Published on October 4th, 2013 | by Matt Haberfeld0
How to Win Arguments as an Internet Tough Guy
The internet is an invaluable tool for communication. As the worldwide marketplace for ideas, you can use it to accumulate knowledge, meet new and interesting people from around the globe, and share your thoughts with others. It’s only natural that occasionally the opinions of two people may differ and an argument arise. However, arguments on the internet are nothing like face to face confrontations. When you argue with someone in person, there is body language, tone and inflection, and a dialectic between two people. Additionally there’s the fear of an argument escalating to violence. Both people have a vested interest in keeping things civil.
Arguments on the internet are unique in the fact that there is no context other than the words on the screen. You can’t expect people to “know what you mean” because there is a distinct absence of visual or aural cues that could help them interpret your statement. There’s also the issue of pacing. You can’t always ask someone to clarify what they said because the argument moves quickly from one point to another to another. Additionally, at any time some complete stranger could come along and thrust his opinion onto the scene. Or he could steer the argument in a completely different direction. Or he could say something so ridiculous as to make you embarrassed to live on the same planet. And most importantly there’s no accountability. No one is going to come to your house and beat you up for what you said, because they don’t even know who you are.
Sometimes the two people in an argument aren’t even online at the same time and they just post messages to each other to be read at a later date. In that case by the time you log back in there could be 50 posts and the argument could be about something completely different than the original topic you started yesterday. Such is the nature of online communication.
In order to win a face to face argument, you need a strong grasp of the language, extensive knowledge of the subject matter, and a good understanding of logic. Arguments on the internet require none of those things. People who can barely speak your language can beat you in an argument. People who have only the most basic notion of what you’re talking about can make you look foolish. And people who don’t even know what the word “logic” is can defeat you, because these arguments are not about facts or logic or knowledge at all. Instead, the person who wins arguments on the internet does so through the cunning use of fallacies. Arguments that appear to be logical in nature but are not. This article will explain the most common fallacies and how to apply them in order to win any argument no matter how ridiculous.
Before we dive into the subtle ways to become an internet tough guy, some logical terminology is in order. It’s not strictly necessary, because you don’t actually have to know anything to win an argument on the internet, but it can’t hurt.
- Premise: The premise of an argument is the starting point. It is also an assumption that is considered self-evident, or true without having to explain why. “All men are mortal” is the most common premise used in textbooks. One way to lose an argument is to have your premise proven untrue.
- Conclusion: The conclusion of an argument is your final statement that “proves” your point and is based on your premise. Starting with the premise “All men are mortal”, you could conclude that since you are a man, than you are mortal too. (If you’re a woman then you already know how to win an argument and this article is unecessary.)
- Subjective: An argument is subjective if it is based on your personal experience and not a universal “truth” or generally accepted fact. “A mile is a long distance” is subjective.
- Objective: An argument is objective if it holds true regardless of who is making the argument. “A mile is 5280 feet” is objective.
Even though I’m going to use the terminology above, most people who argue will have never heard of those terms or know what they mean. But that doesn’t mean they can’t twist them around to verbally thrash you on your favorite online forum. At most they will help you understand the fallacies people employ and let you use some of your own to win arguments.
For the sake of this article, the false conclusion that I wish to draw is that mages are overpowered. It makes no difference what game I’m talking about because you can win any argument through the application of fallacies, regardless of the facts. Now I must choose a premise to support my conclusion. Remember that the premise is supposed to be self-evident because if it isn’t my opponent will prove that it is untrue and I will lose the argument.
Of course I could choose a premise based on the facts, such as the spell Magic Missile does 20% more damage than any other spell or skill in the game at that level, or mages get access to the best equipment in the game giving them more stats than any other character, but that’s not what this article is about.
Begging the Question
When working with logical fallacies, a very common premise to choose is your conclusion. This is called begging the question. When the argument is cut down to its simplest parts, it says that mages are overpowered because mages are overpowered. However, you dress up the premise in any number of ways such as saying that mages beat all the other classes in player vs. player, or mages are the best class for the most popular dungeon, or mages deal the most damage per second, therefore mages are overpowered.
If anyone accepts your premise, they are automatically accepting your conclusion because they are in fact the same thing. However, the premise must be delicately worded to appear to be a unique (yet self-evident) argument.
