So you might have seen me recently arguing with people on the internet. What a futile endeavour, right? As they say, arguing with an idiot is like trying to play chess with a pigeon - all it does is knock pieces over, shits on the board, and then it flies back to its flock to regale them with its victory.
They also coup a lot.
So, should you play chess with the pigeon. Is it futile?
Well..maybe. Actually, no. It’s not futile. Not entirely. In fact, there’s a very good reason to do it, just not the reason you might be thinking of.
Firstly, and least importantly, you might actually change someone’s mind. I mean...it’s possible. Just not terribly likely.
In psychology there is something known as the Backfire Effect. When shown evidence in contradiction to a strongly held conviction, the brain will reject the evidence rather than the belief. Instead of eradicating the ignorance, evidence will instead compound it.
The capacity for the human brain to operate in a rational state is vastly overestimated.
The mating cry of the right is “facts don’t care about feelings” when in actuality the opposite is true. The human brain cares very little for facts.
Your opinion is crucial to your sense of self. It’s a core component of your identity.
You believe that you reached your opinion organically through measured reason and that this view of the world is the only correct one, and this provides the bedrock for your self-actualisation. You looked out over the world, determined what was what, and styled yourself accordingly. That’s who you are, that’s how the world made you.
The person and the belief become one and the same. It’s how the brain works.
You do it, I do it, we all do it. I try to base my self-identity on the data, but it takes constant conscious effort. Whenever I’m presented with contrary evidence I can feel the pull. The stubborn desire to find examples to the contrary in order to keep my previous assumptions intact. An urge not to change in order to be right, but to discredit that which suggests that I was not always right.
I don’t always catch it. It’s powerful. And I’m aware that it’s happening. What hope does the proverbial layman have?
When you try to argue against someone’s opinion, you’re provoking them with something that is, to their brain, indistinguishable from an existential threat. On a subconscious level they’re fighting for their lives, which is why it’s such a tough argument to win.
You might get through to them, but you probably won’t. So why try?
Because this isn’t a tango. There are not merely two parties involved. We’re trying to have a goddamn society here. There are people who would like to take that away from us, and this is where it starts. Not when the halls of justice are closed, not when the parliament is dissolved or the Reichstag is burned down or the communists are purged or when a mob marches on the centre of government with malice aforethought. That all comes later, usually when it’s too late.
It all starts when somebody has a toxic view on life which they’re willing to belligerently defend and nobody says anything. That’s where it starts. That’s the grain of dirt and every subsequent time they go unchallenged is another layer of nacreous agitprop that will eventually become a Nazi pearl.
There needs to be pushback. There needs to be a counter-argument, an attempt to get through to these people. And failing that, there needs to be someone to point out when they’re wrong and call them out for being fuckwits.
They’ll fight you, but there needs to be a fight.
Because all of this bullshit in the world right now, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. We didn’t wake up one day and the world was on fire. It happened gradually and it happened because we gave ground.
When you say “no, actually, these are the facts”, it doesn’t matter if they listen or not. What matters is you’re providing resistance. You’re providing a barrier that must be overcome, even if it is so minuscule that you think it doesn’t matter. You’re forcing them to expend just a little bit of effort to maintain their facade, and that adds up.
“Such and such shouldn’t be political” is one of the things you’ll hear a lot. “Footy shouldn’t be political” or “video games shouldn’t be political.” Insert the medium of your choice.
You know what this phrase means? It means that the friction is working.
Because nobody ever says this when their own political views are the ones on the promotional jersey.
When someone wants to keep politics out of something they like, it’s because on some level they know that the views they hold are either incorrect, immoral, or otherwise suspect, and they don’t want to be forced to acknowledge that they’re on the wrong side. It makes them uncomfortable.
So they tell you to stop. Stop, because you’re spoiling the thing I like by forcing me to think about why I feel ashamed.
Do you begin to see why it’s important there be some resistance? What if these people never felt that discomfort?
You see the result of this absence in what happened recently in the United States.
An armed mob descended on the seat of government, during a rare joint sitting of both Houses, with the intent of violently overthrowing the government and establishing a dictatorship.
Let there be no ambiguity about any of that.
It was an attempted coup.
It wasn’t a protest or a riot, but a fascist coup to overthrow a democratically elected government and install a dictator. It’s that serious.
Those people, by their own admission, formed an armed militia and stormed the seat of government with the intent of overthrowing the government, assassinating members of the opposition, instituting martial law, and installing Donald Trump as Dictator of the American Empire. This is not hyperbole, this is what happened.
If anyone is ticking off the parallels to Nazi Germany, this is the “Reichstag fire” part.
