Debate: different ways of disagreeing

This hierarchy of disagreement is fairly accurate for blog debate and discussions.

That is from Big Think – How to disagree well: 7 of the best and worst ways to argue

A great tool, the web also seems to drive dispute. It is also a reflection of the larger reality, where divisiveness has spread throughout our society. A classic essay from one of the Internet’s pioneers suggests that there is a way to harness such negative energy of the online world and disagree with people without invoking anger—a lesson that extends far beyond the web.

Paul Graham is an English-born computer programmer with a Ph.D. from Harvard, an accomplished entrepreneur, a VC capitalist as well as a writer.  In his essay, Graham proposed that the “web is turning writing into a conversation,” recognizing that the internet has become an unprecedented medium of communication. 

He says this tendency towards disagreement is structurally built into the online experience because in disagreeing, people tend to have much more to say than if they just expressed that they agreed.

To disagree better Graham came up with these seven levels of a disagreement hierarchy (DH):

DH0. Name-calling

That can be done crudely by saying repulsive things like “u r a fag!!!!!!!!!!” or even more pretentiously (but still to the same effect) like, “The author is a self-important dilettante”.

DH1. Ad hominem

An argument of this kind attacks the person rather than the point they are making—the literal Latin translation of this phrase is: ‘to the person.’ It involves somehow devaluing a person’s opinion by devaluing the one who is expressing it, without directly addressing what they are saying.

DH2. Responding to tone

The lowest form of responding to writing is disagreeing with the author’s tone, according to Graham. For example, one could point out the “cavalier” or “flippant” attitude with which a writer formulated their opinion.

Stick to the material, Graham advises: “It matters much more whether the author is wrong or right than what [their] tone is.”

DH3. Contradiction

Offering an opposing case but very little evidence. You simply state what you think is true, in contrast to the position of the person you are arguing with.

For example “I can’t believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion. Intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory.”

DH4. Counterargument

A counterargument is a contradiction with evidence and reasoning. When it’s “aimed squarely at the original argument, it can be convincing,” wrote Graham. But, alas, more often than not, passionate arguments end up having both participants actually arguing about different things.

DH6. Refuting the central point

This tactic is the “most powerful form of disagreement,” contended Graham. It depends on what you are talking about but largely entails refuting someone’s central point.

This is in contrast to refuting only minor points of an argument—a form of “deliberate dishonesty” in a debate. An example of that would be correcting someone’s grammar (which slides you back to DH1 level) or pointing out factual errors in names or numbers. Unless those are crucial details, attacking them only serves to discredit the opponent, not their main idea.

The best way to refute someone is to figure out their central point, or one of them if there are several issues involved.

This is how Graham described “a truly effective refutation”:

The author’s main point seems to be x. As he says:

<quotation>

But this is wrong for the following reasons…

This may be “the most powerful form of disagreement’ but it doesn’t guarantee success in a debate. Sometimes people just won’t concede an argument even when proven wrong. In debate some minds can be changed some of the time.

Having these tools in evaluating how we argue with each other can go a long way towards regaining some civility in our discourse by avoiding the unproductive lower forms of disagreement. Whether its trolls of other nations or our own home-grown trolls and confused spirits, the conversation over the Internet leaves a lot to be desired for many Americans. It’s hard not to see it as a social malady.

Graham also viewed his hierarchy as a way to weed out dishonest arguments or “fake news” in modern parlance.

Forceful words are just a “defining quality of a demagogue,” he pointed out. By understanding the different forms of their disagreement, “we give critical readers a pin for popping such balloons”.

We can all learn to disagree and debate better – more civilly and more effectively.

Paul Graham’s full essay: How to Disagree.

Leave a comment

36 Comments

  1. David

     /  10th April 2019

    There is a person here who literally responds to 90% of what I say and typically without reference to what I have posted, often making personal assumptions about me.
    It seems like an obsession and if one isnt careful you can end up responding to the response with an explanation of how they have totally missed the point, are talking about something totally different are being idiotic but it can be a bit of a rabbit hole.
    All I would say is people have different opinions and it doesnt make them dumb, nasty, bastards, tory scum etc etc and is no different than someone saying I saw a great movie and someone else saying I saw it too and it was rubbish its just on a different subject matter and remember you are probably debating a thoroughly decent person you would be delighted to have a coffee with and probably agree on 90% of things.

