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How to Debate with a Crazy Conservative

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Politically Incorrect

 

Did that headline get you going? Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not really going to pick on conservatives here. However, on Facebook and email, in bars and at lunch, it’s hard to miss discussions on politics. These are trying times we live in, with difficult decisions to be made, and conversation is needed. As a liberal, of course, most of my ‘disagreements’ over politics occur with conservatives; hence the headline. But I admit that throughout political discourse, from left and from right, nobody seems to understand how to argue anymore.

Remember what you were taught about logic in high school? No? Well, I don’t either. Logic was never on the curriculum, and that fact becomes glaringly obvious when it comes to political discourse.

So here’s a little discourse on logic for you all to use. If you’re guilty of these illogical failings, please try to rectify the way you frame your arguments. If your debate opponent is guilty of these, please point them out. If you’re arguing with me, however, and you catch me engaging in one of these behaviors... well, I guess I deserve whatever you say. That’s the risk you take when you write something like this.

THE GISH GALLOP

I hope your endurance level is high, because the Gish Gallop—or, as I like to call it, the “Well, but” technique—will inevitably make an appearance when talking politics. Your political opponent will make an obligatory ignorant comment about something that is simply factually untrue—think Sarah Palin’s “death panels.” Once you’ve refuted the point and explained how facts simply don’t back up the comment, the Gish galloper will respond, “Well, but there’s (point B),” and when point B is refuted, they bring up point C... all without ever acknowledging their facts have been incorrect all along. 

This kind of conversation can go on forever, or until you give up and go to bed. I don’t know of any way to head the Gish Gallop off at the pass, but one way to address it is to simply draw attention to it. When your debate partner heads to point B, make sure to ask, “So, you understand your point A was incorrect but now you want to discuss point B,” and even better, when they head to point C, remark “So you understand that both your point A and your point B were factually incorrect,” and so on. It can be hoped your discussion partner will, at some point, be so shamed by the total asininity of their arguments they will shut up and leave you alone.

Bear in mind that the Gish Gallop is probably the first illogical arguing technique that anyone ever learns. Kids have it down pat even before kindergarten, and pointing out that what they’re doing is, in fact, a Gish Gallop usually won’t get you anywhere. With kids under the age of 5, and even under the age of 10, your best response is to end the argument by saying something along the lines of “because I said so.”

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

You’d think that, given how many times the Slippery Slope is invoked, we’d all be at the bottom of the hill by now. What’s especially astounding about the Slippery Slope argument is how rarely it is ever true.

Anyone who has ever discussed any kind of gun control, or the legalization of marijuana, is familiar with this argument. If you’re in favor of some type of gun control, it will be used against you, and if you’re opposed to any kind of gun control, then you’ve likely used this argument yourself. The same is true for medical marijuana.

Seriously?! Beware this argument, because what you’re basically saying is, “You have no control over your own decision making. If you decide one thing, then you will inevitably carry that decision on to a even stronger, different, conclusion.”

I admit, I think most people are fairly dumb. But I don’t think they’re that dumb.

THE STRAW MAN

This is a favored technique by many, whereby your opponent ignores your actual position, characterizes it in a way that’s false, and then disproves their created position as a way of saying your initial argument is false.

A good current example of a Straw Man argument revolves around the Health Care Reform Act. Tell me this: how many times have you heard this act referred to as “socialized medicine?”

Wow. Opponents to health care reform focus arguments on why you shouldn’t want socialized medicine (many of them straw men within straw men within straw men) and consider the discussion ‘done.’ Yet the Health Care Reform Act doesn’t even come close to socialized medicine.

My god, it barely comes close to medicine at all, given that the entire health care reform bill deals almost entirely with health care insurance. So if your discussion devolves into socialized medicine, rest assured you’re fighting a straw man.

TU QUOQUE

The Tu Quoque (you, too) argument is really, when you think about it, a dirty trick. You’re using a tu quoque argument if you find  yourself making accusations against the person you’re talking with. “Look,” you might say to the person you’re disagreeing with. “You can’t possibly believe there’s a problem with sending a text message while you’re driving because I’ve seen you putting makeup on while you drive!” While you might have successfully pointed out some hypocrisy in your debate opponent, you haven’t actually addressed the issue of whether or not it’s a bad idea to send a text message while you’re driving. (If you’re wondering, by the way, it is a bad idea. Please don’t do it if you’re driving on a road where any of my loved ones are also driving.)

The tu quoque fallacy is probably so favored because, let’s face it, it feels good. Nobody likes hypocrisy unless they’re practicing it themselves. 

ARGUMENT FROM AUTHORITY

This is an easy one to fall into if only because, to some degree, we find it necessary in life. It’s the “Because I Said So” argument and, from using it on your own children, it’s likely you already recognize at some level how it falls short. 

We saw an example of this type of argument recently in Sandpoint over adding fluoride to water. “Can all these dentists be wrong?” After all, dentists turned out en masse to support what was then the current level of fluoridation in water.

The answer is, “of course they can be.” Dentists might have expert knowledge of teeth, and expert knowledge of the fluoride they apply to teeth in their own offices, but that does not make them experts on adding fluoride to water.

Note that their lack of expertise in the subject at hand doesn’t mean they were wrong in their opinion (though I personally believe they were), it just means that the fact of who they were did not necessarily mean their arguments were correct.

It’s hard not to try to argue from authority, however, because most of the things we form opinions on are not areas where we have personal expertise. 

POST-HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC

Given that I’m running out of room here, let’s wrap this up with just one more example of an illogical basis for argument: Post-hoc ergo propter hoc. I chose this one just because I need to practice my Latin, which is pretty much non-existent. Translated, it means “after this, therefore because of this” and is the old argument about cause and effect.

Sometimes this argument is actually true: for example, when I don’t eat, I get hungry, therefore not eating makes me hungry. 

More often, however, our innate desire to find patterns leads us into a post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument; it’s the basis for most of our superstitions.

For example, every single time I have bet that the Chicago Bears will win a football game, I have lost the bet. This even happened in 1985, when the only game they lost the entire season was the one game I bet on. So now, I never bet that the Bears will win a football game.

You’ll note that my betting restraint has not actually ‘caused them to ever win a game, but that doesn’t change my superstition. Which just goes to show you: all of us, at times, will fall for an an illogical argument.

Just try not to do it too often.

 

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Politics, Sandpoint, debate, fluoride, health care reform, logical fallacies, Gish Gallop, Slippery Slope, Straw Man, Tu Quoque, Argument from Authority, Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, Chicago Bears, text messaging, texting while driving, cell phones, socialized medicine, gun control, medical marijuana, legalize marijuana, logic, Politically Incorrect

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