Wednesday 3 April 2013

How To Argue Online - Notes on Rhetoric

[n.b. Please use the comments box for suggested additions to these notes] In negotiating the so-called 'blogosphere' you will need to be aware of certain obligatory rhetorical tools with which to rebut opponents. The following are a few I have noted at random, and can be used in comments boxes or when critiquing a publication: 

A priori - your apriori supposition is that: ‘I operate by the clear light of reason, you according to preconceived notions’. You are using pure thought and evidence, your opponent is unthinkingly in thrall to canards, tired clichés, and various pieces of received wisdom. 

Always Psychologise - If your opponent criticises you more than once, he is evidently obsessed/ fixated by you, you are being stalked by him etc, his objections are to be reread as ‘symptoms’ of his disorder etc. 

Armchairs Pontificate from them; or rather, accuse others of so doing. The armchair is sundered from the Real World (qv) and no access to truth is possible therefrom. Use advisedly: an 'armchair politician' is a caustic insult, but an 'armchair TV critic' has rather less force. 

Barred If you have been barred from a blogger's comments thread it is always because you 'reminded them of some uncomfortable truths', you 'told it like it was' etc, never because you were an insufferable troll or (for example) a tedious prick whose diversionary ramblings and clumsy put-downs were an embarrassment to all but yourself.

Chorus It is axiomatic that your opponent always speaks as part of a ‘chorus’ or ‘company’, whereas you of course speak as an autonomous individual. Whereas your opponent merely chimes in with a consensus, you have the courage to speak out and tell it like it is - as is the case with all the others who support your position. (see also 'Brigade'- "Your opponents form a 'brigade', cf Peace Brigade, Bruschetta Brigade, Root Causes Brigade etc. " (Lenin)

Climbdowns Necessarily 'humiliating'. People are 'forced' into them

Conspiracy Theory = suggesting that Western governments (or businesses) are anything other than benign or incompetent. 

Critics Are invariably 'confounded'. 

Difference of Opinion It is axiomatic that your opponent does not, nor ever will, be objecting to the content of your opinion. He is necessarily stung by and unable to tolerate the sheer difference of opinion, and his arguments simply express this fact. (copyright J.Hari.) 'You are obviously unable to tolerate any point of view different from your own' etc 

Emotion –your opponent is necessarily and invariably ‘excitable” “agitated’ “animated”; you, by contrast, are immobile, impassive, devoid of emotion. 

Entertaining - You find your opponent entertaining. His arguments are 'amusing', 'diverting' and so on, a kind of sport, which you have enjoyed. At some point, however, this becomes 'embarassing' and you should advise your opponent to retire before he humiliates himself. At all costs avoid suggesting you are seriously engaged with what he is saying.

Evidence – demand it. Always refer to as ‘empirical’. If actually offered, criticise the methodology. 

Fascism - If all else fails either: 1. find some link between your opponent and fascism, and the Nazis in particular. 2. Wheel in some analogy about fighting/ collaborating with the Nazis. Refer any dispute to the Second World War as a point of comparison. (see also Godwin's Law, courtesy of Anon. at the Weblog). Identifying your opponent with fascism enbles you todramatise yourself as fighting fascism - universally agreed to be noble and good. 

The Guardian A newspaper bought exclusively by people who wish to complain about the mentality of its readership and the venality of its columnists. The Guardian (2) Whereas you might think The Mail and The Times are middle class papers reflecting middle-class preoccupations, for your purposes 'the middle-class' are exclusively Guardian readers and the Guardian is the quintessentially middle class paper. The expression 'middle-class Guardian reader' should be avoided as a tautology. 

Glee - Always 'scarcely concealed'. 

Goaded (qv raw nerve). If an opponent responds to your comment, he has necessarily been 'goaded' into responding and is thus exposed as a fool. Your superficially inept remarks are retrospectively revealed to have been a trick designed to 'provoke a response', and your opponent has 'fallen for it'. 

Human Rights When reading about the human rights of some particular person or group, you are required to ask indignantly about the rights ofsome other person or group. Imply that the rights of the latter cancel out those of the former. 

Humour Your opponent is always 'earnest', his pronouncements are 'solemn', he takes himself 'too seriously' etc It is important that the monopoly of humour, irony etc remains with you, and that your adversary is always the object of laughter, never its source; your relation to him is only ever that of being 'entertained' - not challenged or stimulated (such an admission would be fatal). If you lack genuine wit, simply pepper your prose with 'lol' and gleeful exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!

“intoning” – when quoting your opponent's argument always interpolate ‘he intones/ intoned’. (Especially 'he intoned solemnly' or 'he intoned darkly'). This works with almost any statement. Even if your opponent is not ‘intoning’ your remark will have a delectable sarcasm, as in '“fuck you” he intoned, solemnly'. 

