Monday, February 25, 2013

Rules of rhetorical engagement

Some interesting developments have transpired in the days since I wrote the post “Can’t get no Lambo satisfaction” — namely, the subject of that post, Don Domingue, took interest in what I said. When I didn’t reply to his correspondence as quickly as he apparently wanted, he declared victory and said he was done with me.

After reading the Lambo entry, Don posted a link to it into the SB Nation thread, along with this commentary:

This is as polite as it got.
He e-mailed me personally to alert me to the comment. Later, he typed up a reply to my post that he deleted almost immediately thereafter. I won’t repost it here, because I agree with him that he should have thought twice about posting some of that. (CORRECTION — The comment wound up in my spam filter, which I discovered after he said he didn't delete it. It is now on the thread.) It reminded me of other times when someone made similar remarks, which I’ve dealt with both personally and as a representative of a publication. What these incidents have in common is that someone took rhetoric much farther than it needed to go. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in the SNL sketch where he must quell the disturbing impulses of the Mr. Belvedere Fan Club, it’s time again for our exercises.

The rules below apply not just to me or to Don, but to anyone unnecessarily agitated over some opinion writing they find in the press.

1) Pick your battles. The quickest way to look petty is to engage every critic you encounter. You come across as someone with misdirected passions; someone with way too much time; someone who has to win every argument, no matter how pointless; someone with an exaggerated sense of self-importance; or any combination thereof. If you must engage, engage with intelligence and discretion.

2) Make sure you haven’t wandered into the wrong debate. Not everyone who hates the color of a car (or wants higher taxes on the rich, etc.) is a jealous welfare leech. Tailor your response accordingly.

3) Let your argument stand for itself. Use facts. Make your case, ground it in rationality and otherwise do the best you can. Accept that some will agree and some will disagree. Accept that you may be proven wrong (and try to anticipate that as you go). Accept that there is a degree of dissension among thoughtful people. Don’t base your argument on who has the most zingers or who is cockiest, because you might find you’re the only one playing that game. Even if you win, you lose.

4) Find common ground. Not only does common ground humanize an opponent, but it underlies a primary purpose of debate: persuasion. When people are reminded that they’re more alike than different, amazing things can happen. That’s preferable to escalating volleys of useless sniping.

5) Take the opportunity to be better. One of the most devastating ways to tilt a debate is to snap preconceived notions. It can be as simple as conceding a point: “Yes, I was wrong about that.” Or, “That’s a fair point.” Or perhaps use a little-known tidbit about you that helps explain your stance: “I don’t want you to think I’m a monster. When I was a child, I skipped lots of meals because we couldn’t make ends meet. I vowed then that my adult life would be different. All I want is the opportunity to be able to do so.” If it doesn’t change minds, at least it will open them up. Taking the high ground is never a bad idea.

6) If you must insult, use relevant insults. I know it’s hard to imagine in such an ideologically divided age, but calling someone a “liberal” isn’t so devastating if they actually are one. “Socialist” also lands with a thud because actual socialism is a rare force in the U.S. (This works with opposing ideologies as well.) Overly broad stereotypes suggest not just ignorance, but laziness. A well-placed slam is unexpected and memorable. But, most importantly, it’s accurate.

7) Don’t physically threaten, even jokingly. “Fighting words” should stay metaphorical. This goes whether it’s anonymous bluster or claiming you’ll sic your neighbor — notorious for his anti-media tirades and his Mardi Gras assault on a local publisher’s daughter — on me. Or whoever, since this is purely hypothetical.

8) Don’t prove your opponent’s point. The best tip of all.

Am I perfect on all of these points? Of course not. But I strive. I hope Don, his critics and everyone else do the same, so that discourse in this country improves.

5 comments:

Don Domingue said...

You should put some humor in your writings, in my opinion more people will read it. I was mentioned here and I was almost too bored to finish it. Also you should say something like, in my opinion, when you state something as fact when there no way you could know if its fact or not. To me you kind of come across as a know it all. You have to admit that your article was in the same vane as the snarkers on the board. When I called them liberals nobody denied it.
You had to think that reference to Glenn Stewart was funny even if we don't agree politically and I think you wrote something that was insulting to me.

Ian McGibboney said...

You and I have very different concepts of humor. I don't find your reference funny because what that man did to that woman is inexcusable. Why on Earth do you think I would find a total stranger's call for a man with a record of assault to find me and punch me in the face funny? You shouldn't say that to anyone. Ever! It will NEVER be funny. And someone who thinks it is, is not someone who should be lecturing me on humor.

I feel like I've been more than fair here. You yourself said I was "kind." But if you don't feel that way any longer, you have every right to ignore me. Short of that, you have a right to explain here where I've misunderstood you. But the bluster is unproductive and the threats, however joking you think they are, are indefensible.

I think I made that clear in the blog above.

Don Domingue said...

You sound kind of defensive. If I made writing my life's work I'd have I'd have already shredded myself(as my opponent) by now.

Ok nothing you said was funny, even defending yourself on how not unfunny you are was not funny. Now that's funny. As far as for my friend Glenn goes, Bully for him, he has a right to defend his constitutional Rights. The 5th ammendment says you can't be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process. Then the second ammendment said if someone didn't read the Fifth ammendment and were trying to deprive him of this without due process he could use a gun to stop them. This person chose vigilantism from civil legal procedure and got according to founders of this country what was deserved. It's liberals that pervert what this country was founded on. Oh I don't like what Glenn's float says, well to hell with you, that's the First ammendment. Glenn can say what he wants. It's still almost a free country.

Ok, I don't have all night to write this shit for all seven of you readers, so I will wrap it up with. Next time you want to debate me on one of your indefensible positions, send an email when you publish it so I will know. I just stumbled upon this. And since you stated something as fact and was proven wrong, that I deleted my post because I had qualms, which was an assumption that wrong on your part, I am asking you to do the honorable thing and apologize to me.

Ian McGibboney said...

When you're parsing the Bill of Rights to justify assaulting someone, you've already lost. That woman shouldn't have ripped the banner off his float, but he ALSO shouldn't have punched her in the head and knocked her out in retaliation. And I still say it's not funny to invoke that man because I said something you didn't like. You talk about me not shredding you, but threatening violence on me strikes me as the ultimate indicator of having no argument.

As for my readership: my blog on white power got 642 hits today. They can't all be from search bots, can they?

Ian McGibboney said...

Also, I don't owe you an apology for an honest mistake. Not only did I retract my assumption on both blogs, but I published the comment.