It was written some time back, but I’ve just stumbled on this incredible dissection of lefty arguing techniques by Larry Correia. Although it ostensibly describes nonsense rhetorical techniques for the internet, each of these have their “real life” equivalents.
Online, it can be virtually impossible to “defeat” an opponent, for the moment you corner them, they’ve the option to vanish into thin air much more easily than they ever could in person. Nevertheless, it’s important to learn how manage the morons you’ll encounter on various sites for two reasons. Correia describes the first:
I often get people who agree with me posting stuff like “well, you wasted your time on that doofus!” Ah, but you miss the point. You don’t defend your beliefs in the hopes of convincing the willfully ignorant. That’s a lost cause. The willfully ignorant aren’t to be convinced, they are to be mocked. Their flaws are to be pointed out until everyone around them realizes how full of crap they are. Remember that argument is theater, and your performance isn’t aimed at your opponent, but rather at the audience. If you choose to follow the Fisker’s Path, your goal is three fold.
Give ammo to the people already on your side.
Convince the undecided .
Allow your opponent’s to display their petty ignorance to the world.
Your opponent may be a hopeless windbag and your own site’s commenters may already agree with you, but there are lurkers. In person, I call the person with whom you’re having a discussion your Opponent, but your Target is the person you’re hoping to persuade. If your Opponent is among the Benighted he could simultaneously be your Target, but if he’s Anointed your Targets will invariably be those quietly listening in on your conversation. Therefore, there may well be a point to engaging the idiots.
Second, online rhetoric mirrors the rhetoric you’ll encounter in person, on television, and in other media. Handling internet trolls and obnoxious co-workers aren’t equivalent skills, but they are related.
Correia does a phenomenal job of describing how lefties like to argue. However, in this post he only obliquely describes how to respond to them. I’ve no doubt he’s great at it (I just found his site but I’m assuming based on his writing ability), and it wasn’t the point of the article. Nevertheless, he didn’t do it in detail.
That’s where I come in.
Lefty beliefs match lefty rhetoric, and fortunately there’s a pattern to it. The items on Correia’s list all derive from their flawed premises and their desire to frame any discussion away from addressing them. These flaws can be summed up in one word: subjectivism.
Subjecivism stems from the failure to adhere to the principles of GIA, and it manifests itself somewhat differently according to the specific principle being violated:
G-subjectivism (or moral subjectivism or relativism): There are no objective moral standards. Whatever floats your boat. You feel that way just because you’re white. Our supposed moral codes stem merely from attempts by the powerful to legitimize their privilege. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about who controls the narrative. It’s not about whether or not a specific action is moral, it’s about who’s doing what to whom. Your morality stems entirely from your desire to either gain or maintain power. Philosophical forebear: Nietzsche.
A-subjectivism: What matters isn’t reality, it’s perspective. The words in the Constitution, works of literature, or whatever legislation don’t mean what whoever wrote them intended them to mean, they mean what the reader wants them to mean, how it makes them feel. Rape or sexual harassment aren’t objective crimes to be defined based on what the accuser does but instead on how the victim feels about them. If the oil companies pay for a study we can dismiss it out of hand for bias, but the Sierra Club’s facts are objectively true. Of course you’re going to support lower taxes: you’re rich. Try living in poverty for a while and your perspective would change and you’d understand the value of social programs. Massaging statistics or facts to prove a point is perfectly fine, for facts don’t necessarily supports Higher Truths, and the Higher Truth is Leftism. Therefore, just like “little white lies” in support of Truth are actually truthful, facts that cast doubt on Truth are actually lies. Philosophical forebear: Kant.
