Two of my recent additions to the Bullhornus-Maximus blogroll, Jen (Conservative Chic) and Wight Wing Wadical, have had a few postings as of late that have unraveled the passions of some of their commenter's. Wadical wrote an introspective piece on debating, and Jen wrote a piece questioning why people still don't believe in God. Both pieces put me to think about a a posting I wrote last year concerning the art of argumentation. I think I even synopsized the factors in my comments at Wadical's post.
The more I thought about it the more it occurred to me that as much as schools, family and society teach us to read, write, spell, diagnose and think critically; there is not a general push to try and give people a road map on how to expose their thinking in a "language that we can all here understand.." (paraphrasing Malcolm X, there....). I think the art of argumentation is lacking even more so in the blogosphere; where it is so damn easy to get into a pissing contest (sometimes just for the fun of it) without even knowing it. So, if you allow me the hubris and arrogance of pretending I have this figured out, I present to you...
TRUTH-PAIN's IDIOT's GUIDE TO MAKING YOUR POINT ON SOMEONES POST WITHOUT PISSING THEM OFF ...
Know where the hell you are, and respect the "vibe" of the place. If you know the host is particularly sensitive to your sarcastic style (uh.. that means you T-P), then lay off the lumber and notch it down a little, will ya'? Nobody wants a Troll coming to his or her house and making a nuisance out of themselves. It makes the Blogger start putting up those stupid "moderation" filters.
If you really don't have anything to add to a topic, then just read the thing (or not) leave a cursory "nice post" or "cool blog, I enjoyed reading this", and get the hell out. Don't try acting like you are well versed in the virtues of 7th century eastern philosophy if your literature of choice are Yugi-Oh comics or cliff notes on 90210 novels. Not that you can't participate, just stay within yourself. Believe me, I know what I am talking about. You can definitely get embarrassed real easily in some of these sites...
Know the angle of argument the host or commenter is using as his "trump" card. By trial and error, I've come up with 7 little things that make up a persons prism : Emotional, Philosophical, Religious/Moral, Legal, logical and Political. Wadical allowed me the use of an example of how I would apply these parameters to a hot topic, allow me to provide it here:
ABORTION: Emotionally, I am against it. To this very day, I suffer the loss of an unborn child I never knew, a face I never touched, and a name I never gave. Enough said. Partial birth? don't even come near me with that argument, I cant think of (and maybe some of you can) one good reason why this barbaric procedure should ever be done. Morally, I am against it. I cannot believe this to be good for anyone. Not the mother suffering the indignation of her heels tossed up on stirrups, not the surgeon performing the hoover maneuver; and certainly not the glob of cells we call a fetus (but conveniently, not a person). How can we save the ****ing whales, the trees, and every stray cat tossed about and selectively not give a shit about life growing inside a woman? The indignation of P.E.T.A railing for the ethical treatment of animals rings hollow when a society draws the moral line in protecting its own procreation process. Religiously, I am ambivalent. Although I am a believer in a higher power I am not beholden to the writings or interpretations of the bible, the Koran or the book of Mormon, especially when its teachings and visions have led to more wars and killings than anything else known to civilization. (I can just hear my family groan after that little morsel of information,... sorry Mom and Dad, you raised your son to think outside the church,... er, box). Logically, (which in this one, I lump with Philosophy) I am pro-choice. Why? Because I believe in the creature called woman. I believe that MOST of the time, when all comes to pass, -and when she looks at herself in the mirror of her own moral compass-, she will bring to herself the best choice. Most woman choose to bring life. Most woman choose the joys and pains of birth. Most woman choose wisely and follow the vestiges of their inherent virtues. So logically, I am not going to permit that we as a society invade the castle that is a woman's body. Politically, I am pro-choice. My soon-to-be-in-expiration Libertarian ass just does not comply with ANY intrusion of Government or society on my private liberties. No matter how painful the personal memory of abortion is to me as a person, my political belief trumps my emotional pangs over the subject. Period. Legally, there is no question. The law is the law. Roe Vs. Wade says that this legislation -which complies with my political belief-, also happens to be the law of the land. And LAW reigns supreme to me. Not the law of my heart, or the law or my Father's God, but the law of Caesar, -or in this case-, America. Otherwise what kind of society are we if we cherry pick the laws we want to follow? Abortion is LEGAL, just as entering the country under a barbed wire is ILLEGAL, just like owning a firearm (in some cases) is LEGAL, just like discriminating for racial reasons is ILLEGAL. In my little garden of Eden, the laws that we make as men are unequivocal and although we may not agree with them, they are the law of the land. When it comes to the issue of Abortion, the law, trumps my emotions. If you know my history, it is painful to admit this to be my truth.
How do your issues measure up? Are you arguing them with the same root arguments as the person you are espousing them towards? You may be talking French to his Spanish, ying to his yang,.. insert whatever florid metaphor in here. You know the drill. The next time you start a pissing party with someone who is just rattling your cage, pushing your buttons, and you just don't understand how he or she doesn't "get it", take a little breath and ask yourself, from what angle is his or her argument? is it Emotional?, Philosophical?, Logical?, moral?, religious? Political? or Legal? A mixture? You figure that little tidbit, and you'll be surprised how much easier it will be to piss on him or her... if that is what you want to do. If you want to connect, then pick an angle that you know the person can connect with, and roll with it. It can't hurt, can it?
