I like arguing. I love a good verbal altercation. I like talking to people who disagree with me, not for the sake of disagreeing, but for the thrill of being challenged, being confronted with an alternative world view, being forced to think differently. The Internet is a wonderful place for such interactions. You can easily search out a favorite topic, knock out a (what you think is) thoughtful opinion, respond to the reactions, get in a little fight, all without having to shout over music in a bar, with no danger of getting a drink thrown in your face when you get a little cheeky, no need for a taxi home at the end of the night. All great stuff.
The problem arises, however, when you find yourself arguing by different rules, resulting in misunderstandings, hurt feelings (not mine, usually, as I am, at times, embarrassingly thick-skinned), and a general lowering of the tone *straightens tie disdainfully*, so, for the delight of my many readers and contributors (hey, you two), I shall now attempt to lay out a few guidelines on how best to engage with me on such hot topics as: “where are ethics from?”, “why are scientists all evil?”, and “what are the chances of teleology being a measurable reality?” (One or more of those may not actually be a very hot topic) –
- even if the subject matter gets heavy, keep the tone reasonably playful and light. I believe you can make even more pointed criticism of someone’s opinion when it’s done with a smile (of course, this could be perceived as being glib, smug, or patronizing, but it’s a risk worth taking if we can avoid gloomy grumpiness).
- if your opponent has made a worthwhile and thoughtful point, take the time to acknowledge it, even if you still don’t agree.
- try and remain open to the possibility that you may be wrong. If you don’t do this, it’s hard to get the other person’s point.
- are you arguing from a logically consistent position? If you’re unsure, admitting that doubt is no bad thing.
- focus on what you have in common with your opponent. Establishing common ground should help move things along.
- ask yourself honestly what your goals are in the debate. Is it true intellectual curiosity or are you just trying to win? If it’s the latter, it may not be the best use of your time.
Okay, that’s it. I fully acknowledge that I don’t manage to stick to any of these for longer than the first few nanoseconds of kerfuffle, but my intentions are good. Anything I’ve missed?