Thursday, May 11, 2017

Forgiving Debate: Ad Hominem = You Lose!

As the first post on Forgiving the News, I want to talk about the subject of debate. Because news often leads to debate and the debate is often where the forgiveness opportunity shows itself.

As I say on page 164 of The Universe Is a Dream, debating on the internet is usually a waste of time. I usually only engage in it when I'm trying to formulate a position and thus refine an argument. Being good at forgiveness beats being good at debate. But debate is nonetheless a very useful thing. And in fact, proper debate and forgiveness actually go hand in hand. The only problem is that few people have the discipline for proper debate. 

Debate is a kind of logic competition through which one can strengthen an argument or at least discover its indefensible weaknesses. But for debate to be useful you have to be debating with people who are knowledgeable and don't slip into logical fallacies. Although there are about a dozen major logical fallacies that corrupt debate (which I list at the end of this post), ad hominem is the most problematic and pertinent to forgiveness. Therefore, ad hominem is the focus of this post. Ad hominem is when a debate turns into an attack directed against a person rather than the position the person is maintaining. Rule number one in a debate, especially an internet debate, is to end it when ad hominem starts. When ad hominem starts, it is no longer about logic and finding truth but about projecting guilt. He who resorts to ad hominem first loses the argument by default.

Ad hominem is like the equivalent of trying to build a building and basing the structural integrity of the building on painting its component parts red because red seems like a strong color lol. Ad hominem works to make it seem like an argument is taking place but it's actually an emotional appeal and not logic. I have no qualms challenging positions and beliefs when I'm willing to logically debate my position. But I know not to attack people personally, only their arguments. Because even if a person's position has some sort of flaw due to a personality trait or mental defect, the position can nonetheless be ripped apart without resorting to ad hominem. That's rule one in proper debate and also how you can debate while simultaneously practicing forgiveness (not project).

Political debate is usually almost totally ad hominem. Ad hominem manipulates people's emotions and it works because most people are way more emotional than logical. It's almost impossible for political debate to not be mostly about emotion, because politics is about who gets to control the guns (force) of government and where to aim those guns (force). If logic were running the show, everyone would point out how stupid it is that anyone at all should control the guns and be aiming those guns at anyone... other than at the kinds of jerks that aim guns and coerce people. That's how I think and that's why I'm a political atheist. So, to me most political debates are the same regardless of the political affiliation of those attempting to debate. The debate is basically: my team should control the guns and where they are aimed because my team is good and the other teams is bad. It is just mindless emotional projection and all about persuasion rather than logic.

I expect ad hominem in politics, but even science resorts to ad hominem. If you know something to be true scientifically, you are guaranteed to win any debate that doesn't resort to logical fallacy. But when the science isn't as sound as it pretends to be, ad hominem often results. For instance, science has a long history of using ad hominem on people who point to quantum mechanics to argue against physical realism.

Another example of an area where science often resorts to ad hominem is anthropogenic global warming. In case you haven't heard, the science on anthropogenic global warming is settled, it's real, it's a big problem, and those who think differently should be at the "Hague with all the other war criminals." With such a strong position, you'd think science could mop the floor in a debate with any dissenting scientist or anyone else. Well, the reality is that science currently can't, but it can politicize the science and resort to ad hominem (and other logic fallacies) to shut up dissent. The most common ad hominem is that warming dissenters are just in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry. And the most common ad hominem rebuttal is that most regular scientists are in the pockets of governments and institutions that would benefit in both money and power from offering solutions to a climate scare. Yet, regardless of ulterior motives, if science knew the truth it would be able to crush any dissent in legitimate debate. But science only pretends to have that ability by discouraging and eliminating dissent through various forms of ostracization. As a result, the most vocal climate skeptic scientists are usually older and or retired scientists with less to lose: dissenters like Dr. Judith Curry and the now late Dr. William M. Gray. Such people are very smart, informed people, yet they find ample room for doubt in the supposedly settled science of anthropogenic global warming.

As a non-climate scientist, most cases put forth by scientists for and against anthropogenic global warming seem legit to me when presented on their own in isolation. In isolation, I'm blind to what each side of the argument is omitting to build the illusion of certainty. And in isolation, each side often builds straw men to dismiss their opponents. Straw man arguments are another way to cheat at debate whereby you illustrate your opponent's position in a way that makes it easily defeated. 

After spending time with the arguments from both sides of the climate change issue, I know neither side has anything near a rock solid position. That means I can't honestly take sides. All I know is CO2 has risen, there has been some warming, human activity could in theory be driving it, and it could in theory end up catastrophic. Therefore, my position on global warming is that, in case humans raising CO2 is a major climate driver, we should replace fossil fuels as an energy source. But that means having a real replacement for fossil fuels. A government gun aimed at people to stop CO2 is not a replacement for fossil fuels, yet that's all the scientists tend to have to offer as a solution. If the government gun solution is all there is, then that's as good as no solution, because government gun solutions are by their nature scam solutions, otherwise they wouldn't require government force. But enough about that subject. I'll eventually write a post on forgiving climate change since that's a recurring news item.

