Friday, October 20, 2006

Another nail in rhetoric's coffin

The disappointing discussion resulting from my posting about my criteria for recognizing good roleplaying on the RPGnet Open Forum got me thinking again about the sad state of rhetoric. It's not that most people make bad arguments. Most people don't even know what an argument is; they think if you say something true after something, that you've refuted it. Even sometimes if what they say isn't at all true.

One "argument" I saw a lot was this: "Your experiences aren't universal." I didn't decide to engage in a point-by-point rebuttal for the same reason you don't answer "Have you stopped beating your wife?" with either "yes" or "no", but I couldn't help wonder how one could go about it. After all, if "having universal experiences" was actually a prerequisite to make observations, generalize from them, or post criteria, it'd be an awfully thin field. No one has universal experiences, but thanks to the fact that we can generalize and perform induction, and thanks to the fact that rules like this don't have to be 100.0000% accurate to be useful, that's really not relevant.

But there have been times when a statement like that was relevant, indirectly, to something, and that's probably what confuses the people who said it. Consider if someone had posted something like this: "Your criteria have a flaw in them: you haven't accounted for ABC or DEF, perhaps because your experiences aren't broad enough to have encountered them before." Now that would be a rebuttal. But saying "your experiences aren't universal" is only a very minor part of that, and more importantly, a secondary part. The bit that says "you have this flaw" is the responsive part; the other stuff is connected, not to the original post, but to that bit, and thus relevant only indirectly. They speak about the flaw, not the criteria.

People who don't have the foggiest notion how to reason and form an argument, just mimic the sounds of other things they saw that were called argumentation, without having any idea what they're actually doing. It's like trying to fix a car by adjusting valves that are the same color as the ones someone else once adjusted to fix a dishwasher.

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