    Reply
    • unitedtribes2

       /  10th April 2019

      Couldn’t agree more. I have no proof of that though

      Reply
    • Corky

       /  10th April 2019

      ”There is a person here who literally responds to 90% of what I say and typically without reference to what I have posted, often making personal assumptions about me.”

      Yep, I have that problem too. They however do reference what I have posted, but it’s all piss taking. I don’t respond to discourage them..but I still have the problem. Such is blog life. 😒✔

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  10th April 2019

        Don’t flatter yourself.

        It is you who respond with personal abuseand assumptions if anyone dares to question your bigoted and/or dubious statements.

        Reply
  2. Gezza

     /  10th April 2019

    Very handy little reference, that. She’s a hard road finding the perfect debater. Some of us do it right to start out with & lose that ability as the thread or argument descends into squirrels & absurdities. As Corky says, such is blog life.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  10th April 2019

      No squirrels, red herrings or “what about”s in that pyramid?

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  10th April 2019

        True. There’s not. The author or designer of that pyramid obviously hasn’t spent any time reading this blogsite. I’d stick another one in, now that you’ve pointed that out. Diversion. Maybe above Contradiction?

        Reply
    • MaureenW

       /  10th April 2019

      It’s a good guide really, I suspect if one cannot frame their comment within the top 3 items, they probably shouldn’t comment at all. A good counteract to blog-rage.

      Reply
  3. sorethumb

     /  10th April 2019

    Our disagreement, which I value enormously, seems to derive from how we define our subject matter. But it’s not just semantics. Rather, our different conceptions of multiculturalism are analogous to the difference between Marxism and “actually existing socialism”—theory and practice, which, as we all know, can differ greatly while maintaining an (ideo-)logical connection. This perceived mismatch, however, stems from a fundamental flaw in the underlying vision, which the philosopher Roger Scruton has dubbed “unscrupulous optimism,” i.e., failure to consider the many ways in which a well-intentioned doctrine can have adverse effects on human flourishing. Rarely do intentions translate directly into consequences.
    https://areomagazine.com/2018/12/03/why-multiculturalism-is-not-at-odds-with-integration-a-response-to-ambrosch/

    Reply
  4. Patzcuaro

     /  10th April 2019

    NZ Farmers debating matters in 1986!

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  10th April 2019

      My guess would be that they are dressed thus not because they are KKK members, as we don’t have that here, but to make it seem that the policy makers are like that.

      Reply
      • Mother

         /  11th April 2019

        I would add a border around that pyramid to represent spiritual matters. When someone shares their hope, others should either encourage kindly or ignore.

        When I first arrived here, the rudeness and hypocrisy was discouraging to say the least.

        How things have changed! Four months later, everyone was plunged deeply into spiritual matters. Perhaps YNZ needs the odd person to mention the name of Jesus Christ now and again just to check the kindness progress.

        If we want to hold on to our secular society, live safely and leave a legacy of possible wealth for every child, we need individuals to think carefully about Christianity and how to live it for the next 500 years. The revolution we need involves however many necessary Christian individuals to stay out of group politics, yet to live well in the world.

        A little bit of trust in the true and last prophet is enough from a person genuine about loving others. That prophet is the only one, ever, to offer free grace which cannot be earned and which requires no religious symbols. That prophet offers freedom (to the individual who then becomes vulnerable to isolation and ridicule in the world).

        The false prophet, whom has lately gained sympathy (via a group which then gains strength in the world), advocates one of many religions where people must prove themselves worthy. It’s a big ask, and lends to extremism.

        Compare ‘Just a little is required because Jesus is the Victor’ with ‘You must prove that God is great’.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  11th April 2019

          The teacher Jesus clearly believed that God, his supposed heavenly father, is great.

          Reply
          • Mother

             /  11th April 2019

            Yes, and He proved it – so that you can relax into the acceptance that you don’t have to.

