Not a Rational World 3
Argument & Debate
Argument is, in the end, foolish. It became a sort of sport or tactic instead of a means to derive sensible conclusions.
Politicians argue, but call it debate.
Advertising is a one-sided argument.
The pro wrestling skits called interviews are staged as arguments.
Court cases are argument and debate, and we know how wrong those can go.
I try not to argue, or debate, but discuss. But is that just because I am bad at argument?
In fact, I can only remember giving four solid winning arguments.
But so what, if I’m lousy at arguing?
Let’s face it: The whole concept of argument is stupid. Think about all the ways it can go wrong. It’s especially bad if it’s a complicated subject.
Debate isn’t any better, just argument with a more innocuous-sounding name, so it’s stupid too.
Assuming a complicated subject, how can you “win” an argument if your audience doesn’t have an inkling of what you’re talking about, if your points are too sophisticated?
Instead, you lose because your opponent says,
…and the audience cheers him and moos and catcalls while throwing pacifiers and rattles and nursing bottles at you.
In fact, humans are often so despicable in such settings that we would be better off abandoning the current forum of “debate,” which is censorship, doxxing, shout-downs, expulsions and bans. All one needs to do nowadays is deviate in the slightest from the (constantly changing) “official” or “politically correct” view to be castigated and scorned.
The way debate is presented, you’d think it was of monumental import. But, let’s face it, no matter who we are, your knowledge and abilities are quite limited. None of us have perfect knowledge. There is no guarantee that a debate gets to the heart of any matter. And even if we win an argument, we might still be wrong, so does any of it make any sense?
It seems that all we should do, rather than battle in arguments and debates, is share ideas and information, and draw best conclusions from that shared pool.
But whether or not I’m a lousy arguer, and despite that argument and debate is goofy, people aren’t going to abandon their petty amusements so easily.
In a debate, people want to see who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, a form of entertainment. And they’re probably right to do so, because its not really doing anything constructive otherwise, being a worthless way to pretend to resolve important issues.
The Inevitability of Argument
It’s best not to argue, just say, “It’s my understanding…” and explain from there… Which will often start an argument.
But there’s more: Argument isn’t always just to “win a point,” or “show who’s right.” We argue to convince ourselves, at times.
And arguments are made to “sell” a position or philosophy, for gain, and for political reasons.
Sometimes, you’re forced into it.
Sometimes, there’s an important social issue to resolve, and we just don’t have other tools to tackle them. For example: Toronto was going to use an abandoned mine to secret away all its mounds of stinking garbage, until someone showed the Simpsons episode where Homer carried out this very same genius plan, to terrible result. That was a shaming tactic. That’s what winning arguments comes down to: using all the tricks.
Sidebar: I’ve said this before: this BS about “garbage” has to stop. All of it is reusable, from food tailings to old paper and cardboard, to even plastic, which can be rendered back into petroleum. A new, more efficient, catalyzed process using zeolite and platinum was recently discovered to convert plastic back to useful liquid hydrocarbons (a variety of fuels and lubricants). Before that, there were still many uses for used plastic, just not the will to implement them. At the very least, it could be melted down to form rubble that looks like those ornamental gravels, to be used in landscaping. There’s a vast market for that.
Here’s a quote that gives away how a problem is created where none exists, thanks to the usual culprits, like politicians and oil company lobbyists.
Look at the politics con, where no matter what evil is perpetrated by a lackey of government, you’ll hear, “Our great nation must stand together!” (Someone said that the statement, “My country, right or wrong,” is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober!”)
That’s what’s called “jingoism,” blind dogma in support of a nation, a form of sloganeering.
Luckily, there is always a counter-argument for those weird, self-serving mottoes and slogans. It’s just always better to devise them before you find yourself in a poop-slinging match.
There are lots of these “appeal-type” arguments, appealing to authority, the mob and emotion. Or patriotism, which relies on an artificial construct (“The Nation”) to use as a proxy to justify any wrongdoing. Get this straight: When the politicians turn against their ostensible bosses, the public, you don’t have a nation anymore.
