You Don’t Have to Respond to Every Idea

I was thinking of writing a post today called “bad arguments of the week” as a kind of catharsis.  I came across an unusually high number of terrible arguments this week in my regular perusing of social media.  Instead I’ll make a broader observation in hopes of offering freedom, rather than simply critique.

You don’t have to respond to every idea.

I reflected on the diverse list of bad arguments I collected and realized they all shared a few things in common.  They were each reactions to an article or piece of news the arguer disagreed with.  They were all written very much in the moment.  None of them actually put forward arguments against the core idea they were reacting to.

All these bad arguments attacked persons and motives.  They took forms like, “If you say X, you’re probably too dumb to realize Y”, or, “Why is this person even writing on X topic when Y other person has more credentials”, or, “Person A said something dumb, so activity B they engage in must also be dumb.”

It’s fun to engage in a little sarcasm sometimes, or playfully mock an idea.  But the arguments I saw didn’t seem all that playful, as evidenced in part by the continued back and forth comments by those making them.

I won’t pretend to know anyone’s motives, but it appeared that in each case the bad argument was made as a sort of addictive behavior.  The arguer saw an idea they strongly disagreed with.  They did not want to take the time or energy to meaningfully engage the idea and offer a logical counter.  Nothing wrong with that.  But then the response addiction kicked in and they had to say something.  In the middle of the moment of frustration, they posted an insult disguised as an argument.  When others responded, the addiction wouldn’t let them leave.  They kept going.

The odd part is, more time and energy is spent going back and forth shoring up weak insults and arguments than it would’ve taken to relax, engage the original idea, and put forth an argument not full of logical fallacies and emotion.

The solution is probably not to make better arguments, but to make fewer.

None of us realistically have the time or mental space to put forth well-constructed arguments for all of our beliefs or against all those we find odious.  That’s OK.  If you know you won’t engage an idea, you don’t have to respond at all.

How valuable is it to you or anyone else to post under an article something like, “This is wrong.”?  You’re signalling two things: first, that you do not wish to engage the idea at the moment; second, that you can’t resist letting people know that you disagree (with an air of condescension).  But if you really aren’t up for discussing, why register your disagreement at all?  Once you do it might be hard to move away from the comments that follow.

Give yourself permission to walk away from bad arguments.  If you don’t intend to put forth good ones of your own, try not responding at all.  Not because you owe it to anyone or you should follow some rules of social media decorum, but because you might end up feeling a bit more free and relaxed yourself.

If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

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