Veejane (veejane) wrote,

What to Do When You Can't Win An Argument

It happens to everyone. You manage to start an argument with a brainiac, somebody who doesn't lose their temper, post nonsense, or rely on weak evidence. You're in danger of losing! What to do??

Never fear. veejane is here to remedy your situation. Just print out the handy-dandy list below and keep it next to your keyboard for the next time you need to win an argument and can't do so on your own merits. 20 real, proven strategies, employed by real sockpuppets you've seen on the internet, can help you be a winner every time.

Tactics of Distraction -- why win an argument, when you can make your opponent cry?

1. Ad hominem. (Literally, "at the person.") This is a Latin way of saying I can't win the argument on its merits, so I will call my opponent names. It needn't be so obvious as "Why would you listen to that child molester?" A more subtle form of ad hominem attack is to say "I can't argue with someone who never finished college" or "Of course you'd say that; you are her lapdog" or that good old standby "people who disagree with me are jealous haters!!" In all cases, it is the person under attack, rather than the argument.

2. Red herring. Herrings are stinky fish that you can drag across a dog's trail to throw it off the scent. A red herring in argument is bringing up something totally irrelevant, to distract people from the real matter being discussed. Usually the red herring itself is a hot-button issue, something that instantly attracts attention away from the real matter at hand. Candidates include: rape, RPF, child abuse, Communism.

3. Poison the well. Unlike the red herring, which is best used in the middle of an argument, you poison the well before the discussion begins. Take a dismissive attitude toward the terms, parameters, facts, or logic of an argument before it has even been explained to you and that argument will never win! This includes that awesome phrase "It's just fanfic; why do you care so much?"

4. Tu quoque. (Literally, "you too".) This tactic deflects attention from your own faults by noticing other people's faults. The most obvious thing to say is "Sure, I plagiarized, but everybody else does too," but if you're really athletic you can try variants on "she has no right to accuse me of plagiarism because she quoted Shakespeare without attribution!" Because, if other people have faults, that makes them unqualified to notice your faults.

Tactics of Wiggly Logic -- If you can't beat 'em, sabotage 'em.

5. Fourth term. You know those little logic equations, where A=B, B=C, therefore A=C? Just secretly switch out that last C with Folger's crystals a completely new term, D, and see whether anyone notices. Like so: "Vidding requires special software. Software is often expensive. Therefore, vidding requires expertise." Expertise and the money to buy software have nothing to do with each other! But your opponent may not think of that.

6. Non sequitur. More Latin, I know. (Literally, "it doesn't follow.") But this is a fun one: assert a claim and support it with facts that aren't actually supportive. For example: "Oh, you can't trust her. She is left-handed." Your opponent will be so busy wondering what the hell being left-handed has to do with trustworthiness that you can sneak out of the argument unscathed. Note that Fourth Term and Non Sequitur are very similar, but Non Sequitur is a simpler version. (Note: it also tends to be more obvious.)

7. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. (Literally, "this happened after, so the thing that happened before caused it.") Scientists call this one correlation is not causation, because it's so easy to insinuate a causal connection where there isn't one. "I ask for proof, and then she stops posting. Hmmm, she must not have any proof!" Carefully disregard possible other causes, like the fact it is two in the morning and you asked for proof in Latvian.

8. Turning an if/then statement on its head. You can do this one of two ways: totally pervert the if statement, or totally pervert the then statement. For the former, you're pulling something like "Well, if I say you're a liar then you'll hate me forever. I didn't say you were a liar, so, you love me!" She can still hate you anyway, but don't tell her that! To pervert the then-half of the statement, try this: "Well, if I say you're a liar then you'll hate me forever. Wait, you already hate me. You must be a liar!" This is the best defense of the aggrieved BNF, really. All the hateraters who would do her wrong are inevitably tripped up.

9. Apples and oranges. Compare two things that don't bear comparison. "Of course this vid is better than that story." Of course, the vid takes only three minutes to watch, and is full of pretty people swanning about, while the story is full of words and punctuation (not particularly pretty), and takes longer to read. Just skip quickly past the part where people use different criteria to judge the two items, and pretend they're equivalent.

10. False dichotomy. Narrow down the choices of your opponent by pretending there are only two options, and that one option sucks. "You either believe Bunky333 or you're a malicious hoor" is a great one -- who wants to be a malicious hoor? It takes some extra thinking for your opponent to realize that there are other options (like disbelieving Bunky333 but still not being a malicious hoor), and by that time, you will have swooped away with your minions in tow.

