Aug 262015

spread-dissent-and-kill-oppressionSomeone recently asked me why I try to defend people who I disagree with on moral issues. Their point was that ‘If someone wants to publicly deny the rights of my friends or family I am not going to debate. I am going to tell them to shut up.’ (paraphrased)

While I agree that denying rights to people is awful, I think telling others to shut up for voicing opinions is a bad idea. There are four reasons I’m against shouting down idiots.

1. I may be wrong. I have many beliefs, and I’m sure that I’m wrong about at least one of them. For me to be completely correct about everything is simply impossible. I’m probably wrong to various degrees about quite a few things. If I shout down everyone who disagrees with me, I lock in my current opinions and never have the chance to learn, grow, and modify them. I’m hurting myself by shutting down all dissenting views.

2. Shutting down dissenting views is the tactics of The Enemy. They were used to suppress every minority there is. They prolonged the Dark Ages. Not too long ago, WE were the ones that were being shut up. People who spoke for the rights of black slaves were murdered. People who spoke for the rights of gays were beaten into comas. Atheists were executed by the state. This changed slowly, and one of the biggest reasons for the change was greater respect for dissenting speech. Once people could put forward arguments without being lynched for them, the truth was able to rise to the surface. As such, I don’t believe the truth has much to fear from freedom of expression. You say you’re worried that people’s rights will be taken away if we let others speak freely. We only won those rights *because of* the ability to speak freely. If our position is so weak that the majority of people who are exposed to our argument, and the opposing argument, side with the opposing argument… perhaps we should take a second look at our argument and make sure it isn’t flawed. I’m not afraid to let the crazy homophobic uncle make a fool of himself. It strengthens our position. That there will always be a minority of hateful fanatics is unavoidable, and we won’t make anything better by resorting to their tactics.

3. An idiot who is shouted down is not persuaded, only intimidated. It will leave him feeling wronged, and justified in his anger. We have done nothing to make the situation better, we’ve only boosted our egos by delivering a smack-down to our enemy. It feels good, but it helps nothing. On the other hand, if we engage our opponents we show that we don’t dismiss them out of prejudice, we have considered their views and found them lacking. Furthermore, we can present counter evidence, or point out flaws in their reasoning. No one is ever convinced in a single debate. Heck, most people won’t even admit to being swayed slightly. But over time, usually months or years, they can be taught. If you shout them down you are robbing them of this, and denying yourself the opportunity to help them and thus make the world better.

4. It’s aggressive and rude. Being a dick isn’t just a terrible strategy at spreading your values, it’s also unpleasant. It makes the world a crappier place.

For those who wish to read about this opinion at length, I would point to Scott Alexander’s posts on this topic. He says it much better than I can.

  14 Responses to “Why I Try To Engage Distasteful People”

  1. I didn’t realise that there were six separate links at first. Not sure if that can be/should be made more clear.

    • I’m also going to point out that 6 lengthy posts which all seem to have links to other lengthy posts is a lot of reading >.< Lucky I have nothing to do today I guess.

      • Still wading through the text. Scott may be more eloquent than you in your opinion (certainly not in mine) but he is also a metric tonne less fair.

        • Ok I actually added up the words using the word counter online tool. 18235 words. That is almost half a novel. If you want to read all of the links, which you need to do to follow the arguments it is a large novel.
          I am in the process of reading this since it is somewhat entertaining and often infuriating and I don’t want to feel like I am ignoring your points.

          Maybe it isn’t fair to link someone a novel though.

        • I’m curious – what do you mean by ‘less fair’?

          • I’ll just give one example here although if you actually want me to pick all of the holes in his arguments I am willing to do so.

            In his article “In favour of niceness,community, and civilization he equates :

            He gets *mad* at people whom he detachedly intellectually agrees with but who are willing to back up their beliefs with war and fire rather than pussyfooting around with debate-team nonsense.

            with it being ok to do this :
            Then if the stress ends up bursting an aneurysm in his brain, I can dance on his grave, singing:
            ♪ ♬ I won this debate in a very effective manner. Now you can’t argue in favor of nasty debate tactics any more ♬ ♪

            Right there that is some unfair arguing. I doubt that most people reading Andrew Cords piece would have thought that was what he was talking about. I also seriously doubt it was how Andrew Cord meant for it to be interpreted.