Another common premise is to take a subjective premise and make it objective. In the section above, “mages are the best class” is surely subjective because if it were true for everyone then there would be no ninjas or paladins running around. But it can also be a seemingly logical premise such as, “Fireball does too much damage for the level at which you get it, therefore mages are overpowered.” It sounds reasonable, but it’s still subjective unless you actually do the math and compare it to whatever other attacks are available to other classes at the same level. Even then you have to consider a wider variety of factors such as the fact that some classes can wear better armor or aren’t reliant on magic points or can use stealth, etc. So while it is by no means an objective statement it is cleverly disguised as one and that’s all that matters.
You can also use a red herring as your premise. A red herring is a defensive argument that is designed to ignore the issue at hand and divert the subject away towards something irrelevant to the argument. For instance, I could say that, “Everyone says that mages are overpowered, therefore mages are overpowered.” This is an argumentum ad populum or appeal to the majority. Nowhere in logic does it say that the majority decides what is true and what is false, but it sounds good and lends weight to your argument. When someone tries to attack your premise, you can counter with, “How can 5 million people be wrong?” Also remember that facts never have to be right as long as they are not blatantly wrong. There is no way to know how many people think mages are overpowered, and the statement itself is so subjective that “overpowered” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone. But a bigger number does lend weight to your argument.
However, red herrings are better used as rebuttals to arguments than arguments themselves. For instance, if someone tells you that mages are in fact not overpowered for any reason, you can make a personal attack on their character rather than address the specifics of their argument such as, “Well how would you know, your mage got kicked out of the guild because you have no clue how to play one.” This is called an argumentum ad hominem. It’s important to note that your opponent’s argument is of no consequence. Even the most eloquent, factual, and well thought out response is deftly dodged by a personal attack.
Another type of ad hominem argument is called an appeal to motive. For example, “You would say that mages aren’t overpowered because you are a mage and you just want to reap the benefits of your broken class.” Again, such an attack sidesteps the issue completely and undermines the credibility of your opponent.
Non Sequitur means “does not follow” and is an argument in which you draw an erroneous conclusion. For instance, “Mages are overpowered because the game company doesn’t know how to make a good game.” Even if it were true that the game company makes bad games, that doesn’t mean that mages are overpowered as a result. There could be a bad game in which mages are underpowered. A major source of non sequiturs are from arguments in the category of proof by example.
It is very common for people to use examples to prove their point. One fallacy you can use is by making your specific example a universal truth. For instance you can say that your friend surprised a mage in the open with half health and he still lost, therefore mages are overpowered. (Remember it was always “your friend” because you don’t want to invite personal attacks on your skill level) Such an argument is a non sequitur because surprising a mage at half health does not mean that you will automatically win. It ignores the specifics of the event like the mage’s level and equipment. When pressed, you can make that information up at a later date to support your argument.
Murphy’s Law is another type of proof by example. Not a specific example, but the false conclusion in which if something could happen then it will happen. For example, “Since it is possible for mages to kill you in two hits, they always kill you in two hits, therefore mages are overpowered.” This ignores the fact that they only kill you in two hits with the right equipment and if both attacks are critical hits, and if you have no magical resistance, etc.
While examples can sometimes be helpful to prove your point, more often than not they are better left to your opponents because they are so easy to discredit. This is called cherry picking and can be considered a form of red herring. When your opponent uses an example to prove his point such as, “My ninja killed a mage without even getting hit, so mages are not overpowered.” you can argue the specifics of the example and sidestep the main argument. So you would counter that your opponent killed the mage because the mage didn’t know how to play his class or because he was AFK.
If you’re lucky, the example that your opponent uses will have at least one tiny flaw which you can exploit to discredit his entire argument. For instance you could say that ninjas always beat mages only at level 20 when they get some special skill, so while the example is technically true it doesn’t prove anything. Since the example isn’t perfect, you can claim that the whole argument is flawed. Then your opponent has to defend himself, further taking the conversation away from your original fallacious statement.
A straw man argument is one in which a person paraphrases or simplifies something said into a form that is easier to discredit. Basically they are changing the original argument into something that is easier to argue against but it appears like they are still maintaining the merits of the original argument.
