Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Your Guide to Terrible Goodreads Comments

So, you'd like to write a terrible comment on Goodreads. Well, you're in luck! For years, I have been a contentious critic on that very site, and have written some its the most popularly unpopular reviews. I have received comments so terrible, so nonsensical, so patently self-loathing, so incoherent that they were most likely written by a super-intelligent dog who escaped from a science lab and has decided to take his revenge on humanity for making him the only creature trapped in the throes of an existential crisis despite the fact that he can reach his own groin with his tongue. 

At least for the rest of us, we can imagine that there is some wonderful thing that, if we were capable of it, would erase all self-doubt and disappointment--only he is cursed with the awareness that, despite having experienced the ultimate act of narcissistic pleasure, the hollow feeling remains. I have also received much worse comments, which could only have been the result of concentrated, multilayered human stupidity, but those are the rare ones--the vast majority of bad comments are made up of some combination of the following list.

All you need do is peruse the list, combine two to five of the techniques presented, and you will be certain to have a comment which could hardly be made much worse; I mean, you could try to include all the bad techniques, but that smacks of a try-hard--exactly the sort of fellow you're trying to take down a peg. The best part is, all of these techniques are equally applicable to any review or comment, since they don't actually have anything to do with the ideas presented or the arguments made, so be free in the knowledge that there is no lower limit to just how stupid or inconsequential a comment can be. After all, the best (worst) comment is the one that could be posted under any review, any youtube video, any blog post, and remain equally (ir)relevant.



LET'S START OFF WITH THE BASICS

You can hardly go wrong with these tried and true classics, which is why you will find them, in some form or another, in almost every terrible comment out there.

1. Ad Hominem: That's fancy debate talk for insulting people to try to damage their credibility. So, if they're writing about the portrayal of sex in a book, say 'how would you know, you've never even had sex' (don't add a question mark, you wouldn't want to make it seem like you're inviting them to answer). Whether or not it's true makes no difference, nor does it matter that there's no possible way to confirm the accusation. Really, that just makes it sweeter. But we don't have to stop there . . .

2. Schoolyard Insults: This is sub-ad hominem--a personal attack that has nothing to do with the topic at hand, just blindly flinging mud. Like calling someone a virgin in response to their review of a fantasy novel, despite the fact that virgins often have in-depth knowledge of fantasy universes. This is your bread and butter.

3. Call them 'Pretentious' and 'Arrogant': It will be especially bothersome to them because you'll be doing this in the middle of a comment where you tell them how to think and read, which is the very definition of pretentious arrogance--but as long as you say it first, then you win.


ADVANCED TECHNIQUES

These are a little more complex, but the benefit is that they make it appear to the casual observer as if you're actually trying to discuss things, which lends you false credibility.

4. 'Opinions are Subjective': This one always sounds nice, and it's a great way for you to ignore any counterarguments or contradictions in your own posts. The best part is, it's obviously true, because if the matter at hand were objective--like the acceleration rate of gravity on Earth--it wouldn't be up for discussion. The only things people can differ in opinion about are subjective matters. No matter what evidence or arguments the other person makes, just keep reminding them that it's all subjective, and there's no point to discussing it (then keep arguing back).

5. 'Everyone's Entitled to their Opinion': This also sounds great, and that's because it's what we call a 'thought-terminating cliche'--a meaningless phrase designed to stop people from thinking, like 'agree to disagree' or 'god works in mysterious ways'. It doesn't matter that you're specifically contradicting what the other person has said, demonstrating that, in fact, you don't think they are entitled to their opinion--indeed, that only makes it better.

6. Always Take Jokes Seriously: If a person makes a joke in a review (or in a comment), make sure you take it seriously and argue against it as if it were just a straightforward statement, no matter how clear it is that it was a joke.


NO ARGUMENT? NO PROBLEM!

Trying to make your own counterargument is dangerous, because then people can contradict your points and show how your own statements don't make sense. This means that the person you are intending to annoy will be able to feel that they are doing well and that you are an idiot, which is not what you want. So, you need to present things that look like arguments, but which are actually generically meaningless.

