When you’ve won an Internet debate and when the topic is just beaten to death.

Internet discussions get resolved five ways:

1. The two people actually meet some sort of compromise or agreement. I’ve been meaning to blog for some time about the merits of Facebook in this regard. I think part of it is that Facebook is more “real”, forrcing us out of the anonymity we’ve gotten used to, but another is that Facebook combox discussions tend to be more limited.

On blogs and message boards, the discussions go on between lots of people with various voices confusing threads and issues.

Or, on a blog like this one, it’s almost entirely controversial. I’ve once or twice had some fair minded interlocutors pop up here to engage in an open-minded exchange. I’ve more often than not had people from the Left who come here in complete attack mode.

But on Facebook, I’ve found that even contentious discussions often even out in a compromise, each person leaving a bit enlightened by the conversation. I’ve had arguments with people on a mutual friend’s Facebook thread, then those arguments have turned to us friending each other.

Getting back to the three ways:

2. Boredom. Most people may post a comment or two in a combox discussion, but they wander off after that. Most people leave discussions because they’ve trailed on down the line, or gotten bored with the topic.

The question of “victory,” if it applies at all, comes into play with the next two.

3. I will admit that from time to time I find myself facing a worthy adversary. As well-read as I am on most of the subjects I stick to on this blog, dollars to doughnoughts, Satan will find some person who’s just a little better read in some dimension, then that person will come on here and start not only attacking my ideas, but me personally, calling me an idiot and even challenging my academic and professional credentials.

Usually, what happens in such situations is that a) I do whatever level of research I feel is worth the conversation, b) consult some authorities on the matter in question for back-up, and c) after giving up the conversation, I retreat from blogging for a bit because the exchange was so exhausting.

If “debate” is the goal, like a kind of sport, I presume the other person claims victory. Indeed, looking at the website of one such recent interlocutor, I find that he/she/it likes to go to pro-life blogs, attack the blogger on some picayune detail, challenge the blogger’s intelligence, and then go home to his/her/its blog and claim “victory.”

Meanwhile, when dealing with such people, I balance three impulses: making sure I’m not just doing it for pride, making sure there’s an adequate response made so readers will not be influenced by the enemy’s voice, and realizing that the pig-headed adversary probably won’t be moved by anything I say.

Giving up out of fatigue or humility is not ceding ideological victory but merely prioritizing that a blog post should not cost this much.

A blog is like a news column. I write to share my ideas and my insights or to share things I come across that I believe are significant to the purposes of this blog. This is not a scholarly research journal, and I don’t claim it to be. If I am going to take the time and energy to do scholarly research, I am certainly not going to waste the research by posting it here without trying for professional publication first, and I owe no interlocutor the time of day to do that.

I posted a hand-out, made to give my students a general guideline on what to consider when they want to write about controversial issues, and this individual launched into a full-fledged assault, which, having responded to, I am considering deleting from the comments (and closing comments on that thread) to keep the original intent pure. It was not meant to be a dissertation nor a comprehensive list, but merely questions to consider–questions that, if properly considered, would have led to the points this person raised, anyway.

There are two clear remaining possible ends, and those are the ones where some sort of victory or stalemate can properly be claimed on intellectual grounds, rather than simple exhaustion:

4. The question that can’t be answered. This is sort of like situation 3. The main differences are that it often comes early in the discussion, and the discussion may proceed without it, and it has more to do with logic than information.

It’s the question that gets dodged. The opponent’s response is to ignore it, throw out a red herring, or something. For example, I retold the “peas and carrots” last week, and a commentor threw out a red herring about starving children in Africa. Then, when I asked the question why an atheist would care about starving children in Africa, there was no response.

I know how troubling it is for me when I’m presented with a paradox I haven’t considered, or evidence I haven’t considered, and I need to regroup and reorganize it. Therefore, I know when I’ve hit a nerve with my interlocutor because he or she refuses to even address the question. Even a snark, an ad hominem or a half-hearted challenge shows some level of retained confidence. Silence says to me, “I really have no idea how to begin confronting that question.”

That lead, early on, to what I call the “three strikes” rule: I make a point three times, and, if it’s not responded to, I give up on the discussion.

