The Proper Way To Argue

Arguing, like clipping your toenails, is both tedious and occasionally necessary. Moreover, once started, it is a long, desperate job that needs to be finished: just as you can’t clip one toenail and not the rest, you can’t dip into an argument without the intention of finishing it. Too often, however, the person you’re arguing with will try to suck you into an illogical vacuum with a slew of bad reasoning designed to make you feel like a) you have no idea what you’re talking about, and b) you’re an all-around bad person. Don’t let this happen. Below, some tips on how to (attempt to) win every argument, every time.

Remain calm.

Imagine this: as your opponent’s blood pressure gets higher and higher and they start waving their arms around like a red-faced loon, there you sit, calmly, evenly, acknowledging them with a steely gaze. There’s no way for their emotions to go but up, but you, master of disguise, are cool as a cucumber — even though you may be positively boiling on the inside. When every overblown accusation is met with a cool, calculated response, your opponent has no choice but to feel either tongue-tied or crazy. Either way, this is a win for you. One cannot reason with crazy.

Appeal to science as often as possible.

There is only so much people can do about facts. If you have to have a list of references at hand (hell, even Wikipedia counts sometimes) which you mercilessly lob at your opponent to stun and kill their argument, so be it. Nothing is off-limits. If they even attempt to respond to a claim you make with “And where did you get that?” you simply toss your list of references at them like a fluffy towel and watch them stammer and try to collect themselves. Of course, this means you must have a ready and working list of references for commonly-argued-about things at all times, but that’s a small price to pay for being right.

Leave the emotions out of it.

Too often, people will make emotional arguments while trying to get you to see their side of things. But this is to be avoided, as only weak-willed earthlings make emotional arguments. Keep in mind, though, that stating your emotions and the consequences of them can be a pretty powerful move, but emotions alone won’t do the trick. Instead, treat the person you’re arguing with like a room of first-graders: do not assume that they are able to feel what you feel and have the capacity to understand it (hint: they don’t), so spell it out for them clearly and slowly, possibly with a chart.

Avoid absolutes.

Speaking of emotional arguments, the easiest trap to fall into is the “always” or “never” trap, as in, “You ALWAYS do x” and “You NEVER do y.” If you’ve ever taken a symbolic logic class, you’ll know that this is never a good argument unless the person does, in fact, always do x or y, which is rarely the case. As a result, you must always make the effort to be 100% accurate, because any sort of floundering in logic can and will be used against you.

Know your root.

Heated arguments often tend to spiral out of control. What starts out as you always leaving the toilet seat up, or whatever small grievance, can easily turn into you being an inconsiderate mate 80% of the time, and eventually to you being a general sociopath. Watch out for this. When people argue, they often make connections between points in the argument and random things that have completely nothing to do with it. Usually, calmly saying “You’re not making any sense, talk to me when you are” and walking away is enough to extinguish the flare. However, it has also been known to further incite the attacker and result in a butcher block with the knives still in it to be thrown at your head. Use good judgment. TC mark

image – Alan Chan


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  • http://@alexsiegler Alex Siegler

    You can’t argue with stupid.

  • Tafacory

    Reblogged this on Conflicting Thoughts and commented:
    Great advice. The article is a bit incomplete, but still has some solid tips.

  • Rob T Firefly

    Oh no it isn’t.

    • milajaroniec

      Arguing is serious business. This article isn’t serious.

  • Nikki

    This made me smile when I opened it and saw the highlights. “You can’t argue with ignorance” is something I always say.

  • Roger

    Here is a response posted on my blog, Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground:

    I’ve been following a helpful and prolific blog called Tafacory, which explores a wide range of theological and philosophical topics. Tafacory sometimes “reblogs” the work of other writers, and recently included an essay by Mila Jaroniek called “The Proper Way To Argue.” Jaroniek’s piece is clever and well-written, and in some cases its ideas would be quite useful. In other cases, however, they could backfire. Knowing whether to use her approach requires asking, “What is my agenda?” Here are some typical agendas that motivate conversations about religion:

    1. I want to change the mind of the person I am addressing.
    2. I want to change the mind of someone who is observing the discussion.
    3. I want to humiliate someone whose views on religion are inferior to my own.
    4. I want to make myself feel clever and superior.

    So let’s be honest. What is our real agenda? What are we actually trying to accomplish?

    Jaroniek’s approach would work well for agenda items 3 and 4, and it could work with #2. But if your goal is to change the mind of the person you are addressing, this is a questionable strategy. Examples:

    Jaroniek suggests intimidating your “opponent” “with a steely gaze.” But as soon as you start thinking of another person as an opponent. your ability to constructively connect will diminish. And don’t forget that we are primates. With primates, a steely gaze triggers fight-or-flight responses that reduce our ability to reason objectively. I would hope we are trying to help people become more rational rather than less.

    She also advocates amassing facts and references to “mercilessly lob at your opponent” – more warlike language. Note that one of her main headings is “Leave the emotions out of it” because “only weak-willed earthlings make emotional arguments.” Fine, but if you want to minimize emotionality, don’t do things that trigger fear and anger.

    When I lead workshops on Bridging the God Gap, here is the statement that gets the biggest laugh, and it’s a laugh of understanding and agreement:

    “Without knowing it we may approach a dialogue about religion as if we’ve entered a physical fight. When we smite someone on the forehead with a particularly weighty argument, we may expect this poor benighted soul to bow down in surrender, grateful for having been shown the light. How disappointing when people just resent us for making them look stupid.”

    In other words, by humiliating someone you can win an argument “on paper,” but lose in your efforts to change that person’s mind.

    I certainly agree with Mila that conversations about religion are often overly emotional. But I do think there is one legitimate use for emotional arguments in these discussions. An example or analogy that calls forth a feeling-response can help make an idea “real” rather than merely abstract and theoretical.

    Suppose you are objecting to the idea that people who do not accept Jesus as their savior will all go to hell. Rather than just saying that a loving God would not send “good folks” to hell, speak specifically of Gandhi or the Dalai Lama. Many people find it hard to deal with bloodless abstractions. Putting a face on a theoretical argument may enable your friend to take that argument seriously. So an emotional appeal can actually be a prerequisite to rational discussion.

    Roger Christan Schriner

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