7. Response to Tone: This is a great way to start, because it has nothing to do with what the person has said--you don't even have to be capable of comprehending their points to make this rebuttal. Basically, all you do is say that they sound angry or full of themselves, or that they're being flippant, or that they 'come off as pretentious'--basically anything about how you think they sound. Now, a rookie mistake is to try to explain why you think they come across this way. Do not do this, it only gives them fodder to counterargue and demonstrate that you're wrong.

8. 'It's Not Worth My Time to Explain': This one's easy, all you do is pretend that you have a really great counterargument to refute everything they say, but that you're too busy to actually say what it is. The drawback of this claim is that, if you intend to keep making comments for weeks and months afterwards, it will become clear that you actually do have the time, so you have to move on to Number 9.

9. 'I Already Made My Argument': Just keep implying this--though be careful not to reference any particular post, because that would gives them fuel for their response. The more responses you have over a long period of time, the easier it will be too keep making this claim.

10. 'I Know You're Wrong, I Just Don't Know Why': It's important to keep reiterating this throughout the whole exchange. Like most of these, it's very frustrating because it doesn't give your opponent anything to latch onto.

11. 'You're Too Stupid to Understand Me': This one's very popular amongst the rage-filled manchildren of Reddit, who refer to it as 'The Dunning-Kruger Effect' because it sounds more official. However, you must make sure never to actually put forth your own argument, as this will give them a chance to respond to it and prove that, in fact, they do understand it. It's really better not to actually have an argument at all, though the following techniques will help you to maintain the illusion that you do:


PRETEND TO DEFEND

All of these examples resemble argumentative defense, but actually, they are just cleverly-disguised distractions designed to lend you a false sense of authority. They are all taken from common fallacious argumentative techniques.

12. 'Lots of People Like It': This is also known as The Bandwagon Fallacy, and the point is to make it seem like you aren't alone, but are arguing on the behalf of a huge group of supporters. Never mind the fact that incredibly stupid things like Transformers 2, Twilight, Miley Cyrus, and Medieval bloodletting have also been popular in the past, just use this whenever you feel a bit hopeless and need a boost.

13. 'It Won Lots of Awards': Now, we may know that award committees are messy, political entities that must serve their own interests and usually pick generic, middle-of-the-road works, completely missing everything revolutionary and important, but that doesn't matter, because there are still a lot of people who let awards to dictate their opinions, so it will tend to make you seem more credible. This is a type of Argument From Authority, as are the next two.

14. 'Notable Critics Like It': This 'Appeal To Authority' has the added benefit of implying that there is some real, solid argument behind the world of the book. You can even make this claim about one book if the critic liked another book by the same author. However, I wouldn't suggest you actually try to paraphrase or quote the critic's arguments because, again, that just gives your chosen nemesis something to latch onto and argue against--plus the critic might just be talking out of his ass, as many critics enjoy doing.

15. 'I Would Know, I'm a Teacher/Writer, Myself': This type of 'appeal to authority' is extra awesome, because it's your own authority. Since this is the internet, you can claim to be whatever kind of expert you want, and no one can prove that you aren't. It's much safer to simply make this claim and insist people take your word for it rather than try to construct the sort of argument that an actual teacher or author would know how to make.

16. 'It's Better Than Other, Terrible Books': This one's good because it makes you seem like you have taste, and it implies that the reviewer is being harsh for not taking into consideration the fact that, compared to utter shit, the book doesn't seem so bad.


REVIEW-SPECIFIC COMMENTS

While the previous techniques could be modified for use on almost any forum or subject, these ones are more specific to book review sites.

17. 'This Review's Too Long/It's Longer Than the Book': This is a joke that could not possibly be less funny, no matter how often it gets made. The very idea that a three page review is longer than a 300-page novel is the perfect use of hyperbole--and as we know, hyperbole is always intrinsically funny, like when your friend walks in his favorite hat again and you rib him with 'Why, my good fellow, you're wearing twenty hats right now!' Classic. But really, you want to save this for books that are closer to 600 pages, like big fantasy doorstops, because the disparity will make it even richer.

18. 'I Bet You Couldn't Even Write a Book': This one really gets to the heart of the matter: if they know so much about writing, why don't they write a better book, themselves? It's like how a basketball coach has to be able to guard Kobe Bryant, himself, in order to be able to coach a team, or how a composer has to be able to play every instrument in the orchestra better than the musicians. It's just common sense.
19: 'Read It Again, But This Time, Like It': Most of the time, we know the real problem is that readers just don't give books a chance. The whole reason they spend money buying books then reading for hours and days is because they can't stand them. So, always tell them that they need to give it another chance--and if they do, and still don't like it, then another chance after that, and another, until it sticks.