The point is that legitimate debate is a useful thing, like exercise or healthy food. But since people's egos and therefore emotions are often so tied to their beliefs, their beliefs are too often more emotion than logic. Consequently, debate usually ends quickly in one side or the other slipping into ad hominem as legitimate, logical argument is exhausted.

If you have a friend or relative that often calls your beliefs out to start debates, whether in person or somewhere like Facebook posts, and that friend is cognizant enough not to slip into ad hominem or other logic fallacies, that's a good friend. You should be able to mop the floor with your dissenting friend if your beliefs are more legit than your friend's. If you can't defend your beliefs, you should keep your beliefs to yourself until you formulate your beliefs in a way that you can communicate and defend them. If your friend can't debate without resorting to ad hominem, teach your friend about debate. And let your friend know that the debate is over and a winner is crowned as soon as either person resorts to ad hominem. And if you yourself are usually the ad hominem debater, then you know better now by reading this and so it's time to stop cheating!

Another thing to keep in mind is don't be a parrot; know the reason and evidence for why you believe what you do. Parrots can't debate because their knowledge and certainty is phony and just based on confidence in an outside source. Don't get mad at someone else for exposing you as a mere parrot. I don't care if you're expounding a political belief or a belief in A Course in Miracles, know what you are talking about before you start mouthing off. Otherwise, some smart ass like me might just be in a mood for some debate exercise lol.

I'll admit that I'm a Socratic gadfly that likes to test people's beliefs. In doing so I'm able to challenge my own beliefs and make my positions stronger. The only thing smart about me is that I know I'm an idiot, but I live on planet of the idiots and so I don't feel bad about it when it becomes obvious lol. And since I know I'm an idiot I know to always be open to good counter arguments to my beliefs in case I need to modify them.

What you discover by debating is that truth brings people together and delusion separates people. The tighter you hold onto a delusion or the more you leave yourself vulnerable to the delusions of others the more you are only going to be safe in a bubble. Truth is uniting because it is consistent and it is consistent because the ultimate truth is necessarily oneness. For that reason, another important aspect of debate is common language; that often means explicitly establishing common definitions for terms used in a debate.

Debate to learn, not to win. Because if you debate to learn you always win, even if you lose, or even if the debate gets you de-friended by a deluded bubble friend lol. Incidentally, de-friending is like the ultimate Facebook ad hominem, a close second is deleting someone else's comments. Even if you have a friend that always resorts to ad hominem, all you have to do is respond: ad hominem, I win. And if the friend keeps going with the ad hominem, then censorship is excusable.

But anyway, appreciating debate is important to forgiving the news. Because much of what needs forgiven in the news is the result of opposing views about what the news reports. Those opposing views facilitate projection and therefore forgiveness lessons. And those views are usually wrapped in many levels of logical fallacy, including ad hominem. By understanding the mechanics of rational debate, you can become more immune to projection. Therefore, you'll more easily remember to forgive instead of project guilt.

In closing, I leave you with the twelve commandments of rational debate. Always follow the first commandment and enforce it. But you can cheat with the rest to test out your opponent. However, once you are called out you have to stop using that tactic. And you must accept that there is a limit to certain arguments. For example, arguing that the universe is a dream or virtual or that the world is going to be destroyed by CO2 has limits. Once you reach those limits you have to concede that you've gone as far as you can without cheating.


The 12 Commandments of Rational Debate and (Logical Fallacies) 
  1. Thou shall not attack the person’s character, only the argument itself. (“Ad hominem”)
  2. Thou shall not misrepresent or exaggerate a person’s arguments in order to make them easier to attack. (“Straw Man Fallacy”)
  3. Thou shall not use small samples to represent the whole. (“Hasty Generalization”)
  4. Thou shall not argue thy position by assuming one of its premises is true. (“Begging the Question”)
  5. Thou shall not claim that because something occurred before, it must be the cause. (“Post Hoc/False Cause”)
  6. Thou shall not reduce the argument down to two possibilities. (“False Dichotomy”)
  7. Thou shall not argue that because of our ignorance, claim must be true or false. (“Ad Ignorantiam”)
  8. Thou shall not lay burden of proof onto him that is questioning the claim. (“Burden of Proof Reversal”)
  9. Thou shall not assume “this” follows “that,” when “it” has no logical connection. (“Non sequitur”)
  10. Thou shall not claim that because a premises is popular, therefore, it must be true. (“Bandwagon Fallacy”)
  11. Thou shall not appeal to an outside party to claim support. (“Appeal to Authority”)
  12. Thou shall not claim moral authority. (“Moral high ground fallacy”)