Monday, January 10, 2011

The Rules, all of them (so far)

The previous post referred to my list of "rules" for debate - actually for avoiding debate, for arguing rather than debating - deployed by rightwingers. The original list, which is my second-most-linked post, has been expanded a couple of times so I thought what the heck, I'd reprise the whole thing here since it just came up.

As I noted back then, early on the list had a number of forms because it was more an expression of my "varying degrees of annoyance and bemusement" with the tactics wingers used to dodge actual debates, so the whole exercise was a rather light-hearted undertaking. It was the murder of Dr. George Tiller and the attempts by the reactionaries - particularly by Bill O'Reilly, who repeatedly called him "Tiller the baby killer" and asserted that the failure to stop him undermined the very concept of moral judgment - to deny any connection to the murder that was the turning point.
I have had it[, I said]. I have had it with the evasions, the dodges, the schemes and slime that make up winger discussions. ... This is no longer a light-hearted list or a flip recital, but an indictment of deceit and philosophical bankruptcy on the part of a significant part of the American right.
So here it is, the always-subject-to-expansion-or-refinement list of wingnut arguing tactics, as it stands now:

Rule #1: Deny, deny, deny.

Rule #2: Attack, attack, attack.

Rule #3: When facts are undeniable, change the subject. This can be done in various ways, for example:
- Introduce irrelevant details on a tangential point.
- Pluck out from what your opponent said an individual phrase you think you can attack, even if it’s one that was just tossed off quickly, and treat that as if it’s the focus of the entire discussion.
- More subtly, try to tie your opponent up in piles of minutia to the point where everyone, including your opponent, loses track of the thrust of their argument.
- Apply Rule #4.
Whenever possible, insist that your changed subject is the "real" one under discussion.

Rule #4: Issue a lengthy, ranting denunciation of “the left” of the form “What about...,” being sure to include the words “hypocrites” and/or “hypocrisy,” thereby arguing that the left can’t legitimately criticize the right, while by using this tactic insisting that the right can continue to criticize the left. (Note: Where possible, include the phrase “you liberals.”)

Rule #5: Make the particular stand for the whole. Find something offensive or silly some liberal or leftist, somewhere, sometime, said or did and label it as identifying the entire left half of the American political spectrum. Demand that your opponent spend their time denouncing that example rather than discussing the original topic.

Rule #6: Never answer a question. When faced with one, ignore it and respond with a question, preferably on a different point. If possible, the question should be accusatory. (See Rule #4.) If you do not get an answer, repeat the question and loudly demand it be answered while continuing to ignore the original question you were asked. If you do get an answer, ignore it. If necessary, drop the matter without acknowledging having gotten a reply; if possible, repeat the question, insisting it has not been answered, even if it has.

Rule #7: Demand every remotely questionable assertion by your opponent be proved in every conceivable detail, right down to dates, times, and places, complete with signed affidavits. Refer to all factual assertions by your opponents as "just your opinion" even if the demanded level of proof is supplied.

Rule #8: Assert unsourced statistics and facts with great assurance. Reply to requests for proof by saying some version of "You can look it up." You thereby demand that your opponents do the work of proving your argument for you.

Rule #9: Frame the debate in false choices; for example, by responding to a call for withdrawal from Iraq with "Do you want to win or lose in Iraq?"

Rule #10: Accuse the accuser. As appropriate, use "You're being intolerant!" or "You're the real racist!" If something you said is challenged as bigoted or otherwise wrongful, decry the "suppression" of your "free speech."

Rule #11: When a claim of yours has been debunked, continue to use it nonetheless. When it has been debunked so thoroughly and completely that continuing to use it is counterproductive, stop claiming it for a time, perhaps a few months, after which assert it again as if the debunking had never happened.

Rule #12: Whenever faced with the evil resulting from some other winger following or acting on your arguments, accuse those who point out that fact of "politicizing a tragedy." Never, never, never admit any responsibility for the meaning or impact of your own words.

Rule #13: When all else has failed - and even when it hasn't - lie.

