There are a lot of complicated questions in this life that don't have straightforward answers and are worth having intelligent, respectful debates about.
- Is there a higher power, and if so, what does that mean for how we live our lives?
- What role should a government play in supporting its citizens to lead healthy lives?
- What does a quality education look like, and how can we ensure the opportunity to have that for the largest number of people possible?
- What is the best approach or combination of approaches to have fewer unintended pregnancies?
- Which actions should be considered crimes, and what consequences to those crimes are appropriate?
- How much responsibility should a country have for the well-being of another country's citizens?
I enjoy hearing or reading intelligent, respectful, evidence-based viewpoints on topics like these. Particularly for topics I don't know much about, I appreciate opportunities for those with different viewpoints to debate an issue directly so that difficult questions can be asked and answered, and the evidence for and against certain suggestions can be presented. I think that if we as humans want to make decisions that best benefit us and our world, it's worth having discussions about what will get us there.
This is why it drives me nuts when people use unproductive and unhelpful tactics to try to argue their viewpoints.
When I see these tactics used, it's a sign to me that someone has prioritized winning an argument over seeking the truth. Or as this tweet put it, "You're not really interested in believing THE TRUTH unless you take seriously the possibility that what you presently believe is NOT TRUE."
If you have to resort to these tactics in order to make your case, then that should be a red flag to you that maybe you need to reconsider whether the argument you're making is actually accurate.
Here are some clues that you might be on the wrong path:
- If making your case requires knowingly lying -- that is, continuing to share theories or statistics that have been unequivocally refuted by all available evidence... you are probably wrong.
- If your argument is supported primarily by facts or statistics that you or your organization made up... you are probably wrong.
- If you go to great lengths to avoid being exposed to opposing viewpoints (and to prevent your children and/or followers from learning about other viewpoints)... you are probably wrong.
- If your only way of responding to an opposing viewpoint is relying on logical fallacies -- exaggerating the other viewpoint, bringing in irrelevant information, or otherwise misrepresenting what you're responding to... you are probably wrong.
- If sticking to your viewpoint requires ignoring or downplaying other people's life experiences -- denying their feelings, insisting they're exaggerating, or assuming they're lying... you are probably wrong.
- If you must comment anonymously to respond to an article or blog post... you might be right, or you might not, but chances are you're not expressing your viewpoint in a way you're proud of.
I am not of the belief that "the ends justify the means" when it comes to seeking the best way to function as a country, as a religion, or simply as human beings. I believe that if something is right and true, there is no need to fear tough questions or thorough investigation.
It's certainly possible to engage in a civil and evidence-based debate and still be wrong. Sometimes it's just a matter of not having all the relevant information; in other cases, what's being debated is entirely theoretical or future-based and no one yet knows what the answer will be. And sometimes disagreements about the right course of action come down to fundamentally different definitions of what is "good," "right," "healthy," "beautiful," "loving," etc.
But if making your case requires habitually stretching the truth or outright lying, avoiding disagreement, dodging direct questions, or denying responsibility for your own statements, then it's time to take a good look at whether you like the side of the fence that you're on.
What do you think? What other argument tactics inhibit the search for truth -- or just drive you nuts?