I-subjectivism: Despite our rhetoric of equalism, we believe most profoundly in a hierarchy within humanity. We believe not merely in a hierarchy of ability, achievement, luck, or stature, but a hierarchy that goes to the very depths of what it means to be human. The Anointed can be trusted with determining how much we drive, what we eat, and the extent of our health coverage, but the Benighted can’t be expected to know that letting their children live on Doritos or stay up until 2 A.M. on a schoolnight is a bad idea. Bush bears unlimited responsibility for all the horrible things that happened during his presidency, but you can’t really blame that single mom for getting knocked up the fourth time, the armed robber for not knowing that holding up a store is wrong, or Obama for anything. White rednecks should be mocked and shunned for their bitter-clinging racism, but black culture bears no relation whatsoever to the poverty in our inner cities. Corporate barons, Republican politicians, and rednecks both living and dead should be held accountable for everything, impoverished minorities and single moms for absolutely nothing, and the Anointed determine who should be bear what responsibility and how. The very worth of a human being, whether he should be held accountable for his mistakes, whether he should have to pay more for health insurance or get kicked off his land, it all depends on how the Anointed have determined that society should be orchestrated. ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS. Philosophical forebear: Rousseau.
When arguing with a lefty, your enemy is subjectivism damn near every time. Yes, there are honest lefties, still blind but not willfully so. Nevertheless, even if subjectivism doesn’t infuse their rhetoric, it does infuse their belief system. On virtually every issue, you’re calling attention to an error in at least one of the principles of G, I, or A, often two of them, and sometimes all three.
To use Larry’s rhetorical examples:
- Skim until Offended: A & I (only the facts that support my indignation count)
- Disqualify that Opinion: I (the opinions of the privileged don’t matter)
- Attack, Attack, Attack: G & I (your inferior worth means it’s okay to say anything)
- Disregard Inconvenient facts: A (objective truths aren’t true if not “Truth”)
- Make Shit Up: A (lies aren’t false if they support “Truth”)
- Resort to Moral Equivalency: G (there are no moral standards, everybody does it)
- Concern Trolling: G, I, and/or A (depends on the motivation of the troll, complicated)
- When all else fails, Racism!: G, I, & A (often requires using all three, but it depends)
Fortunately, just like there are patterns to the errors they make, there are patterns to how to correct them.
The goal of rhetorical sparring should always be to steer the discussion towards one of rational dialectic. Even if you’re trying to get the troll to run away and hide, you want your readers to know that although you’re able to match him blow for blow with rhetorical bullshit, your goal is to seek Truth. You insult not because you’re an asshole, you’re just great at self-defense. You make the effort to be reasonable and extend an invitation to your opponent to do the same. You won’t take any crap but make every effort to be fair.
You’re never just selling your ideas, you’re selling yourself. Frame yourself as the benevolent ruler, the man who can admit he’s wrong but almost never has to. You consider it “personal” only if you’re opponent insists on making it personal, but call attention to your opponent’s lack of maturity as you insult him.
Rhetoric is the sparkly pretty stuff we sprinkle on our own beliefs to make them look a bit more appealing to others. It’s also the ugly brown paste we smother on the beliefs of our opponents to make them seem less appealing.
But rhetoric is merely ornamental; it’s not Truth itself. This is both its strength and weakness: strength because it can easily sway weak minds without needing any actual facts, weakness because it can be swept away if it’s either matched by superior rhetoric or even just exposed for what it is.
For the most effective way to neutralize your opponent’s rhetoric is to simply call it out. Blow past the nonsensical frame of white men’s opinions mean nothing and call attention to how that frame bears no relation to Truth whatsoever, how not even they really believe it.
At least not the rhetorical crap they use, for they’ll gladly call you on it any time you try to pull it yourself (assuming they’re intelligent enough to recognize it). To cite Correia’s example of how only women’s opinions on abortion count: Do they really believe that Sarah Palin’s opinion on abortion counts for more than Joe Biden’s? That Herman Cain’s views on race matter more than Harry Reid’s?
Bring this up, and just like Correia says, they’ll dodge, they’ll weave, they’ll vanish as soon as you’ve got them cornered.
But if it’s online people read it, in person people listen in. Dedicate yourself to Truth, make sure your audience knows this about you, de-frame their nonsense, attack and establish your superiority, offer to let up on them if they change. If they don’t, be ruthless. If they do, engage in honest discussion to the best of your ability.
Over time I’ll describe how I recommend handling each item on Correia’s list. No single attack or re-frame will change a mind, but by repeatedly pointing out the difference between rhetoric and dialectic, between their nonsensical insults and your good sense, you can start planting some seeds.
Truth is discerned through the dialectic, but the minds of the average idiot rely almost entirely on rhetoric. Through recognizing and accepting the latter, you can help bring people to the former.