Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Arguing On The Internet

I have other things to write about today, but I'm going to spend a little time first talking about last week.

I've held off writing this post because I did not want to rant. My first instinct was to do so; this is my typical reaction to stupidity in great amounts. I hoped with distance I could sound more sincere.

Last week, Zak the porn dude was booted permanently off Now, the internet being what it is, the ban has probably been rescinded. I don't care about, but I was made curious by this really stupid post by Roger the GS. And after reading the echo chamber in that comments section (which happily rushed to explain to me why I'm a bad person by daring to disagree), I found myself reading this even stupider post by Noisms, in which he proudly makes the argument that no one ever argues except to show off how big their brain is. This was followed by another tremendous echo chamber of comments.

So finally I had to go look at Zak's inevitable post, which turned out to be an open letter to the owners of ... which seriously upped the stupidity standard quite a bit, as well as the profundity of cognative dissonant blog echo chambers.

Well, after all that, I had to go find the rpg thread ... which none of these fuckers linked to, so I had to find it through Google. And found that has seriously changed.

I really like the booting policy they've instituted. I respect it. Reminds me of my own.

Now, I don't know if the gentle reader wants to read through all this shit, but I'll tell you the best easter egg in the whole thing is where Noisms gets banned from the thread on page 35. Remember, this is the man who tells us argument is ego masturbation.

Noisms says he can't ever recall changing anyone's mind by arguing with them. The only thing I can say to that is that he must be really, really BAD at arguing. But then I've never seen Noisms change his mind, ever. The same can be said for Zak, for that matter. Roger the GS is somewhat better. I have seen him change his mind. Which makes this follow up post by him even more baffling.

I don't see that its worth my time to explain why these fellows are wrong. I think that's obvious to anyone with a modicrum of scholarship or responsibility in the real world. I make arguments that prove to change minds all the time - it is how companies make up their minds about things, by presenting arguments and then choosing the best course of action. This is also how the justice system works, as well as the political system (in a country like Canada, at least, where the government still passes meaningful legislation), how scientific journals work and just about all scholarship (I'm not too sure about business school, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt).

The thing about all these arguments is that they rely on the presentation of facts, then upon the presupposition that the individual presenting the facts will attempt to argue how they are relevant. These are not 'internet arguments.' That is, they're not arguments advanced about the wastefulness of arguing by people who are arguing on some other thread - at the same time, as happens in the case of one recent tit who was commenting about NOT arguing on Noisms thread while simultaneously arguing like a complete hysterical prat on MY blog. Check the timestamps. That is really impressive.

I think it really does come down to these people who do not change their minds. Naturally they presume no one else does, because they're so calcified in their own crystalized bullshit. I'm sure Noisms runs the same campaign today he ran twenty years ago, still thinks it's as brilliant today as it was then, and will still be running the same campaign twenty years from now. I'm presenting this as an argument. I'm pointing at Noisms blog as evidence. I'm citing the evidence to back up my own personal experience with him, that ended in banning him from this blog because he was utterly immovable.

Everyone knows I love to argue. And everyone knows that I cheerfully evicerate people, coldly, disconsiderately, often abusively ... and people love to ride horse on that as proof positive that I'm no better than anyone else on the net, and in fact that I am a LOT worse. I'm described as a solipsist, an egoist, a narcissist, as someone deluded by his own myopia and so on. Well, the gentle reader that's here is ready to make up his or her own mind. I'm pretty sure I don't run an echo chamber around here. There are people who like me. These people put up with a lot of shit and don't hesitate to criticize me for posts like this one. They'd rather I got back to the hex generation (and I will). The reason I write these posts, and the reason I do my best to humiliate people in the comments section, is to get them the fuck off this blog. I don't want morons like Noisms here. He pollutes enough of the net with his crap as it is.

