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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16 thoughts on “The power of bad arguments”

  1. I got copied on some of that back and forth, as I had commented and subscribed to replies. Yeesh. You have patience. I would have given up after about three replies.

    1. Yeah. It's not often that my patience can be worn down but I can only wade through so much bad argumentation…

  2. I reread Parecon since our debate, and it seems I’d been projecting some of my own opinions upon it, much in the same way you’d been projecting some of yours upon communism (even your source,, for example, explicitly called for “public ownership” of all means of production, not private possessive ownership, which is a concept as distinctly mutualist as the first quote on your main page; it’s important to distinguish the occupancy/use “possession” from the “one-time consumable” “possession” of the communists and collectivists). By the way, those aren’t scare quotes, they’re regular quotes, which I admit I overuse, but you were parobably wrong to get combative over it (of course, the whole thing snowballed, such as when I reacted to being called arrogant for favoring my own system over someone else’s, the generic preference). Anyway, that need should be the primary basis of credit distribution is my own opinion, as it would allow the effort and sacrifice factor to disappear with its usefulness. Pareconists, conversely, hold “to each according to his deed” more sacred than the original collectivists and apparently outright oppose any transition to communism or even their principle having to prove its efficacy. Also, I can no longer accept effort and sacrifice as even the best incentivizer and needs-tester. This is partly due to the temporary problem of accurately measuring them but mostly due to the permanent fact that they’re, in and of themselves, bad. It’s easy to imagine a Parecon planner choosing an onerous job at high intensity and low output over a delightful job at low intensity and high output, which (choosing the former over the latter) would never happen under a sensible remuneration system. But my alternative, part of which I projected onto Parecon, is perhaps more mutualist, market socialist, and/or centralist, thus possibly even less attractive to anarcho-communists, which is why I’m obliged to comment now. Unlike anarcho-communists and even Pareconists, I don’t say “public ownership” and then instantly forget it, handing control, if not profits, over to the possessors. I don’t consider them a priori the most able to decide or affected by the decisions, respectively. So I would have prices apply to everything, not just consumables, with the automatically adjusted part of output prices being credited to the producers’ accounts. For the prevention of accumulation, which would under such a model be more necessary to prevent, it might then be necessary to further restrict credits’ lifespans and transferability, which might, for other specific reasons, be useful, if not necessary, even to Parecon. As for balanced job complexes, I have to admit you were right. Not only would they add unnecessary work and bureaucracy, but they’d be an instance of paternalism, totally inappropriate for a situation of free labor.

    1. Well, what can I say, I'm surprised at this change of opinion of you. Even though I still think you misunderstand in what context I am using possession within communism, I think that your willingness to re-evaluate your position does you credit.

  3. It’s not that I disagree with your usage of “possession” to refer to occupancy and use, it’s that I disagree with your usage of “ownership” to refer to control. Control and ownership aren’t the same thing, and I foresee much confusion should you continue to conflate them. Given the mutualist quotes on your site and your, alone among communists, favoring “possessive ownership”, which is of course a homonym of a mutualist phrase, I trust you’ll be able to forgive my mistakenly counting your communism mutualistic to the point of being a communistic type of mutualism. But if not, no worries.

  4. Whether ownership requires exclusive control is beside the point, which is that no amount of control or exclusivity thereof, at least none related to communism, is sufficient for “ownership” (again, not scare quotes, just the grammatical way to refer to a word or concept). In economics, “ownership” implies a right to the produce, which makes it appropriate for Kevin Carson, for example, to advocate “possessive ownership” but quite misleading for you to. I know you’re not a big reader. You, after all, typed about as many words as are contained in Parecon on same subject, including explanation of why you don’t need to read it. So your assertion of an infinity-for-infinity record of never being wrong is scarcely believable.

    1. In economics, "ownership" implies a right to the produce, which makes it appropriate for Kevin Carson, for example, to advocate "possessive ownership" but quite misleading for you to.

      I don't see why.

      1. Because communists don't believe that the possessor (user/occupier) has any special right to the produce. Communists believe in "free access", not conditioning it on work, as the collectivists do, or possession, as the mutualists do; they believe in "public ownership". If you could find one communist who's ever used the mutualist term "possessive ownership" approvingly, we'd have something to discuss; otherwise, you're constructing your own language. You don't seem to understand that trivial usage is incorrect usage. Words are expected to have meaning, so you can't expect the reader to see "possessive ownership" and assume [i]oh, by "possessor" he means "member of some class that the possessor is a member of", namely society, such that "possessive ownership" equals "public ownership"[/i]. You might as well call public ownership [i]blue-eyed ownership[/i] on the basis that every member of the public is of at least one same class, namely]the public, as every blue-eyed person.

        1. Communists think that those who work the equipment, own them, like any other socialist. The difference is that we prefer to submerge this ownership into the collective so as to avoid having to deal with harmful concepts such as money and competition.

          You seem to be projecting again your own conclusions into the discussion, doing the same thing which made me quit our previous discussion. If you don't care to understand me or how communism is not incompatible with possession fine, but don't come around here to teach me what "communists believe"

          1. First of all, I was a communist before you could think. Secondly, you keep saying communists believe in possessive ownership, from which possessors voluntarily "submerge this ownership into the collective", but you don't back it up. I believe in parsimony. I believe that when a communist says capital belongs to the public, one shouldn't assume he means that it belongs to the possessors who will voluntarily relinquish that ownership. Now, what do you want me to do? Produce everything every communist has ever written, along with evidence they didn't write anything else, just so you can read between the lines and credit every instance of possessor non-authority to the possessor himself? Your job is much simpler. Simply produce [i]one[/i] quotation from the long history of communism that explicitly affirms the antisocial principle of possessive ownership.

          2. Seriously dude, I do not have to prove anything to you, nor do I care to. Believe whatever the fuck you want about communism and possession and parecon and collectivism and mutualism and make as many strawmen as you want about them. Just do it somewhere else as you're obviously far too confrontational to have a constructive dialogue.

          3. And you're too egotistical to be a communist. Sorry I hurt your feelings by questioning your assumptions.

          4. Sorry I hurt your feelings

            LoL. Ok whatever. I'm not a communist, I'm a dirty capitalist pig supporting communal moneyless systems. Great. Now bugger off and bother someone else.

      2. Likewise, it would be incorrect to call public ownership [i]breath-based ownership[/i], despite the fact that every member of the public breathes. [i]Breath-based ownership[/i], which suggests ownership [i]in proportion to[/i] breath is just as antithetical to communism as "possessive ownership", which suggests ownership in proportion possession. In fact, "public ownership" is only permissible because it's so clearly oxymoronic, so cleary a way of saying "non-ownership", for "public" cancels out the exclusivity implied by "ownership". As Kropotkin says, communism completes anarchism, which is the negation of all authority: when all authority, including the authority of the owner, is negated, the result is necessarily communism. But again, don't take my word for it; just show me a communist who's ever used "possessive ownership" approvingly, and your infinity-for-infinity never-wrong record will be preserved.

        1. I honestly have no idea what the fuck you're on about. You seem to be pulling words and sentences from our previous discussion and making some kind of frankenstein strawman to attack.

          I mean, even your claim that public or common ownership is oxymoronic is so wrong on its face that it's not even funny comming from someone who quotes Kropotkin. The difference between common ownership and no-ownership is the common management that the first implies. I.e. Control. I suggest you now go and read why the tragedy of the commons only in fact affects the non-owned.

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