So you turn their own tricks back against them. In this case, it should be crushingly effective to say, “Our great nation must stand for Truth!”
Another flaw in argument is that both parties may be wrong, misled, along with the audience, into thinking it is an either-or situation, or a dichotomy.
If you are able to recognize that, and come up with a much better alternative, you’ve solved the problem, so no need for further argument.
If you’re against a hostile audience, you can’t win.
In many cases, argument or debate is only to win at all costs.
In some cases, the “argument” is merely an excuse to demean others.
Which is to say, you’re battling narcissism or psychoses.
You notice various tells, like a lack of comity, a good and honest nature in dealing with people. Or a failure to apply reciprocity, where the rules that apply to you apply to them as well. Or, you’ll see them not treating others the way they demand to be treated.
In fact that’s the whole thing about argument, distilled down.
They’re waiting for someone to trip up or be humiliated.
They hope to see a fight break out.
They hope for one side to dominate the other, with snappy come-backs, insults and other surprises.
Like in War Games, the only way to win, then, is to not play.
How do you fight these?
- Argumentum ad nauseam, simple repetition of the same tired argument over and over until their argument is won by attrition.
- The opposition will lose the argument, yet act as though they won it.
- They simply ignore your points or change the subject.
- They don’t answer questions, or answer a different question.
- They use contradiction and defiance where they turn things around, answering a question with another question.
- When you make a point, they refute it with things like “prove it,” etc., even if it’s widely-accepted knowledge or a tautology (“the sky is blue”).
- They rely on invention, simply creating things out of thin air. “Black holes in space.” This trick is used all the time. It’s proof by assertion/begging the question. If everyone goes along with your invention, you’ve won by default.
- The opponent doesn’t know or follow the rules of logic.
- They refer to their successes of the past, as though their position is irrefutable.
- The opponent concedes defeat, then later denies conceding or losing anything.
- Related to the previous point, if they are called to account for their own views, they simply deny them. “I never said that.” This would work well for the Evolution “expert” who said that his experiment could be contaminated. If you called him on it, he might say, “Oh, I never said that.” You could pull out the publication with his name on it, and might get the response. “Oh, you’re a fool. That was misattributed to me!” (They could also employ the “I was wrong” tactic that we discussed previously.)
- They step back from their original position covertly and advance a whole new set of claims that are closer to reality, without acknowledging their past failures — as we’ve seen with “Evolution,” where they try to fake bird dinosaurs, or say it’s now, “punctuated equilibrium.”
- If something goes wrong, they claim they were on the opposite side all along.
- They argue for things that have no consequences or, have every consequence, like “Global Warming,” which, by now, means everything from global cooling to earthquakes to “changes in evolutionary patterns,” to, recently, people having heart attacks!
But they’ll continue to repeat the same old talking points, and the saps will continue to fall for it. As has been previously explained, we need an entire new approach to the way we handle social issues before we can make any progress, otherwise, we’ll continue to be scammed and buggered over, again and again.
Structuring Arguments & My Disappointing Experience
If you’re just arguing to spread the truth, or have a very important point to make, why not set things up so your argument is at least somewhat useful and has a defined end point? Insist that the other party:
- establish the framework and parameters of his or her argument,
- establish what they would consider to be “losing” their argument (and sign off on it if possible),
- reveal the consequences of his argument,
- agree that the first person to make a logical fallacy loses,
- find a way to gracefully concede defeat, if you’re clearly proven wrong, and,
- if no sensible conclusion can be drawn from the facts, agree to leave it as an open question that requires more research.
In a rational world, conceding defeat, and changing your mind, shouldn’t be embarrassing but honorable.
Regarding “revealing the consequences of an argument,” that is, if someone’s making a claim, make them state, and stand by, the specifics. A good example is someone claiming the oceans are rising (due to “climate change”). Send him out to physically measure the tide on the piers, then demand to know his prediction of exactly how much higher it will be in a years’ time.
