Comments on this blog are disabled, as I do not intend for this site to become a discussion forum. However, I do read my emails and will consider any responses, possibly with a new post or an edit to an old one at my own discretion.
Before contacting me, particularly concerning political matters, it is important to be aware that I have certain standards for communication that must be met before I will respond meaningfully. Emails that do not make an honest effort to meet these guidelines will be ignored, or redirected to this page.
- Check your sources. Save us both time by doing this beforehand. It is very rare that one will find all of the facts s/he needs to know about a controversial issue from a single source, or even from many sources of the same political leaning, or that facts will be honestly or correctly interpreted. Find out where your sources got their information, question their reasoning, and make sure their claims are valid.
- Check yourself for prejudice and cognitive bias. If something you’ve heard conveniently incriminates something you already hate, it deserves extra questioning; if something you’ve heard infuriates you, it was possibly fabricated or exaggerated for that very purpose. Somebody may be trying to use you. It is similarly important not to reject or ignore evidence or valid reasoning that does not fit with your personal beliefs and practices.
- Remove hyperbole and sensationalism from your message. If you must rely on characterization or narrative to make a point, then you don’t have a point. Sometimes facts tell a story, but those facts should be laid out, cited, and acknowledged beforehand. Terms like “hater,” “baby killer,” “homophobe,” “anti-American,” “racist,” “extremist,” “radical,” “sympathizer,” “cult,” and most forms of profanity are just a few common red flags.
- Use accurate terminology, avoid the use of euphemisms, and watch for shifting definitions. This is closely related to the previous guideline, but even someone who is not deliberately slanting an issue may fall into this without self-reflection. Ask yourself what a word truly means before you use it to make an argument. Examples of often-misused words include “justice,” “exploitation,” “rights,” “capitalism,” and “liberal.” Many seemingly-complicated issues can be made clear simply by clarifying the definitions, and then applying them consistently.
- Avoid generalizations of large, diverse groups of people, such as political parties, races, genders, and nationalities. While some groups unify according to particular ideas, keep in mind that this does not mean that any individual constituent can represent any other. It is better to discuss ideas rather than the people whom you attribute them; principles apply to everyone equally, and if you cannot make a point based on principle, then you likely do not have a point.
- Understand an argument on its own terms before making a counterargument. Everything has a context, and almost any claim, even if true, can be dismissed out of ignorance, real or feigned. Listen and consider earnestly, and if something doesn’t make sense to you, ask questions. To think of ways to counter another’s argument as it is being presented is a tactic for a debate class or public manipulation, not a rational and earnest conversation in pursuit of truth. Related, ridicule is not a valid disproof.
- Read over this list of logical fallacies and adjust your message accordingly.
- Let people speak for themselves. This is technically covered by most of the preceding guidelines, however it is so ingrained in the argumentative patterns of some that I feel it bears repeating. Do not tell me what someone’s position is and proceed to argue against it unless you first cite it in-context, or thoroughly disprove that person’s stated reasoning and provide evidence for your own claim. Furthermore, a cited individual can only represent his/her own viewpoint, and not that of others.
- Apply the Socratic Method to your reasoning. For example, watch out for double standards; if you apply a rule or standard to make an argument, how does that standard hold up when applied to other things? If the broader application of a principle will lead to absurd conclusions, then rather than making excuses and exceptions for specific cases, consider that there may be some fundamental flaws in your premises. This is likely how I will explore your position, so get as much of it worked out ahead of time as you can.
You don’t have to be perfect; I’m not. But be aware that these are standards to which I aspire in all of my positions. I am unlikely to be swayed by arguments that do not meet them.