A Fringe Plea for the Ignorant to Shut Up.
Clearly, Facebook was spawned in the darkest nightmares of hell and Satan’s minions must labor over it constantly; I picture naked and sweating IT sinners in thered orange glow of sweltering cubicles, tormented fingers endlessly mashing keyboards (probably not so different from the offices of Google). Anyway, there are many, many problems with Facebook, from the tacit censorship to subliminal ads to government snoopers to friends selling stuff. It’s a cesspool, but I need it to keep in touch with my friends.
There is one problem Facebook has created, though, that is unacceptable to a reasonable society: the bad arguer. Bad arguers fail at one critical task: the identification of salient facts in the discussion. I normally don’t believe in a cop for everything, but in this instance, I think the government snoops should identify bad arguers and stick them in a camp in Northern California until they learn either how to argue appropriately, or to shut the ef up. Maybe not everyone’s friend list is this way, but my friends and friends of friends and so on, seem to be.
Let’s be clear: just because someone has an opinion does not entitle them to cloud the public electrons with it. Got an opinion based on nothing more than what Grandma told you, or you got from the pimps of your particular cause, or worse yet, from national news programs, you should have the chance to state once, “Here’s what I think about the issue” and let it go. Full disclosure would indicate it be accompanied by the phrase, “However, I don’t really know that much about it and I’m incapable of discussing facts in a rational manner, so take my view with a grain of salt.” I’m not asking for that, though.
What I am asking, is that if someone is going to argue a position, follow these simple steps:
- Know what the hell your position actually is, and be able to state it in twenty words or less. Einstein could state the theory of relativity in less.
- If you insist on using statistics, and unless you have some familiarity with statistical methods you probably shouldn’t, at least know what they actually represent. Most statistics pulled from internet articles are practically meaningless because they lack background detail. Scientific “facts” from media news are largely useless without source information. Know the difference between raw numbers and rates, at least. Know what you can about how the statistics were gathered, what they purport to measure, and, yes, who funded the study. (That isn’t to say that you can dismiss data because it’s from a questionable source, like the government, but it means you might discuss a possible bias.)
- Discuss the facts. Don’t discuss extraneous data, it needlessly distracts from the focus of the issue. Go ahead, dispute what relevance facts have to the discussion, or question how they were derived, or present contradictory or modifying facts, but the discussion should not be about anything else but the facts pertinent to the discussion.
- Distinguish your values from your facts, and your emotions from your thoughts. Facts can be challenged and discussed; statements can be tested. Your emotions and opinions are completely subjective and 1. aren’t open to challenge since there is no basis for challenge, and 2. aren’t compelling to the discussion. It’s just something you believe or feel.
- Don’t attack the other participants. If someone disagrees with you, argue facts, don’t call them names, or criticize them personally, unless they invite a personal comment. “I’m a tenured professor in physics, and I think illegal immigrants should be thrown in prison” invites the remark that being a physics professor teaches him nothing about social policy. Otherwise, keep personal remarks out of the discussion.
I don’t think Facebook can operate if people have to walk their talk and back up their BS with meaningful facts. Still, I’d like to see people try.
PS don’t send me a friend request, my page is too cluttered already. Still, if you want to discuss this, send me a message.