Remember the last time you got into an argument.
Remember how, when you felt personally attacked, you might adopt a more and more extreme position for the sake of making a point?
Maybe you even exaggerated the other person’s position to make it look silly.
One of my buddies and I do this all the time. We are both very similar people IRL. We both have two children, we each own a marketing company, and we devote a tremendous amount of time to our church.
However, on certain topics – like politics, economic theory, and art – we used to get into it.
We’d argue back and forth, taking more extreme positions for ourselves while painting the others’ view as more and more extreme – until we actually got mad and quit talking about it.
Not very productive conversation.
The Straw Man Fallacy And Debate
In debate, one of the techniques used to score a point is to frame the opposing view in extreme terms, then destroy the opposing “argument.”
“The NRA thinks that anyone should be able to carry any weapon. Can you imagine a hillbilly with a nuke?”
“Liberals say guns should be outlawed everywhere – the second amendment is under attack!”
Both positions are equally silly. And the truth is that the vast majority of people – no matter their stance on gun regulation – wouldn’t agree with either extreme.
Both extremes are straw man arguments. So easy to prove wrong that any decent fact or statement blows them away – like straw men in a strong wind.
This is a very common but underhanded technique used by politicians (professional debaters), media sources (to get clicks), and other interested parties to impact public opinion.
2017 Political Environment In The US
Many articles discuss the fact that the political landscape in the US is growing more and more extreme – both left and right.
Most of the explanations for this boil down to this –
US citizens are becoming increasingly insulated from points of view outside their own by social media and custom-made search results that predict their political affiliation and display results that align with their views.
This does have some bearing on the issue.
Media sources have become very good at writing headlines that capture attention and get clicks.
They get paid for clicks, after all.
Sensational headlines are the order of the day. Whatever riles anger or sparks outrage will work.
All the better if the search results are tailor-made to the very person most likely to click the article.
But, that’s not the whole story – at least not in 2017.
What if, on each side of a debate, there was a third, unseen influence that intentionally adopted straw man positions on both sides?
This would make each side look utterly ridiculous to the other, while each side is pulled further and further from a reasonable position.
Huh. That’s exactly what’s been happening.
No Matter Your Politics, Russia Tried To Brainwash You…
(And it probably worked)
Facebook executives have now confirmed that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent by Russian spies to form groups and promote memes that spread disinformation on both sides of the American political debate.
Some of these groups had hundreds of thousands of followers. Very likely, if you logged onto Facebook in this past 2 years, you or your friends have seen, shared or “liked” memes created by Russian spies.
The purpose of these memes was not to forward reasonable, educated information. The purpose was to fracture the American population.
Russia wants to become a super power again. By creating introversion and division, Russia can reduce American effectiveness abroad and within – without ever dropping a bomb.
By making Americans distrustful of each other and the rest of the world, Russia can more easily influence politics on the world stage.
The Online Environment & Outrage Porn
How is it that Americans could be persuaded to literally take information from foreign spies, happily pass it on to their friends and in some cases, act on it?
This isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing, or even an American thing. It’s a human thing.
On Being Human
As humans, we survive by being right in our opinions and actions.
Long ago – like a really, really long time ago – we were rewarded for correct observation and analysis by finding really, really important things – like food and sex.
If we could correctly identify that a food wasn’t poisonous, we ate better.
If we correctly estimated our own strength and were aggressive at the right time with our competitors, we got laid.
So we’re wired to get a little “happy jolt” for being right, as it’s directly tied to our survival.
We also get a jolt from being angry.
If we can get a jolt from being right about being angry, it’s as good as eating a meatball sub while having sex.
Online, we’re in a very similar environment as and behave in a similar way to our long ago ancestors who foraged for survival.
Instead of foraging underbrush for food, we’re foraging hundreds of pictures and memes for things that give us a jolt – things that affirm our rightness or make us angry.
It’s the exact same jolt because we’re hardwired to be rewarded for finding things.
We no longer get that jolt for finding food. It’s too easy. So we look elsewhere – like the internet – to get that jolt.
As modern humans, we’re like dogs trapped in our owner’s apartments all day, unable to fulfill our “natural behaviors.” So we tear apart our couch, piss on the floor and bark all day at random strangers.
Let’s stop being rubes. Screw Russia.
Russian spies, even hot ones, are bad. James Bond taught me that 4 decades ago.
Let’s all take a little pact between us to do the following 3 easy steps:
1. Ignore outrage porn.
Anything that starts, “You won’t believe it when….” or “Americans outraged by….” or “[group of people] are…” gets ignored.
It ain’t true, or if it is totally 100% true – there’s a better truth to find.
2. Ignore name calling tactics.
No more name calling. You’re not a snowflake. Neither am I.
Nor am I or anyone else a libtard or a moron or whatever the hell else.
Calling a person or a group a name accomplishes nothing and doesn’t make a point. It’s an “ad hominem,” which is flawed thinking.
Ignore any article that resorts to ad hominems, and ignore people that resort to them.
It’s just monkeys throwing poop at each other.
3. Learn the difference between opinion and fact.
There is such a thing as truth. The best truths are creative and constructive. Let’s find those and share them and have meaningful conversations.
4. Get a new freaking hobby.
Let’s get those jolts for finding stuff somewhere else rather than from the news.
Personally, I like letter boxing, shooting guns, writing, mushroom hunting, RC cars and watching Rick and Morty.
I dunno man. Whatever you’re into. You do you.
Thank You For Arguing by Jay Heinrichs opened my eyes to the use of rhetoric and the value of skillful debate.
Ryan Holiday coined the very descriptive term, “outrage porn.”
L. Ron Hubbard discovered the Third Party Law which states,
“While it is commonly believed to take two to make a fight, a third party must exist and must develop it for actual conflict to occur.”