Irony To give your comments a protective coat, it is always worthwhile intimating, hinting, allusively indicating that you are 'being ironic'. Retroactive irony can also be used - declare after receiving criticism that your opponent has perhaps 'missed some of the irony' of the post. No one will inquire too deeply into 'missed irony' for fear of redoubling their original oversight. Note, you do not have to actually be ironic, simply append 'guess the tone' or 'tongue firmly in cheek' and your opponent will be reluctant to entangle himself in the invisible gauze spun around your words. That your tongue, along with the rest of you, is de facto firmly between your cheeks will pass without notice.

Criticism of Israel Concede that of course, in principle, criticisms of Israel are not necessarily anti-Semitic. Give the impression that this is so obvious as hardly to be worth mentioning. Having got this out of the way, every particular criticism of Israel can be exposed as implicitly anti-Semitic. 

‘…is itself an example’ - E.g: : ‘”stale cliché” is itself a stale cliché’ ‘”I’m using no rhetorical ploys” is itself a rhetorical ploy’; 'your remarks on logical incoherence were themselves..". You get the idea. Endlessly adaptable. Creates the impression that your opponent has refuted himself, thus sparing you the trouble of doing so. c.f. 'unwitting'; 'precisely my point'.

Just a Bit of Fun Anything which is 'just a bit of fun' is not susceptible to analysis or understanding. Any attempt at analysis or understanding should be met with the response 'come on, it's just a bit of fun'. (Films and TV programmes are always 'just a bit of fun'). 

The Last Word - Invite your opponent to 'have the last word', thereby ensuring that he cannot (and that you just have). 

The Left (i) Rather than attacking the ‘Left’ as such, it is better to undermine the word and cause to be it ineffectual, either by constantly diluting it in ‘liberal-left’ or simply by using phrases that render it meaningless, as in ‘my fellow leftist Stephen Pollard’

The Left (ii) An umbrella organization consisting exclusively of students on the one hand, and, on the other, middle-class people who like hosting dinner parties. Contrary to a lingering misconception, The Left has nothing to do with the working class, who are actually quite content with how things are. (However, 'while The Left are undoubtedly a laughably impotent bunch of middle-class Students Waving Placards, they are alsoand simultaneously a Sinister Worldwide Plot, all powerful, with tentacles reaching into every orifice of the civic body, working in cahoots with global Islamofascism etc etc etc '. [courtesy of bat])

Liberal Tolerance is simultaneously: A) The cardinal virtue of our democracy and what differentiates us from extremists, totalitarians, theocrats etc B) Politically correct madness which opens the door to theocrats, totalitarians, extremists etc 

Neither a lender nor an adder Rather than making an argument, with his own words or voice, your opponent is lending or adding his voice to a certain pre-existing argument or 'chorus' (qv). (He may be doing sounwittingly (qv). In any case, his argument is not quite his and he is those exposed as a clueless dolt.) 

Historical Record. Your opponent is invariably unfamiliar with it, while you master it with matchless facility. Allude to it wherever possible, encourage your opponent to acquaint himself with it. So much the better if you have a cache of slightly obscure references that you can dispense, especially if these bear only tangential relationship to what you are discussing. In particular, when called upon to explain the relevance of the reference, explain that you are not about to spoon-feed your opponent and advise him to get off his flaccid fundament and do some independent reading. It will, you can assure him, be its own reward.' [courtesy of Lenin] n.b. The ‘historical record’ is the events of history as they appear in their correct order and final significance. It is the objective status of events, uncluttered by mere partisan interest and subjective interference. If it is difficult gaining access to the HR, imagine how much more difficult being its trusty custodian. Fortunately, in our times, the custodian -and occasional author - of the historical record is a humble English Blogger called Oliver Kamm.

In Reserve Rather than jumping in with full-blown polemical fireworks, an alternate strategy is to give the impression you have great and devastating arguments in reserve, and are holding back. And you are holding back partly through sheer magnanimity, partly to spare your subject utter humiliation. Start by implying that your very intervention is an act of graciousness on your part, as in ‘Normally, I don’t involve myself in these kind of spats, however..’ or ‘I have resisted the temptation to comment on this issue so far, however.. .’; and you go on with ‘let’s just say I find this position less than convincing, putting it mildly....’ ‘let’s just say there are elementary logical procedures that haven’t quite been grasped here’. 