Tactics of Sloppy Rhetoric -- talk big! This is the internet! Nobody minds a bit of exaggeration!

11. Unwarranted generalizations. Do it on not enough evidence, or no evidence at all! "My sister was offended by that non-con story; therefore, all non-con stories are offensive!" Don't let amassed tradition, custom, or reliable data get in the way of your personal anecdote! Of course the world bends to meet your reality.

12. Begging the question. Make lawyer-talk work for you! Make a sentence where your logic circles back on itself, and see if anybody notices. "Blippy555 isn't a sockpuppet because I only talk to real people and Blippy555 and I talk all the time" is a great example: a smartypants might say, Yes, but how do you know you only talk to real people? (That would be the question being begged.) But most of the time, they'll just take your word for it. You win!

13. Shitty authority. This is the one where you say "everybody knows that..." or "I read in a book that..." Claim that you can speak authoritatively (and insinuate that your opponent cannot), even if there is no authority to be had! Your fake authority can be vague ("Science tells us...") or specific but false or only half-true ("Well, if Binky001 likes it, how dare we argue its merits?"). It works in celebrity endorsements -- surely it will work for you!

14. Shitty analogy. When Metaphors Go Bad. Everybody has a metaphor get away from them sometimes, so use it to your advantage. "You doubt every single thing I say -- I feel like I'm being interrogated by the KGB!" is a classic. Cast your opponents in all manner of villain roles, or use metaphors to suggest that their arguments are irrelevant, inelegant, or silly. (NOTE: Avoid comparisons to Nazis or "those mean girls in high school," because those shitty analogies are already covered under Godwin's Law and Snacky's Law, respectively.)

15. Slippery slope. Logic is eternally extensible. Don't let mere reasonableness stop you from your logical applications! Argue against a reasonable step by pretending it leads inevitably to the extreme: "Don't say you didn't like Blinky999's story. Next think you know, she will be getting death threats!" Is there any reason to expect that mere dislike will end up at death threats? Of course not. But it sounds really cool and forbidding to say!

Tactics of Demagoguery -- more big talk! This time with cult of personality mixed in!

16. Appeal to fear. Always work in the worst-case scenario. Mention Big Brother, spying, the possibility of being framed for sockpuppetry by a clever IP-spoofer, and when all else fails bring up that one time that somebody called the Secret Service on a poor innocent fannish twidget. It might be a conspiracy against you! And if they'll conspire against you, whom will they go after next? Take that anxiety and make it as free-floating as you can, so that bystanders will flee in terror and leave the battlefield to you and you alone.

17. Appeal to the forces of Justice. It is never inappropriate to pull the "I'm being oppressed!" card. If you can point directly to moderators, admins, or other gatekeepers who might be acting like The Man to keep you down, all the better, but even in an unmoderated posting environment, like your own LJ, you would be surprised how people swoop to your defense the moment you claim oppression. (NOTE: Certain persons are working on having this one phrased as an internet law, namely Vee's Law: "In an unmoderated posting environment, you are exactly as oppressed as you choose to be." Ignore these unhelpful persons.)

18. Appeal to the bandwagon. You know how your mother always said, "If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?" The answer should be a resounding YES. Use peer pressure to convince people you're right. It's just like Shitty Authority, above, except instead of a single celebrity endorser, claim endorsement by the masses. "You don't want to be the lone freak who doesn't love Blanky777, do you?" Of course nobody wants to be the lone freak. Yes, this is your opportunity to say that delicious phrase: "The lurkers support me in email."

19. Appeal to ignorance. Just because there's no evidence to support you doesn't mean that evidence couldn't exist, somewhere, somehow. Blame the universe, for not providing the evidence, rather than rethink your position. "With all the emails out there, billions of them, don't you think there might be one that approved of Hermione/Xena?" As long as you can convince your audience that possibility is the same as something really existing, you can pretend that a lack of evidence means that evidence just hasn't arrived yet.

20. Marathon. This is a special one that seems only to work on the internet: just reiterate what you're saying again and again, without pausing to consider opposing views or their evidence. Eventually, your opponent will decide you're insane, and give up. This still counts as a win! Even if all the bystanders call you a nutcase.

And if you can't defeat your opponent after using all these tactics, there is one last thing you can do: flounce off (out of the fandom, into a locked post) and declare your victory only to people who always knew you'd win anyway.

Congratulations! You are a winnah!

with special credit to White, F. & S. Billings (2005) The well-crafted argument 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton, pp. 142-168.
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