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?