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Miscellaneous Monday: There’s a Fallacy For That

September 19, 2011

I have a confession to make: I love politics. Not in the sense that some people do, because I am not interested in maligning the “Other” party’s candidates or running for office myself. And certainly not for the ugliness it spawns (can we PLEASE ban those awful television spots? I’m running out of brain cells from hitting my head on walls and books and other convenient hard objects after I see them…)

I feel the need to emphasize the fact that I am in no way officially aligned with any political party, nor have I ever been. While it is true that my voting record leans to the left, there is no party in this country where I can find a comfortable political home because I am a moderate in many senses of the word. Sadly, moderates are feeling more and more alone in the middle of the political spectrum these days. That, however, is a topic for another post.

At any rate, this is your fair warning that my blog is about to heat up with political sentiments– not aligned to any one party– as I follow the political (mis?)adventures of this country over the next year and change. If you are not as intrigued by political goings on, please feel free to come back on Fridays for the food. If you are interested and choose to stick around, please know that I have a few strictly enforced ground rules for comments and furthered conversation.

Rule #1) No personal attacks. Irrelevant, not to mention counter productive. Rule #2) Stick to the topic at hand please. I really can’t stand non-sequiturs and red herrings. Sarcasm will be tolerated unless it is seriously impeding mutual understanding. Rule #3) Follow rules 1 and 2 and we’ll stay friends.

I find that it’s getting harder and harder to have a good, honest debate these days, because certain news stations and other entities are not interested in these rules, never mind abiding by them. Among the many reasons I can’t watch Fox is that it raises my blood pressure to dangerously high levels– not for the rampant lies and misinformation (although that is a contributing factor) but more for the fact that their idea of “interviewing” someone is to scream at/over them for the duration of the segment. Man, does that grind my gears.

La la la, I’m not listening!

Alas, certain political factions seem to have adopted these methods of interrogation debate, and it makes it SO HARD not to break all of my own rules when talking to them, especially Rule #1. My normal rule is not to get dragged into debates with these individuals if at all possible. What was that quote about dragging you down to their level and beating you with experience?

Occasionally, though, it is impossible not to engage. I have a couple of guidelines here, too. I don’t engage unless I or a loved one have been directly attacked; or unless what they have said or written is so egregiously stupid and/or dangerous that I just can’t let it slide. You understand the difficulty I have in keeping my mouth shut.

It is a dangerous hobby that I’ve picked for myself, because arguing such an individual is like bear-baiting.

No, not that kind of bear-baiting…

Luckily for me, however, there is one very effective weapon for such an opponent: Logic.

Here’s why it works. When you are arguing against someone who gets their talking points from Glenn Beck/Nancy Grace/Sarah Palin/some other member of the radical right, there are a few things that they are sure to do. Firstly, they will probably jump to conclusions based on misinformation, limited information, or hearsay. Your best defense, naturally, is to know your facts. You must be prepared– but you must also know that this will in no way discourage your opponent. They will either tell you that you have been brainwashed, or ignore what you have said completely (this is called Cognitive Dissonance, and it is what happens when someone is confronted with information that contradicts a deeply held belief. They will often retreat from this new information and surround themselves with people who are already in agreement with them in order to make themselves feel better).

Never fear.

Step two will be the personal attack. Again, preparation (and a thick skin) is your best armor. This is the phase where your interlocutor will attempt to make you look bad in order to discredit what you are saying. They will accuse you of trying to violate their rights (especially their First Amendment rights), and– if you talk to them long enough– they will probably call you a Socialist.