Nor do I need Zak “I have porn stars and viewers and therefore I’m always right” around. I don’t know about Zak. He seems to really believe that the opinions of people in the porn industry have pedigree in the world outside the porn industry … he also seems to believe that somehow his success couldn’t be duplicated by anyone else ready to have weekly porn stars on camera playing D&D. They might even do better, if the porn stars could be convinced to wash once in awhile and not slur every line they speak.

Sorry, I’ve been waiting to say that a long time. It’s catty, I know, but if you read the thread, you’ll find Zak pounding his chest about all the people he knows who believe this or that, and if you follow the comments thread on Roger the GS’s first post, you’ll find Zak doing it directly to me, clearly disproving that his vouched for opinions of other people couldn’t be made up because, well, porn stars.

Zak opened the door on that one. He gets to cite his connections as a source, I get to kick the shit out of his source. We call that ‘argument.’

One thing that I'm proud of is my willingness to change my mind. In particular, my willingness to improve upon something I invented, understanding that whatever it is, I can make it better if I have more time. All this recent hex generation thing actually disregards ideas and propositions I made on the subject last year, because even if no one else understood that they weren't going to work, I did. This recent stuff? No, this is not the best I can do. In many ways it is inadequate. It is clumsy. It isn't quite right. It needs more effort, more time, more research, a better layout, etc.

See, I know that people THINK I'm full of myself, but in reality I'm the first person to tell you that anything I've done, and everything I've designed, is inadequate. That's how I have felt since the beginning of my life. It's just not good enough. But that's fine. I know it's going to be better, because I'm going to change. I'm going to toss out things I believe today for better things that I will believe tomorrow. All anyone has to do is advance an argument and support that argument, and I'm on board, ready to change my mind.

That's what makes me different from these other failures. And don't question it ... that's what makes YOU different too. You're ready to read this, to doubt it, to question it, to not take it on face value and to NOT echo it back to me like we all have to be on the same fucking page to be friends. For the love of knowledge, don't go that way. That way is stagnation and death and six kinds of internal pathetic masturbation.

Let's all gently applaud for finally realizing that the only way to have a discussion is to throw on people after the first ten words of bullshit. It's the only way this whole nonsense is going to be cleaned up ... when people like Zak and Noisms only have a voice with people too stupid to have their own.


Anonymous said...

Of course there's a difference between "argument" as defined and practiced above and elsewhere and "arguing on the internet" as defined and practiced by some of those linked to above. I've admittedly done a helluva lot of both over the years, though as I get older and time seems more finite I have less patience for the latter kind.

I read Noisms's post that you probably linked to above and think it was spot on. I give him credit for at least identifying and advertising his own shortcomings. It takes a certain amount of insight and either courage or cynicism to put it out there like that. That he assumes or imagines this is the extent of possibility for argument explains A LOT. But in the event its more courage than cynicism, maybe there's hope for the man.

Now, how about that hex system... ;)

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you James; I needed someone to start off by disagreeing with me, and I can count on you.

Arguing is arguing. Doing it on the net means you're largely unreachable, you don't have to be ready for a fist in your face and you get to pretend you're a nice guy to everyone BUT the net ... but if you believe something about what you'll say on the net - and then support that by saying you do it in real life, as Noisms does - then you really believe everyone, off net or on, has that same smug attitude towards arguing as "sport."

I've met a lot of assholes, going way, way back to the late 70s, who thought as Noisms does. The internet didn't 'create' these people ... it just gave them a new venue. They were always like this, even when all they could pollute was the corner bar.

And I don't see any repentance there ... just self-justification. "See, I'm okay, because everyone is just as loathsome as I am." Demonstrative evidence of a man who hates others because he hates himself.

Anonymous said...

I'm always here to help.

Arguing might be arguing, but this whole argument is about the difference between the dialectic sort and the satus-seeking sort, isn't it. The argument itself could be the same one, sure, but the participants might be there for different reasons. That's probably the best way to sort out whether you should even spend the effort... by identifying what sort of arguer you're up against.

I suppose with Noisms we're just disagreeing on whether there's hope or not for the man. Diagnosis is the first step to correction. Have some hope. :)

Alexis Smolensk said...

I think more to the point we're both accepting that his kind of argument (and motivation) certainly exist, while his post clearly says that no OTHER kind of argument but his CAN exist.

That is the point of contention, of idiocy, and the defining quality of his nature.

I always have hope. He could have the sort of traumatic event that snaps him back to consciousness, causes him to reach for life and discard nihilism, and realize his errors. And while he may not, we can count on the fact that somewhere today, probably several Noisms have just had that event occur, spontaneously, and are right now on the road to recovery, while we're utterly unaware of it because they do not have D&D blogs.

It's a big world.

JB said...

I don't know, Alexis. I think you were right the first time: arguing is just arguing. There are different shades of quality or constructive results (or at least constructive potential) that one can attach to an argument...but the principals of the act remain the same. There IS only one kind of argument...but sometimes the concept loses value (and in fact appears to have "negative value," I.e. "arguing = bad") because of the way in which it's used.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I just proposed an argument on the post I finished, Four Measures.

Ask yourself if it was written for my own aggrandizement, to soothe my ego, or because I want other people to see the world as I do, and gain the benefit of my wisdom.

Noisms and those like him, with their belief system, deny that I have any wisdom. I don't agree. And I know, from comments you have made in the past, that you don't agree either.

Arguing is arguing. But there is doing it badly, for the wrong reasons, and there is doing it well, with value and purpose.

Noisms changes no one's mind because he cannot comprehend that the mind can be changed. I change people's minds because everything I wrote today on that other post is only a few weeks old for me. Some of it is only a few minutes old. I changed my mind as I was writing.

Don't let this argument persuade you. Make up your own mind.

Lukas said...

As more than anecdotal evidence of Alexis's willingness to change I would like to point to the online blog and Conlict! Otherwise he has been most vocal about improving the game outside public channels as well on his blog game.... Which I'm sure could bleed into his live game. I would love to hear about it if it has btw.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Both games bleed into each other, as it were, both in terms of systems tried and improved upon and ditched - like Conflict!

If I change a rule here, it's changed there, and vice versa. The world, both content and rules, is a developing process, always with the best possible experience for the players in the forefront of every other consideration.

Anonymous said...

JB, in saying that there's only one kind of argument I can't tell if you're dismissing or accepting the the kind of argument that Noisms proposes only exists. Is every argument both a quest for aggrandizement and the truth, just one of the above or neither?

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

"One thing that I'm proud of is my willingness to change my mind."

That's basically the hallmark of intelligence, really. New evidence comes in, it gets compared against existing assumptions, existing assumptions get updated as necessary to match the facts.

Anyone who can't or won't go through that cycle is basically dumb as a post, and always will be.

JDJarvis said...

Arguing on the internet isn't always about arguing with the individual countering your posts who you may never convice, there are other people reading you may indeed be convincing.
One can also argue as a means to explore and improve their own concepts and positions. It's like asking folks: Am I right or not?
Arguing isn't always discord.

noisms said...

Alexis, I doubt whether you will publish this comment, but be that as it may, I'll write it anyway. I think I at least deserve a right of reply to this astonishing and, frankly, bizarre broadside. I'm not sure how aware you are that it embarrasses you a lot more than it does me.

I'm quite happy to admit to not changing my mind through arguing. I change my mind all the time, but I do so through discussion, through life experience, through long association with people with differing views, and, often, through reading. When I read Michael Oakeshott's work, I changed my mind. When I read Ronald Dworkin's work, I changed my mind. When I read Michael Polanyi's work, I changed my mind. When I went volunteering in Kyrgyzstan, I changed my mind about lots of things. When I went to live in Japan, I changed my mind about lots of things. When I got married, I changed my mind about lots of things. When I shared an office with an Ethiopian guy for a couple of years, I changed my mind about lots of things.

I don't change my mind through argument because argument is about antagonism, and "winning" becomes so important that actual thought disappears. In my experience, the heat of argument is more corrosive of agreement than anything. And believe me when I say that it is not how the justice system or "just about all scholarship" works: I'm not one to pull rank, but as somebody with a PhD in law I speak with at least a small amount of authority on those matters.

Finally, as for your comment that I still run the same campaign today that I ran 20 years ago and will still be doing so in 20 years' time...I would say that it is symptomatic of your thought-processes that you are "pointing to [my] blog as evidence": anybody who reads my blog will know that of all the accusations you could level at me, consistency is the least accurate of them.

Alexis Smolensk said...


In the first place, I am happy to give you an opportunity to speak back to this.

Secondly, let me state clearly that I see no fundamental difference between "arguing" and "discussion." I recognize that the first is typically seen as confrontational, while the latter is seen as cooperative, but there is no clear cut defining line between these two conditions, and each individual makes their own distinction as to when something ceases to be cooperative and begins to become confrontational - this is rarely seen equally by all parties in a dialectic as existing at the same degree ... so making distinctions between one and the other becomes a method by which people stonewall, saying "I'm not continuing this discussion any more because it has become an argument in my opinion." I consider that a tactic for refusal to engage. I feel the distinction you make in your comment that you feel differently about discussion than you do about argument is merely a tactic.

I wish to firmly say that I appreciate you offering a list of things you have learned by being in many places and reading many things. I think it can be taken for granted that everyone has learned something from their lives, and that we have all changed our minds about things many times.

You say argument is about antagonism. I say argument is about compelling individuals to accept that others may feel passionate, even violently passionate, about what they believe. I say argument shakes people from their comfort zones by doing more than presenting an alternative, it demands that other person accept, perhaps FEARFULLY, that another alternative exists, very often when the person refuses to accept because the alternative is so very scary. I think as human beings, we fail where we believe that people are willing to accept things that are "presented properly" ... I have learned from experience that the more presentable you make something, the more easily it is ignored.

When you say "I don't change," regardless of the words that follow, I hear a voice that makes rules about what "fits" their power structure and what doesn't. You don't do this if that doesn't meet your approval. I'm not always concerned with meeting people's approval. I don't believe that facts and knowledge need to be concerned with first being approved of. I very often believe that facts and knowledge have to be hammered down people's throats because people are incredibly resistant to facts and knowledge. I don't accept that I need to participate in any rules of dialectic that are not my own. If my methods get results - and they do - I intend to go on employing them.

I don't think passion or calling out someone from their bunker, as I did with you, is anything to be embarrassed about. I'm not concerned with shame. I'm not concerned with making others feel shame. I'm concerned with facts and knowledge. You presented garbage in that post, and it was repeated by your echo chamber. I found that detestable. I said so. I'm proud to have said so.

I don't think you can begin to guess at my thought processes. I note that you don't state clearly that I'm wrong.

Your peculiar talent, Noisms, is spin. This is the most upfront thing I've ever seen you write. This is why I was happy to publish it.

I have tried to be as upfront and sincere with you as I possibly can be. This is me, respecting you.

noisms said...

Well, let's start with the simple things first: in the last 2 years I have run, I think 4 (it may be 5) different campaigns of various lengths, all of different rule sets and genres. I constantly entertain different ways of doing things. I'd say around half of my blog posts are me simply pontificating about something I'd like to try. The idea that I'd still be running the same campaign in 20 years' time is simply wrong, and my blog is clear evidence of that.

To get onto the meat of the matter, in my view the distinction between discussion and argument is very real. Of course, you are right in that merely polite exchanges of views are not always, or even often, productive. But I see discussion changing views all of the time. As an academic I go to a lot of conferences, and seeing somebody deliver a paper (i.e. with no argument whatsoever) very often forces me to reconsider my views, or consider something for the first time. Moreover, I think that the almost painfully polite atmosphere surrounding conference papers, Q&As and discussions over coffee actually forces engagement with alternative views: the fact that antagonism is frowned upon actually affects how you interact with information. You know that what is expected of you is that you will listen carefully to what is being said, and then offer a non-confrontational and thoughtful comment in light of that for the other to likewise listen carefully and reply to. The social expectation of polite discussion is extremely important in creating a mood in which there must be some level of mutual acceptance.

Conversely, in a free-flowing, confrontational argument over the dinner table with friends, or at a pub, or on the internet, there is no incentive to take on board the views of the other except insofar as you are looking for a way to score the next point. You listen because you want to identify a weakness you can pounce on. Your blood is up and you want to strike a killer blow that will force your opponent to back down. That is not conducive to changing your own views in the slightest, and instead it can simply harden them.

That is why, incidentally, I am not necessarily against the notion that discussion forums should be moderated. The problem with is that the moderation has a clear set of biases, and is no longer designed to create a healthy, polite atmosphere for discussion if it ever was. I contrast it with the comment threads on Econtalk, which are heavily moderated to keep conversation on-topic and remove abusive or insulting posts: it is one of the few genuinely sensible discussion forums on the web that I am aware of.

PS - I'm not particularly proud of getting involved in that Numenera debate on that lead to my banning; I suppose there is only so much rampant stupidity I can read before I blow a fuse.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I would like to suggest something.

"there is no incentive to take on board the views of the other except insofar as you are looking for a way to score the next point. You listen because you want to identify a weakness you can pounce on. Your blood is up and you want to strike a killer blow that will force your opponent to back down. That is not conducive to changing your own views in the slightest, and instead it can simply harden them."

I would appreciate if you, Noisms, could stop writing this sort of thing in the 2nd person. I deny that this is ever my intention. I think it is a failure not to write this as a series of 'I' statements, indicating clearly that you feel this way, but that you have no reason nor proof that everyone else you meet feels this way.

I disagree heartily with most of this last post regarding the discussion of ideas, but not enough to do more than state that it does not bear with my experience. At all.

I feel the clear set of biases the has adopted are brilliant, in that 2 seconds of an attempt to derail the subject matter is instantly dealt with. It was quite clear that Zak was being fed rope to hang himself with at the end of that thread, as he had clearly done several things that had already gotten other things banned. He seemed not to notice, nor care, that almost everyone he was arguing with the end were moderators, who were clearly choosing to let him break every rule possible to make a clear and distinct case for banning him forever.

Last point.

I have heard it said many, many times that you 'harden' someone's views by arguing with them. I'm not sure how this manifests. Yes, I see someone get angry, refusing to change their position, stonewalling and so on ... and to some degree, I recognize how that can appear to be a 'hardening.'

However, I don't win arguments at the table. I don't win arguments in the moment of arguments. I win six months later, when the supposedly hardened person has got me in his or her craw, and says to me, "You remember that argument we had six months ago that really pissed me off? I just couldn't stop thinking about it, and now six months later I think you were probably right."

It is incorrect to think of human beings as something that can be overwhelmed in a moment. Human beings must be insidiously impregnated with a thought they don't like, so that once they begin to experience the world with that thought in their head, they can begin to see how all that's around them corresponds to that thought ... enabling them to change their mind.

It's just not true that you harden people by unbalancing them. The 'harder' they seem to get, the more in fact they feel out of control - you have to learn to recongize that a person infuriated with you, who seems to be paying no attention to you, who is screaming epithets at you, is in fact someone who has already begun to recognize that he or she isn't right about everything.

It just takes a lot of time for them to admit it. That's why, even though person after person screams and badmouths this blog, they keep coming back to read it, even years later. Because I have something on them. I have already convinced them, and they are very uncomfortable with that.

I can't blame them. Changing your mind is a scary thing.

I'm in for the long haul, Noisms. Even with you. Because anyone can change, any time. I'm just wise enough to know it takes a lot of abuse to make them uncomfortable enough to want to change. And I am not worried about their temporary discomfort.

In the end, they'll be better off. I know this from experience.

noisms said...

I think our main difference is over terminology, because that example you cite (somebody coming around to your point of view 6 months later) is what I would put down to regular contact with somebody who you disagree with: what I earlier called "long association with people with differing views". I used to be very left-leaning when I was a teenager and young adult. A number of factors caused me to move to the right. But one of them was regularly sparring with a former workmate. When we argued I vehemently disagreed. Gradually I came around. But it wasn't because of the arguments. It was because gradually we became friends, and when you (the general 'you') are friends with somebody their opinions, hitherto objectionable, become reasonable because you can see the reasons why your friend thinks that way. Likewise, he changed his opinions through regular contact with me, and this was very noticeable to me. Our positions on a variety of things had changed over the course of the 3 years or so we had been working together. You (personally) might put this down to argument. I put it down to the manner in which you come to empathise with a friend over time.

Alexis Smolensk said...

"... is what I would put down to regular contact with somebody who you disagree with ...

No. That isn't what I said at all.

"... when you (the general 'you') are friends with somebody their opinions, hitherto objectionable, become reasonable because you can see the reasons why your friend thinks that way ..."

I don't believe this is universal.

This last comment was anecdotal. I don't think it demonstrates anything about argument.

This is where I say your have a tendency, Noisms, to rely on spin. To derail the conversation, and drive it into an experience you've had that can only possibly apply to you. This is why has established their new policy ... because it is necessary to keep the subject on track.

If we were at a bar, and you told this story, it would be interesting and I would have learned something about you. Then I would tell you a story about something that happened to me and some other person, and that would inform you about me. Then we could swap stories for hours about interactions we had had with various peoples in our lives, and how these interactions shaped our friendships and ultimately our thoughts.

But then it would only be about Noisms and Alexis. No one else. And it would really tell us nothing about "the general you."

The subject is, does argument change minds. Of course it does. Focusing on how it personally affects your mind, then extrapolating that ALL other minds are affected in the way that your mind is affected is spin. Some minds are, yes, affected like yours. But that is immaterial.

Please stay on topic, or like, I will boot you. I don't care if that seems biased, any more than cares if it seems biased.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I told you, Noisms, that further anecdotal or subjective opinion would not be printed. You've merely repeated what you said on your original blog piece, and I did not publish your comment of ten minutes ago. It was shite before, it is still shite now.

noisms said...

Never mind then. The irony of removing comments on a blog entry in which you claim to be happy to change your mind won't, I daresay, be lost on the reader.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Go through this entire blog post; and go through every one of my comments. And see if I ever make the claim that I am happy to change my mind because of someone else's opinion. Then deconstruct the arguments you have made above, and see if you ever make a proposition that is in any way backed by any evidence. Then, finally, question whether or not your assertion that you never change anyone's mind during an argument is because: A) they refuse to change their mind; or B) you only offer opinion and attempts to shame others into behavior that is preferred by you.

I invite everyone here to do likewise, and then answer the question, why is it that Noisms is unhappy with the results of argument?

Anonymous said...

Noisms said:{{
I don't change my mind through argument because argument is about antagonism, and "winning" becomes so important that actual thought disappears. In my experience, the heat of argument is more corrosive of agreement than anything. And believe me when I say that it is not how the justice system or "just about all scholarship" works: I'm not one to pull rank, but as somebody with a PhD in law I speak with at least a small amount of authority on those matters.}}

As someone who practices law, I will agree that heated argument does not lead efficiently to a desired result. The quick results come from soaping up the opposition and giving their ego a nice rubdown while insinuating that they've merely been distracted from a few relevant facts or missed a possibly apposite point of view.

However, when the opposition is entrenched, a head-bashing argument can leave the opponent with a nagging migraine of a thought that leads to a change in stance, without ever acknowledging one's contribution to the new point of view.