A Poster's Guide To Debating Politics
A Poster's Guide To Debating Politics
A Guide To Internet Controversy And Discussion
Framing A Debate
In political discussion in particular, the use of terms is nearly as important as the implicit meaning of the terms themselves. Politics is inherently the use of connotations to deliver a framing for an argument. This is important to understand. Anytime, you are not debating the framing of an argument, you are no longer debating politics, you are debating empirical correctness.
The difference in a framing is where most ideologies are made. For instance, the issue of abortion is a political debate. The reason is that the controversy takes place in the framing. No one on either side rejects the value of life nor the value of choice, but the framing of the issue as a life and death issue or a personal choice issue is what is debated back and forth.
In any political discussion where you aim to educate your opponent about your viewpoint, you must articulate your framing and validate it in the context of the discussion.
In Example 1, we see a problem with framing. Jill and Jake are debating the merits of a political discussion without first debating the framing, and as such they are simply throwing empty words back and forth. Neither will be convinced or vindicated.
Jake: “School vouchers are a good thing.”
Jill: “No they aren't! They take money away from schools!”
Jake: “Only if the student leaves.”
Jill: “But making the schools compete for students will hurt education!”
Instead, Jake should present his framing, and Jill should counter with hers. Jake is looking at this issue from the perspective of the student, while Jill could be looking from the situation from the perspective of either the teachers or the schools as an entity. Let's see what this debate should look like.
Example 2 is an excellent debate. In fact, it's difficult to pick a winner. Both have valid points. As time goes on, one framing might be found preferrable to the other due to empirical evidence such as side-by-side studies. Or perhaps the concensus on values would decide the framing. The bottom line is that the discussion in Example 2 is well formed, and likely to produce a constructive debate.
Jake: “School vouchers are a good thing. They tag money to the student because the student is what the entire purpose of the education system is about.”
Jill: “No, school vouchers hurt students because government run schools are inherently better than private schools. Not all students would be able to get into a private school, and the education of the poor/disadvantaged would suffer.”
Jake: “While its true that private schools would not be required to accept special education students, private schools work more efficiently and productively than public schools. Additionally, the college system, which is somewhat similar to vouchers, has not suffered in the way you describe.”
Jill: “But basic education is a right, and rights are provided for and ensured by the state, not the private groups.”
Using Common Terms
As stated earlier, using common terms correctly is important. Here are some common terms and appropriate uses for them.
liberal: A liberal is characterized by two major distinctions: (1) the belief that government does more good than bad and (2) the belief that society, and by proxy government, have an inherent obligation to ensure the comfort and prosperity of all its members, regardless of qualifications, situations or identifications.
conservative: A conservative is characterized by several major distinctions: (1) the belief that the individual inherently does things better than the government; (2) the belief that society has an obligation to what is best for society as a whole, not the individual; (3) the belief that the power of government is given by the people conditionally, and that government has no inherent right to any power that the people do not give it.
Democrat: In American politics, a Democrat is a member of the Democratic political party.
Republican: In American politics, a Republican is a member of the Republican political party.
democrat: A democrat is a person who believes in government through the collective of the people as represented through democracy. A lowercase democrat is different from an uppercase Democrat.
republican: A republican is a person who believes in government through the citizens as represented by elected officials and charters. A lowercase republican is different from an uppercase Republican.
democracy: A democracy in the broad term is any government which refers to the people for guidance on direction and policies by means of voting. In a strict sense however, a democracy refers only to governments or processes which directly empower the people, nondiscriminatory of nationality or any other identifier. Very few processes actually fit the definition of a democracy.
republic: A republic is any form of government where geographical sections of a government are represented, either by appointed or elected officials. The United States is a “representative republic” as all officials in the government whom represent their geographic section of the government are elected by the citizens of the section. The United States is a special case of republic known as “a representative republic with constitutional values”, meaning that the government is made up of a representative republic, and the government is defined through constitutional means.