I hate it when people say “this is how fascism starts.” It isn’t. This is about 22 steps in. Shit is starting to get real. (And for my countrymen - we have off-shore gulags where we detain people based on their nationality and it doesn’t even make the news any more. Peter Dutton recently introduced a bill which would allow the AFP to covertly assume control of all your devices and accounts if you are suspected of any crime serious enough to warrant three years in prison. How many of you knew that?)
This coup - coup, not riot, not protest, not difference of opinion but a violent attempt to overthrow a government - only failed because of the relatively low number of insurrectionists and the staggering stupidity and incompetence of those involved.
It will happen again.
And it happened because of a lack of resistance. All of those people, all of those fundamentalist hardliners, all of those terrorists - and they are terrorists (terrorism is defined as using violence, or the threat of violence, to leverage a political agenda) - they were there because they didn’t face enough resistance.
Their families stopped talking to them, their friends circle closed, they were blocked on Facebook, they made their own rooms where they banned anyone with a contrary opinion. They encountered no barrier. And look what happened. When you stop questioning their bullshit, they start taking that bullshit for granted and it snowballs. Quickly.
This is all encapsulated in what happened to Ashli Babbitt.
She was the terrorist who was shot to death as she stormed the barricade to reach the government safe room.
There was a door hastily barricaded with furniture, behind which were armed security, and behind them was nearly the entire United States government. Literally. Nearly every federal elected representative was in that one location.
And on the other side of this tiny door was the thousands-strong mob who had declared their intention to hang the Vice President of the “United” States, among others. And he’s ostensibly in their own party.
So there’s a mob and a barricade and a small group of security with weapons drawn. It’s all looking very...revolutionary.
The security, a mix of Capitol Police and Secret Service, have their guns levelled and pointed at the mob. They will protect their charges with lethal force if anyone comes closer. That’s what they do. That’s their only job. There is absolutely no ambiguity to the situation.
There’s a broken window next to the barricade. Ashli Babbitt very casually saunters over to this window and lazily begins to climb over it. She’s halfway through the window when she is shot in the neck by a Capitol Police officer - who had warned her multiple times that they were going to shoot her if she continued. And she kept going. Until she was stopped.
And let us be clear, Babbitt had tweeted the previous day about how “the storm was here” and that traitors should be executed by firing squad. There is a very clear mens rea, Babbitt had murderous intent.
I’ve seen the footage and the most striking thing is how shocked everyone is at her death. Not shock at the death itself, but that it actually happened. The entire mob was absolutely stunned because it was the first time any of them had encountered any real resistance. Any blowback. Any consequences. And now one of them was dead.
(I’ve been asked by some people why the police used lethal force. Why shoot to kill? Why not mace her or tase her or shoot her in the leg or something like the movies? It’s a fair question that can be answered a number of way, but the top of the tree is this: what if she was wearing a bomb? She was meters away from a coup d’etat, this is a nation that has experience with people flying planes into buildings to facilitate their cause, how close can someone get with mace in their eyes or a slug in their knee?)
In hindsight it’s farcical. What did they think was going to happen? But they encountered no resistance before, why would they now. People had long ago stopped arguing with them, it wasn’t worth the effort. You won’t get through to them after all.
So they formed a mob of like minds and again met no resistance. They were allowed past the first line of barricades. No resistance. They entered the building itself and again met no resistance. They broke further into the building. No resistance. Every time a potential barrier wasn’t enforced they became more emboldened. More brazen.
This snowballed until literal barriers no longer presented any sort of challenge.
They encountered Capitol Police and forced them to retreat. They broke down doors and were not tased or gassed or shot. So why would they start questioning their actions now? And when Ashli Babbitt, a 14-year veteran in the Air Force who knew more than most about the rules of engagement, escalation of force, and clear and present danger, when she was presented with a makeshift rampart manned by armed security, why should this one matter when none of the others did?
The shot sent her flying back into the mob and they were stunned. They halted. Nobody knew what to do. This was the first real pushback they encountered. It was the last real pushback Ashli Babbitt encountered.
Do you see why we should all do our part to stop this madness before it acquires any kind of impetus? Sure, individually we might not accomplish much, but just like this emboldening of terrorists, it’s about the cumulative effect.
I heard a story once about a bar in England. The person telling the story was sitting there enjoying a drink when someone sat next to him. The bartender immediately tells the newcomer to get out.
This man claims he’s doing nothing wrong, he’s a paying customer, he’s entitled to be there.
The bartender pulls out a cricket bat and says he won’t ask again. The man leaves.
The guy telling the story, the one just sitting there, he asks what the deal was? What did that guy do wrong? And the bartender says that the guy had swastika tattoos.
So what? He wasn’t causing trouble. He might be a nazi but freedom of speech or whatever, and he was a paying customer.
And the bartender says “you have to nip it in the bud immediately”.
Because that Nazi might have been a pretty chill guy. Maybe he was a lot of fun to hang around with, maybe he read to sick children at the hospital, maybe he donated to charity, maybe he was the world’s greatest person except for his political views about certain ethnic and political groups.
