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Effectively Debating The Alt-Right and Libertarians Online
Why Specify Trump Supporting Republicans
"Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate." ~ Hubert H. Humphrey
I specify Republican Trump voters for this writing as they are the loudest, and most factually bereft of right-wingers. Their arguments contain the boldest lies and logical fallacies. They're like an ill-informed angry mob chanting in bumpersticker. They simply verbatim parrot FOX News, some right-wing YouTube screamer, or fact free right-wing blogger. These are people that haven't thought their position through, they've gotten their information from thought shepherds; thoughts they obediently repeat. Theirs is a narrative based on alarmist, revisionist history, and the fallacious idea of superior white ethno-centrism. Add a healthy dose of evangelical Christian apocalyptic dominion-ism and you have a tragio-comedic mix of intellectual malpractice.
It's all extremely Trump-like, echo chamber, group-think.
Indoctrination presented as information, full of confirmation bias.
Television news reporting and commentary has become little more than spin doctoring and perception management. Television is steadily ceding credibility to the internet as an information portal, television is more spectacle, pandering to the lowest common denominator. It either acts as a defender of the status quo like CNN, preaches to a right-wing choir like FOX News, or shills for one candidate over another like MSNBC did for Hillary Clinton. All of them are mesmerized by Donald Trump. None seem to impartially represent what the public thinks; other than status quo conformity or right wing dishonesty.
I find right-wing rhetorical deception to be particularly troubling. FOX News, and right wing websites, like Breitbart, fueled by FOX's unprincipled journalistic malpractice, are the greatest hindrance to progress in this country. An unscrupulously deceptive information bubble that keeps ignorant people, ignorant; and safely in the comfort of the know-nothing herd.
1. Don't Worry About 'Winning'
There is a ninety-nine percent certainty that you will not change your opponent's point of view in an online debate. Fundamentally, debates are about opinion. Many opinions, especially political ideology, are based on identity and emotion. The prevailing opinion forming emotions, especially for conservatives and Trump Republicans are:
- Bigoted Contempt
Many internet debates with right-wingers/libertarians will expose those emotions, some are more subtle than others. Those emotionally attached to their position will not be changing that position any time soon, surely not to someone opposing them online.
So why even bother with the online debate, what is its value to you?
Because of the public nature of these encounters, there may be many more people 'watching'. Adopt the stance of teacher. Be factual, do not become offended or emotionally engaged. You're really speaking to the observer, the fence sitter watching the exchange. Most likely your opponent is deeply embedded with 'Identity Protective Cognition'. A psychological defense mechanism for those that are deeply self- identified with their point of view, they perceive evidence that contradicts their world view to be a personal attack on their very being. The bunker mentality of the right-wing bubble.
Identity Protective Cognition
2. Choose your battles wisely.
Every buffoon that shows up is not worthy of your honest, credible, deliberation. Learn to walk away when a fool tries to bait you into an exchange. More times than not, they're simply trolls, out for their own amusement. The troll's objective is your reaction, emotional reaction. If a troll can make you outraged, indignant or exasperated; you've given them what they seek.
You'll sense a troll's motive by self-examination, your inner senses, watching what feelings arise in yourself.
The other type useless to debate with is the militant extremist. The militant fanatic is the polar opposite of the troll, but just as unreachable. Whereas the troll tries to emotionally trigger you and revel in making you seethe; militant extremists are highly emotional themselves. They take major offense that someone disagrees with them, that there is a point of view opposing theirs. They take it personally, many times to the extreme.
These intellectual captives have a pathology, first they're annoyed by your argument, then they become increasingly resentful by your factual retort(s), especially if and when you correct him on the facts, he's then indignant and irate. These people don't like their fantasy world view dismantled. Walk away as their anger escalates. He'll get personal and abandon debate, he'll only want a reckoning.
You don't have time for that kind of juvenile behavior.
You'll notice that I exclusively used the male pronoun for these descriptions, my decade long experience with online debate/discussion has shown me that the predominate majority of people that demonstrate these behaviors are male.
The Red Herring
3. Know Your Fallacies
Conservatives and right-wingers are steeped in, conditioned with, fallacious arguments. Their world view has been formulated in the media bubble of Fox News, conservative websites and in the case of many libertarians, conspiracy sites and YouTube. Many mindlessly blurt manufactured untruths that careen around the conservative/right-wing information bubble as 'facts'. These falsehoods are then defended in online exchanges with a variety of logical fallacies. The major ones I encounter are:
- Ad Hominem - A term rooted in Latin that means 'against the man'. It's when a conservative abandons arguing a topic point, derails the discussion, and tries to make things personal. Terms like "loony or kooky liberal", "commie leftist" etc. are used by Trump supporters and right-wingers when they've conceded the argument. Ad Hominem is a sure sign of the user feels defeated on the point. Many right-wingers begin the debate employing ad hominem, do not take the bait. It's simply an effort to drag you down into the mud with them. Hammer the point with factual data, grab popcorn and watch the ad hominem spewing right-winger melt down right before your eyes.
