Have you ever found yourself in a disagreement with somebody, your boss at work, a bloke in a pub, a spouse or family member, a Skeptic online, and listening to their replies to your points suddenly makes you feel like you're being tied up in knots, kaleidoscopic spectacles have been forced in front of your eyes and you're being rotated on a roundabout until you're completely dizzy? If so then you're definitely not alone. Why is that? Debate should be a simple matter shouldn't it? The philosophical rules of logic and reductionism were worked out over two thousand years ago by the ancient Greeks; more recently during the Renaissance and Enlightenment these rules were refined. Today there are even debating clubs, the most famous being the Oxford Union. Debate shouldn't be a complicated and illusive thing: a proposal is presented, a contester explains why the proposal is incorrect and the proposer can counter-contest if he has a suitable argument, and this cycle repeats for as long as the debaters need or wish to continue. This is always done using the basic laws of reason; it's how (ideally) law courts operate and Parliament. The winner is the side who can produce the superior context for whatever is under discussion. This process is one that everybody carries out continuously in our interactions with each other. It's essential for human society because it is how we form a consensus about what is true or false, right or wrong, possible or impossible. If that process is ever perverted then how do we know what's real or not? This is an important question because unfortunately it is often perverted and that perversion is sometimes difficult to define and expose. I really love debating; for me it's a kind of spectator sport, and a sport I regularly participate in myself. One of the masters, now sadly no longer with us, was Christopher Hitchens, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/christopher-hitchens-dies.html. This is why I run the HPANWO Forum, see links column. Since the rise of Facebook these good old-fashioned internet forums have fallen into disuse; that's a pity I think. I always debate according to the rules; I can't deviate from them, maybe because I suffer from an empathic disorder (and it is a disorder; more on that another day). Also I have never been trained in the alternatives and I don't want to be.
"Alternatives?" I hear you ask; "what do you mean, Ben?" I think you know what I mean; you have just never thought to put it into words. There are many ways the rules of debating can be bent or broken to make it falsely appear like the one who breaks them is winning. The methods of "pseudo-debate" have also been studied and categorized. In some cases this happened a long time ago; the book The Art of Being Right by Arthur Schopenhauer was written in 1831, see: http://coolhaus.de/art-of-controversy/. This was actually meant to be a sarcastic parody of pseudo-debate, but it includes a lot of information that has been taken seriously and inspires pseudo-debaters to this day. Interestingly, before I read that book I had already independently identified a lot of the same points Schopenhauer does. I began this HPANWO Forum thread to describe a few in my own way: http://hpanwoforum.freeforums.org/the-hpanwo-guide-to-being-a-forum-skep-dick-t912.html. This is a big subject and very difficult to describe, but I'll try. As luck, or synchronicity, would have it, there has recently been a cluster of situations that illustrate this issue in my life. The best method I can use is give examples of some pseudo-debating techniques.
1. Excessive rhetoric
Proposer: "9/11 was an inside job."
Contester: "How can you be so cruel to the weeping heartbroken families of the three thousand innocent people who died on that terrible day!? Have you no shame!? Why can't you show them some respect!?"
Did you spot pseudo-debating? The contester is not actually explaining why he thinks 9/11 was not an inside job. What he is doing is criticizing the proposer on a purely personal level, trying to make him feel that merely stating the proposition, that 9/11 was an inside job, is inherently immoral. This is an attempt to undermine the proposer's morale, to make them feel intimidated and full of self-doubt, and therefore less proficient when it comes to their turn to make a counter-rebuttal. In my own experience this week I encountered another prime example. I was told that it's my fault if children die because I wouldn't join the anti-Kevin Annett campaign, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/the-anti-kevin-annett-cult.html.
2. Ad hominem
Proposer: "The Apollo moon landings were faked."
Contester: "Why should we believe you? You were convicted of shoplifting in 1969."
In this case the contester is diverting the issue away from the subject at hand and making the audience look at the character of the proposer and not his argument. This is very similar to the excessive rhetoric pseudo-debate; both violate the proposer and both distract the conversation away from the point. A regular ad hominem used against conspiracy researchers is: "You're anti-Semitic!" which is a lie in most cases; it definitely is with me, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/its-jooooozzz.html. Those using excessive rhetoric and ad hominem don't need to be truthful.
3. Sewing Confusion
These above two methods of pseudo-debate are, in various adaptations, probably the most common, but there are others. A good example happened to me on the HPANWO Forum recently. I posted a video on chemtrails with Sofia Smallstorm and this was how the Skeptic member "Reflex" replied ("Hag" is me):
"I started watching that video with the "expert" on chemtrails doing her talk. Any bets that thirty minutes of research will show that she doesn't actually know anything about the subject? I'm thinking of things such as her claims about what conditions clouds like to form in, and how far back the supposedly "new forms" were reported. I'm guessing that the cloud formations have been around for much longer than the air travel / chemtrails she's claiming are responsible for them.
Willing to take up the challenge, Hag? Could be a good test of researching skills. What I mean by 'challenge' is that you have provided a video as 'evidence' of your claims. From the few minutes I've watched of that video I am of the impression the 'evidence' is someone without a conventionally recognised reputation on a subject (but claimed to be an expert) giving a slide show.
