Learning and Understanding Vs. Winning Arguments

AdamFaccountability, Anti-Mormon, apologetics, Charity, christianity, Culture, diversity, evangelicals, faith, fear, grace, inter-faith, Mormon, Peace, politics, questioning, religion 47 Comments

Why do you read and comment on blogs? What is your goal? Do you want to make points and debate with others? Is it more important for you to reach mutual understanding and learn from each other? Can both happen at the same time?

This is an adaptation of a post my good friend Ron wrote. He is Catholic, so with his consent I have modified some of it to fit the audience here, as well as added some of my own thoughts. It was inspired by some of his encounters with a “rather nasty Fundamentalist Christian” who was “more interested in winning an argument, rather than learning.” These points, however, may be applied to anyone who wants to prove other people wrong rather than understand or learn.

“After spending years debating James White, I have noticed common tactics employed by people who want to win at any cost rather than seek a mutual understanding of the facts or even work toward a mutual disagreement. Ann Coulter is a good example of a political satirist who engages in this sort of rhetoric. Let’s take a close look, shall we?”

1. Make an outrageous claim. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of Mormon Doctrine, or if you take a comment out of context, or if the side you’re on is just as guilty as those you are making accusations against. The goal is not to be fair minded or even accurate; all you need to be concerned with is igniting an emotional response from the other person. Remember, you are always right and your opponent is always wrong; your job is simply to supply enough rope for your opponent to hang himself. Manipulative (e.g. “Don’t you think _____?”) and leading questions are also really effective here.

2. Rely on mocking or sarcasm to ignite passion. If you are of a conservative ilk, rely on a mocking or morally superior tone to deliver your message (Ann Coulter). If you are liberal use a lot of sarcastic humor to exalt yourself above your opponent’s attempts at presenting himself/herself as morally superior (Al Franken).

3. Do not give an inch. If your opponent happens to stumble upon a true statement, ignore, deny, or reframe the conversation! In all cases, NEVER concede even a minor point to your opponent. Also, be sure to ignore any sincere questions by your opponent. In the very least do not answer them directly. Again, the point is not to help the other person understand you, but to prove they are wrong.

4. Make Your opponent work harder. Always remember that you are right, regardless of the facts presented, and you will eventually prove it by weathering any storm that may be created due to the information your opponent happens to give you. Most importantly, put them in a place where they feel like they have to prove you wrong. If they present troubling information to you about your own position simply refuse to acknowledge it. The fact is your opponent is either a brainwashed innocent or at worst, a conniving interloper who has no right to challenge your superior position, and only appears to have the nerve to do so without merit.

5. Do not bother reading posts or listening to response from your opponent. After all, reading your opponent’s posts may ignite emotions within yourself, or take your mind off your primary goal, WINNING! Instead of reading, skim your opponent’s post for statements that can be molded to aid you in your ultimate goal. The best statements are usually the most irrelevant to your opponents point–why re-post something meaningful or relevant? Oh, and make sure you continue to apply the steady drumbeat or either mocking/moral superiority, or sarcastic humor.

6. Stay the course! Or leave! Whatever you do, just don’t engage! Eventually your opponent will either hang himself or simply tire of the interaction; in both cases, you must declare victory immediately. Like any good staring contest it is not the person that presents the best case who wins, but the person who is left standing. If it just keeps going you may want to consider eventually checking out. There are two ways to do this, either just disappear quietly until the next post comes along that you can slam, or make a big announcement about why you are not coming back. Try to make everyone reading it feel bad about your departure, and say self-deprecating stuff like “I guess I’m just not popular here”). Whatever you do, NEVER admit to any good points the other side made in their last comment, and when you come back, make sure it is only to attack again.

How can we avoid this? How can we learn together even when we disagree?

1. Ask sincere, open-ended questions. Look around and you’ll be surprised how little actually happens. Example, “What do you think about _____?” Amazing concept, but so often we end up trying to trip each other. Make sure your questions are not meant to lead the other person down a particular path, or that you don’t have some hidden underlying agenda.

2. If you use sarcasm or a lot of humor, be kind. Even if you don’t like emoticons, make sure others understand your intention, and don’t use it as a weapon. I know many people (myself included) like to use mocking now and then, but we must refrain.

3. Acknowledge (write in your replies) when the other person has a good point. Or, *gasp* when they say something you agree with.

4. Monitor the conversation to make sure it is not one-sided. Is there always one person on the attack and the other constantly on defense, or is it more even-handed?

