Tuesday, November 22, 2005

How to talk to Wing Nuts

This is my comment on Atheana's post over at First Draft. Asking, "How do I talk to the wingnuts who bait me at holiday meals?"

I knew there was a reason that I gravitated to you at Eschacon! I also have the same problem. I really don’t like to argue with people, especially with my wingnut relatives. They use all of the tricks of the talk radio hosts like Limbaugh.

Here are some of the tricks they use:

1) When in doubt about some fact, change the subject "But Clinton..."

2) Pull out some fact that you don't know the background of and state it as if it is scientific fact: "According to the Berferdufferler report, Global Warming is part of a larger trend that has NOTHING to do with humans." If you dug into the report you would find it is full of Exxon/Mobil stooge quotes. But you don't know that so you can't dispute it right then.

3) Try and get you to agree with Saddam's policies, "Should we have left Saddam in power? So I suppose you want the rape rooms again?" (That is the one thing they think isn't back in Iraq. They haven't seen the videos of our people raping young boys yet because they have been withheld. Some Senators have seen them, but don’t want to talk about it because it would “embolden the insurgents” not to mention real outrage on the home front.)

4) Give you a yes or no answer with a false premise "Should we Cut and RUN? YES OR NO. Don't be giving me a nuanced answer, YES OR NO?’ This is a typical trick that Hannity uses. "Why must you set up everything in a black and white mode? Can't there be a third option?"

5) Straw men. "Well if Bush hadn't acted and the terrorists had spread Anthrax all over Napa valley, THEN you would be sorry!" "What if there was a TICKING Nuclear TIME BOMB in New York and the terrorist knew where it was and if you didn't get the info innocent children would die? Would you torture then?"

6) Point to some fact that is NOT necessarily related and state that it is in fact related "There has been NO attacks on American soil since 9/11. So whatever the President is doing to protect us is working!"

These are a few of the techniques used. Suzy at Suburban Gorilla said something interesting to me. She said that the reason that we could "lose" these conversations is because we were not attacking. We were in the defensive position. I think that this part of it.

As you said, we don't WANT to be rude, we don't WANT to push them into the ground and make them cry uncle. We aren't practiced at it. It isn't a fun "sport" to us. It is not polite. It is what bullies do, and they were probably bullies as a child (or were bullied by the alpha wingnut dog and they are emulating them).

But THEY DO like to do this. They listen to Rush and Hannity and O'Reilly who use 3 hours a day to create arguments and controversies to use AGAINST the liberals. We don't use 3 hours a day thinking how to attack them. We are looking for the truth they are trying to figure out how to distort it. We don't have think tanks working overtime to create reports and develop techniques like they do because we are more intellectually honest. We think that it is important to know the truth; they think it is important to “win” the conversation.

Also it is about personality. If you are in a family situation old ghosts might come up and bite you. Sure you are now an adult, but the taunting takes you back to childhood and suddenly you are 7 years old and your brother is teasing you and you want to scream back instead of rationally saying, "That is a straw man argument and if you would bother to really know something about torture you would know that the scenario that you are quoting is rare and filled with misinformation. Why not talk about the people who are doing torture right now and what their experience is, not some hypothetical straw man situation. For example in Mark Danner’s book, Torture and the Truth, he talks about what really happens in a torture situation…" I can do it now, but in the moment it's tough. Plus, that is one answer, they will have prepared 4 counter arguments and 3 subject changes based on listening to Rush. They see it as a weakness if you can't dispute the "fact" that they have heard. Since you don't listen to these "facts" you aren't going to be able to said, "Rush is full of shit and here is why..." If you DO get them to admit they are full of shit it will be reluctantly and they will quickly move to some other subject, well Saddam was a BAD MAN! (Actually admitting they are wrong in the moment is VERY rare. These are the kind of guys that won’t ask for directions because THEY AREN’T LOST! These are the people that ADMIRE the president for never admitting he made a mistake. They see that as a measure of strength, not pigheaded ness.

Also if you have a chance, listen to Sam Seder on The Majority Report when he takes on right wing callers. He is REALLY good. One of the techniques he uses is to stop them before they state their entire premise, because usually it is flawed right off the bat. Most of us are too polite and give them time to state an entire straw man. Sam stops them, "Wait a minute. You do know that there WAS NO connection between Saddam and Osama Bin Laden don't you? Your own president said so."
That usually throws them off and then they have to regroup to remember what Rush said. Since Rush hasn't dealt with this before they are lost.

Second, bring up a fact that YOU know and get them to acknowledge it before they move on. If there is some fact that they seem to know, don't accept it at face value. "Really? Who said that? Cheney? Where did you hear that or read that?" Then you can do what they always do and question the source. "Well we know what a great track record he has for continuing to lie even after the truth has been laid out."

"False 'agreed upon' statements.”They all had the same intelligence."
"No, they did not." Stop them before they move to the "Even John Kerry said back in...Well back in X Colin Powell said ...”, now he says that it was the low point in his political career. Don’t let them get you to agree with them on even the most mundane premise, since it is probably wrong and it will throw off the whole straw man.