In my opinion this is the most common form of fallacy and even people that know nothing about logic will still be able to call you out on this one. However, it’s important to know what the straw man argument is for two reasons. One, so that you know when someone does it to you, and two so that you can accuse your opponent of doing it even if they’re not. Any time anyone sums up or paraphrases your argument, you can accuse them of misquoting you (even if they didn’t) as a way to discredit their integrity. In that way it is a bit of a red herring because it diverts attention away from the argument itself and can be a form of personal attack.
Eventually you’re going to come up against someone who is just as fallacious as you are, and that’s when you need to break out some really tricky stuff. Arguably the most powerful red herring in your arsenal is the appeal to hypocrisy, in which you point out your opponent’s logical fallacy and then claim that their argument has no weight. Since you are a master of fallacies yourself this should not be a problem, but it’s important that you cast the first stone. Because if he accuses you of doing the same thing, you can counter by accusing him of making an appeal to hypocrisy which is another logical fallacy. Genius. Once you reveal your opponent’s arguments to be fallacious how can anyone take what he says at face value? But remember to be the quickest on the draw, because if your opponent calls you out first, you’re in a tough position.
An argument of repetition can be a powerful tool. Also known as an argumentum ad nauseum because you argue “to the point of nausea”, this is just a clever restatement of your argument without addressing any of your opponent’s points. You don’t want to restate your argument word for word but also don’t want to address anything that your opponent said, so you end up rewriting your original argument as if it was the first time. It’s surprisingly frustrating to make an elegant, logical argument and have your opponent respond as if he didn’t hear a thing you said.
The more obstinate you are, the better off you’ll end up. I’ve seen one person restate the same basic argument in 6 different ways, while his opponent presented 6 unique counter arguments. So while his opponent tipped his entire hand and wasted all sorts of time and energy, he revealed nothing and won the argument from sheer stubborn persistence.
Loaded questions are another great tool at your disposal. A loaded question is one in which there is no correct answer, because all the answers concede the person’s point. The most popular loaded question is, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Obviously you can’t say yes, but even if you say no then you are allowing for the possibility that there exists a dress somewhere that does make her look fat. Jerk. “How long have mages not been overpowered?” is a good example of a loaded question because any answer admits that mages were overpowered at some point. From this admission it makes it much easier to argue that they are still overpowered.
A reverse straw man argument is something that makes your premise harder to argue against rather than easier. Normally someone paraphrases you in order to weaken your argument, but you can instead choose to paraphrase yourself in such a way that your premise is stronger than you originally wrote. This is also called raising the bar or moving the goalpost. Every time your opponent proves your premise untrue, you change it a little bit so that it’s true again. You can also ratchet down your conclusion from “mages are overpowered” to “ice spells are overpowered” or “mages are overpowered in PvP” to maintain the validity of your argument.
If you are arguing against multiple opponents at the same time, you can lump all of their arguments together as one big argument, and then just discredit the weakest one. For instance, one person provides an eloquent and logical argument as to why mages are not overpowered, and then another person agrees with them and also says that their ninja beat a mage without getting hit. You can just ignore the strong argument and use a red herring on the weak argument, and then claim that mages are still overpowered.
Finally, when all else fails just appeal to miscommunication. Since the internet is devoid of inflection or tone of voice, you can say, “What I really meant was…” and change your argument to whatever is necessary to win. Don’t forget to edit your original post if you have to.
According to my old boss, a hollow victory is still a victory. The internet generation has taken those words to heart and developed a shameless new method of wasting each other’s time. Everyone knows that arguing on the internet is pointless, yet every day thousands of arguments are started over nothing. I think anonymity is one of the biggest causes of this behavior. When there’s no fear of reprisal, people are much more apt to type out all the ignorant crap they’d normally keep bottled up for fear of being punched in the face.
My humble advice to you is to never ever argue on the internet with anyone. But when you do…fight to win. The fallacies in this article are just the tip of the iceberg, and the best internet tough guys mix and match all of these tricks in such a way that you are demoralized, infuriated, and intensely jealous all at the same time. Say anything, do anything, and never let a stranger get the best of you. Because that’s how internet tough guys roll.