Arguing Correctly: Commentary
My little essay, How to Hold an Argument is a brief catalog of common logical and rhetorical errors. But there are a few stunts and habits of argumentation that really drive me nuts that deserve their own section. Think of this commentary as a list of my own pet peeves.
Abuse of the First Amendment
Online forums are useful and interesting typically because they center on some particular topic. For example, if I decided I love orchids, I could go find several online orchid-fancier communities with mailing lists, websites and bulletin board systems.
Normally these sorts of forums are friendly places, and the conversation is rarely entirely focused, and the topic drifts a bit. This is expected and adds to the congenial atmosphere.
This all falls apart when some fixated person arrives who refuses to stick to the topic at hand. I don't participate in a gardening forum to hear conspiracy theorists rant. When the monomaniacs arrive, they'll usually be asked to stop, and then finally banned if they do not.
It seems inevitable that the troublesome person will start to shout about first amendment rights being violated. This is ludicrous. The first amendment allows you to stand on a street corner handing out literature, or to publish books or web pages. The first amendment does not mean I have to let you into my house to froth away about whatever it is that bugs you. The first amendment does not guarantee an audience.
If an online forum about topic X doesn't want to allow you to rant about topic Y, too bad. Go form your own online community.
Adolf Hitler is the universal solvent of hyperbole and propaganda. Atheists claim he was a christian, christians that he was an atheist, an occultist, a homosexual or a Roman Catholic if they're coming from the far fundamentalist edge of the scale. Liberals like to call conservatives fascist or Nazis, and conservatives hurl the same terms right back.
Comparing anyone to Hitler who is not directly responsible for millions of deaths is propaganda with no sense of proportion, a profound ingorance of history and betrays a coarsened ethical sense. I recently saw someone, a dispensationalist pre-trib christian, speak of Hitler and Bill Clinton in the same breath. I have heard liberals compare America under George the Second to pre-Nazi Germany (which is insane... the U.S. is nothing like post-Versailles Germany).
If you wish to convince me of anything and we're not discussing WWI or WWII, leave Hitler out of it or I will ignore you as studiously as I'd ignore the ravings of a syphilitic madman.
(See also Godwin's Law, which discusses this at great length.)