20. 'Where are the Textual Examples/Plot Summary?': Now, a lot of these reviewers are going to concentrate on things like tone and structure and ideas, and they don't always provide textual citations for their arguments. So, it's important to demand that they do, in order to prove themselves. However, never offer to provide any yourself, because that's tantamount to admitting defeat. He needs to cite the text to defeat you, whereas your comments can stand on their own. You also may want to insist that they add a plot summary to their review, like a middle school book report.


GENRE BOOKS

There are also a few comments you can make which are specific to genre books, like fantasy and sci fi.

21. 'You Don't Even Like This Genre': This will be especially effective if they have read a lot of books in the genre, and rated many of them highly, but happen to have rated a few books that you like with one or two stars. Tell them this is clearly not the genre for them, that they don't understand it, and that they should go read something else (usually a book you were forced to read in school and didn't like, such as Moby Dick or Ulysses).

22. 'You Need to Get to the Fifth Book': Just keep claiming that--despite the fact that they're already read 800 pages and didn't like it--they really need at least 4,000 more to understand it and, if they do, it will retroactively make the first book well-written. Also make sure that the majority of your arguments come from later books--or better yet, statements by the author from interviews that don't actually appear in any of the books, so that they can't refute any of it.


INTERNET CLASSICS

Not all internet cliches work equally well on book reviews, but the following can still be effective.

23. 'I'm Trolling You!': Pull this out any time things don't go your way. It doesn't matter that it isn't what trolling means, or that a troll would never say that they were trolling someone, as it would defeat the whole point, or that if the troll was actually pulling it off, it would already be obvious--just keep insisting that they have 'fallen into your trap', but don't specify what that might mean.

24. 'You're a Troll!' Again, it doesn't matter that this has nothing to do with what 'trolling' actually involves, and don't bother to try to make any specific argument about what would make them a troll, since a response to tone, as discussed above, is all you really need to back this up.

25. CAPSLOCK: This will make it seem like you are yelling, which is very intimidating.

26. Nazis!: Just make an analogy to Nazis, it can be anything. Say their attempt to 'shut you down' is exactly what the Nazis did to the Jews. Say their review will indoctrinate people 'like the Hitler youth', whatever you can scrounge up. The greatest benefit to a Nazi analogy is that is will instantly make the discussion so emotionally charged that it will be impossible for anyone to make a rational point, which is precisely what you want. The fact that talking about books on the internet has nothing in common with mass genocide will only make them more exasperated.

27. Just Link to Something: Preferably a wikipedia page, or a definition of a word. Do not explain what about this link is supposed to be important. Do not use it to construct an argument. Do not use it like a footnote to some otherwise minor detail in your argument. Just link to it with no explanation, or maybe say 'this is what I mean', or something equally vague, and then keep referring obliquely to the link in all subsequent comments.

28. 'Stop Quoting Me!': If the person starts trying to quote what you've written, or an article you linked to, just keep saying they don't understand, and that they are taking it out of context. Don't get caught up in trying to explain the context or telling them what you actually meant, just insist that they are being disingenuous and twisting your words.

29. Pick and Choose: So, they've written a long, involved response where they refute your points, pinpoint your errors, and assert that nothing you've said is actually relevant to the discussion--don't worry. Find one specific point, or joke, or offhand comment--it's usually best if you take it out of context--and respond only to that. Ignore everything else they've written, act like none of it exists, and then restate the same points they just refuted, as if they were still valid and unchallenged. 


TAKING DOWN THE SMARTIES

Now, it's alright to attack people who can't defend themselves, but to really get your juices flowing, you have to go after someone who really takes themselves seriously, preferably someone who reminds you of a certain authority figure from your youth whom you still hold a grudge against--probably someone who knows how to use the word 'whom'. There are a number of techniques we can use on them.

30. Spelling and Grammar: If you can't find any holes in their arguments, just start pointing out minor errors, and imply that these errors mean that their arguments are equally flawed. It doesn't matter that everyone (including you--especially you) makes these errors, you just want to concentrate on every negative thing, because they probably aren't going to throw you a lot of easy opportunities. Bring it up in later comments, try to characterize them with it.