Rule #14: Specifically for use on TV: When you fear a contrary point may be raised, shout. If that contrary point is a good one, shout very loudly.

Rule #15: Seize control of the Clock of History. Insist that all events outside the time frame most advantageous to your argument are irrelevant and must not be considered.

Rule #16: You might call this the "Both Sides Now" tactic: If the behavior of some right-winger is undeniably bad such that it can't be explained away, airily dismiss it with "both sides do it." Freely employ false equivalencies such as equating people wearing anti-war t-shirts to a Bush rally with people carrying assault rifles to Obama appearances.

Rule #17 - This could be called the "I'm rubber and you're glue" method: Insist, even in the absence of any foundation, that any criticism of your methods or tactics actually applies to your opponent. For example, if someone notes you're avoiding a debate, insist "You're the one who won't debate!" Faced with examples of right-wingers lying, reply "That fits you lefties to a T!" (This is related to the "You're the real racist!"-type argument cited in Rule #10.)

Something I've mentioned before in posting and updating the rules is that I frankly expect many of us have at some time or another used one or more of these tactics in the course of debate, especially if it got heated. That is not the point of this list. This list is not about tactics used in debate, it is about tactics used by right-wingers to avoid debate. To avoid actual, factual, engagement on issues and to substitute accusation and obfuscation for investigation. It is about deceit. It is about intellectual cowardice. It is about being a bully. It is about being a liar.

It is about being an American rightwinger.


Marc McDonald said...

Hi Larry, this is a great article that really nails it. I'm sure we'll be seeing these techniques used heavily in the coming days, as the wingnuts try to cover their asses over the Giffords shooting.

One technique that I've encountered quite a bit from right-wingers I've debated in recent years is the "convenient amnesia" technique.

For example, in 2003, I remember having fierce arguments with a number of Republicans over the non-existent Iraq WMDs. They repeatedly told me that, while the WMDs hadn't been found yet, they would be, eventually. In fact, they were all very cocky and arrogant when they argued this point with me.

Now, years later, I have yet to find a single wingnut I debated back then who will admit that my arguments with them in 2003 ever took place at all. They completely deny it---it's truly bizarre.

They've gone from screaming in my ear that I was wrong about WMD back in 2003 to just quietly tip-toeing away from the whole issue and denying it ever occurred.

LarryE said...

Thanks, Marc.

I haven't had the personal experience of wingers simply denying arguments took place but ya gotta admit, selective amnesia is a good tactic, isn't it? "Nope, never happened, no way, nope nope nope."

I suppose you could consider it a subset of Rule #1, but it does seem like it deserves its own number.

Personally, what I've found more common is the "airy dismissal," whereby a charge is dismissed via an airy admission of what was previously vociferously denied. First it's "No, no! It's not that!" Later on, when evidence becomes undeniable even for them, it becomes "Of course, it's that! Everyone knows it's that! But it's not this other!" It's a form of moving the goalposts by trying to change the subject from "that" to "this other."

In the case of WMD, it would originally be "Saddam has WMDs!" But now it would be "Sure, no one has found WMDs! Everyone knows that! Why are you obsessed with that? He was a tyrant! Don't you want the people of Iraq to be free?"

Neat, eh? Deny (your previous argument), dismiss the charge, accuse the accuser, change the subject, and frame a false choice, all in five sentences. On a hot sound bite medium like TV, it can be quite effective. It is also thoroughly dishonest, which is why the right can be counted on to do it.

Blakenator said...

Good post. All you have to do to complete the list is go to a website like Non Sequitor that lists all logical fallacies. The only way I can listen to politicians or the clowns in the media these days is to keep score of which of these fallacies they use.

LarryE said...

There are lots of sites that list and/or describe logical fallacies.

Were you thinking of one in particular that applies it to political talk? If so, have a link?

The Kenosha Kid said...

How much did George Soros pay you to put up this list?

(Rule #18)

LarryE said...

Kenosha Kid -

Good satire, since I initially thought you were trolling. But yeah, "Invoke the demonic presence of George Soros" is a good candidate for a new rule. Thanks!

(And if I do add it, I'll even give you credit. :-) )

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