            The answer to every difficulty is at the cross.

            Reply
          • Gezza

             /  11th April 2019

            No it’s not. That is an incredibly narrow understanding of the reality of the world & humans lives.

            Reply
            • Mother

               /  11th April 2019

              Do you mean that narrow pathway which in reality is exciting and most helpful to the world around an individual walking on it?

            • Gezza

               /  11th April 2019

              No.

  5. Gezza

     /  11th April 2019

    If we want to hold on to our secular society, live safely and leave a legacy of possible wealth for every child, we need individuals to think carefully about Christianity

    Yes, we do. We need them to look properly at the scriptures and the evidence for and against their belief teachings & to realise that apart from the historical tales, their God is an unproveable myth

    And they can’t do this if every time someone wiser than them in such matters. often just using their own scriptures & common sense, points out the obvious, Christians want to put their fingers in the ears, stamp their feet, simply make up, obvious straw men, nonsensical circular arguments that use the unproveable or contradictory unrelated verses in their Bible as their EVIDENCE for their theoretical divine supernatural creator, its son, & some other construct called the Holy Spirit.

    and how to live it for the next 500 years.
    They just need to work out using empathy logic cause & effect & common sense how to live harmoniously with their neighbours & others in the world. There’s nothing wrong with agreeing on a few important ideas on how to do that in the Bible (& Quran, & other religions’ writings, codes or Holy Books), & given what we now know and have learned over millenia there is nothing more the Bible can teach us nor do we need it to make us moral.

    Much of it is actually about an immoral God, & bad ideas and teachings.

    The revolution we need involves however many necessary Christian individuals to stay out of group politics, yet to live well in the world.

    No problem with that idea, except many won’t, because their lives are dictated by what they wrongly believe is their owner, creator, & ruler of the unviverse, & they think & try to convince others that therefore their lives should be too, I’m sad that so many of them still can’t get a grip on the reality of how wrong, how incorrect, how unnecessary, this belief is, eccept maybe for those who for psychological reasons, like fear of eternal punishment, desire for eternal reward & life in a mythical paradise they can’t even describe, because no one has ever seen or proved or shown it, & a desire to see dead love ones again.

    It’s pointless to simply say, as you did yesterday, Mother, “God is love” that’s just, really, a meaningless argument or assertion.

    Love is love, you can look up all sorts of definitions, but at its heart its just a human emotion. If you are saying that emotion is God, & God created everything, including emotions, and hatred is another emotion, so God is hatred too. Neither is meaningful or true or probative of any claims in the Bible.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  11th April 2019

      I would add a border around that pyramid to represent spiritual matters.

      Well, you might, but there’s no need – unless the point or intent is to then argue that somehow, within this border, is something or anything that sits beyond it & therefore can’t be questioned & argued, or that it somehow is needed to understand any argument. Because it isn’t.

      Reply
    • Mother

       /  11th April 2019

      “When someone shares their hope, others should either encourage kindly or ignore.” (me, above)

      Some people here* are living proof that Christians are the most likely to experience persecution. Is this the future you want in NZ?

      * I’m not meaning you Gezza.

      Why do you rant such a lot about religion? Why can’t you just politely leave me alone to politely express my hope? There are other people reading too Gezza. You’re not the only fish in the pond.

      Anyway, it’s nice to see that Mr Rustle left YNZ soon after I gave up due to unfair censoring, just for writing about the difference between two particular prophets.

      Our main trouble at this spiritual time is that the churches have either forgotten their hope or they are dogmatically pushing unChristian agendas.

      Time for a revolution. Church always prevails.

      In all the worries about the curbing of speech, it is ultimately the Christian voice* which will get snuffed out. Is this the country we want?

      * because the true Christian voice (the UC) is the voice of an individual. Most other voices are naturally louder and bossier. The next step is tyranny.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  11th April 2019

        Why do you rant such a lot about religion? Why can’t you just politely leave me alone to politely express my hope? There are other people reading too Gezza. You’re not the only fish in the pond.

