Wednesday, March 04, 2020

On Argument

The President of the United States regularly indulges in juvenile insults. "Crooked Hillary." "Sleepy Joe." "Crazy Bernie." African-American Congresswoman Maxine Waters gets labeled "low IQ." Perhaps he'd be a laugh riot in seventh grade. Perhaps not, because I'm surely underestimating a lot of middle schoolers.

I've been arguing with a lot of people for a lot of years, and I'm a little bit disappointed at what passes for argument these days. I don't mind disagreeing with people. You don't have to believe everything I do in order for us to get along. But every four years, arguments get just a little more passionate than usual, and people get a little more sensitive than usual.

You've doubtless already discerned I'm not a huge fan of President Donald Trump. One day someone brought Puerto Rico up with me, and said they were irresponsible because they left a bunch of water sitting somewhere. I said the president was irresponsible because he claimed to have given them 92 billion and actually only gave them 14. This person got really upset with me, saying "Everyone does that." Now I'm sure lots of politicians say lots of things. I'm not sure all of them are pathological liars. But I have no idea why that was an appropriate response.

I wrote something about Bernie Sanders, and got a warning from someone that socialism leads to communism, and communism doesn't work. This is profoundly ignorant, and not much different from something master debater Mike Bloomberg said on state in front of the whole country a week or two ago. It's remarkable that adults can't differentiate between socialism or democratic socialism, and that they bring up Venezuela rather than Canada, England, France, or pretty much every developed country except the United States. How do you live here, read anything at all, and not know that?

I often have people tell me, "This is what you think." They are almost always wrong. I tend to say what I think, and if I wanted help, I'd ask. The thing is, if people can't respond to what I actually say, they can just twist my argument to be something they can more easily answer. That's a straw man fallacy, trying to get you to answer an argument you never made and likely don't agree with. I'm surprised at how many people seem to go that route. When they do it on the blog, I usually write something like, "You sorely overestimate your psychic powers." Actually, when people do figure out what I think correctly, I'm pleased. That, you know, is kind of magic.

I had a long discussion with someone on Facebook who called something I wrote, "fake news." I have no idea why. Then the person said this source is no good. The person gave no reason why the source was no good, and implied that as a teacher, I ought to have provided another source. Oddly, it was not a news piece, but an opinion piece. The person never addressed the opinion, and as far as I could tell, never even read the piece. I guess if you can just dismiss stuff by saying, "Well, it was on NYC Educator, and therefore it was invalid," it saves a whole lot of time.

I often think we should teach not only argument, but also logical fallacy to our high school students. I am frankly amazed at what passes for argument. I'm not an expert on argument, but I recognize BS when I see it, and I see it a whole lot. I see it from adults way more than I ought to. I see adults who are totally unaccustomed to argument, who are shocked when they are challenged, and who expect to be able to spout whatever nonsense they wish without being questioned, ever.

I'm not sure what we've done to create these conditions. It could be the death of the Fairness Doctrine under Ronald Reagan, enabling the Fox propaganda channels. I lean left of Fox, and I rarely watch cable news, but I was shocked at much of the nonsense I saw on MSNBC during one primary night or other. I'm glad the guy from Hardball, what's-his-name, finally gave up the ghost. Five minutes of him was enough to last me a lifetime. I have to admit I was much more impressed by a panel of smart people on CNN.

It would be great if we could teach our kids what argument was, as opposed to the crap we're supposed to do by direction of the geniuses in Albany, Common Core to the Core. Our tests are garbage, and not designed to raise a generation of thinkers. That's a shame. We could do so much better, and teach them so much more.

It wouldn't be that hard.
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