theocracy: A theocracy is any form of government where all policy, values and laws are defined through religious means and controlled by religious representatives. This is different from a government where the citizens express religious concerns, such as the United States or Israel, in that a theocracy is not flexible to the adaptation of the people, a theocracy is commonly characterized by an extremist interpretation of the represented religion, and that a theocracy has no provisions which protect those that do not subscribe to the state religion.
dictatorship: A dictatorship is a government which is practicing the fascism ideology. It is characterized by the lack of individual rights, and the supreme control of a single person in government, often a called a President, Chancellor, Prime Minister, Emperor, Premier or (historically) Fuhrer.
communism and “people's republic”: Communism is the belief that the society is important to the exclusion of the individual. Conformity, uniformity and a single common objective are characteristic of a communist ideology or society. Countries which implement a communist ideology often refer to themselves as “The People's Republic of” such as with China or North Korea. This term is purely a name, and any implementation of a communist government is not a republic in any sense of the word.
socialism: Socialism is an ideology which is characterized by the preference of government implementation over private or personal implementation. It is a medium between a free market ideology and a communist ideology. Socialist societies often exclude individuals from developing in markets which they see as either critical to the state or inherent to the people. These range from health care, to oil production, to agriculture.
capitalism: Capitalism is the ideology that the individual or the group will be able to regulate themselves in a process akin to natural selection. Improvements in a market will be preferred when they become most advantageous, and detriments will be passed up in favor of better alternatives. In practice, capitalism works only when competing alternatives work against each other instead of with each other, and as such any form of a cartel is both anti-capitalist and detrimental to the success of a capitalist system.
parliamentary: A parliamentary system is a system by which citizens are not allowed to vote for a representative, but instead vote for a party. The party then appoints a number of people which they see fit equal to the portion of votes they received to represent those voters in the legislative body, referred to as parliament. A parliamentary system requires no other branches, provisions, rights or charters or any kind, and can function correctly in the presence of many other forms of government, including communism, socialism, fascism and theocracy. A parliamentary system is incomputable with a republic however.
constitution: Different from a charter, a constitution is a document which the people draft granting government all of its powers. Unlike a charter, a constitution primary deals with granting, instead of restricting, rights to the government, and any right not explicitly given is inherently denied, much like a copyright holder granting rights. These rights which are not given are reserved to the people as a whole, or the individual as the case may be. Also unlike a charter, a constitution is not self-defined, and may only be altered by a process where the people explicitly grant or deny a right to government.
charter: A charter is a self-defined document in which a government or governing body grants itself rights through the philosophy that these rights are inherently with the governing body. A charter, due to its inherent nature, may be changed by the government body without regard to the people.
federation: A federation is a group of governments who consolidate sovereignty in order to provide common goals and services while retaining all sovereignty which they do not explicitly grant to the federation. In a loose sense, the European Union is an example of a weak federation and the United States is an example of a strong federation.
founding fathers: In the United States, founding fathers is a term used to refer to the men who drafted the original government of the United States, then revised it in 1789 giving the United States the government it retains today. This term is not coined as a sexist phrase, as it is a factual matter that all of the people involved in drafting the American government were men, however some feminism proponents feel that it demeans the contributions that women made to American society and government.
jurisprudence: Jurisprudence is the theory of law itself, however in the United States it refers specifically to role of the judicial branch as defined by the Constitution. In the past, the Supreme Court of the United States has asserted what is and is not subject to the jurisprudence of the courts in American law.
Supreme Court: A Supreme Court is the highest court in any legal or judicial system. Most of the time, this court is a higher authority than either the executive or legislative authorities. The Supreme Court of the United States is made up of nine justices who are appointed when a seat is vacant by the President, then confirmed by the Senate. A justice of the Supreme Court of the United States may be vacated three ways: (1) They may resign themselves. Any time that a justice no longer wishes to serve the Court, they may officially resign; (2) They may die. When a justice dies, their seat becomes vacant and the sitting President is tasked with nominating a new justice; (3) They may be removed by the Congress. If a justice is found to be grossly incompetent or negligent, they may be removed by the Congress with a super majority in both houses, subject to veto by the President. The European Union also has an appointed Supreme Court, however, unlike the American Supreme Court, the EU Supreme Court is only the supreme authority on law established by the European Union itself.