I also favor the concept that the only way to have any discussion or argument is to look at it from all sides, then exhaust all the variations and possibilities.
The points above are, of course, somewhat silly. No one’s going to go along with them. Seemingly, too much work, and too restrictive. Especially when the real intent of argument is confrontation. But people should use those rules, in a rational world.
Development of those points started when I was taking a course in Logic and Philosophy at college. We were tasked to find logical flaws in arguments, but the implication was there was only one specific “fallacy” in an argument. As we’ve discussed in our investigation of logical fallacies, there is often more than one.
While doing the exercises, it seemed sensible to look for multiple logical flaws and argue for or against each of them. Not to make more work for myself. This actually made an analysis easier, not to mention more complete. I found that I was able to pinpoint flaws that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise with this technique. So it was a more lengthy method, but I liked it anyway.
Of course, I suffered for it, when the professor told the whole class, before the final exam, not to do “like the one student who put down every possible logic error and argued for or against it.”
There were the predictable titters of glee from the class’s asses, but, as a friend observed, “He didn’t mention your grade, of course.”
For sure. I had gotten an “A” on that test, and in that class, using my system, despite the sarcasm and big yuks.
What’s more amusing is that I really thought I had something there. I thought that it was so exciting that it could – and should – change the way the class itself was taught! Misguidedly, I had thought that the prof would embrace and implement this strategy.
So, no, there were no statues erected of me, no wings dedicated in my honor. Well, we’ve already discussed how the whole topic of logical fallacies is somewhat useless in many ways. So no great loss, I suppose.
There’s a blowhard with a podcast, let’s call him “Dr. J.,” who never misses the opportunity to boast of his many years’ teaching “philosophy of science, logic and critical thinking.”
Anyway, one day, he was stumped when trying to identify a certain logical error.
He was lost, completely missing the “fallacy.” Now, it was something simple like “straw man,” and I knew it right away, if only because I’m working on the very topic of logical fallacies.
Anyway, back after a commercial break, he tried to regroup and save face, and he named the fallacy correctly, in a prim way that was rather funny. I don’t fault him for forgetting, even if he truly did teach Logic for 30 years or whatever. Well, I wouldn’t fault him if he weren’t such a blowhard, but imagine the number of students he docked for making the same mistake.
If the good doctor, after his lifetime of teaching, doesn’t have the simple answer on the tip of his tongue, why should we? How could we?
But it does emphasize the difficulty of remembering these named fallacies. They’re really more of a what…? Make work project. No, an indulgence. There’s no point to their rote memorization.
Argument as Aggression
It is disturbing that there are those who like to argue for the sake of aggression. It took a while to realize a lot of non-physical/sedentary types, or college bookworms, take vicarious pleasure in so-called argument, as a way to assert themselves, getting some jollies by feeling masculine if male, “empowered” if female. Because the physical won’t be denied, it manifests in some way, in this case in a sort of a friendly/not so friendly combat. As though they are dominating in some physical battle that they could never venture into or survive. Like “war games,” a self-pleasuring indulgence. Also called, “acting out,” or “passive aggression.”
Argument for fun, in the hope of “winning a fight,” has a very thin margin of risk if we lose.
It’s trying “to be a man” without the dangers.
We are wrong in our perception that people argue in order to solve problems. Instead, it’s another competition.
So, argument is promoted, but is a con foisted on us. There are debating clubs, presidential debates, forums and discussions all over the place. Like elections, if they made a real difference, they would be banned!
Has anyone ever solved anything through these debates? No. As the angry cow said of the painful milking machine, it’s udder nonsense!
Consider the factors at play. In debate, you tend to favor the better debater, even if he is wrong. But you already know that. We’ve heard a million times how it is “a popularity contest.”
An example of how not having the right “look” can work against you, the 1960 Richard M. Nixon vs. John (“Jack”) F. Kennedy (JFK) U.S. presidential debate is widely cited. Kennedy is credited with winning, in large part because Nixon was apparently uncomfortable and visibly sweating.