But you have to kick him out immediately.
Because this Nazi, he was alright. He wasn’t causing trouble. So you let him stay. And then next week he brings his buddy to his new pub for a pint. And he’s also a Nazi, but he’s also a cool guy. So they can stay. Because you don’t want to cause a scene.
And then next week they both bring a couple of friends, who bring a couple of friends. And these friends, they aren’t cool anymore.
These are the less polite Nazis, the loud Nazis. And suddenly you realise, you aren’t a pub with a Nazi in it, you’re the Nazi pub. And because it’s a Nazi pub, more Nazis come. And because there are more Nazis, normal people don’t come any more and your pub isn’t your pub anymore - it’s the Nazi pub. And if you try to kick them out now, how’s that going to work?
It’s the same with proto-fascists everywhere. Even on Facebook. You need to nip it in the bud immediately.
“But their ideas are so stupid, why should I bother arguing against them? A paedophile ring in the basement of a pizza shop with no basement? Bill Gates wants to put a microchip in your vaccine? Donald Trump is actually smart? Who’s going to listen to that nonsense?”
This is stupid, why fight against stupidity? Well, I’ll let Jean-Paul Satre explain:
"Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past."
So it’s all pointless, right?
Well, there’s one good reason for arguing with dickheads on the internet.
It’s because of the audience.
It’s the internet. You two aren’t seated in a closed room yelling at each other. You’re in public. When one dickhead is allowed to spout shit unchecked, his dickhead mates feel emboldened to do the same.
But when someone pushes back, these dickheads see that there is pushback. And maybe they’re less inclined to be dickheads.
And maybe a dickhead like him sees the point you’re making and, since he’s not directly threatened by the argument, maybe he sees the validity of your point and he changes his mind.
And people see that someone is taking a stand against dickheads and they feel emboldened to also take a stand against dickheads.
Taking a stand makes all the difference, for a number of reasons.
And one final reason I argue with dipshits online - I want to show people how to do it. How to argue with these dickheads. I’m not only demonstrating the value of pushing back, but I’m showing people the methods of doing so, because not everyone knows. It should be a mandatory part of primary school syllabus, but it isn’t and the world is worse for it. So I do my best to show people how it’s done.
By engaging in this futile endeavour, this chess with a pigeon, I know I’m not going to beat the pigeon. At least not in the pigeon’s brain. But I am going to demonstrate how the pieces move for anyone out there watching who might want to play chess.
These fuckwits, their arguments are shite. They can’t stand any sort of scrutiny. If they could, they wouldn’t be shite arguments. They wouldn’t have to argue them, because you don’t feel the need to defend a good idea.
Which is why these people argue in bad faith, as we say.
They know that any attempt to debate on the actual merit of their ideas will go very poorly for them, so they do their best to keep the debate from ever being legitimate. They know that going toe-to-toe is going to be a quick knockout, so they cheat.
They use tricks that the ancient Greeks nailed three thousand years ago to look like they’re debating when they’re actually doing everything they can to avoid it. This is known as sophistry and it’s very, very effective. Which is why so many people fall into the trap.
And I’d like all of you to stop falling into the trap. To show these people that their tricks won’t work any more. That if they can’t argue their ideas legitimately and coherently then their ideas are not worth arguing - you lose, stiff shit, goodbye, au revoir.
Then we might see less proliferation of these bad faith arguments. We might see a return to rational discourse.
But what do I know?
Well, I did win my high school’s medal for debating, so there’s that.
Which isn’t as trivial as you might think. It means that I’m familiar with rhetoric, which is a huge advantage against those who aren’t.
I’m also a writer and a comedian. Which means that for the last 15 years, my profession has been using these very same tricks against you. You just never noticed. When I make you laugh, I used a rhetorical device to do it.
When I write an article about “the top 7 roles that proved Matthew McConaughey is a serious actor now” you probably didn’t correlate that to your recent purchase of Woodstock Bourbon.
This shit is powerful.
(And if you’re particularly clued in you’ll have spotted that I just established ethos - well done you!)
So the number one thing you need to remember is this. If you take nothing else away, if you follow only one principle, it is this:
STAY. ON. POINT.
Stay on point. Stay on message. Do not get distracted.
Don’t let them pivot into another line of debate. Don’t get distracted by defending an unrelated position of your own. Don’t chase them down the rabbit hole.
Stay on point. Stay on message.
Because that’s the total of it all. Their point is worthless. It’s bullshit. You know it. They know it.
They can’t argue that point. It will not stand. You’ll shred it with logic and evidence.
So they’re going to try and run to a battlefield of their own choosing. Do not let them. Stay on point. Stay on message.
You say “we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about this. I’ll be happy to discuss that after we’ve resolved this, but you’re yet to defend your position.”