Congress: A Congress is the legislative body of a republic. The Congress of the United States is formed of a bicameral system with two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Any legislation in the United States must pass in both the House and the Senate in order to become law.
bicameral and unicameral: A bicameral and unicameral legislature refers to the number of separate houses which a legislature has. A parliament often has one house which represents all powers granted to the legislative branch. The United States Congress has a bicameral system which was established as a compromise between states with large populations and states without. Smaller states wanted a system where all states received equal seats in the legislature, while larger states wanted more seats to represent their larger portion of the population. The House was established as the lower house apportioned by population. The Senate was established as the higher house apportioned equally among all states.
House of Representatives: The House of Representatives in the United States of America is the lower of two houses in Congress. The House is made up of 435 seats which are assigned to states according to their portion of the total population. The number of seats was last established by the Reapportionment Act of 1929, and Congress has the authority to add more seats through legislation if it wishes. The proportioning of seats must be assigned according to a deca-annual census. These Representatives must represent a specific geographic area, and each belong to something called a Congressional District which is drawn by the state governments. Supreme Court cases have restricted the considerations which states can make in drawing districts to avoid a practice called “Gerrymandering”.
Senate: A Senate is a term nearly synonymous with Congress. In the United States however, the Senate is the higher house the United States Congress, where each state receives two Senators, each of which are elected directly by all voters in their state. The Senate is granted more authority than the House, being given the power to prosecute the President in case of impeachment, confirm Presidential appointments, and confirm judicial appointments. Due to the smaller number of representatives, each Senator also carries more of the overall majority in each vote. The Vice President sits as the President of the Senate, and acts as the Master of Ceremonies. He also acts as the tie breaking vote in the case of the Senate tyeing a vote, which is always possible due to the fact that the Senate always receives two Senators from each state.
Gerrymandering: Gerrymandering is a term named after a practice which was first identified as being used by a Governor name Gerrymander. The practice involves drawing congressional districts in order to discriminate against or for a voter who is or is not likely to vote for a specific party, or the drawing of districts non proportional to population distribution. Both of these practices have been declared Unconstitutional in the United States by the Supreme Court.
An ideology is a collection of beliefs about values. It is, in essence, a set of values. Ideology usually refers to a a non-religious set of values, however it can refer to religious ideologies as well. In politics, an ideology is usually the reasons a person holds a position.
A person might be against the death penalty. Being against the death penalty is not an ideology however, it is a position. Saying “I'm against the death penalty” is a description of your politics. Saying “I'm against the death penalty because I don't believe the government has a right to decide who lives and who dies” is a description of your ideology.
Unlike opinions, ideologies can be proved false in some situations. In the example provided above, the ideology was likely described incorrectly. You can prove the ideology wrong by pointing out that the 14th Amendment allows the state to kill citizens after fulfilling certain conditions, specifically the “due process of law”.
It is possible that the ideology was simple described wrong however and that the individual meant “I don't believe government should have the right to decide who lives and who dies”. This ideology is not disprovable empirically, however you can provide evidence that this ideology is not correct in the absence of proof.
As we learned earlier, politics is the debate of framing, and frames are defined by ideologies. Thus ideologies are the form that political arguments take, and being able to tell ideologies, opinions and facts apart is crucial to constructive political discourse.
Like science, politics is the reduction of observations to empirical, testable parts. Unlike science, politics lacks consistency in its results because it is based on humanity instead of natural systems. As such, you must be able to insulate yourself against the changes that politics experiences. The best insulation anyone can use in politics using valid logic and avoiding logical fallacies.
A logical argument can be either inductive or deductive. While deductive arguments benefit from factual, testable steps, inductive arguments deal with situations in which possibilities either have not or cannot be tested, and therefore must be inferred. A deductive argument looks like this:
A validates B
And inductive argument looks like this:
All B observed in history have been true
Therefore, it is likely that all B is true
Both of these form can easily become fallacious if they are mis formed. There are many formal fallacies, of which some of the most common are listed below:
Argumentum ad Hominem (Pronounced: Ad Haw-mih-nehm)
Person A claims X
Person B attacks person A
Therefore not X
“God does not exist.”
