Rhetorical Poverty: Revisited

don-quixote
Arguing with headlines…

There is a general confusion evident in online rhetoric and argument.  “Argument” can be civil and respectful and for the most part this is the only kind of argument which actually achieves anything.  Argument which reduces to vitriol and ad hominem personal attacks demonstrates all the sophistication of bonobo chimps aggressively waggling their genitalia at each other in front of horrified tourists at a zoo; some people appear to enjoy generating and participating in these public displays more than others.

Where there exists a difference of opinion, there also exists an opportunity for re-evaluation of the justification, authenticity and validity of one’s own viewpoint.  Opinions are often enough derived from verifiable facts but a common class of cognitive bias in online forums and comments threads is the misapprehension that an expression of opinion constitutes a fact.  That an opinion has been expressed is a fact but that the opinion necessarily represents a fact (or truth) does not logically follow.

There is a vast distance and difference between effective thinking (or communication) and the “tilting at windmills” that arguing with headlines represents.  If you choose to argue against an opinion or an interpretation of fact, you should really do yourself the justice of trying to understand the substance of the argument you are attempting to contradict or invalidate.  Anything else is reducible to functional stupidity – waving vast banners of malformed thought and populist generalisation as though shouting over the top of others makes your opinions more true.

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