Friday, January 28, 2011

Ad Hominem, Ad Nauseam

A theme has formed in my discussions recently online. People are telling me that I'm attacking them, not their ideas. Now, I'm pretty careful not to do this. I want a discourse about how we disagree on a topic, not whether or not you have a deformed head. If your opinion is different than mine, perhaps it is because you know something I don't. Perhaps I've not considered what you have to offer. Perhaps I have, and dismissed it as false or unreliable. Perhaps you would also care to know if your position is false.

Look, I am not my ideas. My ideas change all the time, and I think I'm a fairly constant person. If I begin wanting a cheeseburger and end up eating a taco, I don't feel as though the core of my person has been challenged or changed. So when I propose that your ideas are wrong, I do so for my benefit, not necessarily yours.

See, I'm the kind of person that cares if my ideas are accurate or not. I want to believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things as possible. The best way for me to examine my ideas is to find people who disagree and discuss it. Of course I think I'm right. Why would I hold a position if I was convinced it was wrong?

So this is what's bringing this to the blog. I got an email a while ago from a dude who supposedly had the best argument for the existence of god ever. You remember that guy; I refuted him here. Now he claims I've gone on a rant of ad hominem attacks. I disagree, but he didn't actually quote anything I said that he claimed was an attack. He only accused me of attacking him. On Facebook, I got into a bad debate over a different idea. When I tried to offer a counter argument, the original poster accused me of attacking her personally. I didn't. So I explained that I expected her to be able to defend her position. She again claimed I was attacking her right to be herself.

This happens a lot when I challenge a position people hold not because they came to the position through reason and logic, but through emotion and feelings. Belief in a god might make you feel good, but so would heroin. Putting heroin users in jail might make you feel good, but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. Further, if you think we should base ANY form of public policy on this position that makes you tingle, you better be able to defend it with REASON when challenged and not tell people who challenge you that they hurt your feelings.

Let's be clear. I have some dumb ideas. But how will I be able to identify them if they are never challenged? That's why I keep the wife of mine around. She has NO problem telling me when I have a dumb idea. And I know she's not attacking me as a person; she's pointing out the dumb idea. You might imagine the look of surprise I get when this happens, and you might also imagine how often I must recant or revise my position due to her argument. That's called growth, people.

So to the dudes who get offended personally when their ideas are challenged: "Bugger off!" If you don't like your positions challenged, don't say them out loud, ever. Don't type them online, don't speak them to anyone, ever. Have a reason for your position, or abandon it.

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