“Oh yeah, well you molest children, of course you think God doesn't exist.”
A person's character has no bearing on the validity of a fact. A bad person can state a fact as easily as a good person can.
Argumentum ad Hominem tu Quoque (Pronounced: Add Haw-mih-nehm Too Koh-kay)
Person A claims X
Person B says that person A does thing contrary to X
Therefore not X
“But you used to be atheist, so what you think doesn't matter.”
Like character, a person's actions and past have no bearing on a factual observation.
Argumentum ad Logicam (Pronounced: Add Law-jih-kam)
Person A claims X
Person A commits a logical fallacy in proving X
Therefore not X
“Abortion is wrong. I mean babies are so cute.”
“But how cute babies are doesn't affect whether or not abortion is wrong, therefore abortion is right.”
A person may arrive at a true statement by accident even if they commit logical fallacies.
Appeal to Authority
Person A is said to be an authority on subject K
Person A makes claim B about subject K
“Einstein didn't believe in God and he was a Jewish person.” (Einstein was a genius of math and physics but had no particular expertise in theology)
This happens when person A is not qualified to make claim(s) B about K. An authority figure on one subject is not an authority figure on all.
Appeal to Belief
The majority of people believe claim X
“Most people think global warming is real, so it must be.”
It does not take any amount of people to believe the truth for it to be true. In fact, it does not require anyone to believe it.
Appeal to Common Practice
X is a common action
“Most people prefer to drive cars instead of fly, so driving cars must be safer.”
It is possible for something incorrect to be a common action.
Appeal to Consequences of Belief
X is true because if people did not accept X as true bad things would happen
X is false because if people did not accept X as false bad things would happen
X is true because if people accept X as true good things would happen
X is false because if people accept X as false good things would happen
I wish X therefore X
I wish not X therefore not X
“School vouchers don't work because some teachers would lose their current jobs.”
The consequences of a fact do not affect the validity of a fact.
Appeal to Emotion
Favorable emotions are associated with claim X
“If you are against abortion than most women dislike you, so abortion must be a good thing.”
This happens when someone tries to manipulate people's emotions to convince them of something. For instance, telling a gay person it's ok to be gay if you are against gay marriage.
Appeal to Fear
Y is presented with the intent or producing fear
Y is loosely or not related to X
Therefore not X
“If you believe in affirmative action you might just not wake up one morning if you know what I mean.”
A fear of something does not make that thing false.
Appeal to Flattery
Person A flatters person B
Person A claims X
“I think you are one of the most influential people around, but I don't think global warming is a problem.”
“Well, I suppose it isn't then...”
Flattery does not produce true or false answers, it just hinders judgment.
Appeal to Novelty
X is new
“The PS3 is new, it must be better than the PS2.”
New does not mean better OR correct. Additionally, better is a subjective measurement.
Appeal to Pity
Information A is presented to create pity
“I know this woman who works hard and has three children. She barely makes enough to eat, and it wasn't her fault that she's poor. So as you can tell, Welfare is a valid government program.”
Pity is not evidence for a claim.
Appeal to Popularity
Most people claim X
“A lot of people claim global warming is a problem, so it must be.”
The truth can be unpopular.
Appeal to Ridicule
C is said about X (a ridicule)
Therefore not X
“1 + 1 = 2? That's ridiculous!”
A ridicule does not constitute evidence of falsity.
Appeal to Spite
C is presented to generate spite
Therefore not X
“Microsoft is a huge corporation that steals and violates antitrust laws, so the XBox is a bad gaming console.”
Spite or vengefulness does is not evidence of validity.
Appeal to Tradition
X is old; Things have always been done X
“It's always been just birds that fly, therefore people can't/shouldn't be able to fly.”
Tradition is not evidence for a claim.