5. Consider the whole comment. Don’t just pick out stuff to argue with.

6. Apologize when appropriate. Take a break when you need to, but don’t completely check out or make threats when you get upset. Come back and engage. We can all learn from each other.

7. When in doubt, ask Ray what to do. He will have the answer.

Why do you converse with others online? More specifically, why do you engage in commenting back and forth with other people on Mormon Matters? To share your views? To influence others? To learn from others?

What is your method of going about this? Debate? Crafting arguments? Sharing and working towards mutual understanding? What are the pros and cons of the different ways?

Comments 47

  1. Post

    Hahaha Andrew, you should put *plays to win* below your name. Maybe we ALL should–then we would know what the other person’s objective is…

  2. You forgot one in your first list: When you can’t find fault with your opponents argument, start making fun of his grammar or syntax and imply that anyone who makes a grammar error must be an idiot not worth listening to.

  3. Post
  4. semantics arguments.

    Although I think (when I do it) that semantics are important. It’s important to have established definitions, and since people rarely submit operational definitions during a discussion, we have to tool them out in the middle of things

  5. I guess I find the idea of winning an argument a little obsolete through blogs, I think it is more possible in person. I use them I think though for the opportunity to be challenged in my thinking. But really I have to take away what is discussed here and speak about with other people face-to-face. So other people may convince me but it would never occur to me until afterward. I think the debate is important, I guess I follow the Eugene England school on this point. That proving contraries truth is made manifest. The truth might be a contradicition or empathy but it will come out. But i guess this is rooted in the fact that I don’t believe that we really get a hold on ‘Truth (capital T)’ in this life.

  6. I tend to be a person who feels very passionately about things, and I think many people who blog are the same way. I do feel that treating people well and with respect is more important than winning an argument (even though I am far from perfect in that area). I don’t ever think making a point is more important than the way we treat a human being. We never know where a person is, what they are feeling or contemplating, and if we are the person who will make or break them, especially in a setting like a blog. Being unkind is never a risk worth taking because many times we don’t know the outcome of that unkindness. There is a definite ripple effect in the way we treat other people. I also think that just because someone uses big words and fancy explanations doesn’t mean they have a heart and I would much rather be around someone who cares about others than someone who is brilliant. Look at Dr. Rodney Mckay on Stargate Atlantis, the guy is brilliant but I couldn’t stand being around him very long at all. There is something to be said about being a nice person.

  7. My tactics depend greatly on the other person. If there is someone using inflammatory tactics to make their case, I will use the same tactics, and I am more interested in winning (or at least demonstrating how unfair the tactics are.) On the other hand, when people can present a well-thought out response, I will try to do the same. As a “fence sitter” here, I have learned from both the conservatives and liberals. For example, I have used things I have learned from the conservative Jared, as well as the liberal Dexter here.

    In answer to your final questions, the reason why I blog is to both influence others, and learn from others. My tactics include debate, Crafting arguments, and Sharing and working towards mutual understanding. I have really enjoyed talking with people I disagree with here, because they sharpen my knowledge. Some of these people include Andrew S, Cowboy, Jared, and Jeff Spector, who cut across the spectrum of believers and unbelievers. Of course, fellow fence sitters such as Adam, Ray, and Hawkgrrrl have taught me quite a few things too.

  8. Nice post.

    I find that I mostly hang around and watch what happens in the blog discussions, and I think I learn a lot about the topics as well as about the nature of people who have a desire to participate. Once in a while I’ll comment if I think I have something to add, but I rarely get involved in the back-and-forth that often happens in a blog.

  9. Well you can see that all the right and left wing nuts use the first set examples above that create hate. I know a lot of LDS members that take whatever Glenn Beck says as the gospel. This guy is one of the biggest hypocrites walking the earth. The biggest phony is Rush Limbaugh. This guy spreads his hate to his listeners on a daily basis. Don’t get me started on Ann Coulter. She would have gotten along well with Hitler. Ava Braun would be out of the picture.I don’t understand why this guy doesn’t run for president; he seems to know everything, if you don’t believe it just asks him. These guys can dish it out but take it. That is why they are the best Monday morning quarterbacks in the world.

    Anyway, I follow the understanding and learning princliples. Everyone has a right to their opinion and you can debate the issue without the use of mocking or sarcasm.

