2014-02-17

Scorched Earth

Closely related to the "intellectual nuke button" is the rhetorical nuke button.

One presses the intellectual nuke button when one no longer wishes to think, i.e. apply one's intellect. In my previous post, I referred to two different kinds: childish tantrums and righteous indignation. Certainly there are more, but I just wanted to recap what an intellectual nuke button is: It's an emotional outburst intended to silence anyone who's second-guessing you.

On the other hand, there may be some instances during which you don't want to nuke your intellect, you just want to nuke the argument. In that case, you'd want to apply a rhetorical nuke button.

This one is common in romance, folks. What happens is that two lovers will quarrel, each hurting the other's feelings, until the moment one or both of them decides to patch things up. He or she will extend an olive branch and work toward a reconciliation. If the other person decides to extend an olive branch of their own, then the two lovers are well on their way to a passionate make-up.

But sometimes people let their emotions get the better of them. Sometimes, rather than accepting an olive branch, one lover will use the temporary lull in fighting to POUNCE! He or she will take advantage of the momentary quiet to throw their lowest blow. This may feel satisfying in the moment, but it's not a touchdown, it's a punt. It's a Pyrrhic victory.

Naturally, this need not necessarily happen between lovers. It can happen between any two people having any sort of a disagreement. During a disagreement, it's really only the emotionally stable people who fail to be adequately respectful. So "olive branches" don't come in the form of apologies or tenderness, but rather in the form of common ground.

Let's say you have a problem with free markets or immigration, and you're debating it with me. I might just sneer the whole time and make my point over and over again without listening to yours. Or, I might actually take the time to hear you out and carefully respond. I might say, "You know, you make a good point. I will have to think about that a bit. But what do you say about X?"

At that point, the person speaking to me has a choice: He or she could throw it in my face and accuse me of having no good response, or... he or she could hear me out, find something redeeming about what I'm saying, and try to build common ground.

This is called being an honest truth-seeker. We take the most charitable version of our opponent's arguments, find something redeeming about it, and see if it can be used to forge some common ground toward an agreement, or at least a recess. It's just basic respect.

But some people would rather not avail themselves of that option. Some people would rather take the lull as an opportunity to sink lower, get angry, get snarky, or whatever.

It would be silly to lament that such people exist, but nonetheless it is important to know that they do exist. It's important to learn that some people aren't really interested in truth-seeking or common ground. These folks aren't interested in hearing your side except to poke holes in it. These folks aren't interested in finding out what the truth is. The folks are convinced they already know it; they're just waiting for you to slip-up so that they can POUNCE!

You can't really have a conversation with those. You're better off direction your energy elsewhere.