Person A making claim X is pressured by group B or presented with rejection
Therefore not X
“I know you think that 1 + 1 = 2, but we don't accept that, and if you don't change then we'll just have to exclude you.”
“No, I was just joking, of course 1 + 1 doesn't equal 2.
Peer pressure and the threat of rejection do not constitute evidence for or against a claim.
Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning
Claim X is made assuming premise B
Assuming premise B, X
“Man-made global warming is real assuming the world is getting warmer. The world is getting warmer, therefore man-made global warming is real.”
A premise depending on a claim cannot justify the claim, as either both can be false or both can be true.
Sample A is drawn from population B, being a biased sample
Claim X is drawn from sample A about population B
“We asked tons of oil executives what they though, and clearly the public doesn't think global warming is a problem.”
A representative sample must be used to draw conclusions about a group.
Burden of Proof
Person A makes claim X where burden of proof lies on person B
Person B claims not X because person A did not prove X
“The WTC towers did not fall in a controlled demolition.”
“But you can't prove that they didn't therefore they did.”
Shifting the burden of proof is a form of changing the deduction of an argument and alters the ability of a logical argument to produce truth.
Circumstantial ad Hominem
Person A claims X
Person B says A will benefit from X
Therefore not X
“Global warming isn't true.”
“Oh yeah, well you work for an oil company, so your claim isn't true.”
Whether or not a person benefits from the truth does not change whether or not it is the truth.
A, B and C from group S have characteristic X
Therefore X for all S
“Both my black neighbors had fathers leave their family, so all black fathers must leave their family.”
Unless a characteristic is a definition of the group itself, then it is not inherent in all pieces of that group.
Confusing Cause and Effect
X and Y regularly occur together
Therefore X causes Y
“Increased taxes and a slower economy have always occurred together, so taxes always slow down the economy.”
Unless you show the cause and effect relationship, proximity does not prove causation.
Claim X and claim Y are presented as options (when either both X and Y could be true or false)
“Either you are straight or you are gay. You're not straight, so you must be gay.”
This happens when things that are not mutually exclusive are presented as being mutually exclusive.
Claim X is being discussed
Claim Y is presented as being related to claim X when it is not
Claim X is abandoned
"We admit that this measure is popular. But we also urge you to note that there are so many bond issues on this ballot that the whole thing is getting ridiculous."
Abandonment of a claim does not prove its falsity.
Claim X is presented
Person A says that claim X is not true for them
Person A is justified in rejecting X
"Other people may be overweight, but I'm not overweight so it must not be a problem."
The truth is not relative.
Event X has or will happen
Therefore event Y will occur
"The US shouldn't get involved militarily in other countries. Once the government sends in a few troops, it will then send in thousands to die."
Unless event X is a cause of Y, it cannot deductively be assumed that event X will eventually result in Y.
Person A presents X for circumstances Y
Person A is in circumstances Y
Person A is exempt from X
This occurs when a person applies a standard selectively.
If Y then X is true or false regardless of the people involved.
X occurs before Y
Therefore X causes Y
"Every time a fascist government has taken power they have created terrorist attacks to control the people. Therefore a fascist government trying to take power is what causes terrorist attacks."
Something occurring before another thing does not imply any relationship.
Person A claims X
Person B present Y, a distorted version of X
Person B disproves Y
Therefore not X
"The Democrats say they want to get out of Iraq. I disagree. Why do they want America to fail?"
A distorted version of a truth is inherently false, so disproving a distorted version of a position does not prove that position false.
Political discussions should be no more taboo or difficult than scientific discussions. If you construct logical arguments, create readable posts, and know what you are talking about, you will be able to strongly and accurately defend your politics online.
Editors Note: This is a politics version of my Poster's Guide To Posting In English. I highly recommend you read that as well for guidance on general posting in addition to this.
The following websites may not be referrenced as a source of any kind in the politics section for purpose of debate, except by special circumstance. (Post here or PM me.)
This list may expand at any time, so please check back here often. Suggested sites for blacklisting may be posted here.