T Nation

Rules for a Productive Political Discussion

So, after seeing many, many promising threads devolve into the usual miasma of personal accusations, I thought it might be worthwhile to attempt to discover some basic principles that govern a productive political discussion.

Here are a few I think are important:

  1. Assume good faith on the part of the person with whom you are having the discussion - at least until you have an objectively obvious reason (as opposed to a subjectively paranoid reaction) to do otherwise. Don’t pick fights unnecessarily. N.B., it’s not necessary or wise to assume good faith on the part of politicians… but the people who support them are a different story.

  2. Feel free to believe strongly you’re correct - but assume and keep in mind there is a possibility you could be mistaken (personally, this is probably the hardest one for me to remember).

  3. A)Address what people actually say/type, as opposed to either what you want to argue against or some possible negative interpretation of what they say/type (this ties into the first point). If there are negative implications to someone’s position, feel free to address them - but that’s different than accusing someone of having some possible negative meaning to what he communicates.

  4. B) Address what people actually say/type, as opposed to trying to make their position fit into some easily dismissed label, e.g., racist, liberal, Nazi, communist, etc. - unless of course you can demonstrate it is that (important note: that’s different than just labeling it as such).

  5. This ties into 3)B) and almost seems too obvious, but it’s necessary: avoid ad hominem arguments.

  6. Try to address the main points of what people are trying to communicate, rather than focusing in on, and fighting about, tertiary details (either in an attempt to avoid having to deal with the main point or in a paranoid quest to find something offensive) - particularly in long posts.

  7. Don’t change the subject in an attempt to get the argument on to a subject that you prefer, or away from a subject you want to avoid - if that’s true, just don’t participate in the thread.

These are what I thought up over the last half hour - I’m interested to see what other people think on this meta-topic.

Far too often real world political debate is not fundamentally a macro-cosm of the thought processes of an intelligent person, or even of one smart person arguing with another. The politics of confrontation usually turn ugly - but do they always need to do so?

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
5) Try to address the main points of what people are trying to communicate, rather than focusing in on, and fighting about, tertiary details (either in an attempt to avoid having to deal with the main point or in a paranoid quest to find something offensive) - particularly in long posts. [/quote]

Was that addressed to Zap?

Anyway, good job compiling the list. With a few exceptions, I think the people here will agree with all of your points. And I sincerely believe that they are doing their best to follow every single one of them. Sadly, when the topic debated involves violent deaths or livelihood, many posters give in to emotions.

Thank you, kind sir, for taking the time to remind us of these all too often overlooked matters.

Sounds like good rules.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
5) Try to address the main points of what people are trying to communicate, rather than focusing in on, and fighting about, tertiary details (either in an attempt to avoid having to deal with the main point or in a paranoid quest to find something offensive) - particularly in long posts.

lixy wrote:
Was that addressed to Zap?

Anyway, good job compiling the list. With a few exceptions, I think the people here will agree with all of your points. And I sincerely believe that they are doing their best to follow every single one of them. Sadly, when the topic debated involves violent deaths or livelihood, many posters give in to emotions.

Thank you, kind sir, for taking the time to remind us of these all too often overlooked matters.[/quote]

Nevermind the fact that your first little quip definitely violated points #5 and #6, and one could, I believe, also claim violations of #1, #3A, and #4.

Maybe you should try a little harder to not “overlook [these] matters” next time.

Good for me that I have a prick exemption.

I like number 1, I think it’s our biggest problem.

I’m probably guilty of 5 the most. Especially in long posts. I think as long as one doesn’t claim an entire argument is wrong because one point is incorrect, correcting a false or debatable statement in a long post isn’t necessarily a negative thing. I’m still guilty via laziness though =P.

This thread is fucking racist! Or Nazi! No, wait, it’s communist! One of them, anyway.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
(text) [/quote]

After reading your post, it is clear you are racist.

Kidding aside, this is a great template for worthwhile debate, good to the last point. These forums are self-regulated, and it is our responsibility to keep the integrity high, and no one else’s.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
So, after seeing many, many promising threads devolve into the usual miasma of personal accusations, I thought it might be worthwhile to attempt to discover some basic principles that govern a productive political discussion.

Here are a few I think are important:

  1. Assume good faith on the part of the person with whom you are having the discussion - at least until you have an objectively obvious reason (as opposed to a subjectively paranoid reaction) to do otherwise. Don’t pick fights unnecessarily. N.B., it’s not necessary or wise to assume good faith on the part of politicians… but the people who support them are a different story.[/quote]

Hard to do with a certain faction of this forum who - good or bad - does not deserve a good faith assumption.

My biggest fault right behind starting fights. But hell - if it doesn’t involve farming, or accounting - when have I ever been taken seriously in here?

I think this ties in to #1 - in order to do this, one has to assume a good faith effort on the part of the opponent. Hard to make that assumption with some folks in here.

You may be the only person in this forum - well you and 100M - that are capable of avoiding the ad hominem. It has been part of the political discourse since there was political discourse.