            To me that it seems Scott is deliberately misunderstanding the words his opponent has said. I recognize this tactic because I use it myself. It is very effective. I don’t have the gall to do it in a massive blogpost with a title that claims I do otherwise though. Surely if your whole position is in favour of being nice and fair and that you argue the most effective thing to do is to be nice and fair then you kinda need to actually be nice and fair.

            Writing a very nice and eloquent piece about how its not ok to be an asshole on the internet which any reasonable person could predict would be used as a weapon against said person is hardly fair too. Maybe Scott was being a total dick and maybe he just doesn’t think things through.

            His made up math in the “Lies,Damned Lies, And Social Media (part 5 of N)” is also pretty damn unfair. Scott uses made up math in an argument against made up math. That is pretty unfair. Again idk if Scott is being a dick or just bowing down to his bias idk.

            I don’t feel like Eneasz is guilty of this. I haven’t seen him argue so unfairly to date anyhows. I have even found that I can write stuff in comments or send him emails and he will respond fairly.
            There is no way I would be walking into a discussion like that with Scott Alexander though. Eneasz is actually nice and fair rather than just someone who states he is.

            As I write this I am starting to realise that I am making a case in favour of being nice and fair, since I would happily engage Eneasz on any topic but be downright scared to talk to Scott about anything due to the way he deals with things which annoy him. This in turn means Scott will probably fail to ever make me think differently about anything while with Eneasz I very well may change my mind on something.

            • >As I write this I am starting to realise that I am making a case in favour of being nice and fair, since I would happily engage Eneasz on any topic but be downright scared to talk to Scott about anything due to the way he deals with things which annoy him. This in turn means Scott will probably fail to ever make me think differently about anything while with Eneasz I very well may change my mind on something.

              /cheer!! Step One of my evil master plan is complete! ;)

      • Holy crap, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to give anyone a homework assignment! I come from a tradition of being way too verbose, and heavy interlinking. I’m used to such links being used as reference, mainly reminders for longer readers, and “follow-up if you’re interested” for newer ones. Very much a read-if-you-enjoy-reading-it sorta thing. I don’t expect anyone to read all that if it’s not something they’re into, I don’t want to make reading a chore for anyone.

        I mainly linked it because I really love Scott Alexander’s writing. I often think “Why am I even blogging? Scott is saying everything worth saying, and doing it much better than me!” Having all his writings on civility together just seemed like a handy reference.

  2. I strongly agree with the original post. Here are three more arguments for civilised discussion of differences.

    (5) Internet arguing is an invisible spectator sport. Many more people read than comment. Imagine I’m on the fence about an issue: I see one side using discussion, arguments and logic (however badly), and the other shouting them down, disqualifying their arguments without engaging with them, disemvoweling or doing other bad practices. Who am I going to agree with?

    (6) Arguing by shouting down drives away allies and supporters. Let’s now imagine that I agree with those doing the shouting down about the issue being discussed. I’m still anonymous on the internet. Even though I agree with the shouters about the issue at hand, there’s no way I’m going to come out and join them, simply because I fear than any slight disagreement with the community line will result in a stomping. Conversely, if I’m confidence I can have a civilised disagreement with a community, then I’m attracted to them, even though I might disagree with almost every opinion they hold.

    (7) Communities where shouting down is the standard MO are unstable and will explode under the slightest stress. For example, I dipped a toe in the online atheist community (2 comments worth) just as Elevatorgate was breaking. I quickly withdrew said toe. Why? I want nothing to do with any community that fragments in such a spectacular manner.

    I disagree with our host on many things (what’s good art, what’s SF, what’s F), but those disagreements are not important. The ability to discuss those differences in a civil manner is of the utmost importance.

    • I am busy reading through the novel that EB has linked but I wanted to briefly adress one of your points

      (7) Communities where shouting down is the standard MO are unstable and will explode under the slightest stress.

