Repost: A Dozen Underhanded Arguing Tactics / A Dozen Rules for Intelletual Integrity

originally published July 2 & 17, 2012 on Open Salon

This was a pair of posts, now combined. The second one is first because I was talked into rewriting the first. However, the first may be easier to follow. The first was called A Dozen Rules for Intellectual Integrity.

Two posts ago, I said I'd change my post if someone came up with a better idea. Margaret Feike got me thinking. The trouble with the original is that it leaves the impression that I go into arguments with a bunch of rules in my head and that I expect anyone to do that. Neither is true. So, while I stand by what I was trying to present as standards, I don't stand by the way I presented that collection. This is probably a better idea.

The ideas here are no different than in two posts ago so, if you don't have time, ignore this post. I'm just keeping my word.



Different things piss off different people on OS. I know what gets to me, but what gets to me isn’t usually the same set of things that seems to get to others. What gets to me most is when I see what I view as violations of intellectual integrity, so I’m thinking that maybe I should explore that topic. I have my own ideas but they are of course subject to change; after all, being subject to change is part of having intellectual integrity. These are observations about how people argue without integrity. They aren’t preconceived. I came up with them as I wrote the other post.

I am not saying that I never do any of these. I am saying that I’m wrong when I do.

Don't be taken in by people using these.

1. Their priority is to look right, not be right. If your priority is to be right and you find you’re wrong, you change positions and admit your error, even if it’s embarrassing. If your priority is to look right, then being wrong, even in your own eyes, can be OK. 

2. They assume that if part of a position is wrong, the whole thing must be wrong. Not everyone is wrong about everything. What’s right gets determined point by point.

3. They condemn positions before bothering to figure out what those positions actually consist of. There may be others who share some views with me but I’m not responsible for their views, only my own, so don’t assume I hold views I haven’t expressed.

4. They base their views less on their own standards than on the object to which those standards are being applied. In other words, they attack their enemies because they’re their enemies, not because those enemies are wrong in any given instance. . On a macro level rather than an interpersonal level, a public admission that the party you favor is doing something wrong (or the party you don’t is doing something right) may be indicated. Generally speaking, I advise it, if for no other reason than that such an admission will enhance your reputation for intellectual integrity which, under the circumstances, you’ll deserve.

5. They don’t answer the question. They avoid it, they approximate and hope their audience won’t notice, they use the question as an excuse for talking points rather than actually answering it. If you want to argue with integrity, answer it. Really answer it. Preferably all of it. If there is something invalid about the question, explain why. If that invalid aspect makes the question unanswerable, explain why. Running from a question can be an indicator of intellectual cowardice.

6. They discredit a source, hoping that that will discredit that source’s argument.  It doesn’t. Even child-molesting axe murderers can be right about some things. Logic stands on its own. People who get a fact wrong don’t necessarily get all their facts wrong, so there is a difference between discrediting a source’s fact and discrediting all of that source’s facts. (If a source is found to make up facts on a regular basis, the argument doesn’t necessarily get discredited automatically but the burden of proof can shift.) Opinions and facts can sometimes be confused; separating the two is very important when determining the veracity of a source. Trying to discredit an argument by discrediting its source is another indicator of intellectual cowardice. Notice a theme here?
 
7. They discredit a source’s friends or associates, hoping that will discredit that source’s argument.  Nope. Note even close. Guilt By Association is nothing but a cheap, ultimately cowardly tactic.

8. They speculate about a source’s motivation, hoping that will discredit that source’s argument. 
There’s a fairly low probability of their being psychic. If that’s what their argument depends on, face it: their position sucks..

9. They engage in Logic By Association. The fact that I harbor any given views does not mean you know why I harbor them, and I am not responsible for your assumptions on this topic – you are, nor am I responsible for the logic used by my allies. I am strictly responsible for my own. Logic By Association comes pretty close to conjecture about a source’s motivation. 

10. They display phony outrage, which is the antithesis of integrity. If you’re angry about something, make the case about that. Phony outrage is mainly a distraction. (And what does deliberate distraction indicate?) Can you name a single person in the United States whose primary objection to President Obama is that they think he was born in Kenya? As in: “Aside from that, even if I disagree with him, it’s not like I hate the guy”? Enough with the distractions and get to your real issue.

11. They hide the weaknesses in their arguments because they’re more concerned with winning than with finding truth.

12. They tear the crap out of a position without being prepared to defend an alternative. Attacking a position is easy; very few positions are perfect. However, it’s sometimes a useless exercise because imperfect solutions are frequently the best available. Expecting perfection from an opponent’s position when you’re not willing to expect it from your own is ultimately hypocritical. 