  10. My answer is that I am stuck in the intolerable position of having doctrine and policies that offend my very nature thrust on me in an inescapable way. …repeatedly from the time of the Civil Rights movement and the Proclamation on the Priesthood through the ERA era and the September Six to the violation of LGBT members and including the church inserting itself into politics in general. As a result, I post not to convince anyone else (tho I’d be thrilled if anyone considered an alternative position) but to get some of the intolerable stress outside of my skin and my cranium. It’s all I’ve got to keep me sane and able to remain in the church at the same time.

    I also do it because this stuff is important and it’s equally important that I find out if I’m wrong and I can let these thorny conclusions go and go with the flow of the church community. In consideration of that, blogging gives me a chance to have my conclusions challenged so that I am very clear that vanity or pride and faulty logic don’t keep me bogged down in an untenable position.

    So, as soon as one of you disabuses me of the notion that I’m right and the GA’s are being misled, my life gets easier and happier! Til then I’m stuck with how the Spirit speaks to me and the bloggernacle.

  11. I do occasionally take delight in laying someone to waste, but usually in “live by the sword, die by the sword” feeling, and usually not online (more in real life). I don’t draw first blood or even second, but I occasionally point the dog back to his own vomit and suggest he eat it.

  12. Interestingly enough, offline, I don’t “play to win.” I know enough about being verbally abused in real life that I’m much more about avoiding conflict, reaching compromise, etc.,

    The keyboard is just too irresistible.

    ~Andrew S
    *plays to win*

  13. Adam,

    Thank you for posting this. I think that people generally are willing to see all of the “play to win” tactics in the side they disagree with and tend to believe that their side is always using the “seek understanding” approach. I know I’m guilty of seeing it more from one side of the political spectrum than the other, and I have friends that I know are guilty of the opposite. Either way, true understanding usually undermines political agendas that are dangerous to everyone (whether they will admit it or not), so communication not seeking to demolish the opponent really needs to increase.

    I personally have a lot of experience with disagreeing with people online and usually just try to avoid those types of conversations because actual human interactions usually yield better results. It is too easy for people to misread online comments. Even emails between friends who generally agree on the subject under discussion quite frequently lead to vitriolic exchanges because of assumptions and communication tactics common to online discussion. And it’s just so hard not to rip some one up one side and down the other when they engage in those all or nothing win tactics.

    Again, thanks.

  14. I think these are good questions to ask, Adam. Like jjackson, I am far more a lurker than a commenter, both here and on other Bloggernacle blogs. (Maybe that’s why I so often like jjackson’s comment so much!) My impression is that people very rarely change each other’s minds by arguing or discussing or whatever. Far more often, we just reinforce each other’s negative stereotypes of “that kind of person” and get more and more sure of our own initial positions. I say “we” because I’ve tried arguing on and off, and I’ve found that (1) I’m not very good at it, and (2) it’s typically unsatisfying for the reason I just cited.

  15. “I do occasionally take delight in laying someone to waste, but usually in “live by the sword, die by the sword” feeling, and usually not online (more in real life). I don’t draw first blood or even second, but I occasionally point the dog back to his own vomit and suggest he eat it.”

    I have met Hawkgrrl in person she isn’t near as mean and scary as she sounds !!

  16. You’re a butthead, Adam, for including #7 at the end. 🙂

    Obviously, as the “play nice, people” advocate here, I really like this post – and think it would draw more comments without the simultaneous, behemouth post rushing headlong toward 1000 comments. I only have one quibble, and that, ironically, is with mh:

    I’m not a fence sitter; I simply value civility and hold opinions on both sides of the typical fence. So, I’m a fence jumper. Phfffffft!!

  17. Post
  18. Number 7 is my favorite. If we could all comment like Ray, Mormon Matters would undergo a divine transfiguration. Seriously, Ray has been one of the only bloggers to make me step back and examine myself when I am guilty of the 6 negative approaches listed. That is a lesson in itself for me.

  19. Number 5 is the most frustrating to me. I hate when I make a point and someone simply attacks a very minor tangential point I may have made without addressing the thrust of my argument.

    This is the first blog that I have ever visited more than twice, so I have been learning as I go. I definitely think this is a helpful list and I appreciate those who make efforts to find understanding and common ground. Finding a consensus on an issue is very satisfying, especially when you may have fundamentally opposing views. That is why I return.

    And to teach you all. 😉

    Please add consult Dexter as number 8 since we need balance on the site. 🙂

  20. Dexter, Ray is a fence jumper, so if I added you, I’d have to add Jared as well to balance it out again. No offense to either of you. 😉

  21. Holy Crap, Holden!! I went back to my new office to have some reading time, and now I have to clean off both my and my co-worker’s desks. Spit takes like that should be illegal.

