As a purveyor of many an argument on social media, I am growing increasingly frustrated with the process. As someone that has been trained in classical rhetoric, modern rhetoric, political science, academic writing, and was an English teacher for 11 years, I stand aghast at the feeble attempts at arguing by many people on both sides. While much of my ire is based on the arguments of the right, I have my reservations about arguments on the left as well (but for entirely different reasons).
I cannot tell you how many times I have been engaged in an argument (typically with someone from the right) in which I find myself growing angry. My anger isn’t centered in the discrepancy of our opinions (okay, it is), but on the argument itself. Too many times these discussions/arguments turn into vitriolic pissing contests. How does this happen? People don’t know how to form a cogent argument that is not only logically sound, but based on evidence. It is easier to call upon talking points, name calling, and an ignorance of thoughtful discussion.
I think my biggest issue when arguing is the use of the red herring. I cannot explain how many times I have questioned the motivations and behaviors of the president only to have the retort be something like, “Well, we had to live with Obama for eight years.” This is not an argument. This is changing the subject. When pursued, the conversation becomes about the atrocities of the Obama administration (Obamacare) and the made up destruction of the country. Or the often used, “What about Hillary’s emails?”
Okay, yes, there was an issue with the emails. She used a private server and a private email account. After years of investigation, nothing was found to be dangerous. Does this make it okay? No. But, it does put it into perspective. This leads me to another fallacy of argument—the double standard. The president uses personal phones (yes, I know, they are changed, but rarely) for his rampant tweeting. But, he says it is inconvenient to have the security on them. If you remember, this is what Hillary said.
Perhaps the two related logical fallacies that get the most use are the ad hominem and ad populum arguments. In fact, I probably should have started with this. The ad hominem argument is the fall back for both sides. I remember being in a discussion with someone and the first responses were, “communist, socialist, and libtard.” Friends, this is weak argument. In fact, it devolves back to a time when we would say things like, “I am rubber and you are glue. What you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Paired with this is the immediate reduction to ad populum name calling using terms that aren’t meant provoke a response for your peers. Terms like Nazi, fascist, socialist, communist, and the like are nothing more than signs that you have nothing to say. At the same time, the argument that protesting the government or kneeling or burning the flag or anything of the like makes you less than American or a communist or a socialist is, in fact, the contradictory. It is a cornerstone of our democracy.
Another gripe that falls high on my list is that of the use of faulty generalizations. This irritates me to no end. This argument never fails to come up. It seems that if someone can find an example that supports her/his argument, then it must be truth. It is a form of confirmation bias. It is ridiculous. An example of something is just an example. Because someone did it, it doesn’t mean everyone did it. Or can do it. While this isn’t about the president, I find that the argument about climate change comes up the most. The vast majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is man-made. However, there are a few that don’t. Climate deniers focus on the few using examples like, “Well, at one time people thought the world was flat.” That is not an argument. It is the opposite.
Finally (for this post), is the use of association. All liberals and leftists are not the same. As all conservatives and Trump supports aren’t. But, we lump them together. I was recently called a socialist and a communist, not because of what I said, but because of the assumption that I was because of my views. Okay, maybe I do adhere to many socialist beliefs and think that free-market capitalism is incredibly dangerous. However, I am not a socialist. Or a communist. My worldview is shaped by what I read, what I hear, what I see, and me trying to put it all together.
Last, but now least, we need to discuss and argue with skill. Here are things we can not say.
That is not true.
You are...(some derogatory thing).
Blah, blah, blah…because s/he did it.
I have had to live with…
It is your turn.
Anything you say without evidence.
What about Hillary?
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.