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.

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