Monday, July 19, 2010

"Don't Be a Dick" - In Person vs. the Web

Joshua Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas has a nice summary of what's gone down since Phil Plait's speech about how dickishness works against skeptics' rhetorical goals. Right below this post you can see that ridicule makes your position seem weaker.

A lot of the Dick Problem is probably the result of the Intarwebs. All that means is that we skeptics do a lot of our rhetoric on the web, and on the web you aren't looking in people's eyes, so it's easier to Be A Dick. You can't see that actually, the person you're calling a moron is nice and earnest and pleasant and might have a strange idea about something, but is certainly not deserving of your wrath.

One solution to this is to more often practice your skepticism in person, face-to-face. I'm not even talking about public debates (though that's one way), I just mean be ready to challenge people's beliefs on the bus or at a picnic or after work - constructively. Get together some elevator pitches, learn some basic (on-your-feet in-person) argument moves, observe and imitate good speakers, maybe even take a class or join Toastmasters! And though this seems basic, you have no idea how much a compliment at the start of an opposing statement really does open people up to listening to you. "You seem like a smart guy/lady..." "I can tell you have a good heart, so..." "Sure, but a person of your level of achievement..."

And for goodness sake ESPECIALLY don't be mean in person. Fortunately for most of us, being nice in person is automatic.

[Added later: if you can't not be a dick, at least don't be the ibex in this video. Although in fairness to the ungulate the human is barely letting him get a word in edgewise.]

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