I find it interesting what kind of beliefs one needs to question and in which ways in order to get people angry/upset/touchy.

Or, to put it in more popular terms, what kind of arguments make you seem like a smart-ass when arguing with someone.

For example, reading Eliezer yudkowsky's Rationality from AI to Zombies, I found myself generally speaking liking the writing style and to a karge extent the book was just reinforcing the biases I already had. Other then some of his poorly thought out metaphysics based on which he bases his ethics argument... I honestly can't think of a single thing from that book I disagree with. Same goes for Inadequate Equilibria.

Yet, I can remember a certain feeling popping up in my head fairly often when reading it, one that can be best described in an image: https://i.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/facebook/000/021/665/DpQ9YJl.jpg

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One seeming pattern for this is something like:

  • Arguing about a specific belief
  • Going a level down and challenging a pillar of the opponent's belief that was not being considered as part of the discussion.

E.g: "Arguing about whether or not climate change is a threat, going one level down and arguing that there's not enough proof climate change is happening to being with"

You can make this pattern even more annoying by doing something like:

  • Arguing about a specific belief
  • Going a level down and challenging a pillar of the opponent's belief that was not being considered as part of the discussion.
  • Not entertaining an opposite argument about one of your own pillars being shaky.

E.g.: After the previous climate change argument, not entertaining the idea that "Maybe acting upon climate change as if it were real and as if it were a threat, would actually result in positive consequences even if those two things were unture"

You can make this pattern even more annoying by doing something like:

  • Arguing about a specific belief
  • Going a level down and challenging a pillar of the opponent's belief that was not being considered as part of the discussion.
  • Doing so with some evidence that the other party is unaware or cannot understand

E.g.: After the previous climate change argument, back up your point about climate change not being real by citing various studies that would take hours to fact check and might be out of reach knowledge-wise for either of you.

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I think there's other things that come into account.

For example there's some specific fields which are considered more sacrosanct then others, trying to argue against a standard position in that field as part of your argument seems to much more easily put you into the "smartass" camp.

For example, arguing against commonly held religious or medical knowledge, seems to be almost impossible, unless you are taking an already-approved side of the debate.

E.g. You can argue ibuprofen against paracetamol as the go to for common cold since there's authoritative claims for each, you can't argue for a 3rd lesser backed NSAID or for using corticosteroids or no treatment instead of NSAIDs.

Other fields such as ethics or physics or computer science seem to be fair game and nobody really minds people trying to argue for an unsanctioned viewpoint.

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There's obviously the idea of politics being overall bad, and the more politicized a certain subject is the less you can change people's minds about it.

But to some extent I don't feel like politics really comes into play.

It seems that people are fairly open to having their minds changed about economic policy but not about identity policy.... no matter which side of the spectrum you are on. Which seem counter intuitive, since the issue of "should countries have open borders and free healthcare" seems like one much more deeply embedded in existing political agendas and of much more import than "What gender should transgender people be counted in when participating in the olympics".

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One interesting thing that I observed: I've personally been able to annoy a lot of people when talking with them online. However, IRL, in the last 4 years or so (since I actually begun explicitly learning how to communicate), I can't think of a single person that I've offended.

Even though I'm more verbose when I talk. Even though the ideas I talk about over coffee are usually much more niche and questionable in their verity then the ones I write about online.

I wonder if there's some sort of "magic oratory skill" I've come closer to attaining IRL that either can't be attained on the internet or is very different... granted, it's more likely it's the inherent bias of the people I'm usually discussing with.

George's Shortform

by George 25th Oct 201965 comments