It’s easy to get caught up in an internet argument. There’s that cartoon of a woman telling her husband “honey, it’s late, come to bed” and he replies “not yet–somebody is wrong on the internet!” So by all means enjoy the debate, as I do, but for god’s sake use some critical thinking skills, people.
Critical thinking is not about criticizing the other person, and it is not about looking for cracks in the other person’s argument. It is about studying a question from all sides, and remembering the parable of the blind men describing an elephant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant
Too often I run into people whose sole mode of thinking is to try to shoot down and dismiss the other person, without actually considering what they said. Ask yourself “why does that person think the way they do–could they be right about some aspect of what they’re saying, or does it make sense if you look at it from their perspective?” Look for the intention behind the words, and try to piece together a larger picture of what is being discussed. It does not help your position at all if you just sit there and shoot at things you don’t understand.
Furthermore, what is the benefit of sniping at the other person anyway? Honestly, this is a mistake I make sometimes. When you put someone down, you will never convince them they are wrong that way, and you also will never convince anyone else that you are right. It just makes you look like an asshole. Seriously, if you don’t have a constructive response for them, then stop typing. There is no point in continuing a discussion if the people involved do not come to an agreement or mutual understanding of each others’ positions. Another way-too-common asshole move is when a person tries to cut down the other guy by aggressively picking at superficial details while ignoring the substance, the meaning of their message. Speaking of which…
Let’s talk about logical fallacies. For those of you who are not familiar with this concept, here is an article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_fallacies The basic premise is that there are some very, very common ways that people try to “win” arguments, that are not valid because they do not stand up to logical inspection. Whenever you are about to post a comment “at” someone, stop and ask yourself whether your response fits one of the descriptions of a logical fallacy. On the other hand, do not assume that just because you disagree with someone, they are committing a logical fallacy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone yell “logical fallacy” when in fact they were just -again- picking at some minor detail, and committing a fallacy of their own.
I’ll have to add considerably to this post over time, but I needed to get some part of it out now. In essence, just because you think something does not make it a universal truth, so don’t act like it is one when debating with other people.