These apply to real issue arguments, not elections.
Elections are different because integrity usually doesn’t work, though it can once in a while. One of the main reasons integrity doesn’t work in elections is that people are less like to support a candidate for an issue stand than they are to oppose a candidate for one. If a candidate is fine on five issues but wrong on a hot button issue, where are you focusing? So, the best way to win elections is to stay as ambiguous as possible because the number of actual stands you take increases the number of enemies you’re likely to make. Integrity is preferable if you can handle it but understand that those attacking you aren’t likely to have much. That’s one reason I’m not sure I could run for office – I’d get too frustrated by the process.

On OS, on the other hand, integrity is a good idea.

---------------------------------------

Here's the original post:


Different things piss off different people on OS. I know what gets to me, but what gets to me isn’t usually the same set of things that seems to get to others. What gets to me most is when I see what I view as violations of intellectual integrity, so I’m thinking that maybe I should explore that topic. I have my own ideas but they are of course subject to change; after all, being subject to change is part of having intellectual integrity. These are the rules I can come up with at the moment. They aren’t preconceived. I have very little idea of what I’m about to write. I’ll find out as I do. I’ll enumerate, which I do habitually, just because it helps my ADHD-addled brain keep track of things. I’ll edit as I go and afterward. 

I am not saying that I never violate any of these. I am saying that I’m wrong when I do.

1. The goal, ultimately, is to be right, which is to say to get your position as close to the truth (or to its ramifications) as you can. Not to look right, to be right.


2. If part of a position is wrong, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the whole position is wrong.

3. Figure out what the position actually consists of before evaluating it. If “most people” who have views similar to mine also hold positions I haven’t actually presented, it doesn’t follow that I also hold those positions, so I am not obligated to defend them.

4. Base your views on your standards and not on the object to which those standards are being applied. There are times when your enemy meets your standard and your friend does not. Attacking your enemy is fine, but not on the basis of a standard which he/she is meeting. Defending your friend is fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with your friend all the time. If your friend violates your standards at someone else’s expense, a comment may be in order – what friendship buys in this case may be a comment made in private rather than in public. On a macro level rather than an interpersonal level, a public admission that the party you favor is doing something wrong (or the party you don’t is doing something right) may be indicated. Generally speaking, I advise it, if for no other reason than that such an admission will enhance your reputation for intellectual integrity which, under the circumstances, you’ll deserve.

5. Answer the question. Don’t avoid it. Don’t approximate it and hope your audience won’t notice. Answer it. Really answer it. Preferably all of it. If there is something invalid about the question, explain why. If that invalid aspect makes the question unanswerable, explain why. Running from a question can be an indicator of intellectual cowardice. 

6. Discrediting a source does not discredit that source’s argument. Discrediting a source’s facts can, but that’s different than discrediting the source itself. Even child-molesting axe murderers can be right about some things. Logic stands on its own. People who get a fact wrong don’t necessarily get all their facts wrong, so there is a difference between discrediting a source’s fact and discrediting all of that source’s facts. (If a source is found to make up facts on a regular basis, the argument doesn’t necessarily get discredited automatically but the burden of proof can shift.) Opinions and facts can sometimes be confused; separating the two is very important when determining the veracity of a source. Trying to discredit an argument by discrediting its source is another indicator of intellectual cowardice. Notice a theme here?

7. Discrediting a source’s friends or associates does not come close to discrediting that source’s argument. In other words, Guilt By Association is nothing but a cheap, ultimately cowardly tactic. 

8. Conjecture about a source’s motivation does not discredit that source’s argument. There’s a fairly low probability of your being psychic. If that’s what your argument depends on, face it: your position sucks.

9. There is no such thing as Logic By Association. In other words, the fact that I harbor any given views does not mean you know why I harbor them, and I am not responsible for your assumptions on this topic – you are, nor am I responsible for the logic used by my allies. I am strictly responsible for my own. Logic By Association comes pretty close to conjecture about a source’s motivation. 

10. Phony outrage is the antithesis of integrity. If you’re angry about something, make the case about that. Phony outrage is mainly a distraction. (And what does deliberate distraction indicate?) Can you name a single person in the United States whose primary objection to President Obama is that they think he was born in Kenya? As in: “Aside from that, even if I disagree with him, it’s not like I hate the guy”? Enough with the distractions and get to your real issue.