What is the point of argument if Nixon (supposedly) lost to Kennedy in a debate because he was “too sweaty?”
No one would watch the kind of debate I’d set up:
Kennedy: “What do you think of this policy, Dick?”
Nixon: “I really think you’ve got something there, Jack… Have you tried this idea as well?” (Gives suggestion.)
Kennedy: “Fabulous idea! I’m going to incorporate that with all my strategies going forward!”
Nixon: “Excellent! And I’m going to incorporate some of your real barn-burners of concepts, too. I’m humbled to be in the presence of a real intellect!”
Kennedy: “Oh, you flatter me!” (Blushes.)
This is not to “sissify” society. The legal system operates on an adversarial principle – that the offense and defense battle it out in the courts. Should we really use the same principle in our politics? Aren’t we using politics to bring benefit to all of society (at least as far as the benefits of government can extend)?
If someone wins an argument, that creates a false presumption that their argument is correct.
Now, they say in “the old days,” debate was structured and disciplined and cultured. If we could take that route, it’s worth wondering if a written debate might make more sense, where people just present their argument on paper, and a neutral party reads each.
Demolishing Bad Arguments and Stupid Arguments
If you must argue, it might be opportune to use your opponent’s own arguments against him, which sometimes is just too easy. The E. coli Long Term Evolution Experiment, referenced above, and way back, in the blog, Science Musings, is a great example. There, they claim that citrate-eating bacteria evolved out of non-citrate-eating base stock. Then, a short while later, the experimenter admits his sample containers may have been contaminated from the outside. If he has no confidence in his own experiment, your work is done! If it may be contaminated, there’s no further argument, analysis or discussion possible, the project is tainted. In court, you’d call it “inadmissible evidence.”
So why aren’t the experimenter and experiment discredited and dismissed? Because there are a lot of illogical people around, even in higher positions in education, research, etc., and confirmation bias is real. They’ll defend their pet projects tenaciously. These people are dangerous, and should be avoided. Don’t be suckered. They’re masters at diverting people from truth and from persisting in sticking to their guns, even when they’ve hopelessly lost and the whole thing is void, null.
The “Conspiracy Theorist” Ruse
— HowStuffWorks website.
A meaningless, moot statement, heaped up with an extra serving of condescension. Its saving grace is its hilarious dopiness. Both sides are guilty of this failing, so there’s no way to just single out “theorists.”
Most clowns that use the term “Conspiracy Theory,” do so, without even knowing what it means. Why? People are told to disparage the term, of course.
Because they’re told, most people lose the very meaning of words. For instance, a conspiracy is very common. It is merely a descriptor for two or more people planning a crime in secret.
What makes it even more foolish to natter “Conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theory!” is that government itself has endorsed “conspiracy theories.” For instance, in the USA, the congressional committee for the investigation of JFK’s death determined a conspiracy, and that we do not know the entire story behind the assassination. In 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), concluded that there had been two shooters and that the assassination was likely the product of a conspiracy.
In the movie, They Live, John Nada fought his friend in a pitched battle that lasted over five minutes, to get him to put on the sunglasses that revealed the truth about the world and its inhabitants.
But why would someone fight so hard – and it happens in real life, too – to avoid checking out someone’s claim? That person must know, at some level, it’s true. After all, don’t we open the closet to show a child there’s no Boogie Man in there? We don’t tell the child he’s a shithead, crazy, a conspiracy theorist, etc.
Yet those who use the term “conspiracy theory,” often don’t even know how to define “conspiracy!”
Turning the Tables
Insist that the person must state precise definitions and clarifications. For example, if accused of using a “conspiracy theory,” ask them to define the exact meaning and point out which aspects of the theory make it a conspiracy. The killer here would be asking the claimant what would make him change his mind about his position.
In fact that might be the most important thing in this whole discussion: ask your opponent what would convince him to change his mind, as an intellectual exercise, and if he says, “Nothing!” or something along those lines, you know you’re wasting your time.