31. Big Words: Always complain if they use any SAT words, or specific terms. Call them elitist, talk about the ivory tower and high horses. Say they're deliberately trying to confuse things. It doesn't matter that you're sitting at the most powerful research machine in the history of humanity and could look it up in an instant--always pretend not to know how dictionaries work.

32. 'You Think Too Much': Tell them that the only reason they didn't like the book is because they thought too much about it, and that it's really a very good book if you don't think about how crap it is.

33. 'That's a Lot of Effort for Something You Hate': Now, we all know very well that the top reviewers on GR are people with English degrees who think that writing a twenty-page paper with an eight-page bibliography is a fun way to spend a lazy afternoon. This means that generally, they're going to write more than a few sentences of response. Hence, it's important to paint them as being extremely invested in what they're doing, and suggesting that it must take them a huge amount of time to write their reviews and responses, even though they can probably knock out a couple of pages in fifteen minutes' time.

34. 'Why Are You Still Talking About It?' Always imply that they must be stupid to review a book that they didn't like, or to respond to comments on their own reviews. Pretend that, instead of you coming to their review and starting a discussion, they are the ones who wanted to discuss it with you.


ASSIGN THEM MALICIOUS INTENTIONS

It's very important to paint them as bad people--not only so they look worse to others, but so you can feel better about yourself and ensure that you feel like the good guy.

35. 'You Just Hate Everything': Constantly imply that they hate fun, and that they're trying to seem cool by being negative. Ignore the fact that they might have dozens or hundreds of four- or five-star reviews--only concentrate on the one or two books they didn't like (but that you love).

36. 'I Feel Sorry For You': If you can establish that you pity them, it means you can think of yourself as a nice person who is just trying to help, and it also means you're just a better person than they are. Tell them how sad you are that they can't experience the joy you feel every time you read this book, and that their life must be very unpleasant if they lack such simple pleasures. Again, ignore the hundreds of books they do like.

37. 'You're Just Too Young/Old': Tell them they just can't understand. Never say what it is they don't understand, or why, just imply deficiency. Tell them you 'hope they grow out of it' or that if they remembered what it was like to be a child, or had children themselves, they would understand instinctively. Even if they're the same age as you, just talk about how 'you used to feel the same way' to suggest that you are more mature.

38. 'Faux-Intellectual': Just say this a lot.

39. Make Them the Personal Villain of Your Life: Just pretend that this unknown person living thousands of miles away is the Seventh Grade teacher who failed you in English, or the classmate in Creative Writing 101 who made fun of your self-insert furry fanfic during group critique. Then go further: say they are just like Bill O'Reilly, or 'You're the reason I hated grad school!' Don't simply equate them with your personal insecurity, whatever that may be, literally state that they are that entity which has plagued your life and made you feel so insecure. They are the 'evil big time critic holding down the small outsider artist' and the 'insignificant critic trying to puff themselves up by attacking the established artist'--that's right, both of them, at once!

40. 'Only a Woman Could Have Written This': Or a liberal, or a feminazi, or a socialist, whatever. It doesn't matter that you have no idea who this person is, just make an assumption. It's the flip side to claiming that you're an authority because on the internet, no one can prove you're not: pretend that they are not an authority because they can't prove they are--and also pretend that authority actually matters. A slightly fancier version of ad hominem.


THEY'RE ON TO YOU! TIME TO FIGHT BACK

Now, you don't want them to be able to get a hold of you, so you're going to have to use a lot of different techniques to try to shift focus away from yourself, and onto some good old-fashioned drama.

41. 'I Know You Are, But What Am I?': So, it looks like they just got in a pretty good zinger on you. Time for damage control. Just claim that whatever witty thing they just said, really it applies to them, not you. The best response to give is always 'You saying that is the definition of irony', because only the smartest of people use the word 'irony'. Do not try to point out how or why it applies to them, or you might catch yourself up. As usual, it's best to just make a blanket implication and leave it at that.

42. 'The Last Word': Any time the conversation isn't going too well, and you need to bail, make sure to talk about them 'needing to get the last word'--despite the fact that you started the conversation and you've been responding every time, just like they have (because that's how a discussion works), insist that the only reason they are still going is because of 'the last word'. However, don't ever say this by itself, or they will let you have it. First make some new point or argument and then complain about 'the last word', so they either have to respond to what you've said, and prove you right, or not respond to it, thus giving you the last word.

