As a child I heard this story. Once a prominent mathematician was asked by the King to come to court and prove the existence of God. The mathematician solved some complex problem on the board, and wrote below it, “…therefore, God exists.” I don’t know who the scientist was, but do comment if you know more about this story. I found the story hillarious as a kid, and laughed at how stupid the king was.
As an adult, every day I deal with people using such arguments to make their point or worse, enforce their opinions on us. This is a commentary, and as always will follow with some tips on defending yourself against such people (I personally prefer going on the offensive, because it’s just so awesome to see them try and squirm their way out.) Those who are cursed with a logical mind are unfortunately subject to the constant torture of consciously recognising it all the time. Let’s start with a quick real-life story to illustrate the point.
A couple of years ago, I made a comment about some opinion of a famous personality that I felt was misplaced. As you would have guessed, in less than an hour, my mailbox had the first holier-than-thou super-authoritative mail sitting in it, telling me how great the personality was, and how puny I was in comparison. The mail said nothing of the opinion I commented upon, nor my own comment itself. It said nothing about the issue at hand. The crux of the mail exactly amounted to, “*gibbersh* therefore, you’re wrong.”
Have you ever been at the receiving end of such an argument? Do you feel helpless and frustrated? If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone, and many of us still haven’t figured out a good defense yet. I’ve worked in a “corporate” and “business” environment long enough to know that at least in the top tech companies, this kind of talk isn’t entertained. However, it is too common to be coincidence how much people use this kind of argumentative logic and how often they use it. It feels as if there is some academy where such kind of training is imparted on a mass scale.
The basic premises that lead to such situations are:
1. Existence of a subject in need of attention
2. Lack of sufficient knowledge about the object of the conversation
3. An inherent need for self-gratification by appearing involved in the conversation
As the two premises are fundamentally contradictory, how can they be reconciled? You guessed it! *gibberish* (sub-classed by *tech-gibberish*, *economic-gibberish*, *philosophical-sounding-gibberish*, etc.)
Since actually making a well-thought-out argument is beyond question, and the subject has nothing substantial to say anyway, subject chooses path of lease resistence using the logic ‘afterall, so many people can’t be wrong’ (a blog on this is pending). Stick to the “large corporation”, “famous personality”, or “popular choice’, and you’re relatively safe from being interrogated in depth allowing them to preserve the appearence of caring about bigger picture by rehashing some statements they’d have heard here and there.
Your very first defense against such attacks is identifying the attack. You must be self-aware when a discussion or a debate is moving away from issues relevant to the object. In the case of my story above, the author sent me a 3-page biography of the personality and a lot of info about some program that I did not care about. Knowing that a person is changing the issues of discussion is a vital part of defense. Last evening in another such debate, I faced a new one - a commentator simply pulled out one noun from my sentence and responded with, “Since you said…” and created a sentence of his own using my noun with completely different semantics. It was a new learning for me.
Why should you care? Because they may end up being decision makers that affect your life. Managers, politicians, relatives, etc. When such people become decision makers, it is altogether too difficult to argue or escape from them as their objective is self-gratification only. The best defense is a good offense. They are relatively easy to corner. When cornered, they will go on a last-ditch attack effort by stating more “stuff” which could be things from your past or just general stuff they consider to be your flaws. You see, in their world, everyone is a weasel, and all they need to do is find that one time you screwed up so you will back off. See this as a sign of weakness and exploit it! That is the time to strike back and strike hard. Don’t waste time defending yourself, but quickly bring the conversation back to the topic of focus and you shall win the debate.
The end won’t be as satisfactory as them admitting to being ignorant, but rather with them rephrasing your own point and saying, “That’s what I was saying in the first place.” Leave it at that if you can. That’s the best you can expect.
Any similar experiences you’ve had?