Lay down the law. Put up or shut up. And when they bait you, because they will, stand your ground.
“The core principle we’re discussing is this, you’re trying to change the topic because you can’t defend your opinion. You’re wrong, you know you’re wrong and you’re trying to run away.”
And you win. Just like that.
Nobody will tell you that you won. The other person will claim victory and mock you for your defeat. They’ll call you names, some like-minded rubes will join in with some ad hominem bon mots. But it doesn’t matter.
You won. Not just for yourself, but for everyone. For society. For humanity.
So that’s the overriding principle. Stay on point. Stay on message.
If you take nothing else away from this, let it be that. Stay on point, stay on message.
But as I said, they’re going to lay traps for you. It’s very easy to be caught in them. It’s easy to be caught by them if you know what they are, it’s almost impossible to dodge them if you don’t.
So you see the trap, you defuse it, and then you express your disappointment that they had to resort to such nefarious methods in place of having actual merit.
It’s just like high school debating all over again - when you spot them, call them out for using them, lament that the opposition has such a weak case, and bonus points if you do it in Latin.
So here are some of the more common ones you’ll run into:
Also known as missing the point, or irrelevant conclusion, but always style points for Latin.
Aristotle called this “the foundation for all fallacious arguments.” I’ll cede to Aristotle on this one.
This is where you respond to an argument with something that sounds like you’re responding to that argument, but you’re actually pivoting to something else entirely.
So if we go back to the attempted coup in the US, I’ve seen the argument made that “those people were expressing their First Amendment rights (free speech - which really doesn’t mean what these people think it means) and they were entitled to protest.”
On the surface this might appear to be a reasonable defence - was this an insurrection? People are allowed to protest the government, it’s in the Constitution.
But take a look at this argument. Are these concepts actually linked? An accusation was made - violent insurrection took place. The counter argument was that people are allowed to protest.
The second does not address the first.
People are certainly allowed to gather outside the Capitol and peacefully register their umbrage. And they did just that. Thousands of people gathered outside in a perfectly legal protest. Good for them.
Then a large number of them violently stormed the building and beat a police officer to death with a fire extinguisher, which is what we’re actually discussing. Is that legal? Answer the question.
Stay on point. Stay on message.
“Black Lives Matter!”
“All Lives Matter!”
Well, yes. That’s very technically true, but again, the second doesn’t address the first.
What if we’re all sitting around at a restaurant? Everyone’s food comes out except yours. They all start eating, but you’re still hungry.
“I’m hungry, I need to eat!”
“Yes, everyone needs to eat. You starve if you don’t eat.” says everyone else at the table.
Was the problem solved? Was the point addressed? No. Be wary of this one, because an answer can look like an answer without ever actually being one.
Burden of Proof
This is a big one. The person making the claim is the one who needs to back it up.
If you can’t demonstrate and validate your argument, then it’s not even worth debating.
Remember, it isn’t up to you to disprove bullshit, it’s enough to say “prove it”. And if they can’t, then it’s over.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell summed this up with a concept that is now known as Russell’s Teapot.
If I claim that in space, at the exact middle point between Earth and Mars, in orbit around the sun, there is a teapot. Now this teapot is naturally too small to see with a telescope or any sort of instrument, and if you had a spaceship and could fly around and look it would take forever because space is huge, but trust me - there’s a teapot out there.
Does anyone feel the need to disprove that claim? Of course not, so why do accept “studies have shown X”? Show us the studies.
This is also known as Hitchen’s Razor - “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
“The Earth is flat. Prove me wrong.” No, this is on you. I’m not doing your work for you.
This is the most common logical fallacy you’ll encounter after actually engaging with someone.
Tu quoque is Latin for “you also.”
We’ll call it by its more common name “whataboutism.”
(Technically these are slightly different things, but it’s like how a banana is actually a herb, how semantic are we feeling?)
This is when you respond to an accusation with an accusation of your own, without actually arguing the original point.
So you’ll see something like “Robodebt was a massive failure and a demonstrative example of incompetent governance” and someone defending the LNP would respond with “what about Labor’s Pink Batt scandal?”
Well, what about it? That’s not what we’re talking about. Answer the question.
Stay on point, stay on message.
This kind of misdirection is so potent because you’ll often feel compelled to answer.
They’ve turned the spotlight back on you, and you know you have the argument to back that up, so you deploy it. You respond.
And now the other party is safely away from the unsteady ground they just found themselves on, relieved they won’t have to fight a losing battle.
Do not fall for it. Do not engage. This is the holy grail of bad faith arguments, the lure is so tempting, you can fall for it subconsciously and by the time you’ve realised it the battle is long over.
Stay on point, stay on message.
(So, technically speaking, a true tu quoque is to divert the argument by pointing out some behaviour in the past which is contrary to the current argument. A recent example is NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard instituting a mask mandate to stem coronavirus in Sydney.