43. 'Don't Bother Responding': The pre-emptive last word is always a great dick move: make your comment, demonstrating that you think it's of vital importance that everyone hear what you have to say, and then tell them not to respond--and that if they do, you won't read it, because you don't want to get into it. This lets them know that you think you are important, but no one else is, and if you do respond, it's only out of the kindness of your heart at their wrongheaded misunderstanding.

44. 'I Won't Be Commenting Again!': Really, you should use this on every post. Just make it clear that the whole conversation is so pointless and off-track that it's not worth your time, and you're going to take your ball and go home--but don't actually stop responding. If you want to mix it up, go silent for a week or a few months, and then start responding again as if nothing had happened.


SO YOU'VE MADE YOUR COMMENT, NOW WHAT?

These are meta-tricks that you can use to derail a conversation and make it nonsensical, so that all the time both you and the other commentator have already spent will be completely worthless.

45. Edit Your Comments: Do this weeks, months, or years later to change what you said. It doesn't matter that the date a comment was posted and the date it was edited are clearly visible on every post, nor that it makes you seem incoherent and nonsensical, nor that the other posters have already quoted you, so that it's perfectly clear what you said. Just turn it into a complete mess where no comment seems to bear a relationship to any other. It's also a great way to retract anything you said earlier to pretend it didn't exist, especially if you've already been proven wrong and made to look foolish.

46. Delete Your Comments: Hopefully your nemesis hasn't specifically quoted you in his posts, but even if he has, deleting all your comments is a great way to make the thread nonsensical and to take back anything you said that you now regret. Then, after you remove your comments, start making new posts where you claim that you made excellent arguments before, but then deleted them (for some reason).

47. Cheerleading: If you're starting to lose confidence, here's a simple trick: find another comment by a person who doesn't like the review, and quote them. Don't just pop in to support them briefly, don't expand upon the discussion, don't analyze the points, don't add any thoughts of your own, just pick a side and start cheering--pretend the argument's already been won, laugh at the misguidedness of anyone still arguing against your chosen champion, and whatever happens, don't stop. If you just keep patting each other on the back, there's no force in the world that can stop you.

48. Sock Puppets: If you can't find any actual other people who support you, just start making fake accounts and having them agree with you. Hopefully this will make your subject feel like he is outnumbered, and he will beat a hasty retreat.

49. Start a New Thread, Somewhere Else: Find a different forum and then start posting about your conversation there, and use that to try to get other people on your side to help you feel better about yourself, or to anger other people by repeating the same argument and techniques as the original thread. Every time the tide turns against you, move to a different site and start over.


CONCLUSION

Now, you might be tempted to search out and research real argumentative strategies, like this one, and then use those techniques to actually try to make a genuine argument and refute the central point of the other person, destroying the whole basis for what they have said. I would not suggest this, as it requires actually thinking and paying attention. It also requires that you be self-searching enough to analyze and admit to your own errors, so that you can correct them--and clearly, if that's the sort of person you are, then you have no need for this guide.

No, I would suggest that you never go any higher than simple contradiction, where you tell the other person that they are wrong and give no other explanation or detail for them to use against you. Otherwise you risk getting caught up in some kind of actual debate, which is not going to end well for you. Of course, deliberately abandoning the real methods of discourse requires that you be self-aware enough to admit that you are too stupid to actually use them properly, which is already a contradiction. Yet my final piece of advice, and perhaps the most important, is that, in your own best interest, you do everything in your power to avoid ever saying something that is worth saying, because that will always come back and bite you in the end.

Next up, we'll have Part II: The Responses, because once we can predict what the worst comments will look like, we can begin to formulate refutations of them.

18 comments:

  1. Let's not forget the classic comment,
    "What if it was the author's intention?"
    That's a real keeper, because it lets the commenter make poor decisions seem like revolutionary ideas.

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  2. Very entertaining list! In the spirit of terrible comments, I've got an off-topic one for you: One of the links for #13 mentioned Thomas Pynchon, and I was wondering if you've ever given his books any looks, and what you thought of them/it?

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    1. I have copies of V and Lot 49 lying around, but I haven't gotten to them yet.

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    2. V. is a funny one, I occaisionally found it hard to keep track of who was doing what when because it jumps across place and time so often, but that's just part of the book's sporadic charm, kind of like Finnegans Wake. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you ever got around to reading it.

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  3. I see the Game of Thrones review thread taught you a lot. It's a beautiful place. I hope they won't delete their comments. You need to learn from the best and the worst.

    Does appeal to authroity works when referring to you specifically? Just asking.

    I'm surrounded by people who were at the top of the class, yet often make these mistakes. My friends are living proof of how weak the education system is. Being great at solving mathematic puzzles means nothing when they keep making these fallacies over and over and over.

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    1. Heh, it wasn't just Game of Thrones--though you will find pretty much every example in that comment thread, the same could be said of my reviews of The Road, or The Giver, or to a lesser extent dozens of other reviews.

      As for Appeal to Authority, it's always a pitfall we should be wary of. We must remember that no matter how experienced an authority might be, they can still be wrong, they can still make mistakes. Even quoting Stephen Hawking about black holes is still an Appeal to Authority--after all, he's human, and he's made mistakes like the rest of us.

      But yeah, it's unfortunate that people aren't taught rhetoric and critical thinking as a matter of course--no matter how intelligent a person may be, no matter how knowledgeable in their area of expertise, without those basic skills, anyone is going to fall to making errors and unfounded assumptions.

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    2. The appeal to authority was a little joke.

      The school system doesn't teach these skills. This is the biggest flaw in that system. The result is rampant anti-intellectualism. Thinking is frowned upon. People tell me I'm 'overanalyzing' because I can explain why John Woo did action scenes better than any Avengers film. If something is good, then thinking about it won't change the quality. It'd just make us understand why.

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    3. "Even quoting Stephen Hawking about black holes is still an Appeal to Authority"

      I don't know if this is a good example of this. Appealing to authority is only fallacious when the person is not a legitimate authority in a particular context.

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    4. Maybe I jumped the gun a bit. I don't know if you were saying that by using authority in an argument is automatically a fallacious in nature. If that's the case, then you are wrong.

      Sure, you're not wrong when you say everybody is human and humans can make mistakes. That doesn't automatically mean that they are automatically wrong either. You're example of quoting Stephen Hawking about black holes kind of bugs me. Since I think it can be demonstrated quite well that Stephen Hawkings is an expert in the science and mathematics of black holes. Therefore, it is not fallacious to use him as an authority figure.

      For example, I went to my doctor because I'm sick. The doctor states I had a cold. Prescribes me some medicine to take. I tell my friend I have a cold. My friend asks why I think I have a cold. I tell him my that my doctor thinks it is a cold.

      In citing my doctor, I make an appeal to authority to my friend, does this make this argument fallacious in nature?

      Just for the sake of the argument, Sure, in this example the doctor could have misread my symptoms and I could have a completely different disease, virus, or condition. The doctor is skilled and there is no reason to doubt his judgement that this is simply just a cold.

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    5. I said quoting Hawking was an appeal to authority--not that it was necessarily fallacious. We make many appeals to authority in our everyday lives, from scientists like Hawking to your example of doctors, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing, after all, experts will tend to be generally correct in their areas of expertise.

      However, authority itself is not a reliable source--indeed, Hawking or a doctor are not correct because they have authority, but because they have data, evidence, and arguments to back up what they say. As such, it is generally preferable to use the authority's argument, rather than simply stating their conclusion: 'based on X and Y observations, Hawking theorizes that black holes do Z', or 'based on X and Y symptoms, the doctor concludes that I am suffering from Z'.

      We can see that, in many cases, despite their authority, experts still come to many incorrect conclusions--for instance, some of the various highly publicized bets Hawking has made with other sciences over what will turn out to be true. Likewise, misdiagnosis and mistreatment are serious problems in the medical field, and part of the problem is that doctors are sometimes accorded authority such that they do not have to present their conclusions and back them up with evidence. That is why, even in a case where authority is genuine, it is still fallacious to use it as an integral step in an argument instead of simply reproducing the argument and evidence the authority used to come up with their conclusion.

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  4. How would you counter argue agaisnt point number four and five?