For example, take “flat earth.” If you were in that camp, you might ask a “round-earther” what evidence would convince them, then concentrate on that. For instance, a “flat-earther” might explain how no one has been able to actually measure the earth’s curvature that should be readily measurable using simple surveying techniques. The round-earther might concentrate on the circular appearance of the celestial bodies like sun and moon. (Note that both sides have evidence to support their claim, but actually it appears that earth is neither flat nor globe. Tesla called it a “realm, not a planet.”)
The Perpetration of Deception
“Debates,” are planned for the very reason that they don’t work, perfect for politicians, pretending to do work without accomplishing a thing.
In debate, even people who know their topic well, can be caught off guard, so all someone has to do is make a claim so breathtakingly stupid that it is hard to know where to start discrediting it, to “win” the debate.
Problem being, if someone wins a debate with an incorrect argument, it looks like the falsehood is truth.
There is a similar issue with “predictions,” that make a big grandiose splash, but usually don’t have a structure to them. A good prediction or prognostication should explain the why and how, along with the when of the prediction, and outline the progression of events that will occur before the predicted event.
If not, it’s all sound and fury, signifying nothing, as the expression goes, and all part of the “perpetration of deception.”
If arguing is nutty, what can you do?
When dealing with someone who wants to make something their cause, make them back it up with more than just words. Ask them how much they’re willing to put on the line if their idiot pronouncements don’t hold water.
This goes double for politicians. If they’re going to flap their yaps, they should have a concrete plan to back it up, a fail-safe when it goes wrong, and a personal commitment proportionate to the damage they can induce when scaling the peaks of stupidity.
With a third party, draw up and witness a contract to that effect.
Demand a source providing proof of their assertions. Since there is no proof that can’t be bought, faked, forged or manufactured, demand concrete empirical evidence, and don’t get embroiled in anything where empirical evidence can’t be provided.
If it’s a smaller dispute with an acquaintance, make a bet out of it and enlist a third party to hold the money for disbursement to the winner.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, that’s by design, since we’re trying to avoid these senseless disputes.
The key is avoidance. Don’t waste your time.
Treat argument as an amusement.
Don’t let savages with ulterior motives, wanting to inflict humiliation for instance, trick you into their debates.
But if you must argue, it’s better to be correct most of the time yourself, to become an “expert” in your own right, before you pick something as your cause. And, of course, learn the devious tricks of argument.
Previously we discussed how one man asked, “Do I have to bend over, too?” when challenged to “step outside” for a fight. Not all that funny, but everyone loved it.
Which shows how an argument is posturing, and a substitute for warring and fighting. A flippant reply goes a long way to defuse the enemy, as does humor.
“There You Go Again”
Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said this during the second presidential debate of 1980 to his Democratic opponent, incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
It looks fairly tame in print, but I do remember how Reagan’s clever put-down resonated at the time.
Carter was just making a simple statement about Reagan’s opposition to legislation, but, attributed to “Reagan’s charismatic delivery,” it was crushing.
Really, though, it was an exploit, a form of condescension that is itself a sort of fallacy, a distraction, an assertion of primacy. Showing who the “alpha dog” is.
The quote follows.
(Moderator) Howard K. Smith: Governor?
Governor Reagan: There you go again. When I opposed Medicare, there was another piece of legislation meeting the same problem before the Congress. I happened to favor the other piece of legislation and thought that it would be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed. I was not opposing the principle of providing care for them. I was opposing one piece of legislation versus another.
Just this in itself shows how ridiculous debate is — and politics. Reagan’s training as an actor of course gave him an advantage. How that qualifies him for office is another matter, and that shouldn’t be determined by whether he won this debate.
And — it shows again, how “fallacies” are incomplete and misleading — this type of condescension is a terrible “fallacy,” but you wont see it listed as an “official” one.
Recall the other political debate we discussed — the one where Benson feigned outrage that Quayle presumed to be anything like JFK.