Hazzard’s famous bungling of the Ruby Princess fiasco was one of the primary vectors of the initial outbreak. So one might say “you want us to wear masks to stop the virus? What about that time you let in a plague ship?” Both are worth arguing, but only one is happening right now.
It’s important to always point out when a public figure, especially a politician, is being a hypocrite, but know that it doesn’t necessarily invalidate their point.)
Reductio ad Mysterium
Argument from the unknown. So this is when someone makes a claim and their evidence for said claim is some hidden knowledge or secret wisdom that only they or a select few possess.
This knowledge is not easy to come by, it requires you to go looking for it. But because it is so difficult to attain, it is more valuable than regular knowledge and thus supersedes it - you might have facts, but I have superfacts.
This crops up whenever someone says something like “do your own research and then you’ll know.” Well, what is this research? Where do I find it? What credentials does it have? If what you know is so crucial then surely it’s available for me to “educate myself”. Right? Right?
Starting with a conclusion and then collecting evidence to support that conclusion, instead of forming a conclusion based on the evidence. (Confirmation Bias is way too big to get into here)
“Since global warming isn’t real, we need to look at what these so-called experts have to gain by continuing the hoax.” Well, you’ve not proven that global warming isn’t a thing, you just said that and assumed I’d agree, let’s get that out of the way first.
This was a favourite of Donny’s. “People are saying.” “Everyone always says.” “The experts tell me.” Who are these people? Will they stand by these assertions? Until they exist as tangible beings who will stand by their assertions then they have the rhetorical conviction of a fart.
Modus Tollendo Ponens
Latin for “mode which affirms by denying.” We call it a disjunctive syllogism.
It’s not necessarily wrong on its own, but it can be used for devious means.
A disjunctive syllogism happens when one thing being true makes another thing false. So if it’s A, then it can’t be B. If a coin lands on heads it can’t be tails. One or the other, if you follow me.
Where this becomes murky is if you were acting in bad faith and used this logic to create something out of nothing. “Well this obviously isn’t A, so it’s got to be B”. Well hang on, what if there’s a C you didn’t mention?
“There are light beers and there are dark beers. This obviously isn’t a dark beer, so it must be a light beer” you say as you take a sip of cider.
A recent example is the doubt over the US election. “There are more Trump supporters than there are Biden supporters, so there must have been electoral tampering.”
There may well be more Trump supporters than there are Biden supporters, but you’re not factoring in the number of people who might not be Biden supporters, but voted for whoever wasn’t Trump. There was A, there was B, but there was a third option - I don’t give a fuck what B is, as long as it’s not A.
This is also an example of a false dichotomy - you’re either with us or against us. George W Bush was a big fan of this one, you’re either with us or the terrorists. Let us never forget just how much damage he did to the world, just because a bigger knob enters the fray it doesn’t diminish the girth of the previous record holder.
Just because you don’t believe something is true doesn’t make it false. I’ve personally encountered “the moon landing was faked because it’s impossible for humans to survive the radiation of the Van Allen Belt.”
I don’t want to question your PhD in YouTube, but as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski would say “that’s just, like, your opinion man.”
I can’t speak Spanish, but it doesn’t mean that I can deny that the language exists.
On a more intimate level, people who struggle with basic spelling and grammar tend to assume that I spend a lot more time on my responses than I actually do because they conflate effort with word count and content.
As if I’m sitting there typing chopsticks style at 20 words per minute, flicking through a thesaurus because they’ve never personally come across “fustigation” or learned to touch type.
No, you didn’t make me spend hours coming up with a response, you’re just an idiot and you’re using that as your baseline. Dream bigger.
This is when you introduce irrelevant material to distract from the line of inquiry.
For instance, when Scott Morrison was being questioned about the validity of Australia Day and how traumatic it is for the indigenous population of Australia, Morrison responded that the people who were on the convict ships had it tough too.
Well, sure. But was that in any way part of the question you’re supposed to be answering? It’s like an ignoratio elenchi, but more obtuse. If ignoratio elenchi is slyly palming the coin with one hand while gesturing with the other, then a red herring is like a magician yelling “hey, look, a tiger!” and then stuffing the dove back under his hat.
Invented by William Cobbett, a particularly disingenuous prick from British history, who used to tell the story of how he trained foxhounds by using pickled herrings, known for having a noisome odour, to confuse the scent of the trail.
To borrow a sporting term, playing the man, not the ball. Ad hominem is “at the man”, meaning that instead of debating the core point, you go straight for the jugular and attack the person making the argument or cast doubt on their character.
For instance “your a labour fuckturd (actual example)”. If you do this, you have immediately lost. Red card, hit the showers, you’re done.