        Firstly, because, with respect, truly, Mother – you are not just expressing & sharing your hope, you are, in the process, propagandising your religion & your Jesus is The Yaweh God, & often suggesting he is real & the others are not. And I am pointing out to you and others that he is demonstrably not a divine being who has communicated & dictated truth justice morality & why they are here & what is to follow their death to humans millenia ago.

        Secondly, I do not rant. Look up rant. I point out what you are doing & I want to engage in a rational & reasonable argument with you to show you & others why I, & other perfectly moral & intelligent beings, consider your central belief is not only wrong, but the eviden e that it’s not is everywhere, including in Christians’ own, flawed, unproveable, confusing, conflicting scriptures.

        Thirdly, because appeals to me or anyone else to not challenge the God beliefs you talk about because they hurt your feelings, or you think are rude, or whatever, is an attempt to prevent debate about whether your God is real & good, bad, indifferent, or all 3, and whether he even exists. And that, I believe, is a discussion the must be seen before anyone should just accept what a committed believer in this doctrine & myths is attempting,min a roundabout way, to propagate.

        You’re claiming elsewhere already that Islam believes in a false God, but so do Christians. They have no more factual evidence to dispute the truth or Muslim version of Jaweh (& their additional Jesus & The Holy Ghost as part of Jaweh) than Christians or Jews do to prove theirs.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  11th April 2019

          Correction

          your central belief is not only wrong, but the evidence that it’s not true is everywhere, including in Christians’ own, flawed, unproveable, confusing, conflicting scriptures.

          Reply
    • Mother

       /  11th April 2019

      “…there is nothing more the Bible can teach us nor do we need it to make us moral.” (Gezza)

      I agree. And it’s Jesus who made us free so that we don’t need the morals of any religious text. Morals were written on our hearts from the beginning.

      One of the biggest problem with the churches is that they add to scripture as though there is something more to do. They ignore its central theme – There is no more to do. The work of redemption was finished.
      Leaders should live it, not add to it (eg Mr Tamati. He lives it, but he also does harm by adding to it).

      It’s a shame the churches are not up to scratch. Never mind, the UC will survive and thrive anyway. Long may we have scripture for teaching us.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  11th April 2019

        Morals were written on our hearts from the beginning.

        Mother, for heaven’s sake! You are talking metaphorical gibberish. No they weren’t. Plainly. If they were they would show up in scans, microscopes, & x-rays.

        I asked PG 2 days ago if he could set up a dedicated page – to discuss whether God exists & whether Jesus is divine, to let Jaweh & Jesus are God-believers & any other associated claims & issues that can be proven & disproven – discuss & debate this kind of thing there – so we can stop disrupting & unnecessarily lengthening other threads with religious debate. I am hoping he might soon do that.

        Reply
        • Mother

           /  11th April 2019

          That’s a good idea. Then those who rant re religion can discuss things with those who are knowledgeable.

          I wouldn’t use that forum though. I appreciate my ability to politely state my hope within a secular site. Free speech is good.

          Reply
          • Mother

             /  11th April 2019

            I’ve changed my mind already.
            Yes, I could provide my longer posts on such a forum as you suggest. Good idea Gezza. An open minded loving person you clearly are! Let’s do this Kiwis😇
            Not just for followers and antagonisers of Jesus though. There are quite a few religions represented in NZ.

            I could dedicate my days to making sure Christian bloggers were polite, but as you know – I’m busy.

            Reply
            • Mother

               /  11th April 2019

              “….propagandising your religion….”

              It’s impossible for an individual to propagandise a religion on a blog. You really are het up Gezza.

              Kiwis need to practise their sense of humour. Our secularity, safety and sanity depends upon it.

            • Gezza

               /  11th April 2019

              You really are het up Gezza.

              No. Actually I’m not. I love this kind of debate.

          • Gezza

             /  11th April 2019

            Well at least Kimbo, who is not afraid to discuss his belief in your mythical God, & his (I think Kimbo’s a he?) reasons for doing so, he, & any other committed true believers, those who are unafraid to have their minds exercised & maybe changed, or to try & exercise & maybe change mine, can do so.

