Monday, March 9, 2009

Play Dirty, Play to Win

I've had a few readers who are disturbed at tricky argument tactics; essentially, anything that's not logos (of the classic Greek logos-pathos-ethos triumvirate of rhetoric). Atheists are rational people but as a result tend to over-rely on logos. To win hearts and minds, you can't just appeal to minds.

While encouraging critical thinking is essential to a healthy society, I'm a-okay with deverting people with slick marketing techniques. When you're dealing with people immunized against logic, led by people engaged in bad-faith discussion, the end does justify this means. In case you haven't noticed, humans (including you and me) behave according to group dynamics and game-theory-approximating heuristics and if we continue deluding ourselves that we're fully rational creatures motivated solely by fact and argument, we're not going to grow our numbers very much. I'm not alone: Hitchens Law is "An argument without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." I would like to add a corollary: "Cheap and slimy debaters can be dispatched with cheap and slimy tactics." As you can tell from the video of his OU presentation, Dawkins agrees.

1 comment:

Dan said...

The blue fairy sent me, you little wooden puppet. At this rate, you'll never become a real boy.

We don't need to deceive. We're not selling snake oil.

Boo. If you're engaged with someone in a 'bad-faith discussion' you've got a few options:

1. Sally forth and hope that truth and logic will win the day. You'd better hope that your audience is clever enough to follow your line of reason.

2. Play dirty and hope you're a better dirty player. Also hope that your audience is dumb enough to fall for your tricks, but not dumb enough to fall for the other guy's.

3. Walk away. Hope it doesn't look like surrender. If you've been baited in to a 'bad-faith' debate, you can depend on the other guy trying to spin it that way.

4. Take the trap apart. It's not hard to make somebody like Ray Comfort look like a fool. You can pretty much repeat his arguments back with an incredulous "Really?" at the end. Still, the meat of the matter is to demonstrate that his arguments are intended to deceive.

Are you in this for the long haul or just bear baiting?