There’s no coming back, it’s a solid admission that you’ve got nothing. As Mr Shaibel said to Beth Harmon “no, you resign.”
Of course they don’t, but it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching that only one side of this debate has any intelligence.
On the hierarchy of argument, this is the lowest rung, and rightfully so. This is kindergarten level immaturity.
Using carefully worded language to avoid an issue.
When one of Trump’s several dozen legal challenges to the election was thrown out by a judge, an exchange occurred in which the defense claimed that Republicans scrutineers were not allowed in the ballot room. The video evidence suggested otherwise.
When the judge asked if there were any Republican representatives actually in the room, the lawyer responded that there was a “non-zero” amount. It didn’t work, but I guess it was worth a shot.
I think “alternative facts” was my favourite.
Fallacy of Virtue/Fallacy of Genetics
Dismissing evidence based solely on the course which provided it. Or the inverse.
“Fake news” if it comes from the “mainstream media” and “the truth” if it comes from Rupert Murdoch, who is apparently not the mainstream media despite owning most of it.
The Grey Fallacy (Middle Ground)
If someone says white and someone else says black, that doesn’t automatically mean that the truth is somewhere in between.
If I say it’s raining and you say it’s sunny, then we shouldn’t come to an agreement that it’s overcast just to prevent an argument. It’s your duty as a human to stick your head out the window and look.
“The election was rigged, there was ballot stuffing everywhere.”
“There is no evidence that any ballot stuffing took place.”
“Well, we should at least agree that there was some ballot stuffing somewhere.”
No, why should we? We’re not talking about a restaurant bill here, there’s an objective correct position.
Oversimplifying or outright misrepresenting your opponent’s argument or character to make them easier to refute. Essentially building a straw effigy to attack rather than the person, who might fight back.
“I think food delivery drivers should be given sick leave and medical cover”
“Oh, so you’re saying someone that runs your burger down the street should be paid as much as a long-haul truckie?”
See how they deliberately misconstrue the point to make it easier to argue?
Circulus in demonstrando
Circular argument, in which someone uses what they are trying to prove as proof of the thing they’re trying to prove.
“The recession is over, because the Treasurer said the economy has recovered. And since it’s the Treasurer’s job to end the recession, so the economy is back on track.”
Cum hoc ergo propter hoc
Post hoc ergo propter hoc
With this, therefore because of this and after this, therefore because of this.
This all boils down to the idea that correlation doesn’t equal causation. Just because two things happen at the same time, or one after another, doesn’t mean that they have any relationship.
“Isn’t it weird how the vaccine is being rolled out at the same time as all of these new 5G towers? That means there must be a 5G microchip in the vaccine.”
Lisa, I’d like to buy your rock.
Appeal to Nature
Just because something is natural doesn’t immediately give it legitimacy. Measles is natural, vaccines aren’t, and I know which one I prefer.
“It’s not natural to wear a mask, we evolved/were built by god to breathe without a mask, so I won’t wear one”.
And yet you wear shoes.
Argumentum ad Antiquitatem
Appeal to tradition. Just because something has been done a certain way throughout history doesn’t mean that it’s correct.
“We don’t need a vaccine, we’ve been taking Vitamin C for viruses for years.”
And how’s that working out for you? Want to see the data regarding vitamin c and colds and flu? Want to see what other bullshit you take for granted?
Latin for does not follow.
Trying to throw off the course of a debate by abruptly shifting topics to something unrelated in the hopes of short-circuiting people’s brains.
“I see you’ve committed a number of logical fallacies there, I have provided video proof of this.”
“Well, at least I use a real photo of myself as a profile picture!”
Ooookay. This one actually happened.
The Bandwagon Fallacy
Assuming that something has merit simply because a lot of people support it.
Jacques has it pretty well nailed down “Dr Pepper - 60 million Americans can’t be wrong. Yes, yes they can.”
70 million Americans voted for dumber Hitler, it doesn’t make him any less dumber Hitler.
Begging The Question
Assuming the conclusion of your argument is a given and a solid basis for an argument in and of itself. A form of circular reasoning.
“Homosexuality is wrong, it says so in the bible. And the bible is the absolute true word of god. It says so in the bible.”
This fallacy occurs when sufficient logical evidence strongly indicates a particular conclusion is true, but someone fails to acknowledge it, instead attributing the outcome to coincidence or something unrelated entirely.
“Sure there was the census debacle, and the robodebt debacle, but the deficiencies of the covid tracing app aren’t the fault of the government, nobody saw covid coming.”
The human brain is biologically wired to never consider itself to be wrong. In fact, it will actually confabulate false memories to the contrary in order to preserve the initial narrative it invented.
Special Pleading occurs when you’re confronted by direct contrary evidence, so you come up with a way of explaining this specific case that directly blows your argument out of the water.
“Shove your ageism up your arse”
“Is this publicly available footage of you doing a routine about how kids do stupid things?”
