Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Right Way to Argue: Parts III and IV.

Points related to debating on-line.

(1) The shorter the post, the more likely it is to be read.

Television has greatly shortened the attention-reading span of the average person. Of course, if you've got several points to make, you may need to make a longer post. But I guarantee that, except for the really thoughtful (and probably older) folks, length = ignored.. If you've got two or more points to make that are not intimately related to each other, consider making them in two separate posts.

(2) Aim at one paragraph per sentence.

Multi-sentence paragraphs tend to be ignored. In practice, you may find that a good paragraph consists of a single major sentence, followed by one or two shorter supporting sentences.

(3) Try to use various highlighting methods to help your reader understand your points.

This includes italics for words you would stress if you were speaking them, or bold for words you want to call to your reader's attention. And follow a consistent style for highlighting book titles and journal titles. It makes you look more professional. I haven't yet experimented, but intend to, with underlining, color, and font changes; but these should be used sparingly, in any case. It goes without saying that you should use the QUOTE facility where available.

And take the time to set off distinct material – for example, a list of links – as has been done with this sentence.

(4) Control the battle.

You do this by preparing well, then starting your own thread, to which your political opponents have to reply. This gives you the advantage of choosing the terms of the debate, and of beginning it with a carefully-considered min-essay, rather than a spontaneous retort to a liberal’s well-prepared post.

(5) Choose a meaningful and provocative title for your threads.

“My thoughts on economics” is not going to attract nearly so many viewers as “Lower Taxes Mean Less Poverty”. It is worth while looking at the titles of threads on any forum on which you are taking part, to see which get the most views, and attract the most replies. From my own study of this subject, I would say that the ideal title is “GUN Can Prevent RAPE , both heterosexual and HOMOSEXUAL, thus cutting out the need for ABORTION” but you can only use it once. [Joke!]

(6) Avoid long threads, if possible.

Sometimes you can't -- But remember that newcomers to a debate will only read the last page or two of a thread, and will miss things you have said earlier. Thus if X says on page 10 (perhaps himself not having read your earlier posts where this point is refuted), "Y believes Negroes are inferior", it doesn't matter if on page 2 you explicitly said you didn't believe this. No one except the hard core will have read that page. So you're forced to go back and quote yourself, which is a bore.

Where a thread has gone on for more than four or five pages, and you want to continue the debate, consider starting a new thread, on the same or a closely related theme, perhaps summarizing the debate from the first thread.

(7) Give a good thread the exposure it deserves.

Sometimes our opponents will slink away from a debate which has gone well from our point of view. (And they are smart to do so.) Thus the thread will quickly sink from view. In this case, you should from time to time ‘bump’ it with a bit of additional commentary, so that people whose attendance at the forum is only periodic, and newcomers, will get a chance to see it.

(8) Don’t let a good thread get hijacked.

I doubt if this is done deliberately, but I have seen an excellent thread, from the conservative point of view, driven right into the ground by a leftist bonehead. The thread started with a post by a conservative who made some observations on the intellectual poverty of liberalism. This was followed by one or two other conservatives, who amplified the point. Then the Forum’s resident IQ-challenged liberal posted something grossly stupid and irrelevant in reply, which was answered by a conservative, and which was then replied to by the original stupid poster, and then answered by another conservative, which response was then answered by yet another stupid post from the original bonehead, and so on. The result was a thread with three or four excellent posts, followed by fifteen or twenty boring posts and counter-posts, taking the debate right off the screen and giving thoughtful people a good excuse to ignore it. To be sure, the original liberal poster was thoroughly revealed as an idiot, but no one on that Forum, left or right, thought highly of them as a thinker anyway.

What our side should have done was not to have replied to the original poster’s second response. We should have had the discipline to hold our fire, and wait for more intelligent liberals to try to answer the original points, which they had shown themselves loathe to do, and for good reason.

(9) Use crowd psychology to your advantage.

It is a well-known fact, substantiated by numerous psychology experiments, that people are heavily influenced in their perceptions and beliefs by what they think are the perceptions and beliefs of those around them.

If you are unable to contribute a substantial post in an on-going debate, you can still have a positive effect by simply cheering on our side. I have noticed on one particular Board that, in a hot debate, whenever a liberal submits a substantial post, one or two others follow immediately with short posts saying, “Excellent post, Bill!” or “You got ‘em that time, Mike.” And it is amazing the psychological effect this can have on readers, as validating the posts being referred to. A single person arguing a position, no matter how effectively, against half a dozen less skilful opponents, still has the appearance of a lone eccentric in the eyes of observers – such is our primate nature. But let three or four other supporters join his side, even if only to say, “Well done,” and

(10) Boost your side.