5. True victory is achieved only when you get the other side to admit to the paradox. For example: Getting the pro-abortionist to get beyond all the superficial rhetoric and get to his or her fundamental belief that some people are more worthy of life than others. I phrase this, when I’m trying to be purely Socratic, as the “is it OK to kill blind people” question.
In other words, the unborn baby is lacking in some quality that makes it “less worthy of human rights.” Ultimately, for any pro-abortionist with a brain, this gets to dependence on the mother for survival. So I raise the qusetion if it’s OK for parents to throw their kids outside and abandon them, since the kids are totally dependent upon the parents for survival. Or the question of people with disabilities.

And, of course, for a truly consistent pro-abort, there is some level of disability at which they will deny people the right of human dignity, for the same reason they deny it to unborn children. I once had an interlocutor admit, after a long Socratic exchange, that she believed it was OK to kill anyone on life support.

Such a moment constitutes an impasse but at least gets beyond the other side’s veneer.

5 responses to “When you’ve won an Internet debate and when the topic is just beaten to death.

  1. RE: “And, of course, for a truly consistent pro-abort, there is some level of disability at which they will deny people the right of human dignity, for the same reason they deny it to unborn children. ”

    No. You are repeating the old canard that abortion rights necessarily presuppose fetal inferiority. Abortion rights can be based on the pregnant woman’s body-ownership, with no assumption of fetal inferiority.

    Personhood does not entitle you to remain inside another person’s body where you are not welcome. This applies equally to unborns and (hypothetically) to already-borns who go in.

    You really do need to address the body-ownership argument; you can’t just ignore it. Not only is it the correct philosophical answer, but it explains the voting patterns on the abortion issue in USA. Americans are squeamish and they feel sowwy for the poor widdle babies, but they absolutely will not tolerate the idea that normal women, women they know, might be forced by government to grow unwelcome pregnancies and to give birth unwillingly to babies they don’t want. That’s why right-to-lifers win all the elections, except the ones that matter. (On the Presidential level, those were 1992 and 2008.)

    • It’s the same argument, just a matter of prioritization. “If a child is totally dependent upon the mother for survival, the mother has the right to say, ‘I don’t want to care for this child.'”
      As Joy has pointed out, the time to make that decision is before allowing the already born person into her body (please don’t bring up rape as a red herring–I will, for purpose of the current argument, grant that, as rape is a totally different situation and requires a totally different train of thought).

      You’re just limiting it a different way (and your argument is nothing new; I read it when I was an undergraduate in an article from 1972, and I always bring it up when arguing with other pro-lifers about strategy).

      No matter how you phrase it, it still boils down to prioritization of *rights*. Does the unborn child’s right to life supersede the mother’s right to ” do whatever she wants with her body”? Well, first of all, I do not believe there is such a right to begin with. There are many ways where society and the moral law tell us what to do with our bodies.

      For example, the Natural Law says the body is sacred and not to be tampered with outside medical necessity (or punishment of criminals who have been tried with due process). It is not commonly known that, technically, Catholic teaching holds it’s a mortal sin to get piercings or tattoos because they involve self-mutilation.

      I didn’t have the right to do what I wanted with my body when I had my heart surgery–at the time I wanted to die and get the whole business over with. The doctors wouldn’t let me. I know now they were right.

      So, on that ground, I don’t accept the view that the body is property, and I’m building up a case to that in another post.

      Now, the claim is usually argued with a parallel: it’s a blizzard, and you come home to find a homeless person in your house. You don’t, argue the “ethicists,” have an obligation to keep that homeless person in your home or to care for that person. You can kick the person out, even if it means he or she will die in the cold.

      However, that’s not true. There *is* a moral obligation to make sure that person has secure shelter, even in the form of calling the cops.

      Thirdly, the “the baby is an unwelcome visitor” argument doesn’t hold water because, when suggested in a real world application, most pro-abortionists don’t agree.

      For example, I read some blog (I think it was on the Huffington Post) earlier this year proposing artificial wombs, and all the liberal respondents balked at the idea, calling it a pro-life deception, saying it was anti-woman, etc.

  2. RE: “Full-fledged assault” !?!? You mean a full-fledged attempt to help you improve.

  3. Well I’ll wait for your more detailed post before I give you a detailed response. But here’s a preview: THERE IS NO NATURAL LAW excepts the law that Nature imposes: Things are what they are and suffer what they suffer.

    RE: rights of trespassers in blizzard. Well if I’m ever homeless I know where I’m gonna go: your property, and take advantage of all the obligations you think you will have to me!

    • I didn’t say all–I said there is an obligation to at least make sure the person has safe shelter.

      And nature imposes no laws in and of itself.

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