    Thanks, Drew. You’re not a butthead like Adam. (As I said once to Nick, Adam, I’d blow you a kiss, but people would talk – although I’m without a calling right now, so this might be the best time for people to talk. Maybe I can get a permanent calling in the nursery. Oops, not if people are talking about me blowing a kiss to another guy. *SIGH* Maybe I will be the next YW President, instead! [Love you, Nick!])

  22. Thank you for the invite but I must decline.

    I have too many responsibilities keeping this site going as it is.

    And I don’t think your post was offensive to either Jared or Ray, but that was nice of you to say that.

  23. mh, wake up and read all the posts, dude! I was the one who called myself that. If yor’re going to try to insult someone, at least give it the old college try! (and I mean that in even kindlier regards than your kindly regards)

  24. Oh, yes you do, Adam – but I’m not sure it would be appropriate to turn them in this forum. 😀

    OK, time’s up. You’ve been great. Try to talk at ya’ tomorrow.

  25. Sorry Ray, I’m a relative newcomer, and I don’t read every single post like you do. (You are amazing in the amount of material you read–and I mean that in all sincerity.

  26. The problem with people who “play to win” is that they’re not truly open-minded enough to consider they may be wrong, and their style is so abrasive and obnoxious that it damages their credibility and turns off listeners. So people who “play to win” never actually “win” anything except in their own mind, which is not really an achievement because they were already convinced of the rightness of their position to begin with.

    It’s amazing to me how people who “play to win”, who typically consider themselves to be at the top of the intellectual food chain, can have such a lack of self-awareness and fail to recognize how their abrasive and obnoxious style actually makes them ineffective advocates.

  27. actually, I would go one step further re 35 Strong Silent Type.

    People who play to win don’t *even* win in their own mind, because their (at least *my*) goal is not necessarily to convince themselves of their position, but to convince others. Losing credibility and turning off listeners is one of the worst feelings ever, and when I realize I’m doing it, I generally back off.

    Not saying I apologize or anything or make restitution, but I think many “players to win” realize that they become ineffective advocates and are frustrated about that.

    However, this doesn’t really help, because instead of realizing that the problem *is* their competitive/play-to-win attitude, they think that the problem is just in tactics. When the real goal should be to stop caring about winning at all.

    ~Andrew S.
    *plays to win*

  28. Hahahaha, I think my byline should read:

    *pretends to value understanding, but it is actually a defense against feeling like he’s losing*

  29. I’m beginning to wonder if there is a point to reading and responding to blogs for me. I come looking for conversation where people listen to differing opinions, consider them, and respond honestly and respectfully. I find something like it occasionally, but I find way more defense of sacred cattle (often when nobody is even looking at the cattle), and absolute refusal to consider any other viewpoint than what was brought to the conversation. And way, way too much “us v them.” There are some key individuals that keep me coming back, but I’m finding that it’s just easier to write what I want to say in response to the original post, and, having got it off my chest, to just delete it, rather than see what I said twisted into something I could be beaten up with.

    19 — There is no fence.

    23 — Been there. Lived it. Recently even. Hate it. Absolutely hate it.

    33 — But did you LOL out loud?

  30. This has been a fun and engaging post to read. As with others who posted here I tend to be one of the lurkers. Often we lurkers watch/read arguments unfold with vouyeuristic pleasure (okay maybe not quite that extreme).

    The reason I enjoy lurking is simple: I often find myself battling through opposing views in my head trying to make sense of them; this internal battle is often an exhausing process. It is helpful to see the opposing views articulated on blogs. Reading them helps me to organize my thoughts and to make connections I hadn’t made before. This helps to diffuse the exhausting internal battle somewhat (though it ever rages onward).

    Not only do “play to win” tactics not convince the individuals being argued with but they also push away the lurkers.

    It is much more helpful to lurkers to read well thought out arguments aimed at understanding and learning from each other. (and since you are all here just for the lurkers’ voyeuristic pleasure I am sure you will all take this under consideration….)

    Trevor M
    *Advocate for Lurkers*

  31. Post

    Thanks Trevor, I’m glad. I also love sifting through opposing views – it’s kind of like reading a summary of all the philosophical views of the western world. Many of them are convincing, yet many of them disagree. It is hard at first but after a while one’s own view begins to form out of the mess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *