Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pet Peeves I

Generally, the abuse of language hurts my feelings. Not in a small way, but in a holistic, exhausting, and utterly frustrating way. There are plenty of ways to break the rules and be innovative, and though I'm a stickler for things like "At least use 'sketchy' instead of 'sketch' as an adjective--'sketch' is a noun or a verb," I'm generally not against innovation. But for things like argument and writing, there are rules of engagement--not even rules, just...laws.

The ways that argument works, for example, are how it works. If you break them into bits, or ignore them, you might get to think of yourself as dashingly intelligent and avant-garde, but really what happens is that your communication is broken. I've run into that a lot lately, and from people who consider themselves to be consummate discussers, gifted arguers, and proficient thinkers and debaters. These people in general tend to consider themselves capable of engaging in meaningful interactions, instead of the soapbox-stamping. streetcorner lunatic without any finesse (or often sense) whatsoever. I am not saying these people I've run into lately are stupid. Not inherently. It's just, when you don't use the language to make arguments, and you don't engage in a meaningful argument (i.e. make your argument according to basic and obvious rules of engagement), you look like you can't. Which means, basically, that you look dumb. Because you're strutting around talking about how great of a talker you are, but you're not making any headway--you're just shouting at the wind. And it's the stupidity that hurts my feelings.

So, please, everyone, start making sense. And thus begins part one of my list:

1. People who use messy rhetoric and fallacious strategies when arguing.
(a) When people take an analogy out of context on purpose, recontextualize it, and hijack the metaphor to create a rebuttal that doesn't actually rebut the original argument but makes them, for some reason, feel smart.
(b) When people read the least sensical interpretation into an analogy, and then start to argue with it on their own terms--at least half the time, this is someone finding one of their favorite straw men inside something someone else has said and then riding to town on their favorite hobby horse.
(i) When people look so damn hard for said favorite straw men that they miss the other, clearer things said/communicated.
(ii) If there aren't any other, clearer things, then these people don't really listen to a rephrase, but just steamroll along their righteous path.
(c) When people use analogies relating to their areas of expertise, and then when other non-experts try to meet them on their own terms of argument (by using an analogy), they retreat into the technical experience and jargon that wasn't relevant in the first place, and use it to create false authority on whatever analogous subject the discussion was *really* about.

2. When people are so wrapped up in their own opinions, perceptions, and speeches (rather than their arguments) that they refuse to really engage, but merely play verbal tennis about the issues.
(a) When people don't listen to what one another are saying, but instead spend all their time looking for cues and openings to trot out one or another of a previously-constructed sound chunk, rather than actually doing their partner the respect of listening and responding to what is really being articulated--on either side.
(b) When people don't make an honest effort to understand the opposing argument, but instead write it off as somehow inherently fallacious, by definition of it being in disagreement with them.
(c) When people do these things and then claim to be debating or discussing--or claim that their interactions are debates or discussion. That's like fencing with someone with both of your backs turned, each facing a different mirror--everyone gets to be very proud of his own image, but what is done is nothing short of posturing to impress, because the other person is wholly irrelevant, and utterly engrossed with her own mirror.


Ariel said...

What prompts this?

Katherine Crocker said...

General frustration at the political arguments I've been having lately, but also the overabundance of total ineptitude at discussion.

Call the wambulance, right?

Me said...

seems incredibly relevant to recent presidential 'debates'