I would like to digress for a moment here. Socialism is not a dirty word, no matter how much some people in this country would like it to be. Socialism does not have anything to do with Nazism, Communism, or any of the other -isms that are so distasteful to the American sensibility. Let’s see if I can break it down a little more, according to my understanding. First of all we have to rule out any relationship at all between Socialism and the Nazis. I do this for two reasons: 1) Nazism is an extreme form of fascism. Fascism is an extreme form of conservative government. It seeks to control by force, and from a limited scope of power (meaning that there are only a few powerful decision makers). 2) There is a specific logical fallacy devoted to associating view points with the Nazis– because really, what is more universally reviled than anything having to do with Hitler? It is in essence guilt by association, and it is complete nonsense. Socialism is, at its core, a very liberal concept– of sharing, caring for the less fortunate, and ensuring the welfare of all. Does that sound like a Nazi to you? I didn’t think so.

Ok, now for Communism, the other dirty word. It is a fact that Socialism and Communism share roots, and that in many ways Communism is what happens when Socialist ideals are taken to the extreme. Here’s the important difference: What we know as Communism is really a thinly disguised Fascist regime. Socialism is an economic theory that seeks to share wealth and provide social equality and opportunity. Communism is a political system that tends to seek to exploit all of those things while simultaneously paying them lip service.

Are you noticing the same common thread here that I noticed? In essence, it doesn’t matter what you believe… what matters is the degree to which you believe it. This has been true throughout history as far as I can tell. To me, extremism is the real danger here– whether that extremism is religious, political, or otherwise. It creates a barrier to conversation and compromise, which in turn creates a barrier to solving our problems as a nation and as a society.

I tell you all of this in hopes that if you are ever called a Socialist you will understand that this is not an insult, and perhaps try to bring your debate partner to have a better understanding of the word themselves. I wouldn’t count on that, however.

At this point what you will need to do is find some way of bringing the conversation back around to the original point you were trying to make. This will require you being the bigger person (I know, I know, it sucks).

Step 3 is the flat-out lie. This is what occurs after you have successfully navigated steps 1 and 2. At this point your opponent will most likely be furious that they have not managed to brow-beat you into agreeing with them, and they will go straight into the red on the crazy meter. This is where they will mention Obama’s “fake” birth certificate, or tell you that the Government could save x-amount of dollars (in the billions, naturally) if they would just stop printing materials in Spanish and make all those illegal immigrants learn to talk good. Ahem. Excuse me, I seem to have channeled the gentleman who was yelling that at me last week. As far as I can tell you have two options at Step 3: go for the kill shot, or back away slowly while feeling around for a sharp pointy weapon. If you decide to go for the kill shot, understand that you will most likely be severing your relationship with this person for all time, thanks to that little cognitive dissonance thingy I mentioned earlier. Maybe not a loss, depending on who you are dealing with.

Chances are very good that your Troll will look something like this

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the person with whom you are having this debate will deliver the kill shot themselves– like the troll on Facebook that I couldn’t resist toying with last night. He had posted something rude, inflammatory, and stupid on a post my father had made. That fit enough of my criteria that I decided to have a little fun. It took two comments from me before he decided that I was not worth arguing with (poor loser, I’m afraid) and managed to combine steps 2 and 3 without me having to do a thing. I wish you similar success if you decide to engage with such individuals online.

When they start hitting the crazy and you start pointing out the ways in which what they are saying is completely insane, they may become irate with you, much as a cornered dog would. USE CAUTION. Above all, remember to keep bringing the conversation back around to the original topic, and use logic. Doing so will confuse and disorient them, and eventually you will be able to bring the encounter to a conclusion (if not a resolution).

Good luck! Feel free to post any stories about trolls that you’ve had to deal with.


I owe thanks to the following authors/articles for inspiration and information:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. joanne permalink
    September 20, 2011 19:27

    i loved this entry! it reminds me of at UNH how everyone would be out saying “did you vote?!” and handing out buttons and wanting to yell about their political affiliations. i always felt pestered by those “get out and vote” people. i think that’s why i like NPR because you can listen to someone calmly be interviewed and not flipping out. politics sometimes makes me think of that saying “those who know it the least know it the loudest”. your entry made me laugh. especially because i have CNBC screaming at me all day at work.


    • September 21, 2011 16:09

      I like that quote! I’ll have to remember that the next time someone down here gets their opinion all over me…


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