Nomenclature/ Semantics etc Since arguments (at least in the blogosphere) tend to take place in language, it is always possible to claim your opponent is merely quibbling over words. Eg: "Zizek's theory of revolution as expressed in this article is nonsense" "But it's not a theory of revolution at all" "Call it want you want, I don't want to get hung up on questions of nomenclature" 

Unoriginal If you can find no substantive points of disagreement, try lamenting that your opponent's argument is 'hardly original' or 'laughably unoriginal' perhaps. This will almost certainly be true at some level, and your opponent is unlikely to be so immodest as to protest the contrary. 

Over-analysing/ Over-interpreting In general things have a perfectly familiar and obvious significance which they wear on their surface. Some people, however, insist on discovering other and more 'interesting' meanings beneath this innocuous surface. They may even claim that this process is called Thinking. These people are generally intellectuals, however, and you should have little difficulty rousing your audience against them. Analysing or interpreting certain things, eg a good film, rather than simply enjoying them, is often symptomatic of a mental illness known as intellectualism - symptomatized in a small pudgy body and oversized cranium. 

Profanity and the demotic. Used sparingly (so as not to be mistaken for some incensed half-wit), your use of the profane/ demotic is a right laugh and a sure sign that you represent robust common sense and can sniff out and debunk pretentious academics and pseudo-intilectukals. Try mixing it with more refined prose for full effect, as in “after careful and sustained reflection, I have now arrived at the inexorable conclusion that X is a clueless twat who talks counter-revolutionary shite.” Be careful, use of demotic language may provoke truimphant claims to have 'touched a raw nerve' (qv) from your opponent. 

Parody - Although you may want to attempt parody yourself, it is better to ironically opine that your opponent has been the victim of a parodist. This can take a couple of forms: 1. ‘Please direct me to the original weblog of which this is evidently a parody.’ 2. ‘A malicious third party is posting under your [the opponent’s] name/ has gained access to your blogging account, and is writing absurd risible nonsense in order to discredit you.’ 

Political Correctness.. always already 'gone mad'. 

People You've Met If you wish to establish the veracity of some chosen stereotype, all you have to say are the magic words, “Look, I’ve actually met people like this..”. Your vapid generalisation will instantly assume concreteness, and your opponent buckle before an unassailable empirical factoid. In the 1980’s it was lesbian CND supporting Guardian readers who people had invariably ‘actually met’; in 1930’s Germany it was doubtless avaricious Jews. (compare with ‘someone who has actually been there’). 

Postmodern - use to refer to any jargon unfamiliar to you. Apparently the term has a more precise meaning, but this is only according to people who write in unfamiliar jargon and can therefore be safely ignored.

Posturing - always 'empty'; no one has yet pulled off a posture that's even half-full. 

Precisely my point- the opponent’s argument is really yours, as in ‘I could hardly wish for a better confirmation of my point.’ (see ‘unwitting’) 

Pseudo - A prefix which attaches to intellectuals. So tenacious is this attachment (which can be dowloaded from that intellectuals can never be mentioned without it. Indeed, many argue that only pseudo- intellectuals exists. The real thing is a mere mirage or retroactive illusion created by the prefix pseudo-. 

Pretentious - Anything which cannot be paraphrased into journalese, (almost) anything French, anything not yielding some sort of immediate and calculable return, anything which one cannot imagine being spoken by a 'bloke down the pub', (almost) anything you can imagine being spoken by an intilletukal. 

Psychology Always 'pop' - or 'psychobabble'. Note, there is no law of contradiciton in rhetoric, so don't let the psychology rule stop you from 'always psychologizing' (qv). 

Pub The Pub is always a sign of blokeish familiarity and common sense. Do end a discussion with “right, I’m off down the pub”, so indicating a sensibly English awareness of the limits of mere intellectual debate andtouching base with the Real World. (The mere mention of this last is sufficient to debunk certain kinds of high-flown jargon.) Of course, his gesture (of touching base with The Real World) can be performed without having to visit the pub or even leave your armchair – you can also break off a debate by reference to some favoured TV program that requires attention, preferably ‘the football’ or something Popular (never, God forbid, ‘an Ingmar Bergman film’ or ‘a documentary about Heidegger’). Always remember: You are at one with the Common People (who go down the pub and watch telly) and not at all part of the despicable Middle Class/ Intelligentsia.

Quotations Always 'out of context'; if however someone accuses you of 'quoting out of context' say that all quotes are out of context by definition 

Raw Nerve - If your opponent responds to you with anything like gusto/ feeling you have necessarily ‘touched a raw nerve’. This can be used against all but the most blandly neutral reply. Try saying it in various contexts, just to unsettle and bemuse e.g: “Mark, "I'd really like that reference for Hegel’s comments on Zoroastrian religion?” “Ah, it touched a raw nerve did it?” 