“Yeah but I didn’t do it about old people, so it’s totally not ageism.”
This one is the domain of psychics and mediums. There’s always a scapegoat - the spirits are restless, the aura is cloudy, Mercury is in retrograde - it’s never the psychic’s fault.
Appeal to Emotion
Manipulating someone’s feelings rather than using a logically presented argument. This doesn’t work on the autistic.
“So you won’t go vegan? So you enjoy it when animals suffer?”
Depends on the animal really. The wombats started it. But in all honesty, have a better argument.
Appeal to Authority
Just because someone is an expert in one thing doesn’t make them an expert in all things.
Be very cautious about taking your position from someone operating outside their wheelhouse.
If I needed help with my maths test, I’d ask Albert Einstein. If I needed to know how to correctly saw a dovetail joint in some furniture, I’d probably ask someone else.
“You know Joe Rogan said that (insert whatever crazy bullshit he’s talking about now, I can’t keep up)”
Cool. If I want advice on kickboxing, multi-level marketing, or getting people to google things, Joe is speed dial 1. Anything else, I’m looking for a specialist.
The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
This is where you start with a conclusion and highlight specific examples to support your case, and wave off anything contrary.
Like a cowboy firing at the side of a barn and then later finding the closest clumping of bullet holes and painting the bullseye around them - to anyone who came along later, he might appear to be a crack shot.
“Jordan Peterson said that some people are winners and some people are losers, because of serotonin levels, which are found in lobsters - another species with strict social hierarchies.”
Cool. Nice parallel. You know what other species have serotonin and don’t use it to support the exploitation of the proletariat? Most of them.
Appeal to Anecdote
Just because you or someone you know has had an experience contrary to the data, does not invalidate the data. It is a single example, not a representative one.
“The world is getting more and more dangerous every year.”
“Well, actually, here are several national and international case studies which show that violence has dropped consistently every year across the globe and we’re living in the safest period in human history.”
“Well my sister was mugged on her way home last month, so you’re obviously wrong.”
Obviously. Sorry, thousands of examples of the contrary, Karen hath spoken.
“You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” Chuck Palahniuk.
We all tend to see ourselves as the centre of the universe. But we’re not. We’re the centre of our own universe, but not the universe.
It’s just that some of us can’t tell the difference. Some people think that because they’re the most important character in their story, they’re the most important character in everyone’s story.
You’re not. You’re not special. You’re special to you, you’re special to everyone in your family maybe, or your friends, but the rest of the world does not give a shit about you.
This is tremendously liberating if you really think about it.
But things are not happening to you personally. The government isn’t spying on you, Bill Gates isn’t tracking you, the Illuminati isn’t logging every phone call you make - think of the data that would require!
Sure, some of these things happen. Calls get taped. People get followed. Bill Gates has enemies. But statistically, you’re not one of them.
The odds of winning the lottery are astronomical. The odds of someone winning the lottery are substantially lower. If I give a hundred raffle tickets out to a hundred people, the odds of you winning are 1 in 100. The odds of someone winning are 1:1.
Life is kind of like that. The universe doesn’t revolve around you, that’s the height of arrogance. Consider the balance of probability when you’re thinking that the world is out to get you.
Woo, what a doozy. We could go for hundreds of pages on this. But we won’t. I’ll leave it at this.
The universe is a crazy, chaotic place. There isn’t a grand plan, there isn’t some divine being in charge. There isn’t a place for everything and everything in its place. There isn’t a pattern in the noise - it’s just noise.
Chaos is the basic state of the universe.
We come along and we try to impose order on it for as long as we can, but it will all eventually devolve back into chaos.
Some people smoke for 90 years without even a cough, fitness freaks die in their 20’s from an undiagnosable brain tumour the size of a...I don’t know what small is for brain tumours.
There’s no method to it. There’s no justice. No karma. No will of god, no punishment of the wicked, no reward for the pure.
It’s all just random fucking chance.
And for some people, this causes a deep and profound existential terror. It can be quite literally the scariest thing they imagine.
That it’s all just chaos. That, in the end, none of it matters.
So they reject this reality and substitute their own. Of course there is someone in charge. Of course there’s a plan. There has to be a plan, because without a plan it would be...chaos. None of it would have any meaning. There’s got to be a plan.
Even a nefarious, evil plan is better than no plan at all.
Do you know who Gavrilo Princip was? Exactly, that’s exactly what terrifies people.
So they choose to believe in a world where everything is run according to some indecipherable agenda. And this has the bonus of making them feel good about themselves because they were smart enough to figure it out. They’re better than the dumb wheels and cogs, just part of the machine.
They’ve pulled back the curtain and seen the wizard, the one pulling all the strings.
There’s a shadowy cabal of the world’s elite kidnapping children to extract a chemical that allows them to live forever so they can build a base on Mars. Yes, that’s it.
And they kidnap anyone who figures it out and they torture them and turn them or execute them and that’s why famous basketball stars die in helicopter crashes or polemic fuckwits lose elections by millions of votes.
I mean, you expect me to believe that nobody is in charge?
Occam’s Razor is your best tool here. The simplest explanation is most often the correct one.
What’s more of a stretch? That one of the richest people in human history plans to inject you with a tiny microchip that is beyond our current understanding of technology for reasons that nobody can quite elucidate?
They want to track your every movement because you’re so super special and they need an astronomically costly and convoluted plan to do this even though you just tagged yourself at the last 300 places you went to, because you looked at a map of 5G towers in your town and worked out that they formed a pentagram pointing directly to your house, after you discarded all the ones that don’t look like a pentagram pointing at your house?
Or, and see if this works as an alternative, maybe you’re too fucking stupid to understand virology and you’ve developed a subconscious resentment towards anyone smarter than you because they constantly remind you of your broken hopes and dreams and how much you disappointed yourself and your parents?
So these are the most common examples you’ll find, taken from real-world experience. Logical fallacies and rhetoric are a great area of study and self-improvement and I really advise everyone to explore them more. If we all knew how rhetoric worked then most of the bullshit in the world wouldn’t be happening right now.
If we all had the collective nous to say “hol’ up, what’s your evidence for this?” what a world we’d live in. But we don’t. So we need to make an effort.
But remember the main doctrine - stay on point. Stay on message.
Don’t get distracted, don’t chase the rabbit. They know they can’t win, so they want to take you to a place where they feel they can. If Mike Tyson said he was the world’s greatest chess player, and you said “I think I could take you” and he said “no, let’s make it a boxing match instead” would you allow that?
Make them invalidate their own point, and then walk away. Point out where they’re wrong, why they’re wrong, and how they can improve - because that’s what we’re going for here. We’re the rising tide trying to lift all boats.
Don’t worry about getting the last word, because the destruction of the central argument is the last word, everything else is a petulant tantrum not worth your time.
And don’t be afraid to try the Socratic Method.
Simply, the Socratic Method involves being non-confrontational and asking broad questions about the person’s position and then slowly whittling them down with successive questions until they trip themselves up.
It used to be more effective because it wasn’t somebody being told that they were wrong, but a conclusion they reached themselves, so they didn’t feel confronted. Now, for one thing, people are a lot dumber and don’t have that Damascene moment.
And for another, we live in a post-Sorkin world where his use of the Socratic Method as a narrative device, such as in A Few Good Men, means that people are more familiar with it and can often tell when they’re being played.
But that doesn’t mean it never works. It’s like the Fried Liver in chess, when you pull it off it’s great, and if they don’t fall for it, you can just transition into a regular game.
But the SM would go something like this.
“The Greenies were responsible for the bushfires!”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, they prevented backburning.”
“So you think it was legislation against backburning that caused the fires. Is it possible that it was a climactic occurrence?”
“No, they changed the laws and right after there were fires.”
“And why do you think they changed the laws?”
“Because they’re greenies.”
“But what is it about greenies that compels them to influence backburning legislation?”
Now your argument is probably going to break down here as the person realises they’re fucking stupid. They won’t admit it, it’s going to get hostile, but it’s clear who the fuckwit is at this point.
For a more generic breakdown:
Ask for clarification - What you mean by X?
Probe Assumptions - Why have you based your reasoning on X rather than Y?
Probe Reasoning and Evidence - And why do you think this is true?
Question Viewpoints and Perspective - How would you answer these objections?
Probe Implications and Consequences - What effect would your answers have on the situation?
Question the Question - So, how could you decisively settle this question?
Democracy is a very fragile thing. Like a ship in a bottle, it’s a lot of hard work to set up and very easy to knock down. It’s also rare. 99% of the humans who have ever lived did so under a system other than democracy.
And we’re willing to throw it away because it’s not worth showing a dickhead that they’re a dickhead? It’s a waste of effort.
We’re trying to have a society here, we all need to throw in a little effort. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or something. I never bothered to learn Imperial, it’s another dumb thing that is still hanging around because people won’t challenge it.
And besides, it’s fun to play with these imbeciles. They’re dumb but they’ve somehow convinced themselves they possess a higher truth, and when they’re forced to put it into words it hurts their brains. What’s not to love. Stop trying to be conciliatory, that’s how we got in this problem to start with.
Remember, it’s not about you. Or me. Or the dickheads we’re arguing with. It’s about everyone else. All 8 billion of us. It’s about doing a small - a very small - act towards untangling this sordid web of asshattery (goddamn I love that this word was actually in the spellcheck already) we’ve found ourselves in and leaving the world a little better for our having been in it.
That’s the only legacy any of us really get.