11. Solid arguments are ultimately strengthened by dealing openly with their weaknesses, even your own arguments. Allowing those weaknesses to be discussed sets a standard for allowing the weaknesses of all arguments to be discussed rather than hidden, which will yield a more valid solution. If you have the stronger position, this is a standard you want. If you have the weaker position, see point 1 above. 

12. If you’re going to tear the crap out of a position, be prepared to defend an alternative. If you aren’t, we can all assume that the position out of which you’re tearing the crap is the best available position in spite of what you’re doing to it. The alternative doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the alternative doesn’t even have to be good – it just has to be an improvement over that out of which you’re tearing the crap. (Given that grammatical construction, maybe I was German in another life.) Playing offense all the time is easy. Refusing to play defense ever is, well, to alter my vocabulary so as not to harp on one phrase, chickensh*t.


I may end up editing this list at some point. If one of you makes a great case for another point or against one of these, I have no objection to changing this list. Talk me into it. 

[Note: Margaret Feike did exactly that, which is why the other post is first. The second post, though possibly easier to read, gives the impression that I walk into arguments with a bunch of rules and that I expect people to follow my rules. Neither is true, so I reformatted.]

Views: 174

Comment by Steel Breeze on August 4, 2018 at 7:53am

i dont argue.......no incentive.....

Comment by alsoknownas on August 4, 2018 at 8:05am

I tend to lose sight of logic when presented in certain forms. It may take more than this to change my mind : "Even child-molesting axe murderers can be right about some things."

Comment by koshersalaami on August 4, 2018 at 8:25am

I’ve found myself defending people I don’t agree with or don’t like a whole lot of times. I even wrote a post once defending Trump about something. 

SB,
I like the exercise. Not the combative aspect, which I find juvenile and a pain in the ass, but the working through the case aspect. I like constructing cases, not just for others but because it helps clarify my own thoughts, and because I really like getting across a concept that someone didn’t get to begin with because that takes clarity of communication, and making things more obvious might be my favorite intellectual exercise. 

Comment by koshersalaami on August 4, 2018 at 8:27am

By the way, do either of you have a preference for format? This is one post stated two different ways and I don’t have enough distance to determine which is better. 

Comment by J.P. Hart on August 4, 2018 at 10:39am

Doctoral discourse!

Inspires me to communicate with Jeopardy and ask why the 'Veterans Administration' has never been a topic?
E.g.: 'Population'

JPH
(Googling 'President Nixon's Apology Speech' (8AUG1974))(also contemplating 'blog' topic:
'Why Democrats Ought Change Their Mascot to a Dolphin from a Donkey').

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on August 4, 2018 at 2:07pm

GLAD TO SEE THIS AGAIN.

Comment by Ron Powell on August 4, 2018 at 5:57pm

." Running from a question can be an indicator of intellectual cowardice.."

Standard operating procedure here is to run from a question by making an accusation of some kind against the person asking the question...

Comment by Maui Surfer on August 4, 2018 at 6:54pm

I can put up with a lot of shit, sometimes call it out, sometimes laugh it off- what I can never do, and never do, is let the LIES of the past, specifically of the forming of and so called "cultural" past events of what we know of the world and the USA particularly go uncalled out. That is pretty much my comments here, I continue to try and post about surfing but the LIES believed by the typical American, brainwashed and revised to fit an apartheid regime, from time of birth, keep getting in the way

Comment by Rodney Roe on August 6, 2018 at 5:07am

I used to think that these specious forms of argument were the province of Conservatives, but I've seen the same tactics used here between progressives and uber-progressives who don't think the progressive is sufficiently to the left.

I don't know whether those who use these tactics don't know better, or do, and know that they have no cogent argument. 

Comment by koshersalaami on August 6, 2018 at 5:43am

On Open I used to have some pretty big fights with people to the Left of me. A lot of this list came from those arguments. 

There’s a second list, somewhat shorter I think, that I could come up with for effective communication of a case, but I’ve learned over time that the sort of people I’d be trying to help tend to be more concerned with self-expression than with effective communication. I can’t change their priorities, even if I think that being devoted to a cause should intrinsically mean being concerned about furthering that cause most effectively. And that’s definitely a Left problem because the thing about the Left is that they’ve got real arguments to work with whereas on the Right they tend not to any more. If you meet a guy spouting Rush, they’re too angry and self-centered to think.

I’ve run into all sorts of bad tactics. Some of them I still do. To give two examples: 

Expressing indignation is not necessarily the best way to generate indignation

Quality is way more important than quantity. Go with your best arguments, not as many as you can come up with, because when the weakest arguments get countered, your better arguments become suspect because you’ve painted yourself as a less than reliable source. 

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