How We Fight Here ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, September 26, 2005

How We Fight Here

A Proposal for Blog Debates


Clearly, this type of thing would be out of the question.*

A kind of polemical protocol for BitterSweetLife is beginning to crystallize.

In other words, we will have rules for fighting. Only certain weapons will be allowed through the door. A few days ago I found myself musing about debate in terms of “self-levity”—exercising grace via good humor, the goal being to keep verbal arguments civil (not lighthearted) and yourself humble (not self-righteous). A few comments re: the post clarified the fact that “self-levity” cannot mean joking around like a good ol’ boy and patting everyone on the back. At times we must smile at our opponents, then pin their flailing arguments to the wall.

Prior to the “self-levity” post, my exhaustive Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate with “dr zen” had started the wheels turning (transcripts from the exchange run at 40-some pages in MS Word). There was a need to clarify what counted as a headlock (legal) and what counted as spit-in-the eye (out of bounds). Melodious logic needed to be applauded. Growling vitriol needed to be taken outside and shot.

So, with the end goal of good-humored / dead-serious debate in mind, I’m posting a few clarifying guidelines for later reference.

Weapons that are, generally, out:
Ad hominem attacks
Sneering putdowns
Stereotypical pronouncements
Clearly, debate can become a mere ego-driven exercise if it’s motivated by pride (“I have all the answers”), a genuine killer instinct (“I’ll crush that fool”) and irritation (“How dare he disagree with me?”).

Good arguments revolve around the central principle that I may not respect your argument, but I do respect you. While all people are equally valuable, all ideas are not—so we go about letting our concepts clash, fiercely if necessary, with the expectation that winners may emerge. Simultaneously we maintain a fundamental level of esteem (even friendship, I hope) for each other.

I don’t feel like I’m saying anything cutting-edge here, and I’ve never been overly controlling regarding people’s takes. I don’t plan to be. But it helps to have some general battle protocol so everyone can enjoy themselves.

*Admittedly, the picture is a not-so-clever forgery. You can see the seam where I grafted two shots together, if you care to look. Of course, the shot may unexpectedly disappear, once Lindsay sees this post.



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9 comments:

Camille said...

you might try the "smudge" tool to blur that line a little.

:P

I have got sucked into an online debate once with a good friend. What really killed me was when he 1) got his facts wrong and 2) made blanket generalization that were also wrong.

fortunately, all the vitriol was spewed online and when we got together to drink coffee, we were able to laugh about it. I learned that sarcasm doesn't work well, either.

Andrew Simone said...

"Good arguments revolve around the central principle that I may not respect your argument, but I do respect you."

Funny, I never quit looked at it that way before, the person had little to do with my reaction any given argument. I would respect all arguements but may disagree only with good reason, e.g self-contradiction = lunacy, etc. The essence of my approach was always, to quote Luther, "Peace at all possible, truth at all cost." While, I do not disagree with you, there is a fine line there.

Ariel said...

Camille, I thought about blurring the photo more artfully...but realized it might cause a marital debate.

I'm curious about the workings of your approach, overlyconscious. I have a hard time "respecting" arguments that are demonstrably fallacious and I generally don't mind explaining why. But I second the Luther quote. Reading your comment again, it's possible we're disagreeing merely on semantic terms.

My operating premise is that we should aim for a egalitarian approach to people (peace), and an elitist approach to ideas (truth).

Kim Anderson said...

Actually, these seem like sane and at least intuitively effective rules. I teach my teenage debate students to follow a very similar code - with good success.

The key really seems to be to convince everybody that advancing learning via the argument is worth whatever irritation it costs to behave with enough courtesy to encourage everybody to stay in the dialogue.

. : A : . said...

"Good arguments revolve around the central principle that I may not respect your argument, but I do respect you."

Very interesting way of looking at it.

Andrew Simone said...

My general principle looks to the end of the argument, not simply the means -- this is not to say the means is not important. The arguments consequence, is often more frightening than what they are arguing for. The fruits of thought are action.

Consequently, my first principle of argument is whether they are consistent with there claims consequences. We can blow smoke all we like but we only breath air, if you catch my drift. In this sense, I respect the arguement, fallacious or not.

Regarding "person", I think you are right, it may be semantics. It is a matter of the words extension. It by person you mean a "particular person", then I whole heartedly disagree. However, if you mean any given person as person then I suppose I agree. Man as person intrinsicly demands respect, while a man's personality does not. Or am I being overly-subtle?

Norma said...

You were expecting Dr. Zen to follow some sort of rules?

tim said...

Weapons that are, generally, out:

Ad hominem attacks
Sneering putdowns
Stereotypical pronouncements


Alas, you ommitted my favorite fallacious argument: Ad Baculum. Every debate day when I was in college I would make jokes about physically immobilizing the opposition--particularly if we were positing pacifism versus just war theory...

Ariel said...

Kim: "advancing learning...is worth whatever irritation it costs to behave with enough courtesy to encourage everybody to stay in the dialogue."

Nicely put. Someone may stop speaking; this doesn't necessarily mean your argument succeeded or that you "won."

overlyconscious: "my first principle of argument is whether they are consistent with there claims consequences."

If you mean what I think you do, I agree. Atheists need to live like atheists or throw in the towel. Christians likewise.

overlyconscious: "Man as person intrinsicly demands respect, while a man's personality does not. Or am I being overly-subtle?"

I could see this approach getting sticky. So-and-so may be a lout, but as a human being he must be respected. How do we differentiate between Joe's ideas, which make him a lout, and his "lout-hood" - which at this point has saturated him pretty thoroughly? I suppose one answer to this question is that "respecting" a thorough jerk may mean simply choosing not to argue with him. All personalities may be created equal, but they sure don't stay that way.

Norma: "You were expecting Dr. Zen to follow some sort of rules?"

Ha, I know. Silly of me wasn't it?

Tim: "Every debate day when I was in college I would make jokes about physically immobilizing the opposition..."

Tim, the Ad Baculum approach was not on the list because it's one of my favorites. Hard to implement online, but in general an excellent contingency plan.

 

Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife