The power of bad arguments

Bad arguments and insults do not really win you any converts, no matter how many arguments you “win”

Coffee Argument
Image by alasdair.d via Flickr

I’ve spent the better part of last week arguing in length with a Pareconist in the comments of the Division by Zer0 about, what else, Parecon. The discussion grew enormously large with multiple threads and arguments all over the place, to the point of having around 10 replies per day, per person. As it progressed, it became increasingly frustrating because of the way the other person went around arguing his point.

You see, when I entered into this conversation, I was cautiously neutral about Parecon, I considered that it’s unnecessary and most likely unworkable on a large scale but didn’t have any other particular issue with it any more than I have with mutualism. However after I finished this discussion (I’ve simply stopped wasting my time) I am now pretty much hostile to the idea of Parecon.

And it’s one person’s arguments that managed to do this.

To be precise, it wasn’t just the arguments themselves. Those were simply wrong most of the time. It was the sheer amount of bad arguments which gave me the distressing impression that I was wasting my time arguing with someone who was fractally wrong and therefore this discussion could only grow longer and longer with no end in sight. But if that wasn’t enough, that person had some of the worst ways to put his point forward. Uncharitable interpretations of what I said. Jumping to conclusions on what I suggested or what my ideas are. “Scare quotes”. Unbased assertions. Red herrings. Parecon-lingo (which I assume makes perfect sense to those familiar with their terminology but not for me) used as a definite argument etc.

The most blatant example was when I was classified as a Mutualist as soon as I pointed out the distinction between Private Property and Possession. This persisted even after I explicitly explained that I was in fact, a Anarcho-Communist and I do not support money or markets. This was then used to argue against Mutualism, over my continuous explanation that I might not be the best person to defend it.This was just the top of the iceberg.

If you’ve ever been into such a debate, you certainly know how frustrating it becomes to have to constantly correct the assertions and interpretations of the other person every time you reply. You get the feeling that they’re just interested in “winning” the argument rather than understand your position; throwing half-thought conclusions at every step is only a way to make people give up.

Perhaps this might have made some sense in a public forum where people are watching the discussion, although I’m pretty certain that the audience would quickly see through those tactics. However it makes even less sense to do this in the comments of private blog. A discussion held here is unlikely to be seen by anyone other than the blog owner and thus the only possible point would be to make that person rethink their position. Does anyone think they will achieve this by frustrating them? In my case, it brought the completely opposite reaction. I am now hostile to Parecon and have a really sour taste of Pareconists. In any future discussion on this issue, I’m very likely to (even subconsciously) recall the experience I had last week and take immediately the anti-Parecon side.

The way that that Parecon was argued for gave me the distinct impression that it’s very badly thought out and will lead to even worse results than what I originally expected. I got the impression that those promoting it have far more in common with Social Democrats and other ideologies which take a very bad view on “human nature” and then use to to argue for authoritarian measures as a way to limit those bad aspects. Some of the arguments sounded downright horrifying, especially coming from an anarchist, such as the idea that all productive means should be collectivized forcefully if necessary, for “the common good”.

I thus have to wonder, what can people arguing this way be possibly thinking? Are they trying to create vocal opposition to their ideas? If you’re going to go to another person’s blog to argue your ideas, at least try to be convincing instead of frustrating.

This goes doubly as much of course to my actual Anarchist peers. I’d hate for people to get the wrong idea of our movement just because we can’t avoid misrepresenting their position for emotional effect to the invisible audience. Also it’s very important to  keep oneself grounded in science. The owner of the blog may make unbased assertions on “human nature” for example, but you won’t achieve much by simply stating the opposite. Rather, point to the empirical evidence that counters humans as being inherently greedy, egoistical, crass individualist or requiring hierarchies. Keep a few links handy in your bookmarks or make your own little groups. Even if the blog owner denies the evidence, it might still convince anyone reading the comments in the future.

It also makes little sense to argue in length with people in denial and reaching the point of insults. It will only make them more hostile and nobody else will see the argument anyway as very few people bother to even start going through comment wars. It’s far better to make your point as concisely and factually as possible and bow out once you notice that no actual progress is being made. Not only will you be able to find another discussion which will be more constructive, you’ll save yourself quite a lot of annoyingment.

And as much as this applies to commenters in other people’s blogs, it doubly applies to blog owners themselves. I care very little to convince commenters who do not wish to be convinced and I will not waste my time countering endless bad arguments while being annoyed by how much my position is misrepresented instead. The people arguing this way may end up “winning” the argument by driving their opponent away, but it will only be a Pyrrhic victory in the grand scheme of things.

PS: As for Parecon, I’m still fairly ignorant of it, but needless to say, the latest discussion did not make me eager to learn more, any more than frothing at the mouth creationists make me eager to learn about Christianity. However I did look around for some LibCom opinions on Parecon and it basically seems that they are mirroring my own sentiments. I suggest you check out this debate between and which has been abandoned by the latter. The last salvo from libcom is exactly where I stand currently.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


It seems that even people espousing a cooperative mindframe like socialism are not immune from assaulting bitterly people they disagree with.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It’s a weird thing that a ideology like socialism, which is supposed to promote cooperation, can sustain such anti-social behaviour as the one I’m lately seeing in the socialist reddit.  Specifically, all hell broke loose after I posted my blog-reply over there.

I do not mind people criticizing my ideas and thoughts, this is how one learns but it’s amazing how much the administrators of that reddit have gone on a power-trip even by the small power provided to them for filtering out trolls and spammers.

it’s funny that even though I didn’t agree with Larry’s request to stop submitting his articles to reddit, mostly because I always consider that among the morons there might be some who will listen and have an interest in conversation, his assessment ended up forcing itself upon me. Lazy morons indeed do not care to see or hear conflicting opinions and will happily attempt to silence them so that nobody else will either.

This has become plainly true in the comments of that last post, where arguing about my article ensued. This very quickly escalated into a flamewar since, for these “socialists” anyone who does not think exactly the same way they do, is an enemy to be labeled and assaulted. The jump from “You’re saying something wrong” to “You are a wrong kind of person” in their minds is near-instantaneous.

But this is the wrong kind of attitude. When one says something wrong, our reaction should not be to insult the person. That does not achieve anything other than alienate and drive others away. Sure, if your purpose is to have only your own voice heard, like the moderators above, this can be a good tactic, but in the long run, you have only managed to burn more bridges behind you.

But is this mentality of “my way or the highway” useful? On the contrary by refusing to discuss points, even wrong points that others raise, in favour of calling them traitors or heretics, not only does not help them understand where their thinking has gotten astray but immediately erects a wall between you, effectively making sure that they will get defensive and ignore whatever you say.

This is what happened to me in my last post, while I got in with interest to discuss, the initial comments immediately flew off the handle, accusing me of being “anti-working class” and calling me a “Maniac”. And even though I should have known better than to rise to the bait, I went on the defensive and the flamewar began. More time was spent on accusing each other of douchebaggery than actually countering each other’s arguments.

And opinions we do not agree with are important as well, especially coming from people that do not have completely opposite kind of views. Controversial ideas is how we learn either to strengthen our own opinions or we change our mind when we cannot counter them. It is disheartening that this reddit tends to reward mostly orthodox views on marxism and punishes the heretics with obscurity.

This is simply groupthink. You do not learn anything new, nor do you get to think. You only get to reinforce what you already believe in. As long as an article is well written and raises a few points on the part of the author, it should never be downvoted. Ignored perhaps, and even upvoted if the ideas are well presented, even if wrong. But downvoting simply hides the opposing view away from others. We should treasure controversy, not attempt to silence it.

If our views are solid enough, controversy is not an issue. The arguments against it can be presented and the idea eviscerated. When libertarians and *shudder* Objectivists come here to argue with me, I do not accuse them of being exploitation supporters, horribly misguided or douchebags as this would only serve to drive them away. But that would mean that I have even less people to criticize me, and that’s just hurts myself.

Especially people who label themselves socialists should have so much more tolerance to each other. If we cannot have an argument within our own ranks, how do even attempt to take on the people who outright disagree for anything we stand for? If we waste all of our time fighting each other with such ferocity, is it any surprise that no pressure can be directed towards the real culprits?

This is the most common reason why the Anarchist and Socialist movements are much more hostile towards each other, than they are towards the Capitalists. From the first time I noticed that, my initial thoughts were “But we’re on the same side?! Why are people fighting others who have the same goal in mind?”. And yet, for some of the revolutionary socialists, anyone who does not follow the rigid tactics he believes in, is as bad as the enemy. For the Anarchist ((Just to clarify: Not all anarchists think like this but the majority of my IRL experience with them showed me that many have as much, if not more hatred against Communists as they have against Capitalists. That is probably because they equate Communism to Stalinism. There are Anarchist ideologies who do not fall into this trap, one of which is Anarcho-Communism which is very similar to my own thinking)), because of the misunderstanding of how Marxists try to achieve Communism, they consider them hostile. The two opposing camps in the case, simply talk past each other, exchanging more insults than ideas and stabbing each other in the back more than lending a hand.

But back to our original subject. I do not expect to last much more in the socialist reddit. Bannination threats have already been implied and the willingness to do the act admitted, so I’m obviously on a tight rope for speaking my mind and daring to argue my position. Because of this, I decided to start my own subreddit where people like me, who value conversation and don’t fear opposing viewpoints, can meet.

If you’re tired of being bullied for not being a “true socialist” and prefer intelligent discussions over insultfests, hopefully you will consider joining me at Libertarian Socialism. It’s up to us to make it what the admins of Socialism /r/ won’t let happen.

That does not mean I’m quitting socialism /r/ just yet, but It’d be nice to have a conversation without the Marxist purists insulting everyone and then calling them whiners for pointing that out. Dogma and inability to consider progressive ideas are a recipe for stagnation and if that is what is necessary to be considered a Marxist, then I’m certainly not a Marxist.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]