Now this may be all well and good, and isn't a reason to discredit her opinion at all. But it is a reason to investigate her statements before accepting them as truth (because as far as we are aware, nobody else has validated her claims).
So the 'challenge' part is to take a couple of her claims which are potentially verifiable (I've already mentioned two) and do some research ourselves on their validity. I am 'challenging' you to do that. If you do some research, and agree with her, I then research as well. If I find that your research was invalid / unsubstantiated then you lose the challenge and concede that…
a) The evidence given in the video is flawed
b) Your research abilities are inadequate
c) You (and by extension, most conspiracy theorists) have a tendency to encounter information which sounds good and accept it without questioning or critical thought.
Naturally, if your research shows she is incorrect then I acknowledge your research skills (and we jointly reject the video 'evidence'). Additionally if your research backs her statements, and my research can't counter this, then I admit to being wrong about her and that you have provided me with new information I can't counter and must acknowledge as being a concern.
NB: I issue this challenge as a risk – I have not done the research yet and base my stance on personal expectations of how the conspiracy world works. As such, I am going in to this unprepared in an attempt to make it more interesting (i.e. so you have a chance).
From another personal expectation, my prediction is that you will refuse to take up the challenge and give some difficult to comprehend reason of why it wouldn't be productive.
Beez (another member), what odds will you give me on my latter prediction? Do you think Hag will put his money where his proof is this time, or do the usual 'I know I'm right but refuse to prove it' approach?"
There's an awful lot wrong with that reply; it contains some rhetoric, I'm not sure if it's excessive. It also contains a personal criticism that I consider unfair. The "I know I'm right but refuse to prove it" is an unjust characterization of me. The biggest problem is that at no point does Reflex simply tell me why he thinks Ms Smallstorm is wrong. He must have worn out his fingers typing that long monologue, and it took a long time for me to read and assimilate it. By the end of poring through it from beginning to end I may well have forgotten what the original point was. When I brought up this critique Reflex replied with another acre of text that was equally bewildering. Everything I said to him he hastily reshaped and threw straight back at me. In the end he even started chiding me for not answering his questions about Sofia Smallstorm. I very quickly became confused, flustered, bamboozled, trapped. If you read the forum thread it looks as though Reflex has won the debate against me; but this is a superficial illusion. He has proved himself the better pseudo-debater by a long stretch though. Maybe for some people that's all that matters, (source: http://hpanwoforum.freeforums.org/chemtrials-and-the-elite-t4864.html).
I've had the same problem with a former internet friend whom I've fallen out with; I go into details here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQi1tb48aIM. Another method of pseudo-debating is simply to hurl abuse. When I politely and diplomatically brought up my misgivings over feminism another erstwhile feminist friend "Katy", she replied thus: "Oh fuck off, Ben with your men's rights crap!" Should I include verbal violence as a pseudo-debating protocol? Yes, I think I should. By far the worst offenders when it comes to pseudo-debate are Skeptics; those who promote themselves as the ultimate arbiters of science and rationality. Here are some of the other tricks they have up their sleeve to get their way: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2008/05/debating-with-skepster.html. What I think is sad is that a lot of people reading this will wonder why I'm even mentioning the subject. It's just the way things are, isn't it? They'll assume that what I call pseudo-debating is simply another form of debating; the two are really the same, aren't they? Certainly that is the prevailing view; few people understand the difference between debating and pseudo-debating. I think academia and the media encourage us to pseudo-debate. Why? For the reasons I state above. A way to keep the truth from the people is not just to hide it away where we can't see it, but to manipulate our thoughts into a form that makes us unable to comprehend the truth even on the occasions we do see it. For example, when a scientist says: "Man-made climate change is a real threat!" How do we know he has arrived at that conclusion by proper debate? Are we sure he hasn't just capitulated to excessive rhetoric, ad hominem, confusion and other forms of pseudo-debate? The same goes for whether UFO's exist, whether there is a life after death, whether the Bilderberg Group is dangerous or not. If pseudo-debate has become the normal way to do business then we're living in a world in which anything and everything could be delusion. Experts will stand on a platform and make completely bogus statements, in total sincerity, which most people will believe without question. There is no way round this except to attempt to maintain a level of sanity by not playing that dirty game. Don't stoop to the level of the pseudo-debaters just because everybody else is doing it and it's the only way you can be seen to win arguments. It might temporarily salve your ego, but it only drags the common denominator down another peg. We have to keep playing by the rules and insisting on others we interact with playing by the rules. If others don't reach that standard we must have nothing to do with them. Sure, it will look like they've "beaten you!" and they'll go back to www.AnotherSkepticForum.com and brag about it; just let them! I ended up posting this to Reflex: "Reflex, I give up. You've won. I cannot outmanoeuvre you. This kind of crosstalk is way beyond my abilities." There are more important matters at stake, like the chemtrails Sofia Smallstorm talks about. When I see those white lines in the sky, false flag terrorism, GMO food in our diet, children being murdered in care, our economy being pickaxed into depression... and then I look down and read epic diatribes on Facebook about who is a shill and who's not, who did tit and who did tat, who's the king of the castle and who's the dirty rascal... I shake my head and wonder. If this is the Truth movement, do we really deserve a free world?
See here for more details on Skeptics: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/sally-morgan-skeptic-fail.html.