      Sounds like someone hasn’t been to Reddit. It has been around for a while. It kinda revolves around circle jerking. Downvoting (shouting down) the people you disagree with is one of the main pastimes. If for some reason you disbelieve me just go into any subreddit and try and make a moderate point against the circle jerk. Don’t do this with your actual reddit account if you care about karma though.

      example 2 : Gamergate. It is still around. Frequently turns on its own members for transgressions.

      example 3 communist China. Last time I checked communist party still rules China.

      You got any examples of shout down communities not lasting for a long time ?

      • which didn’t last for a long time due to the shouting. Community needs a bit of volume before it qualifies.

      • Firstly, a clarification: I was using “explode” as shorthand for lots of heat and noise, and fragments travelling away from each other at high speed. Perhaps “splintering” would have been better, but that doesn’t capture the dynamics of it. After the explosion, the fragments still stick around, but the broader community that exploded is gone.

        Examples. I’ve used the example of the Atheist community splintering on Elevatorgate, and the same wounds were re-opened during Atheism+. There was free-thought blogs in one corner, the Slyme-pitters in another other and everyone else keeping their heads down. Before Elevatorgate, there was lots of shouting about accomodationism before they trained their voices on each other.

        You mentioned Gamergate – which is only a year old, give it chance. Both GG and anti-GG were formed from an explosion of the gaming community. 13 months ago, everyone indentified as gamers: now a bunch of them became GGers; a bunch became dedicated anti-GGers; there’s trolls trolling them both; there’s non-gamers on both sides fighting a culture war; and everyone else trying to keep out of the crossfire. Do you need evidence that online gaming wasn’t the most civil place in the world before all this?

        You mentioned communist China. I don’t know the details, but what about the Cultural Revolution? There were numerous splinter groups all running around shouting down / killing each other, and the CR ended up eating itself. Similar dynamic, more deaths. Before the fact? Well, the PRC was only 17 or so when it all kicked off, and pretty much everyone believed that murder was an acceptable way of achieving political change. They’ve managed to rebuild their country after the CR, so I suppose that repairs are possible.

        Whenever you see movements shouting at each other, the odds are they used to be part of the same community; and the bonds of civility in that community weren’t strong enough to contain the discord.

        • I did a bit of googling I wasn’t under the impression that elevatorgate was a community but an event where a lot of people got pretty upset.
          I can’t research a community splintering without knowing the name of the community in question. The “atheist community” is a bit vague. Which atheist community?
          Regarding atheism+ I googled it and couldnt even get a search result for it exploding. I had a pretty brief look and the place looked more civil than shout heavy. Maybe my idea of shouting is just a bit scewed because I do lurk at Reddit and RPGCodex, both places where shouting down people you disagree with is totally normal.
          This gaming community you talked of never existed. That much I can say for certain. I have been a pretty avid video gamer for 30 years now. That doesn’t magically make me a part of some community which never existed. GG community did pop up partly from the gaming landscape yes. Although all of the pro GG’s I know irl and all of the famous GG’s are pretty casual gamers at best.
          I can’t find this Anti-GG movement you are talking about though. I think you just mean the rest of the world ? To basically everyone not in GG it is pretty clear that it is a leaderless lynch mob. Of course most people aren’t fans of leaderless lynch mobs. If you can somehow point me to the home of this “anti GG community” I would be interested actually. I have tried googling it but I can’t find anything.
          Online gaming isn’t something you need to convince me isn’t civil. That is kinda my argument though. I play a lot of a game called chivalry where people are anything but chivalrous. The community hasn’t exploded though. Slowly over time some players get bored and leave and sometimes new people come who are willing to go through the steep learning curve. Community hasn’t ever exploded though. Shouting at people isn’t uncommon though.

          I think you are a bit confused what the word community means. If two people on opposite ends of the world both own a playstation they aren’t a community. Gamers arent a community. There are communities within gaming. It requires some kind of active participation to be a community. Merely having one thing in common with someone you have never interacted with doesn’t make the two of you a community.

          So “atheists” and “gamers” and “garden glove owners” aren’t communities. They can’t “split”. If people who fit under these tags actually form a community “Gardening Atheist Gamers” then they are forming a community not breaking one. They aren’t a splinter group. If they later split into “Gardening Atheists” and “Gardening Atheist Gamers” then you have had a split. Still nothing remotely like an explosion.
          An explosion would be when you have nothing left big enough to form a community.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.