How to have an argument, part 2


Yesterday, I talked about how some people can’t form arguments coherent enough to even be taken seriously. Whether they didn’t read the whole argument before launching their counterattack, they couldn’t stay on topic, form an articulate discussion or even bother with proper grammar. But there are some who can manage to do all of the above and still not be good to debate with. All because they come off sounding like self-righteous assholes. And no one responds well to a self-righteous asshole.

In an atheist group, I asked a question about Muslim women. I got a variety of responses, then a poster who claimed to be ex-Muslim got into the thread and unleashed a torrent of butthurt so angry that made people question if we needed to involve an administrator. For asking questions I was called narrow-minded, bigoted, ignorant, confused, white feminist with my head up my ass, and many other things. I made it quite clear that I didn’t have a side in this argument, it was just something that I didn’t understand, but the rage continued. Finally, the poster deemed us all too unintelligent to communicate with and stopped posting.

There have been times when I’ve read someone’s argument and completely agreed with their points, but was totally turned off by their style of argument. If you have a good, logical, thought-out point, you don’t need to resort to name calling, insults or low-blows. There’s a huge difference between saying, “I believe that marriage equality is a fundamental right,” and, “Marriage equality is important and you’re a fucking asshole with no brain if you disagree.”

A part of intelligent debate is respect. You don’t have to respect a person’s opinions or point of view. If someone was a rabid KKK member you wouldn’t respect their idea that everyone who isn’t white needs to be murdered. However, you have to respect your fellow debater’s humanity. If you have a good point, make your point without insulting your opponent or resorting to childish name calling.

Having a valid point is useless if you have completely turned off your audience to anything that you have to say. Being derogatory and abusive won’t endear anyone to your point of view. There have come times when I have told people that I agree with what they’re saying, but not how they’re saying it, only to have a shocked reaction that their compelling point could be invalided by their abrasive approach.

When debating, it’s important to be kind and patient. No one wants to listen to anyone shouting at them or calling them a name and this method will ensure that they won’t agree with anything that you have to say. Let your argument speak for itself without adding in anger, resentment and impatience. If all else fails, remember how Richard Dawkins debated Wendy Wright and managed to stay calm in the face of blinding ignorance. Follow Dawkins’ lead.