Lesson #9 in our series on How To Be a Better Arguer
Today’s lesson: Prove it.
I was reading a thread in the comments section of a local newspaper today. There are many interesting things you can learn about your fellow locals when you check out these comments sections. You may lose your faith in humanity, though.
In a thread about whether a Christopher Columbus statue in my city should or should not be removed and put into a museum, one delightful lady was enraged by how, in her opinion, this would be destroying history.
Two things stuck out for me in her comments: she had no backing for her thoughts, and she said at one point that everyone she’s talked to (not sure why she felt it necessary to note that she’s gone off on this topic with other people, too) all know that she’s “not going to budge” on this. No one can convince her to change her mind.
See… that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
Let’s take each of these issues separately. First, let’s consider her comments. She stated, repeatedly, but in slightly different terms each time, that her position was that removing statues like this one was a futile and irresponsible attempt to ignore history and was even creating a societal problem where people would no longer learn about important moments and figures of the past.
But, ya know, just some lady saying so doesn’t make that true.
For any real intellectual debate on a topic, you, minimally, have to have what we in the biz call a CLAIM, DATA, and a WARRANT.
A claim is a statement of assertion. In this case, I suppose it would be something like, “The local Christopher Columbus statue should not be removed to a museum because doing so would lead to fewer people learning about historical moments and people, even if those moments or people do not represent history about which we are proud.”
Then, you have to have some data to back that up. Statistics, examples, expert opinions, quotes from reliable news sources…these are the kinds of things that you need to have. Karen comes close when she says that Auschwitz was left standing as a reminder of history we’d rather not repeat, so this should, too, and for the same reason.
But, that’s a pretty weak example. I’ll dig into this more next time when I discuss the “False Equivalency Fallacy.”
But, third, you need to have a “warrant.” That’s where you connect your data and your claim, explaining HOW your data supports your claim.
She’s missing this entirely. She’d have to explain how Auschwitz and the local Christopher Columbus statue relate and thus how the Auschwitz example proves she’s correct about the local Christopher Columbus statue. But, see, she can’t logically do that, because as one of my teaching colleagues pointed out to her, these two things do NOT connect. This, she does not dispute, saying then only that nobody will ever change her mind.
So that leads to my second problem. If no one can change your mind, why are you in a conversation at all? Here are the only options I can think of. Feel free to help me add to this list if you’d like:
1. You came to the comments section of a local newspaper to “school” everyone on the “right” way to look at an issue. You’ve decided to bless the readers with your glorious, unfounded and unsupported gobbledegook.
2. You thought everyone was going to agree with you and this was going to be a celebration of how awesome we all agree you are because you share our inexpert opinions.
3. You don’t understand the issue but aren’t smart or educated enough (or are too stubborn to) recognize that.
4. You aren’t willing to admit that issues do have two (or more) perspectives.
5. You think people should listen to and agree with you, but you’re not interested in extending them the same courtesy.
6. You like fights.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that the point of debate was to hear each other out and (hopefully) persuade the opposition to consider (not AGREE with necessarily) your perspective. A statement of “La La La La! I’m not listening!” doesn’t exactly say, “let me explain where you’re wrong so I may persuade you to see things my way,” ya know? It also outrightly refuses to be open to considering the opposition’s ideas or where you both may agree, even if only in part.
So, what do you do in this situation? I feel like there’s not much you can do.
If somebody says, “there’s nothing that will get me to change my mind,” there’s no real point, right? You’re arguing with the wind.
You can, however, try to present your side rationally. Perhaps others witnessing your discussion might still be persuaded by your words and that’s not nothin’.
Or, you can just duke it out, call her names, and let it be juvenile and ugly. I mean, you won’t get anywhere, but if you needed an anonymous victim for your verbal assaults because you just feel like getting belligerent, then, ok, I guess. I mean, I don’t officially and professionally RECOMMEND this, but, like, you CAN do it.
So, next time I’ll get into that issue if the false equivalency. I think you’ll agree that it’s all too common of a tactic used in disagreements.
As usual, I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.