Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Be a Better Arguer, Lesson #4

If you’re new here, welcome. And, also, where have you been? Took ya long enough…

But, if, indeed, you are new here, let me catch you up:

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I’m a teacher by trade and a mom by choice. Both of these jobs are hard and I write on this here little corner of the internet about navigating the world of adulthood. Mostly, my niche is in motherhood, feminism, pop culture, and being irritable. But, I also help make the world a much better place by bringing my job skills to you, free of charge.

In 2020, I was forced from my beloved classroom due to the pandemic and I became VERY lonely with nobody to teach stuff to. My kids are getting older and think I’m sooo embarrassing and don’t want to talk with me –let alone LEARN from me– if they can help it. And, my students who are expected to sit and learn stuff from me were all different kinds of missing, disengaged, lost, and asleep on Zoom with their cameras off just pretending to attend virtual class.

So, I started sharing some insight about how to use rhetoric and argumentative skills to be a better speaker, arguer, and internet citizen. What follows here is the fourth in a series of lessons on how to be good at arguing with other people. If you’ve missed the first three, please hit the rewind button and go check them out.

How do you know when you can trust a source? If you’re looking to draw your own conclusion on a debatable topic, where can you go for reliable information?

If this were really a class, it would take waaaaay longer than just this post to give this topic it’s fair due. But, we ain’t got that kind of time, so here’s the quick and dirty version:

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First of all, let me be clear: as someone who is in a constant state of her own learning and who is a veteran in the study and teaching of argumentative writing, I have to tell you that

1. The media is NOT the enemy of the people, and

2. “Alternative facts” aren’t a thing. Those are called “lies.”

Let’s start with the media. This is where most of us are going to get our day-to-day fuel for our argument fires. More specifically, most of us are going to get our information from online media sources. And, you likely already know this, but, they’re not all created equal.

As far as news sources go, most American sources will lean at least a little either left or right. But, your goal is to determine which of those sources, despite loyalties to any ideologies, presents information in a means that is as unbiased as possible. If you’re really looking to confirm your position, may I suggest looking BOTH at a slightly left and a slightly right news organization to compare their presentations of the same stories? Attached to this post is a link to what news sources have been determined to be more or less impartial. If you’re looking for a go-to organization who gets about as close the reporting facts without spin, I recommend Reuters and the Associated Press.

There are some other sources that do a pretty consistent job of providing centered news, too. Generally, PBS has a history of balanced published information, and, believe it or not, one of the most even-handed handlers of information is The Christian Science Monitor. Don’t let the name fool you. They’re named as such purposely to be transparent about who pays their bills, but both left-leaning and right-leaning media experts agree that they do a damn good job of being fair.

Let’s now think about some more general advice I can give you. Here’s a short list:

1. Stay in the “news” section of a site, even if you’re looking at media sources that are traditionally a little less-than-center. If the information is from Features, Opinions, Lifestyle, etc., back away.

2. Check to see that your source cited sources. You know how any good argument has data and commentary? (See Lesson #3, if not) Well, news outlets are at their most credible when they, too have data, interviews from industry experts, references to polls, studies, and so on and so forth. If the writer’s “voice” is the only one presented in the article, that’s no bueno.

3. Check to see if the information is recent. What “recent” is depends on the subject matter. Science, medicine and politics, for example, can change fairly quickly.

4. Consider PRIMARY SOURCES first and trust them most. Primary sources are from “the horse’s mouth.” They are the words of the people closest to the story. The information, in other words, comes from the people, place, and time that is the same as the story/event/issue itself. So, Anne Frank’s diary in an article about hiding from Nazis would be a primary source, for example.

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Okay. That’s enough for this quick crash course on media trustworthiness. Let’s quickly tackle “Alternative Facts.”

Coined by Kellyanne Conway when she explained on-camera why Sean Spicer’s claims about the number of people at President Trump’s inauguration were different than anyone else’s account of that event, “Alternative Facts” as a concept was borne out of desperation. But, here’s the deal: there’s only one set of facts. But, there can be different reads of those facts. And one perspective of or interpretation of the facts is not necessarily more “right” than another, so long as an arguer is using good sources for those facts and the conclusions he or she draws are fully LOGICAL. Y’all, “logic” is, like, an entire upper-level college course and you have to talk about Aristotle and Cicero and stuff and I’m not qualified to go beyond what I’ve got here for ya. But, mostly, just ask yourself: does my opponent’s line or reasoning make sense? If not, ask for clarification, support, or a rephrasing. Ask yourself, too: does MY line of reasoning make sense? Can I prove it? If so, cool beans.

Man, I need to come back to this topic and give it an upgrade with more detail later. But, don’t complain. I’m just some lady on the internet. I’m not a machine, people!!!

And, as always, this has been my Masterclass, you know, sort of.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next time? I don’t know. Maybe how to nicely tell someone off online? Maybe how to respond to gaslighting? How to debate with someone who is on a different plane of reality? (Hint: you don’t)

I’ll surprise you.

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