Pro-tips for Internet Discussion

Torin

Active member
#7. Only attribute behaviors/events/ideas to people you can either link/quote directly, or are otherwise reasonably present in the conversation.

It's pretty common to attribute a specific event to an entire demographic, such as a terrorist attack to a religion or ideology, or a legislative effort in one state to an entire political party. This is little more than an effort to insult everyone who identifies with that religion/ideology/political-party, and is a good way to get people to treat you personally with hostility or contempt - independent of whether you're making a valid point or not.
I like this one.

I'll admit I can be guilty of violating this rule, especially when it comes to the American Left. I'm strongly opposed to their policies, so it can be tempting to paint every single Leftist as a villain. Realistically, though, a lot of Leftists are probably decent people who want the best for America and just have (in my view) mistaken views about the means to achieve that. My mother comes to mind here.

That said, I have definitely seen Leftists paint all conservatives, libertarians, Objectivists, etc., as villains (in various places online). So I don't think I am very unique in having occasionally violated your Rule #7 above.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
I like this one.

I'll admit I can be guilty of violating this rule, especially when it comes to the American Left. I'm strongly opposed to their policies, so it can be tempting to paint every single Leftist as a villain. Realistically, though, a lot of Leftists are probably decent people who want the best for America and just have (in my view) mistaken views about the means to achieve that. My mother comes to mind here.

That said, I have definitely seen Leftists paint all conservatives, libertarians, Objectivists, etc., as villains (in various places online). So I don't think I am very unique in having occasionally violated your Rule #7 above.
I am very much guilty of having violated my own rule. I try to avoid such things, but fail more often than I should.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
I like this thread.

However, I'll point out that there's a certain demographic online (and especially in these forums) who reject the basic idea of civil discussion. Rules like the ones being enumerated here are great for the people who DO want to discuss things like religion and politics (etc), but they're a complete waste of time with everyone else.
 

Torin

Active member
I like this thread.

However, I'll point out that there's a certain demographic online (and especially in these forums) who reject the basic idea of civil discussion. Rules like the ones being enumerated here are great for the people who DO want to discuss things like religion and politics (etc), but they're a complete waste of time with everyone else.
Yeah... as I noted above, threads like this have at best limited value.
 

Mike McK

Well-known member
#1: Try to find and acknowledge something in your opponent's post that you agree with.

It shows that you are listening to what they are saying, and making a genuine effort to see things from their point of view, rather than just instantly dismissing everything they say. It will make your opponents feel that their views are being considered, making them more likely to respond reasonably in return, and will also better help you to recognize any flaws in your own position that you might otherwise have overlooked.

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So the point of this thread will be to collate more simple and uncontroversial advice of this sort. Feel free to add your own, or debate the merits of advice given. But I recommend following the above template, i.e. a short and simple statement of the advice, followed by a brief explanation for why it is a good idea. I'd also recommend trying to frame each one in a positive way (i.e. Do X, rather than Don't do Y). I'll try to add a new pro-tip each day until I have run out of constructive suggestions.
Do learn a little about the thing you're criticizing. For instance, don't say stupid things like "God sends people to Hell for not believing in Him" or "God wanted a human sacrifice". It only makes you look like a moron and makes the people you're talking not take you seriously.
 

Five Solas

Active member
Do learn a little about the thing you're criticizing. For instance, don't say stupid things like "God sends people to Hell for not believing in Him" or "God wanted a human sacrifice". It only makes you look like a moron and makes the people you're talking not take you seriously.
I agree, Mike. Allow me to piggyback: Wherever possible, and as a point from which to begin your criticism, quote widely-accepted, well-known primary source documentation produced by your opponents that defines their position.

Probably dovetails with one of the previous strawman entries as well.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
I like this thread.

However, I'll point out that there's a certain demographic online (and especially in these forums) who reject the basic idea of civil discussion. Rules like the ones being enumerated here are great for the people who DO want to discuss things like religion and politics (etc), but they're a complete waste of time with everyone else.
Sure, there are the known trolls who want nothing more than to disrupt conversation. But I think there are also many here who behave rather badly who do still want the same things from discussion that most of us do - to be heard and respected for our views and arguments, even if they are not always agreed with. That's why the reasons I've been giving in support of each pro-tip are not of the sort that doing such-and-such will lift up the forum and make it a better place for all. I'm trying to give purely self-interested reasons for why these tips will work out better FOR YOU, the person following them, in terms of getting more than mere abuse back in return.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
#8: Ask questions

Sincere, open questions. It can be tempting to ignore something your opponent says where the meaning or relevance is unclear, because you don't want to appear ignorant of their point. Better to ask for clarification though, as it could just as well be a gap in your understanding as theirs. People generally have reasons for what they say, and if you're not sure what they are saying or why, then it could be that you're missing out on something that could help you to strengthen your own argument. Asking for clarification first, before assuming their point is irrelevant or wrong, will also help you to avoid strawmanning, and will let your opponent know that you are genuinely interested in what they are trying to say, making them more likely to respond constructively in return.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
#9: Answer questions

Directly and honestly. Avoiding a question makes it look like you are unable to answer, meaning you will give the impression that your position is flawed - and worse, that you know it and are trying to avoid having to admit it. In the worst case, this is actually what is happening, and you are thereby holding on to a bad position instead of finding a way to change and improve it. In the best case, you only seem to be holding on to a bad position, but this still undermines your credibility to others which in turn will affect how others respond to you. There are some legitimate reasons for not being able to give a direct answer, such as if the question is loaded, misrepresents your position, would require personal information, would violate forum rules, or is not relevant to what you are trying to discuss. In such cases it is usually best to point this out rather than just ignore the question. The only other caveat is when dealing with a troll, in which case the ignore feature is your friend.
 