Consider also sending the occasional private message to a conservative who has made a good point, congratulating them on it. All human beings appreciate being appreciated. We want to encourage our side, and to let them know that their efforts are being read and approved of even if this is not always manifested in public support.

(11) Use Links Lavishly

I believe that people will follow a link and read something at a length that they would not consider were it just cut-and-pasted into a post. I believe this only through introspection, although it would make a nice psychology experiment, to test its validity.

In any case, if you keep up with the excellent on-line essays available from the formidable stable of conservative commentators, and use them where appropriate, you will greatly magnify your striking power. The same goes for pure news items which reinforce our worldview, and/or undermine our enemies’. One of the most dangerous men in a battle is that innocent-looking Forward Observer, who never pulls a trigger himself but just gets on the radio and calls in timely air and artillery strikes.

When you mention a book which you would like others to read, it should, if the book is available, have an Amazon [or other on-line bookseller]-link.

Many people have never heard of the many excellent conservative books, journals, and web sites. Not all of our posts have to be part of a debate. If you have read a good conservative book recently, mention it. (Many Boards have special sections where this can be done.)

Good topical essays by conservative columnists should be posted also, even if they are not immediately relevant to an on-going debate. It’s not really possible, within the space available for posting, to make extended arguments. But if someone can be persuaded to buy a conservative book, or look at a conservative website, then you have accomplished more than a dozen good posts could do.

Note that if you are new to debate and haven’t built up the knowledge or self-confidence to write your own extended post, you can still do a power of good for our side by just posting useful links, with a sentence or two of recommendation.

(12) Repel “False Flag” Boarders promptly

Certain topics invariably attract the attention of ostentatious bigots, who are more likely, unfortunately, to be found in the conservative camp than in the liberal. These people are poison for us.

Although such people may think of themselves as ‘conservatives’, the actual conservative movement long ago left them behind, as it has expanded to embrace every kind of American. In fact, since liberals tend to take for granted the support of ethnic minorities and gay people, the latter groups may actually find a warmer welcome among us than among liberals.

Nevertheless, a debate about, say, Affirmative Action can see the appearance of someone who will claim that all Blacks are lazy. Since someone like this is inevitably going to be classified, by our liberal opponents, as a conservative, and since his posts will have the effect of driving all decent people into the liberal camp, it is imperative to reply immediately and make it clear that racism (and bigotry of all sorts) and conservatism are mutually incompatible. [A good way to do this in the case of the Blacks-are-lazy bigot is to invite him to emulate, in his energy, the prodigious intellectual output of Thomas Sowell; or perhaps to enquire if he would be up to debating Condoleeza Rice on the proper American policy towards Russia – where he will have to be able to match her in the ability to cite sources in the original Russian, in which she is fluent.]

Although most racist gay-baiting male chauvinist bigots are probably genuine, they also could be some clever liberal’s “False Flag” operation, designed to discredit us through guilt-by-association. So we want to disassociate ourselves from them immediately.(It may be necessary to distinguish between genuine neo-Nazis, and those backwoodsmen who are simply not yet housetrained, and need a broader experience of the world, such as they might get from reading things by Black or gay or female conservatives.)

(13) Create a “Band of Brothers”.

Where it is appropriate (on large boards, and ones run by liberals) use the Private Message (PM) facility to establish links with other conservatives. Scan the “Members” section from time to time to note new members of the Board whose self-designation reveals them to be conservatives, and send them a welcoming message. Congratulate conservative posters who make a particularly good argument. (Remember that PMs can be read by administrators, so anything further than simple exchanges of good wishes, such as co-ordinating posting strategy, is best done by email.) PMs might also be a good mode for expressing disagreement with some aspect of a fellow-conservative’s debating tactics or style, or tactfully pointing out to him some factual error he has made, which you don’t want to expose to the view of the liberals.

IV Conclusion and Summary

Arguing the case for a conservative approach to politics is both personally satisfying, and useful. The population is not divided into monolithic immovable political blocs, but consists in part of large numbers of people who can be won to conservative politics. The internet makes it possible for this activity to take place on a greatly expanded scale. Debate and argumentation, like all other forms of struggle, is an art, in which one’s effectiveness can be dramatically improved by both practice and conscious application.

I hope this paper has helped to persuade you to do both and has also given you some tips which you will find useful.


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