Number 4 (Thanks to Wadical for this addition to my expose...)
Remember the saying, "Don't use a hatchet to remove a fly from some one's forehead"?.... Man is that ever the gospel with Bloggers. It's like some of the folks can't help it, they treat a comment as if they are playing a video game, and the decision of how to "joystick" it to the posting is a war of attrition between the commenter's Ego and Logic:
Logic: "Check it out, T-P, this person just left an opening for you to inject a little common sense in her post, go ahead, leave her something nice. Let's do some good today..."
Ego: "Are you kidding me? This is like killing fish in a bucket! Let's fire up the Aircraft Carrier and go Defcon 5 on her ass....!"
Logic: "Why Ego?, its a harmless posting about what she really believes. I know it is contrary to T-P's but he doesn't have to waste her just to make a point..., does he?"
Ego: "Oh jeez, you linguine-spined logic pukes!, who cares? if she is stupid enough to leave herself open to a bombing run, then I say we should go Napalm, we just got a fresh batch from the Kurds and its shelf life is dwindling......"
T-P: "Ego, if I blow her out of the water, what's the point of leaving a comment when all she is going to see is a mushroom cloud and nothing else?"
Logic: "Exactly Ego!, ... don't we want her to hear the message, or do we want her to think the Messenger is a nuke-minded idiot?"
Ego: "Well, it depends what your definition of the word "is" is,... C'mon T-P! think of the mushroom cloud! Think of how much smarter you will feel when you lay waste to that puny little posting of her's?..... Hell, the electro-magnetic blast will wipe her entire blog-roll halfway to Cleveland!"
T-P: (thinking)... "Hmmm, her posting is ripe for a 10,000 pound daisy-cutter,... and I have not calibrated my "scorched earth" targeting system since I dropped that beauty on Daily Kos last year..."
Logic: "Don't do it....... put your Ego back in the holster, .... think man!"
Ego: "Do it! What's the use of all this intelligence, fast wit, argumentative skills and destructive power if we cant drop a few kilotons here and there.....?"
T-P: (panting...) ok, we're going in people. Fire up the B-1 Bomber, signal the fleet, kill the lights, pass the word for silent running, load 2 daisy-cutters on the bay and have 4 or 5 phoenix missiles on stand-by,.... I don't want any surviving comments.
Logic: "Pity, we could have really made an impression on the gal....."
T-P: "Open the bomb-bays!... weapons-free on my mark! 5-4-3-2-1.... bombs away! pull up! pull up,... we don't want any of the air blast coming our way,... strap on boys, we're gonna' feel this one!...
(Massive concussion impact)
Ego: "Bingo! We got em... Oh my God, her site is toast!.... there is a two-mile wide mushroom cloud full of comments-debris, HTML code and blogroll-member body parts,... look at that crater! Its the size of the Superdome! (tearing-up) there is literally nothing left of that posting. Its like the surface of the moon down there...... T-P, you are GOD!
T-P: "Roger that Ego,... we are on a five by five track back to the house of pain. Logic, you wanna' radio F.E.M.A. to do a fly-by for survivors? I don't want anybody thinking we are Barbarians here,... Logic? .... Oh Jeez, can somebody hand logic some tissues, please? And while you're at it, does anybody have any cornuts? I'm starvin' ....billion-dollar plane and same bag of peanuts for dinner..."
The logic of the above dramatization is a point Wadical made on his post. Sometimes we overkill. Sometimes we use a bazooka when a few well placed arrows would have sufficed to puncture some air out of the logic bubble of the post, and allowed a good discourse to have taken place. You don't have to go medieval on anybody to make a point. Letting the messenger get in the way of the message is the number one killer of cordial behavior in this medium. I've done it, seen many others I respect do it, and will probably see it done many more times. You want to make yourself feel better by pulling out the weedwacker on somebody? go ahead, but what is the point?...
Ok, class dismissed. It's Sunday night, I've not watched one freakin' game and my derriere is feeling the plight of sitting down for two hours......
(P.S. Mustang, one of my favorite Blogger and online foils, wrote a very enlightening comment to this post. I did not want it to get buried amongst the many kind folks that have contributed to this conversation. This is not to say yours weren't as important. I just found his words added another much-needed angle to the posting. I encourage all my friends (and foes?) to visit the link provided below. If I could write half as good as Mustang I would be angling for Pulitzer.)
It seems to me that too many people do not understand the art of argumentation. An argument isn’t shouting at someone – it is forming a proposition and then intelligently communicating it to other persons. There are a number of ways to form propositions, but not many people seem to be aware of them. One successful template is to state a proposition, support it with facts, elaborate through examples, and conclude by restating the original proposition. The problem seems to be that many people are so emotionally tied to a position that they don’t bother to discover any facts at all. Your example of “abortion” reminds me of an exercise I used to force on my students. I gave them a proposition, and they had to determine the facts and examples to support it. The proposition was “Napoleon was a good leader.” Then, I had my students determine the facts and examples that supported the opposite proposition, “Napoleon was not a good leader.” The exercise taught students that in point of act, Napoleon achieved some good things for France, but that he made some horrible decisions as well – which gave impetus to both arguments. Neither side of the argument was right, but neither was wrong. The point: there are few “absolutes” in life. We may disagree on issues, and that’s okay – but how we argue a proposition is a demonstration of intellectual engagement.