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    1. Well, for point four, I'd say that opinions are definitely subjective--that is why we can discuss them. If they are objective, like the observable acceleration on masses due to gravity, then they wouldn't be up for discussion.

      But beyond that, in discussion, the idea is to use evidence and argument to move closer and closer to an 'objective' conclusion. Sure, opinions may be subjective, but some are more subjective than others: one can say 'I disliked the book because the bees in my head said it was bad', or 'I disliked it because one of the characters said something mean', or 'I disliked it because it was just the word 'RAT' repeated over and over for three hundred pages'. These opinions are increasingly better-defended, and have more in terms of argument and evidence to back them up, and therefore, the latter opinions are more useful.

      Lastly, I'd ask why the person was bringing up this argument in the first place: if all opinions are equally subjective, then why are you arguing? Why discuss it at all? Usually, it turns out that they don't actually think opinions are equally objective at all--indeed, quite the opposite.

      As for point five, I'd say that people are not entitled to their opinions. If someone says 'all children should be locked in the basement until age 12', I wouldn't think 'he's entitled to believe that', I'd think that he'd need to make some very convincing arguments in order to back up such an absurd statement.

      I mean, isn't a sense of entitlement a pretty unhealthy thing, in general? Opinions, like anything else, aren't entitled, they're earned--through knowledge, thought, and discussion. Again, this is something people say which almost never accords with what they actually think, or how they act in the world--I mean, if you really believe someone is entitled to their opinion, you aren't going to spend your time arguing against it, are you?

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  5. Thank you so much for writing this Keely. I don't think I would ever have realized many of these great insights on my own. It was lots of fun reading it, and full of stuff that let me think about so much, not just about comments, but about thinking and learning in general. I've loved reading since I was very little, but most of what I have read has been fantasy (and a lot of those the fantasy books that you didn't find worthwhile :D) and while they may have helped me develop in some ways, I don't think they helped me learn how to think critically very much. So I wanted to ask you something actually - what kinds of college classes (I recently started college) or books would you recommend that can help you develop your overall thinking and reasoning? An introduction to philosophy or literature analysis class seems promising, but I think I might learn just as much from reading the books on my own. I want to make more sense of life and stop feeling so confused about so many things, and I really mean it when I say that your reviews and other things you have written like this have helped me do just that. Thank you so much for any response, and if you've already made a list of books like these similar to your recommended fantasy list, sorry I didn't already find it on my own!

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    1. "most of what I have read has been fantasy (and a lot of those the fantasy books that you didn't find worthwhile :D)"

      Heh--well, for quite a few of those, I certainly thought they were worthwhile when I read them (or hoped they would be).

      "what kinds of college classes (I recently started college) or books would you recommend that can help you develop your overall thinking and reasoning?"

      My experience with college was that it doesn't matter what subject the class is on, what matters is the teacher. Critical thinking is a skill universal to all disciplines, and so any subject can be used to teach critical thinking to students. Conversely, there are a lot of teachers out there who are disengaged, or bitter, or stuck in a routine, or never really learned proper critical thought in the first place, and as such, you can go into a certain class on philosophy, or rhetoric, or logic, and not learn anything about thinking more critically, even though those disciplines are supposed to be based on that.

      As for books you might read, it never hurts to go back to the classics, the Greek and Roman texts that our modern rational thought is still based on. You can also spend a lot of time on wikipedia, or other sites focused on rationality and critical thinking. One of my favorite introductions to discussion is here--and it's amazing to me how many people who are supposed to be experts in their fields fail to follow these basic rules of discourse.

      I mention a number of argumentative fallacies in this post, and there is a whole list of them on Wikipedia, often with examples--and if the example doesn't seem clear enough, you can always google the fallacy and find examples on another site, or even youtube videos. After that, the most important thing is to flex those muscles, to actually engage with people and discuss things, in real life and online--wherever you can find a place to have an interesting discussion. Of course, this doesn't mean you should constantly bother friends and family with your rhetoric, if they aren't in the mood to discuss it =P

      I don't have a handy list of recommended readings on critical thought, but I will try to put one together and post it here at some point--it's a good idea.

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  6. Thank you so much for your consideration and advice! I think it will help me a lot. Please never stop writing :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you so much for your consideration and advice! I think it will help me a lot. Please never stop writing ,
    thank you for this good articles !


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