How (stupid) people argue, part 2 (the Absolutist's position).

So, in part one we figured that asserting that a strawman is involved can be very easy. While admitting to it might be worse. Either since the one being accused does not want to admit the other is right. Or the accuser does not want to admit he's wrong. Or perhaps one side does not accept the position of the other side as acceptably argued.

And since we obviously don't have an objective measure on what either truly are saying, one method to fix the problem is to shape the initial and following debate to fit a set of predefined restraints.

But in what way? The most common way is to start with a set of useful labels. For instance: liberal, conservative, restricted, free, tyrannical and democratic. And then fill in the meaning of those terms as defined by the semantic component of each. And so we have a perfect set of terms to use that are internally consistent, as described in part one of the crash- course in rhetoric. Through the method described in part 2 of the same.

And now we would be able to determine intellectually how each party was really arguing, obviously?

Sadly, no. What we have achieved instead is a battle over semantics. Since the labels are so restricted and depdendent on each other that, even if a measure of substance would be introduced into the debate, it would be controlled by that initially restricted approach.

And through it we would construct fictional breaking points. We would achieve arguments with artificial fault- lines dependent on predetermined conclusions. New definitions with actual descriptions would be unwelcome. Contextual analysis of situations would be unnecessary. Logic would be replaced with prediction. In other words, any introduction of new information would need to be fitted into the already existing framework.

The question is - in what way can this be done productively? In what way can we add information? We do, after all, have restrictions like these in all things, and we are nevertheless capable of introducing new information into the existing framework.

And through those initial assumptions, we can establish that what describes the absolutist's position best is a lack of will to question the existing framework for organising information. To the extent that no new information can in any way challenge the predetermined conclusions.

That is to say, until the inevitable opposite approach in which no organising framework is useful in any way, which is substantively the same approach. Where the result is simply to remove any useful context for any opposing argument to exist.

Of course, none of this evaluates the viability of any of these frameworks, or if the purpose of it might be acceptable.


The next part will look at various shortcuts people make in order to convince themselves they are better than what I described in this part.

next: How (stupid) people argue, part 3 (Logical shortcuts)