Worth Promoting to Its Own Post: Notes on Arguing
Here’s a comment I made in a thread, which I am promoting to its own post (with some edits for context) because I think it says something relevant about discussions here, especially (but not limited to) political ones:
1. One is entitled to one’s own opinions, but not one’s own facts. Commensurately, anecdote may be fact (it happened to you), but anecdote is usually a poor platform for general assertions, since one’s own experience is often not a general experience.
2. If you make an assertion that implies a factual basis, it is entirely proper that others may ask you to back up these assertions with facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal.
3. If you cannot bolster said assertion with facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal, you have to accept that others may not find your general argument persuasive.
4. This dynamic of people asking for facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal, is in itself non-partisan; implications otherwise are a form of ad hominem argument which is generally not relevant to the discussion at hand.
5. If you offer evidence and assert it as fact, you may reasonably expect others to examine such information and to rebut you if they find it wanting and/or find your interpretation incorrect in some manner.
All of which is to say that asserting from anecdote without being able to bolster said assertion with actual facts is likely to get your assertion discounted; if you present facts without rigor, you’re likely to see those discounted as well. Again, this is neither here nor there as regards one’s personal politics; this is simply about making a robust argument.
People here have a low tolerance for general assertion from personal anecdote because rhetorically speaking I have a low tolerance for general assertion from personal anecdote, and over time that rubs off on others who comment here regularly. That low tolerance is in fact non-partisan on my part, as I have called out liberals for bad argument when they have offered one, and I have called out people in non-political threads for the same thing (when one’s politics are not in evidence). There are indeed a lot of liberals here; there are also quite a few conservatives as well. Everyone gets dinged when they argue poorly.
In a general sense, if one wants to have one’s arguments and assertions taken seriously here, they need to be serious arguments and assertions. There’s nothing wrong with making an observation from personal experience; I do it all the time. But I also note the anecdotal nature of the observation; and when I don’t, guess what? People here call me on it.
This is all to be noted for future reference.