexual openness and promiscuity of gay men. But I just want to talk about this one line:

Caramanno is disturbed by “the male gaze” and the way that he has been groped in gay clubs and “eyed by guys the way a hungry CrossFitter stares down a packet of bacon” (which, if you ask me, sounds pretty hot)…

Here, Michelson is criticizing another article by someone named Caramanno.  The groping that Caramanno is complaining about is unwanted groping. Not that the Michelson could be bothered to mention the unwanted part. He simply dismisses Caramanno’s complaints in one throwaway line in an otherwise trite article about the sexual revolution.

You know what, guy? I don’t give a shit about your sexual revolution, because apparently you don’t give a shit about sexual assault. You didn’t show the slightest awareness that you even knew you were talking about it. Somehow, for you, complaints about sexual assault are the same as complaints that gay men get around too much. The fact that promiscuity involves consent but sexual assault does not was somehow too subtle a point. Fuck you.

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Rational ideals

This post is for the Carnival of Aces, whose theme this month is “Questioning your faith“.

Leaving religion was a rather unemotional process for me. There was no catalyzing event. I was interested in skepticism. I learned about philosophical arguments for God, and found them unpersuasive.  Without any real urgency, I spent a whole year thinking to myself, “Gee, there’s really no justification for belief in God, and there may never be.” At the end of the year, I considered myself an atheist.

Unlike leaving religion, leaving straightness was a far more emotional experience. And yet, I tried to treat it the same way. “Am I straight or am I asexual?” was an intellectual puzzle, to be approached under the same rational ideals.  It is not clear to me, after the fact, that this approach was a good idea.  Here I give a taste of my thought process.
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