Argument Disqualifiers

August 19, 2020

I rarely, if ever climb into the comment section of a social media debate. I’ve done it a few times in the past, but learned the hard way like many of us that thanks to the deceptive nature of our minds, a host of logical fallacies, our need to cling to our beliefs, and just a stubborn attachment to being right that trying to change anybody’s mind through social media is a pointless exercise. In fact, I think social media literally works against a civil, emotionally intelligent discussion between people holding opposing viewpoints. Unless you’re a highly evolved being, it’s damn near impossible to read a given comment section without losing faith in humanity; which is why I avoid it. Or maybe I don’t post anything controversial enough to be debated. Or maybe no one follows my posts…

But anyway, I do have friends who routinely have comment sections that look like a Civil War battlefield – bodies everywhere, screaming, ranting, hostility and ugliness. If you’re one of them and enjoy getting all riled up, you do you and to each their own. We could talk about all the stress, anxiety, and hostility that is generated in your mind-body by this type of interaction and the way it affects your health and peace of mind, but that can be another post.

If you don’t enjoy it and would prefer not to get into it on your or someone else’s wall, I offer my personal list of argument disqualifiers. Although there are undoubtedly more that could be listed, these five are pretty clear indicators that the person on the other end’s argument is not going to be worth investing your time in. When I see any one of these in my or someone else’s feed, I usually head for the exit. Nothing to see here.

I’ve been an armchair student of critical thinking for the last few years and have worked hard to understand how slimy my mind is and recognize the tricks it likes to play. I’ve got a ways to go yet, but on this road to wade through the muck, I’ve learned to develop my own ways to filter the information that comes into my dome. If this helps you out, cool. Hopefully these hints save you some time and peace of mind. If not and you think I’m full of crap, be sure to say so in the comments 😉. Take ‘em for what they’re worth.

Instant Argument Disqualifiers:

1. Spelling or grammatical mistakes. Look, I’m not a trying to sound all high and mighty here. Throughout my life I’ve had atrocious spelling. Spellcheck is my lifeline and I have to proofread anything I write at least 3 times to catch my fat finger mistakes, and the occasional typos still creep through. But come on man, the butchering of the English language on social media needs to stop. There, their, they’re; two, too, to; your, you’re; sentences that read like a drunken stream of consciousness, nonexistent punctuation. If you want to convince me that your position has validity, how clearly you articulate your words makes a big difference in me taking your argument seriously.

2. Typing (screaming) in all caps. This one will get me to airlock someone pretty quick. Just because you’re trying to come across as passionate or loud doesn’t make you right. I get that you’re trying to make a point, (or drive it through everyone’s head like a jackhammer), but if you can’t write it clearly and articulately without making it seem like you’re about to burst a blood vessel, it might be a symptom of not having a super-strong argument to begin with. Screaming at your audience is a sure fire way to lose them.

3. Ad hominem attacks. Simply put, attacking the person rather than the position they are holding, see also, name calling. We see this one a lot on social media these days. This is probably because of the anonymity that social media allows for; unless you know this individual personally, chances are, you’ll never ever meet them face to face, so why not call them the son of a motherless goat instead of attacking their argument? Name calling seems to be the weapon of choice in the comment feed, but make no mistake, it does zero for your argument. If your lead-in is the latest derogatory name for the opposing political party or anyone else for that matter, you have already shown yourself the exit in my book. If you can’t bring yourself to use civil and non-dehumanizing words to others who don’t share your views, you’ve lost more than your argument if you ask me.

4. Whataboutism/Deflection. Another mainstay tactic of modern social media debating. We’ve all seen it – a point of contention is raised about a specific individual or group, and those on the opposing side of the argument, rather than defend against that point, deflect attention away from the issue by saying, “Well, whatabout that time you played belly button music when you were drunk at that party? That was just as bad!” No, it had nothing to do with it. I get it, it’s often used as a comparison tool to show that you and yours did something twice as bad. But here’s the thing – we’re not talking about that. Chopping the head off another doesn’t make you stand taller. Defend the point at hand, or at least admit you can’t. Stop shaking your keys and saying “Ooo, look over here!” Whataboutism is so much of an obvious deflection in leu of having a genuine rebuttal it’s downright painful. Debate/critical thinking fail 101. Please turn in your argument card at the door.

5. Posting memes as an argument. Memes have their place. Used at the right time they can add just the appropriate punch or emphasis to make a point, create inspiration, or make someone laugh. Used as an argumentative device, they are a hard fail, especially in political arguments. Political memes aren’t a means to further the discussion or to elaborate on a position; they’re meant to trigger emotion. Images of a political figure sprinkled with a handful of degrading and volatile words are posted to do one thing – light you up. See memes for what they are and don’t fall for it. In my opinion it’s a troll tactic, a lazy man’s attempt to shut the opposition down by throwing a cheap shot against the wall. If your argument consists of a snarky visual insult against your opposition, you really don’t have an argument.

So there you have it. My 5 red lights for spotting a no-win argument situation. When I see any of these in a comment string, I know I’m probably going to be dealing with more frustration than it’s worth. Like I said, trying to prove a point on social media is a big gamble. If it’s really important to you and you think they are truly willing to hear another point of view, go for it. But if you see any of these flags in a string of comments, just know that your return on investment will most likely be pretty small.

As always, just my opinion.