            You & I will likely, often, just have to continue arguments disrupting other threads when you push your religion, in disguise, with silly statements & meaningless, or wrong, or unproveable assertions.

            If you just want to say how you feel, no problem with me. But if you want to criticise other Christians, or non-believers, or believers in other Gods or possibilites for your unproveen, unproveable religious beliefs, I will dispute any claim that I csn show is wrong, or meaningless.

            Because I can give an opinion on your opinion, & I can point out why you’re not correct in many of your assertions that have no basis in fact, or reality, & given how dangerous, divisive, & harmful, these dogged beliefs in the 3 different versions of Jaweh have been, & still are, even though you think Jesus is God, Jaweh is also Jesus, & I consider that I should, and at times, that I simply must.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  11th April 2019

              I’ve changed my mind already.
              Yes, I could provide my longer posts on such a forum as you suggest. Good idea Gezza. An open minded loving person you clearly are! Let’s do this Kiwis😇

              Ok. You posted that while I was working on my post above. Thank you, mother, that’s all I ask.

            • Gezza

               /  11th April 2019

              @ Mother

              And if you just want to be a good & decent person, & to use what people who weren’t there wrote in the Bible about what Jesus taught, to help you personally sort out & be guided as to what’s moral, and good, in those writings, but you don’t really believe the other stuff about Jaweh & Jesus having created the universe & being God & communicating with ancient, educationally ignorant special people in strange & unsupportable ways, are actually true, nor do you wish to assert that they are, then we probably don’t have anything to dispute.

  6. Gezza

     /  11th April 2019

    One final point I want to make, Mother.

    Re, where I said edited slightly now for clarity:
    “You’re claiming elsewhere already that Islam believes in a false God, but so do Christians. They have no more factual evidence to dispute the truth of Muslim version of Jaweh (Allah) than the Jews have to prove that & their Jaweh , & that Christians have to prove that their Jaweh plus the later additional Jesus & The Holy Ghost as part of Jaweh than Christians have, to prove that theirs is true.

    You do realise, I hope, that Muhammad had a problem to fix, personally with surviving safely in the polytheistic, revenge-cultured, Arab Tribes he lived among. He travelled widely around the Middle East, as a Merchant Caravan operator, where he was exposed to both the Jewish & the Christian myths & religions. He immediately would have seen how strongly they each had taken a hold of the minds of their believers & how central they had been to the spread of them, & the development of their nations & ideologies.

    But they wouldn’t work so well for Arab culture. So he did what the Christians did. He simply adapted Jaweh to their culture, bit by bit, over 26 years, took a few risks, militarily & by bluff, they paid off, that proved to uneducated Arabs that God must be working thru him, & he was getting his instructions & corrections from God, and the rest, & Islam, is now history.

    Same as with the Jews, Jaweh, & Christianity. A myth with a purpose, never true, & now no longer necessary to explain (wrongly) our world, our universe, our nature, our behaviour & our sense of morality. Our humanity, empathy, do unto others, is where our morals come from. And the horrible things Jaweh & his followers & successors have (so they read, & believe) ordered or done come from what men wrote to convince & coerce or tempt others to help them do what they wanted to do.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  11th April 2019

      You should write a book on this subject, G. You cover it really well.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  11th April 2019

        This has got me interested in chasing down a few Matt Dillahunty videos. The algorithms are now much better at finding & throwing up a lot more of his lectures and debates than I knew about. He used to co-host a televised phone-show & I watched a few of the videos years back.

        Last night he reminded me, in one of his debates with Church of Christ preachers (they hate being called pastors, they insist on ‘preachers’, he was advised) of some of the times Christian apologists would phone in to argue with him, actually said that if it wasn’t for the Good Book, they would run around murdering and raping. And they meant it. You could hear it in the way they said it. Jesus! 🙄 😀

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  11th April 2019

          I used to watch some of the phone-in shows, when something had got me onto the subject yet again, mainly for entertainment. The apologetics were predominantly the same, just debunked ones, over & over again.

          And something that quickly became evident was that, generally, the more Biblically ignorant the caller was, the more likely it was that they would ring up to debate him.

          Reply

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