Appeal to sources that have beaten their "facts" down. "Let's go on line and go over to Media Matters and see what they really said..." They of course will say, "Funded by Soros!" Oh and you want to believe the Washington Times, funded by Moonies? Let’s see what your actual President has said… (on things that he has contradicted what Cheney said.. like the fake link of OSB to Saddam)

I think that witty lines are great, I like to use them too, and if you know me I actually have some of them. Watch Jon Stewart when he mocks the president. Go into an imitation of the president at a press conference. Play him as the petulant stupid child he is. Pull out a few of his stupid quotes. "Pardon me; I'm listening to My Pet Goat."
I'm actually more apt to do this because it makes everyone laugh rather than making my mother cry that her children are arguing.

Here's the thing. Like used car dealers who haggle for a living 24/7 these people prep for this stuff, "winning conversation with liberals" is something they learn all the time by listening to Rush and Hannity.

The "smarter" ones read “books” by Hannity and Ann Coulter (surprise! They can read!). They are using sophist debate tricks against people who don't like to debate them. You can either turn the tables and call out their false premises right off the bat or engage them preemptive on a topic you know about.
You can warn them when they start: "Do you really want to debate this? Because if you do, one of us is going to end up making mother cry."

The people who want to debate, the ones who are spoiling for the fight want to set the agenda. They wouldn't take you on if they knew that you LIKE to argue. They know that the people who argue with Hannity are usually trashed, because Hannity wouldn't let them on if they were going to clean his clock. Hannity wouldn't have on John Avarios of Americablog. O'Reilly won't have on David Brock of Media Matters. They don't WANT to have on people like Phil Donahue who will argue back. It is no surprise that Rush doesn’t have are real guests that disagree with him. They only hear people who can be beat. Polite people don't usually argue on the radio. But sometimes they get sooo upset they call into a radio jerk that spends 3 hours a day making up jerky straw men arguments and uses high-school debate techniques to beat down people who call.

Mendacity ratings (Bush still has YEARS to go!)

If they start this crap call them on what they are doing before it gets farther. "Why are you doing that? Do you really want to spoil thanksgiving? Where are your manners? If you seriously want to discuss this then let's go someplace later and talk, or better yet read my blog and bring your discussion there, I have plenty of time to talk about it there. If you do that, that will shut them up and put them on your turf. They will probably pout, like Turlane in the Squire of Gothos, “You’re no fun!”

Once they are here on the blog they will realize that THEY are the ones with no real arguments.. There are 20,000 of us who can rip their Rush and Hannity crap to shreds with links and analysis. Then you will have a really happy holiday season.



Blogger PTCruiser said...

Some very good points there, Spocko. I think I'm better prepared now for my next encounter with that moron that I work with. Thanks, man.

10:27 PM  
Blogger spocko said...

Good luck! Stop by and tell us how it went or post it on your blog.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous coho said...

Hiya Spocko!
Well reasoned, logical(could we expect less from someone with an IDIC?) and undoubtedly effective conversational strategy/tactics for dealing with the ground level wingnuts like that guy in the next office or Uncle Harlan after a few (dozen) beers. Now, how about a way to make the Big Wingnuts shut the hell up? (I mean without shooting ourselves in the foot ideologically with a solution like rounding all the stupid bastards up) That's what I want for Channukkwaanzsolstmas.

10:11 AM  
Blogger ellroon said...

Thanks Spocko! Good points and well reasoned. Sending this on.

Hope your Thanksgiving is peaceful and happy.

6:06 PM  
Blogger spocko said...

And a happy thanksgiving to YOU. I'm Very thankful for ALL my readers, especially you. One of my first and loyal.


6:16 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Great post, spocko! Three comments:

1. Coho's question on how to shut up the Big Wingnuts - that's why I'm interested in betting them on global warming - make them put up or shut up. My superficial impression is that it's not working on the worst denialists, but that wingnuts who haven't drunk all the Kool-Aid aren't writing much about global warming lately (especially the ones I've challenged to bets).

2. Stop the tap-dancing, the wingnut spewing of one questionable factoid after another, isolate a key assertion, and raise the stakes: "Okay, Rush asserts X. Would you agree that X is pretty important, and that if Rush got it wrong, his other assertions are also likely to be wrong and shouldn't be trusted?" Then go research the answer.

3. Generally, Spocko argues just the way I would, but a lot of people say that's a waste of time. Facts don't matter, mental frames matter - the whole George Lakoff thing. I think that psychological argument can be overstated, but it's worth considering.

10:40 PM  
Blogger pseudolus said...

We think that it is important to know the truth; they think it is important to “win” the conversation.

regarding the above, read a book about some rhetorical tricks that can be used against you (check your local library or used book store):

The Art of Always Being Right
Arthur Schopenhauer; with an introduction by A C Grayling Gibson Square Books, 190pp, £9.99
ISBN 1903933617

Reviewed by George Walden:
read review here

Also if you have a chance, listen to Sam Seder on The Majority Report when he takes on right wing callers. He is REALLY good. One of the techniques he uses is to stop them before they state their entire premise, because usually it is flawed right off the bat.

Thom Hartmann is also very good at busting rightwingers' chops. He can disarm them in seconds, while maintaining a polite demeanor. He also has been lucky enough to get members of Ayn Rand Institute to appear on his shows and gives them a pretty good spanking. Excellent lessons in dealing with these folks.

I have some links in the sidebar at my homepage under the title "The Skeptics Toolkit" that you folks may find handy, as well as a link to "Critiques of Libertarianism". [/shameless blogpimping]

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see if I get this straight:
1. Demonize people you disagree with
2. Call them names
3. Photo shop their images with crayonbs.
I know! Happy sixth birthday!

9:16 AM  

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