Real World - Invariably, a place where things are different. Inhabited by ‘ordinary people’. Often located in Glasgow’s East End or even outside the First World altogether, as in ‘this might sound plausible in Christ Church common room, but it rings pretty hollow in the Guatemalan jungle’. Needless to say, your interlocutor is unfamiliar with it.

Reminders – are always ‘salutary’. Your opponent has a poor memory and needs many such reminders. 

Refreshingly un-P.C. If you're afraid to salute bigotry, don't worry, here's your get out clause. 

Sarcasm – always refer to as ‘clumsy’, unless a favoured columnist uses it, in which case it is 'delectable'. 

Screed - if referring to your opponent's book at all costs describe it in some other terms: Screed, tract, glorified pamphlet, loose collection of essays, collation of occasional journalism, assortment of republished ephemera etc 

Self-Appointed- If you prose is criticised for its sloppiness it is by a 'self-appointed literary critic'; if your opinions are deemed offensive it is a self-appointed commissar of political correctness; if your taste in literature or art is ridiculed as vulgar it is by a self-appointed arbiter of taste etc. The rule is roughly this: any judgement made about you, any criticism of your arguments or your style, has been made by someone who has appointed him /her self rather than, presumably, being divinely or officially appointed.You may run into problems if criticised by someone who is genuinely divinely or officially appointed (The Pope, High Court judge), but simply dismiss them as arguing from authority. . 

Silences Yours are dignified, your opponent's revealing. 

Snide - a witty remark that happens to be aimed at you becomes 'snide'. 

Someone who has actually been there - someone who has ‘actually been’ to a place (eg Nicaragua/ anywhere in the Real World) obviously knows what they are talking about and is automatically deserving of respect. Their small sack of anecdotes is unassailable by logic, statistics or other documentation. Best admit defeat.

Tenuous - Your opponents grasp of logic, the facts, the English language. 

To argue is to lose The very fact that your opponents argue against you is the best evidence against them. It means that your post has 'upset quite a few people', 'got a few people quite agitated' 'got under their skin' etc They have not made an argument but had a tantrum, they are not making reasoned points but ‘throwing their toys out of the pram’. 

Too Generous - e.g: "It would be tempting to attribute the use Chomsky makes of this material to intellectual idleness and incompetence, but I fear this is too generous a judgement." Here, one gets to have one's cake and eat it. Any one of a number of variants are possible: e.g. “It would be tempting to attribute the writer’s lexical ostentation to a too patent need to assert his cultural credentials/ an autodidactic zeal to display the fruits of his lexicological and bibliophilic labours/ social insecurity, and a frustrated desire to be admitted to the universe of Belles Lettres, but that would be too generous”. 

Turkey - If your opponent is criticising the policies of some state you favour demand that he talks about Turkey instead. This may sound a feeble ploy, equivalent to saying ‘please talk about something else’ but can be effective if you use language like ‘if you’re being consistent’ ‘disproportionate and selective attention’. (You may if you wish substitute some other country for Turkey – obviously so if, by chance, your opponent is talking about Turkey.) 

University, your opponent is at. Bear with me. In the realm of doxa, the university is entirely seperated from the Real World (qv) and populated by Student Revolutionaries. This image of the university is unassailable, and safely entrenched beyond refutation, so don't worry. It is thus rather useful if you can insinuate a connection between your opponent and the University (the University of doxa, that is, not any particular institution). Moreover, there is, belonging to this University of Doxa, an equally mythic 'undergraduate' who reappears endlessly in statements such as: 'this is an elementary undergraduate error'; 'As every undergraduate would know..' , 'one can find this kind of thing in any standard undergraduate essay.' 'if this were an undergraduate essay.. etc' and so on and do forth. This poor mythic undergraduate has been kept at university for countless years by the requirements of rhetoricians and polemicists. 

“Unwitting” – almost everything your opponent does is ‘unwitting’, eg revealing his real sympathies, confirming your argument, showing his true colours etc. 

Unworthy of serious consideration That your opponent’s argument ‘doesn’t merit a response’, is ‘unworthy of serious consideration’, that commentary or mockery ‘is superfluous’ shouldn’t of course prevent you from saying so at great length. 

“What I actually said” - your opponent has invariably failed to grasp this. Thus, you should suggest that he ‘tries addressing what you actually said’ or even ‘please address you remarks to the person who actually made the argument you refer to.”

"Who are you to say that?" Your opponent makes a coherent, plausible argument. You might think you've had it, but no - this meaningless question removes the ground from under his feet, shifting attention from what he's said to the position from which he speaks. E.g., "2 + 2 =4" Who are you to remind us of elementary mathematical truths?" qv 'self-appointed'.