Torin

Active member
#10. Read the entire thread before responding to any post in it.

Nobody wants to have to make an argument in a post and have to address the exact same objection multiple times because their interlocutors could not be bothered to read the whole thread before responding. There is obviously a limit to this rule if the thread is unmanageably long, so use common sense in applying it.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
#11: Take your time to give a considered reply.

Sometimes with fast back and forth exchanges it is easy to give a knee-jerk response that misses something your opponent was getting at, assumes a less than charitable reading of what was said, or just comes across as more combative than was necessary. Especially with longer posts with multiple individual points, a really good strategy is to read the whole thing through, imagining what you'd want to say in response, and then leave without posting anything. Go do something else and then come back in a few hours and look at it again. Often what you'll be able to write after having taken time to think it over will be more reasonable and persuasive than what you would at first have posted.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
#12: Give reasons.

Both for your own claims and for points where you disagree with what someone else has said. Doing so will help you identify flaws or assumptions in your own reasoning before you post them, and will also give your opponents something to think about and respond to. By contrast, bare assertions or unreasoned gainsaying will likely be met with mere gainsaying or ad hominem responses in return. Give someone an argument to work through, and they can then focus on your reasoning instead of on you.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
#13: Address the argument.

Not the person. It shows that you have paid attention enough to understand what the other person has said, that you are reasonable enough to consider their reasoning, and that if you are still not convinced you actually have good reasons for your disagreement. Resorting to ad hominem comments and attacking the person will instead give the impression that you either have not been paying attention, don't really understand what is being said to you, or don't have the ability to address and respond to the argument that has been made.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
#14: Ignore the audience.

When in a discussion or debate, avoid the temptation to say things that serve only to score points for you with others already on your side. Instead imagine that the only people reading your posts will be your opponent and yourself. This way everything you say will be relevant to the person you are replying to, and your opponent will be less likely to feel ignored or insulted. You will find yourself paying more attention to what they are saying instead of focusing on how you can make yourself look good in the eyes of others, and you will therefore be less likely to misunderstand what is being said to you.
 

Torin

Active member
#15. Use proper grammar, punctuation, and capitalization.

It shows that you take what the other person has to say seriously and are putting some thought and effort into the conversation.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
#16: Stay on topic.

It is rude to hijack another's thread in order to bring up your own personal hobby horse, and others are likely to respond negatively as a result. It will also give the impression that you are unable to address the original topic. Far better to directly address the actual topic being discussed, and save your further thoughts for their own thread where they are more likely to be given the attention they deserve. If you really feel that your tangent is relevant then be sure to explain that relevance so you will not be misunderstood.
 

Furion

Well-known member
#1: Try to find and acknowledge something in your opponent's post that you agree with.

It shows that you are listening to what they are saying, and making a genuine effort to see things from their point of view, rather than just instantly dismissing everything they say. It will make your opponents feel that their views are being considered, making them more likely to respond reasonably in return, and will also better help you to recognize any flaws in your own position that you might otherwise have overlooked.

----------------------------------------------------------

So the point of this thread will be to collate more simple and uncontroversial advice of this sort. Feel free to add your own, or debate the merits of advice given. But I recommend following the above template, i.e. a short and simple statement of the advice, followed by a brief explanation for why it is a good idea. I'd also recommend trying to frame each one in a positive way (i.e. Do X, rather than Don't do Y). I'll try to add a new pro-tip each day until I have run out of constructive suggestions.
#42 Become a liberal atheist.

While this doesn't guarantee civil discourse, it will engender likes and agreement.
 

Furion

Well-known member
#1: Try to find and acknowledge something in your opponent's post that you agree with.

It shows that you are listening to what they are saying, and making a genuine effort to see things from their point of view, rather than just instantly dismissing everything they say. It will make your opponents feel that their views are being considered, making them more likely to respond reasonably in return, and will also better help you to recognize any flaws in your own position that you might otherwise have overlooked.

----------------------------------------------------------

So the point of this thread will be to collate more simple and uncontroversial advice of this sort. Feel free to add your own, or debate the merits of advice given. But I recommend following the above template, i.e. a short and simple statement of the advice, followed by a brief explanation for why it is a good idea. I'd also recommend trying to frame each one in a positive way (i.e. Do X, rather than Don't do Y). I'll try to add a new pro-tip each day until I have run out of constructive suggestions.
I acknowledge there are some people who are atheists.

I acknowledge they believe they've not had any contact with God.

I acknowledge they can only speak for themselves.

I acknowledge they know not God.
 

Torin

Active member
@Nouveau,

As much as I like this thread, I think your compilation runs afoul of what Ayn Rand called the "crow epistemology" and psychologists later came to refer to as Miller's law. A human mind can only hold a handful of units in conscious focus at one time - for an average person, that limit might be seven or eight, and for a genius it might be ten or maybe a little higher. Beyond that limit, stuff drops out of awareness.

A list of 16 points is undoubtedly impossible for anyone to retain and use without some substantial integration and simplification. If our goal is to help people have more productive discussions here, I do not think this is ideal.
 
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