Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ending an Argument

I found this a difficult entry to classify. I have several blogs that all deal with psychology and how it affects our decisions and beliefs. I think that computer science certainly deserves this one.

Ending an argument with a thought ending cliche sounds odd, but you have probably heard many of these if you have ever been in an argument with a software developer, manager, or customer. Simply it is a phrase that causes you to give up and not argue. It ends an argument abruptly and does not have a logical response.

Here are a few exmples:
  • "That's a Good Thing"
  • "Just forget it."
  • "...or the terrorists win."
  • "Be a man and..."
  • "We all have to do things we don't like."
  • "You are not being a 'team player'."
As you can see, they are insidiously generic. They could apply to anything, and that's the point. By not being specific, they are therefore false arguments.

Here is how it is defined in Wikipedia:

A thought-terminating cliché is a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance. Though the phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.

The thing to understand is that when you hear these phrases, it means your opponent is unwilling to hear your arguments or your logic. In effect your opponent is unwilling to change their position.

What can you do against this? Well, not much really. When this sort of phrase is tossed out, the opponent has shut down to any discourse. Odds are they will just start getting mad or shut down further.

You can try to continue. Go for the gold! The olympic answer is that the phrase they just uttered does not apply to the specific argument. Challenge them to prove them wrong by having them utter the phrase after you state that the Easter Bunny is real or that teapots circle the Sun. Maybe it will work, but it is hard to get mental traction when someone has cognitive dissonance so strong they are unwilling to discuss a subject logically.

The best you can do is call foul (or fowl if arguing about chickens). Point to this blog and let them read it. Help them understand that they may not really have a reason to believe what they do and using a thought-ender is proof. Without evidence otherwise, you are winning and very sorry it is only because they are giving up by using such a cliche'.

Will that work? Hard to tell. Some people are unwilling to acknowledge that they are wrong. This is very strong as a past president has proven. The mind can invent many beliefs even believe these cliches' are logical and support their beliefs. The facts are, the brain is very afraid of being wrong and is deathly afraid of the cost of new beliefs.

If you can be wrong once, can't you be wrong again? The brain rebels at giving an inch because it could lead to a nasty trend.

Why fear of new beliefs? Simply being wrong means you are not a good provider and the wrong end of the genetic gene pool. If this at work, even worse. One bad belief admitted might show even more poor thinking and thus a reason why that person should be fired. As you can see, loosing an argument is like loosing a fight with a lion, proof that in the battle of the survival of the fittest, they are not so fit.

When this happens in the workplace, you need to be careful. Loosing is really bad for many people. They may already be fearing for their jobs, whether it is a justified belief or not. Leaders in companies also hate to have any questions to their authority. Programmers too are very sensitive to being wrong.

At work, you might want to be careful and defuse the situation. People are afraid of being seen as less than they are. The key thing is that we are all human. Everyone makes mistakes. I like to say in many situations like this that in some cases their may have been no other choice. Chalk it up to unavoidable and that anyone would have had that belief.

Here is the list of cliches' from Wikipedia.

Non-political examples

  1. "That's a Good Thing."
  2. "Why? Because I said so." (bare assertion fallacy—also “I’m the parent, that’s why” appeal to authority).
  3. "That’s a no-brainer."[3][4][5]
  4. "When you get to be my age..." (as in “When you get to be my age you’ll find that’s not true.”)
  5. "You don’t always get what you want."
  6. "What goes around comes around."
  7. "The best defense is a good offense."
  8. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion." (appeal to ridicule if said sarcastically)
  9. "It works in theory, but not in practice." (base rate fallacy)
  10. "There’s no silver bullet."
  11. "Stupid is as stupid does."
  12. "Easy come, easy go."
  13. "Life is unfair."
  14. "Such is life."
  15. "It is what it is."
  16. "It was his time."
  17. "Whatever."
  18. "Yawn."
  19. "Be a man and..."
  20. "Think about it."
  21. "Just forget it."
  22. ", you do the math."
  23. "We will have to agree to disagree."
  24. "We all have to do things we don't like."
  25. "You are not being a 'team player'." (ignoratio elenchi).
  26. "That's just wrong." or "You just don't do that."
  27. "It takes all kinds to make a world."
  28. "Just do it."
  29. "That's a cliche."
  30. "That's what s/he said."
  31. "Don't be that guy."
  32. "Just look at me now."
  33. "Touché!"
  34. "Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it."
  35. "Because that is our policy."
  36. "Don't be silly."
  37. "There's no smoke without fire." (used to convince others that a person is guilty based on accusation or hearsay and to discourage further examination of evidence)
  38. "Your mom."
  39. "But...anyways...."
  40. "I'm just sayin'"
  41. "C'est la guerre"
  42. "Amen!"
  43. "So it goes."

Political examples

Thought-terminating clichés are sometimes used during political discourse to enhance appeal or to shut down debate. In this setting, their usage can usually be classified as a logical fallacy.

  1. "Racist." (Ad hominem attack).
  2. "That’s just a (liberal/conservative/libertarian/communitarian/etc.) argument." (association fallacy).
  3. "Socialism or Barbarism!" (false dichotomy)
  4. "'Anarchist organisations', isn't that an oxymoron?" (equivocation)
  5. "If you are not with us, you are against us." (or its opposite, "Who is not against us is with us")(false dichotomy)
  6. "Love it or leave it." (false dichotomy)
  7. "Support our troops." (ignoratio elenchi).
  8. "...or the terrorists win." (false dichotomy).
  9. "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." (false dichotomy)
  10. "Better Dead than Red!" or its inverse "Better Red than Dead!"
  11. "That's a conspiracy theory."
  12. "Freedom is not free." (Bare assertion fallacy)
  13. "Live free or die."
  14. "Fascist arguments need no comments." (weasel words)
  15. "If we gave it to you, we'd have to give it to everyone."
  16. "Freedom is non-negotiable."
  17. "Especially in this economy."

Religious examples

Thought-terminating clichés are also present in religious discourse in order to define a clear border between good and evil, holiness and sacrilege, and other polar opposites.[citation needed] These are especially present in religious literature.

  1. "God has a plan and a purpose."
  2. "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away." Job 1:21
  3. "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!" (opposing same-sex marriage)
  4. "God works in mysterious ways."
  5. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. " Proverbs 3:5
  6. "Forgive and forget."
  7. "That's not Biblical."
  8. "Jesus loves you." (ignoratio elenchi)

The religious or semi-religious ideas of cults, heretics, and infidels are also often used as thought-terminating clichés, e.g. "Do not listen to him, he is an infidel," (a guilt by association fallacy) or "That line of thought sounds like a cult" (also a guilt by association fallacy).

Just for fun, in case you have read this far, here is a lesson on cults.

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