If I may make an addendum to this:

5(a) - Keep your posts as short as needed to get the point across. I have ADD, and cannot possibly read a 47 paragraph article that has been copied and pasted - and the way this posting box interprets quotation marks with 3 ?'s is irritating beyond belief. Provide a link.

Politics is not based on facts - only the interpretaion of facts as believed through one’s life filters. I am afraid it is impossible to keep it from turning ugly. Maybe the inevitable can be held off a little longer than 2 posts into a thread, but you are asking for the political equivalent of cold fusion if you think it can be completely avoided.

Rules to live by.

Can this thread get a sticky, like they have them in the Beginners forum?

Makkun

Raising the standard for discourse. I shall endeavor to follow the principles you have outlined. Please, anyone, feel free to reprimand me if I stray.

Regarding tertiary details - these may actually be very worthwhile discussing and help expound the topic at hand. I’d like clarification on this, thank you.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
6) Don’t change the subject in an attempt to get the argument on to a subject that you prefer, or away from a subject you want to avoid - if that’s true, just don’t participate in the thread.
[/quote]

Iraq…

sorry, well, someone had to do it…

[quote]lixy wrote:
BostonBarrister wrote:
5) Try to address the main points of what people are trying to communicate, rather than focusing in on, and fighting about, tertiary details (either in an attempt to avoid having to deal with the main point or in a paranoid quest to find something offensive) - particularly in long posts.

Was that addressed to Zap?

Anyway, good job compiling the list. With a few exceptions, I think the people here will agree with all of your points. And I sincerely believe that they are doing their best to follow every single one of them. Sadly, when the topic debated involves violent deaths or livelihood, many posters give in to emotions.

Thank you, kind sir, for taking the time to remind us of these all too often overlooked matters.[/quote]

You are the biggest thread hijacker around but nice way to try to derail this already.

Anarchy rules.

I suppose, more than anything, those of us that are interested in a higher level of discourse will just have to ignore those that dumb down or otherwise jump track from the original thread. Thus they are relegated to inconsequential and they either accept rules to join in or leave.

[quote]kroby wrote:

I suppose, more than anything, those of us that are interested in a higher level of discourse will just have to ignore those that dumb down or otherwise jump track from the original thread. Thus they are relegated to inconsequential and they either accept rules to join in or leave.[/quote]

I believe we may have reached that point, Boston’s appeal notwithstanding.

[quote]kroby wrote:
I suppose, more than anything, those of us that are interested in a higher level of discourse will just have to ignore those that dumb down or otherwise jump track from the original thread. Thus they are relegated to inconsequential and they either accept rules to join in or leave.[/quote]

Isn’t this the way it is anyway?

Etiquette and manners are voluntary behaviors. The consequence of not going with convention is ostracism. Of course there are those that thumb their nose at convention and risk ostracism to wake the masses and help change the course of history. Thank goodness for those people.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
kroby wrote:
I suppose, more than anything, those of us that are interested in a higher level of discourse will just have to ignore those that dumb down or otherwise jump track from the original thread. Thus they are relegated to inconsequential and they either accept rules to join in or leave.

Isn’t this the way it is anyway?

Etiquette and manners are voluntary behaviors. The consequence of not going with convention is ostracism. Of course there are those that thumb their nose at convention and risk ostracism to wake the masses and help change the course of history. Thank goodness for those people.[/quote]

There’s a difference between those the thumb their noses at the rules, and those whose only mission is drum the same monotonous drivel in every single thread they enter.

It used to be fun to get into to lively debates in here. 100M comes to mind as a great guy to fight with. There used to be that guy who was supposedly a tenured guy at Stanford - he was always fun to scrap with. The hermit from Wyoming was fun, too.

The thing about all of them is that they had a message beyond “Bush Lied - People Died” - and they did not derive every single bit of their knowledge from wiki-fucking-pedia.

[quote]rainjack wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
kroby wrote:

The thing about all of them is that they had a message beyond “Bush Lied - People Died” - and they did not derive every single bit of their knowledge from wiki-fucking-pedia. [/quote]

I did not know what Ad hominem meant…

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
kroby wrote:
I suppose, more than anything, those of us that are interested in a higher level of discourse will just have to ignore those that dumb down or otherwise jump track from the original thread. Thus they are relegated to inconsequential and they either accept rules to join in or leave.

Isn’t this the way it is anyway?

Etiquette and manners are voluntary behaviors. The consequence of not going with convention is ostracism. Of course there are those that thumb their nose at convention and risk ostracism to wake the masses and help change the course of history. Thank goodness for those people.[/quote]

Jim Jones, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs, Brigham Young…

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers…

all fit that bill. Thumbing your nose “for change” is not in itself honorable or a positive influence in order to change history.

Following rules set by a community to ensure a high quality discussion does not require nose thumbers for the sake of a better future.

You’re not some wild card saving the politics forum from the masses, lifty. You’re actually exhibiting one of the very attributes that this thread is trying to put a stop to with your “Anarchy rules” comment. What does that serve? It’s childish. Time to put on the big boy pants and act grown up.