Phonies are the best at this ploy of taking the moral high ground. You’ll note that anything emotional has a good chance of success. Of course, in a venue where we’re supposed to be stoic and logical, drama and emotion gets free reign.
As long as people are gullible, this trick will usually work, though it can’t be recommended, because a prepared opponent might have a devastating comeback. Quayle might have told Benson, “Listen to you, you stuffy old fart. I suppose you think you are like JFK!”
My Few Triumphs #1: Vitamins
Your ever-naive author used to frustrate the hell out of a friend at college. I discovered this inadvertently, when he described something as being, “as frustrating as arguing with you.”
Sure, we had had discussions in the past, but your confused author didn’t realize we were supposed to have been arguing.
Fortunately, I do recall a solid incident that might be considered “an argument,” that I did win. This friend was mocking people who bought “natural” supplements (vitamins), when the synthetics were exactly equivalent on the molecular level, and cheaper.
I quickly butted in to say that that was fine, but there are other things associated with those vitamins that make them effective, that you were more likely to find in the natural.
He looked at me, and shut up, an unusual state for him, so I suppose I “won” that “argument.”
But really, I didn’t consider it a “great victory.”
The pro-synthetic side of the argument, though, was wrong for another reason: People discover these vitamins. Yet, the discovery may only be partial. Sure, something may seem essential, and even be essential, but it may be something else found in association with that thing, that is a greater value, or catalyzes some more important process.
Perhaps the living body breaks a discovered nutrient up to extract just one molecule or element. (So it’s not the particular supplement, per se, but something your body must process from it…)
It’s only with time and experimentation that we move closer to a full knowledge. Surely by now, we as humans should only be confident in our own capacity to make mistakes and realize we shouldn’t be too quick to judgment.
Take a moment to consider that the vitamin that was “discovered,” signifies they didn’t know anything about it beforehand. Now, suddenly, just past the cusp of discovery, they supposedly know everything about it! It’s mind-boggling stupidity and pride. You’re just at the start of your investigation when you make these “discoveries.”
For example, it’s now been discovered that Vitamin D is not truly a “vitamin” at all (a nutrient molecule required by the body), but a hormone, an organic signaling molecule secreted by plants and animals that is sent to organs for regulation of physiological activities and in maintaining homeostasis.
Chemists have been fooled before — easily — by simple but subtle things. Like chirality. It wasn’t all that long ago that they didn’t know about the existence of isomers. Those are different forms of the same molecule, like one with the elements arranged in a clockwise direction, the other with its elements running counter-clockwise. In the body, one isomer may be required, while its isomer is useless. A relatively recent discovery.
Having said all that, the whole concept of vitamin pills is stupid. With some of them the pill itself doesn’t even break down in the body and passes right through the digestive tract. Eat more of the food containing the nutrient, the way your body is designed to receive it. Someone said, the food nowadays is “depleted,” but the sources for natural vitamins are sourced from agriculture that must then be equally “depleted,” so your pills are depleted, too.
My Few Triumphs #2: Conspiracy Theory
A group of prattlers were using a term that never fails to arouse anger: “Conspiracy Theory.”
I came down hard and confronted them, asking them to define, “conspiracy.” Sure enough, they didn’t know how.
Anyway, I stifled their childish taunt, “What’s your definition of conspiracy, then?” by explaining what a conspiracy was (two or more people gathering in secret to plan a crime). The entire group of about 10 just STFUed, and that was quite gratifying.
With any luck, it encouraged them to know a little something before prattling, but think about how almost the entire planet has been trained to regurgitate that tedious old trope against “conspiracy theorists.”
My Few Triumphs #3: Abortion
But maybe not a win. Or perhaps I “won,” but didn’t change any minds or points of view, who can tell? Who knows if it is a “win,” if someone just shuts up during an argument/debate/discussion.
With some of these topics, there’s no winning territory.
But abortion is really one of those areas where there’s no place for government. It should be forced into a neutral, hands-off position, with abortion being dependent on community standards. It’s a moral and health issue, not something for government to stick their stinky, meddling hands into.