- Strawman Arguments - Misrepresenting their opponent's position in a ludicrous manner, then setting fire to that position. For example, many of Bernie Sanders positions on issues were strawmanned by calling it "giving away free stuff". It's a lazy intellect's main tactic. Right-wingers strawman argue a lot, Fox News is a progenitor of this lazy rhetoric. Strawman arguments are one of many deflection tactics, an attempt to get you to defend something outside of the point. If you have the time or inclination, make the person defend the strawman they created, but, never defend your position against a strawman argument. Keep them on topic.
Otherwise, just walk away. Someone that presents a strawman argument has conceded any valid argument.
- Tu quo que - Also known as 'Whataboutism'. A response to criticism of Donald Trump is responded to with "well what about Hillary?", or "Obama . . .".
This fallacy is employed to deflect or change the topic.
Hillary or Obama aren't President of the United States, Trump is.
- Begging The Question - Asking a question based on a false premise. It's known as the fallacy of false presumption. A blunt example is:
"Do you think blacks are poor because they are lazy?"
Do not engage that false presumption. The question is a statement cloaked in a query based on fabrication (and bigotry). Call the questioner on their bigotry if you feel it must be addressed, otherwise let the question hang on the thread, for all to see. Trying to provide an answer to that question will only derail the thread.
There are many more logical fallacies. However, these are the major ones I encounter regularly.
Let Gish Gallopers Gallop
4. Do Not Try To Interrupt A Gish Galloper
"Gish Gallop is a technique, named after the creationist Duane Gish who employed it, whereby someone argues a cause by hurling as many different half-truths and no-truths into a very short space of time so that their opponent cannot hope to combat each point in real time. This leaves some points unanswered and allows the original speaker to try and claim his opponent lacks the counter-arguments."
Also known as -word salad- , customarily, when someone Gish Gallops, they're desperate to look 'knowledgeable'. The truly knowledgeable wouldn't need to resort to such childishness. This debate fallacy is a sign of frustration, an attempt to pummel you with specious verbiage and nefarious information, many times unrelated to the topic at hand. Someone that thinks quantity equates to quality. It commonly happens on comment threads where the galloper was factually errant and you corrected him on it. He then floods the thread in a Gish Gallop to hide the evidence, move it out of view with their own made up goobley-gook. Like the octopus' defense mechanism of squirting ink to confound its enemies.
You'll have to trust the intellect and critical thinking skills of those observing to see through a Gish Galloper. It would derailing your own point to attempt to counter a Gish Gallop.
Either sit back and sip your tea, or walk away from a Gish Galloper, they are not worth the time or intellectual effort to discuss important matters with.
The Gish Gallop is used by those that lack integrity, or the required confidence, to concede a point to their opponent.
5. Be Sure Your Own Argument Is Solid
"Tolerance, openness to argument, openness to self-doubt, willingness to see other people's points of view - these are very liberal and enlightened values that people are right to hold, but we can't allow them to delude us to the point where we can't recognize people who are needlessly perpetrating human misery." ~ Sam Harris
(These words work for the purpose of this writing. Although, Sam Harris, a noted atheist, employed these words as a 'well poisoning' tactic against religion.)
A solid, defensible point of view is one that is constantly self-critiqued and adjusted for the sake of coherence and cognizance. You'd be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't), by the vast number of people that hold a viewpoint, belief or opinion because; "that's what I've always believed."
An extremely effective exercise for intellectual acuity is to play your own devil's advocate. In your quiet alone time, question your own point of view, make your own arguments against it, see the inherent flaws. This exercise does not necessarily mean you need to change a viewpoint or belief, it simply means you're honest enough to acknowledge its holes, its inherent contradictions; and still see it as viable. Beware your own 'perfection, or nirvana fallacy', no idea is perfect and universally applicable.
You want to make the rational, most reasoned, argument. To repeat my statement above; do not try to 'beat your opponent' in an online debate. You're simply responding to him. In your response speak to the world, you're teaching.
Lastly, I find that the most effective spokespeople for their point of view online are efficient writers. Learn to present your view point in a few sentences, a paragraph at most. Multi-paragraphed, bullet-pointed screeds, don't get read. Save those for blog posts.
However, most importantly...
Read Read Read...everything.
One Love, Changing the world one mind at a time...
© 2016 Duane Townsend