There are points to consider on both sides of the argument, so abortion is something that will never be settled. Also, we have to face reality that there will be abortions/providers of abortions, for whatever reason, regardless of laws or religious decrees.
Blowhard Dr. J., of course, had to weigh in on abortion. He over-confidently proclaimed his judgment: It was settled. Abortion was permitted in the first trimester, because “scientists have determined…” and something about “heartbeats.” That preening boob doesn’t understand that it’s all a process. Erudite rationalizations don’t diminish the facts. An entity with a life cycle, isn’t like, say, a rock. Fertilization, development, birth, growth, aging, death are all steps along that cycle.
This whole abortion debate of course avoids the nasty topic that, getting down to brass tacks, if we’re going to condone any abortion, we have to say sometimes killing is okay. There’s certainly precedent for that. We already condone war, though one might say that is between grown, adult, aggressors who are consciously choosing to participate.
Instead the pontificators choose to side-step or deny the issue. “It’s not a life if it can’t live on its own.” “There’s no heartbeat until the second trimester…” etc. It’s a sticky business to end the process of life, but say it’s okay because it’s a particular, early, point in time in that process.
It’s too emotional an issue. If forced to pick a side, it’s probably better to come on the side against, counseling an exploration of all alternatives before committing oneself to such an act, which certainly must have psychological repercussions.
Also, there’s a simple solution to at least part of this problem: People should be getting married and having children much, much earlier, and society should be molded to fit. An accepted part of having children should be having grandchildren in about 15 years or so, and making preparations accordingly.
My Few Triumphs #4: Geometry
I’m really stretching to come up with triumphs here, but I remember a boy in the high-school library started honking about how geometry was easy. The topic came up in conversation as one of the courses I was taking. I decided to brazen this one out, and drew some complicated figure on a piece of paper. I presented it to the boy, asking him to prove that two angles in the figure were congruent, or some such.
Anyway, he shut up real fast, to hoots and hollers from the other kids in the library. I don’t think I knew much if any more geometry than that boy, but it’s okay in the balance — it made the good point that geometry wasn’t particularly “easy.”
When Argument Fails
When it could be useful, that’s the exact time argument fails. I was actually in that position at work. There, they didn’t heed my warning, instead losing a bundle on a mismanaged and misguided project.
I was working on the programming for said project, when I came to the realization that the way we were approaching the development was completely bogus. I spoke to my friend who worked at the same company and he told me you had to jump through various hoops and provide a very detailed report on any identified shortcomings. I did so, but my manager forwarded it off to the previous manager for comment. He blew it off with a response along the lines of, “No, we’re good.” Another unsung “fallacy” — just dismissing an objection out of hand.
Anyway, I had moved on when, months later, I asked my buddy about what had happened with that project. He told me it had been abandoned after losing a million bucks.
In a similar vein, some engineers predicted that the “repairs” to the Millennium Tower in downtown Frisco were going to make matters worse, and that’s exactly what happened.
That almost 200 meter/645 foot tower-thing is tilting more than two whole feet at the top, several inches more than when they began the “remediation” to stop the tilt! You can’t fight stupid, because many people have some, mild, intelligence, but they’re not smart enough to know when they’re being really stupid, due to the false confidence of being right a few times in the past.
Imagine the catastrophically-failed Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge. Suppose you said ahead of time, “My calculations show that structure is going to collapse in a strong wind.” And there was probably someone who did give a warning.
Well, that thing tumbled like a house of cards, but how do you successfully challenge bad design? All the onus would be on you, which is a complete reversal from the proper way of doing things. You’d have to build a model or something, which, as you can imagine, is a tremendous amount of work. Which is to say, it’s seldom easy for the person in the right.
What might happen instead? Catcalls, demonization, perhaps even firing… Luckily, I didn’t face that when I submitted my report, but let’s face it, bad engineering projects get pushed through when they rely on inertia and group think. Again, exactly the wrong way to approach complicated projects.