How to Disagree

Discussion in 'Strategy and Tactics' started by Blaqk, Mar 31, 2012.

  1. Blaqk
    • Development Team
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    Blaqk NOTD Staff: Operations and Web

    There are those here who have shown a need for this. Most of whom recently commented on the Delta Commando thread.




    How to Disagree
    by Paul Graham

    The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.

    Many who respond to something disagree with it. That's to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there's less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you're entering territory he may not have explored.

    The result is there's a lot more disagreeing going on, especially measured by the word. That doesn't mean people are getting angrier. The structural change in the way we communicate is enough to account for it. But though it's not anger that's driving the increase in disagreement, there's a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it's easy to say things you'd never say face to face.

    If we're all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages. So here's an attempt at a disagreement hierarchy:

    DH0. Name-calling.

    This is the lowest form of disagreement, and probably also the most common. We've all seen comments like this:

    "u r a fag!!!!!!!!!!"

    But it's important to realize that more articulate name-calling has just as little weight. A comment like

    "The author is a self-important dilettante."

    is really nothing more than a pretentious version of "u r a fag."

    DH1. Ad Hominem.

    An ad hominem attack is not quite as weak as mere name-calling. It might actually carry some weight. For example, if a senator wrote an article saying senators' salaries should be increased, one could respond:

    "Of course he would say that. He's a senator."

    This wouldn't refute the author's argument, but it may at least be relevant to the case. It's still a very weak form of disagreement, though. If there's something wrong with the senator's argument, you should say what it is; and if there isn't, what difference does it make that he's a senator?

    Saying that an author lacks the authority to write about a topic is a variant of ad hominem—and a particularly useless sort, because good ideas often come from outsiders. The question is whether the author is correct or not. If his lack of authority caused him to make mistakes, point those out. And if it didn't, it's not a problem.

    DH2. Responding to Tone.

    The next level up we start to see responses to the writing, rather than the writer. The lowest form of these is to disagree with the author's tone. E.g.

    "I can't believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion."

    Though better than attacking the author, this is still a weak form of disagreement. It matters much more whether the author is wrong or right than what his tone is. Especially since tone is so hard to judge. Someone who has a chip on their shoulder about some topic might be offended by a tone that to other readers seemed neutral.

    So if the worst thing you can say about something is to criticize its tone, you're not saying much. Is the author flippant, but correct? Better that than grave and wrong. And if the author is incorrect somewhere, say where.

    DH3. Contradiction.

    In this stage we finally get responses to what was said, rather than how or by whom. The lowest form of response to an argument is simply to state the opposing case, with little or no supporting evidence.

    This is often combined with DH2 statements, as in:

    "I can't believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion. Intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory."

    Contradiction can sometimes have some weight. Sometimes merely seeing the opposing case stated explicitly is enough to see that it's right. But usually evidence will help.

    DH4. Counterargument.

    At level 4 we reach the first form of convincing disagreement: counterargument. Forms up to this point can usually be ignored as proving nothing. Counterargument might prove something. The problem is, it's hard to say exactly what.

    Counterargument is contradiction plus reasoning and/or evidence. When aimed squarely at the original argument, it can be convincing. But unfortunately it's common for counterarguments to be aimed at something slightly different. More often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are actually arguing about two different things. Sometimes they even agree with one another, but are so caught up in their squabble they don't realize it.

    There could be a legitimate reason for arguing against something slightly different from what the original author said: when you feel they missed the heart of the matter. But when you do that, you should say explicitly you're doing it.

    DH5. Refutation.

    The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation. It's also the rarest, because it's the most work. Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that the higher you go the fewer instances you find.

    To refute someone you probably have to quote them. You have to find a "smoking gun," a passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it's mistaken. If you can't find an actual quote to disagree with, you may be arguing with a straw man.

    While refutation generally entails quoting, quoting doesn't necessarily imply refutation. Some writers quote parts of things they disagree with to give the appearance of legitimate refutation, then follow with a response as low as DH3 or even DH0.

    DH6. Refuting the Central Point.

    The force of a refutation depends on what you refute. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone's central point.

    Even as high as DH5 we still sometimes see deliberate dishonesty, as when someone picks out minor points of an argument and refutes those. Sometimes the spirit in which this is done makes it more of a sophisticated form of ad hominem than actual refutation. For example, correcting someone's grammar, or harping on minor mistakes in names or numbers. Unless the opposing argument actually depends on such things, the only purpose of correcting them is to discredit one's opponent.

    Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point, or at least one of them. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is. So a truly effective refutation would look like:

    "The author's main point seems to be x. As he says:"


    "But this is wrong for the following reasons..."

    The quotation you point out as mistaken need not be the actual statement of the author's main point. It's enough to refute something it depends upon.

    What It Means

    Now we have a way of classifying forms of disagreement. What good is it? One thing the disagreement hierarchy doesn't give us is a way of picking a winner. DH levels merely describe the form of a statement, not whether it's correct. A DH6 response could still be completely mistaken.

    But while DH levels don't set a lower bound on the convincingness of a reply, they do set an upper bound. A DH6 response might be unconvincing, but a DH2 or lower response is always unconvincing.

    The most obvious advantage of classifying the forms of disagreement is that it will help people to evaluate what they read. In particular, it will help them to see through intellectually dishonest arguments. An eloquent speaker or writer can give the impression of vanquishing an opponent merely by using forceful words. In fact that is probably the defining quality of a demagogue. By giving names to the different forms of disagreement, we give critical readers a pin for popping such balloons.

    Such labels may help writers too. Most intellectual dishonesty is unintentional. Someone arguing against the tone of something he disagrees with may believe he's really saying something. Zooming out and seeing his current position on the disagreement hierarchy may inspire him to try moving up to counterargument or refutation.

    But the greatest benefit of disagreeing well is not just that it will make conversations better, but that it will make the people who have them happier. If you study conversations, you find there is a lot more meanness down in DH1 than up in DH6. You don't have to be mean when you have a real point to make. In fact, you don't want to. If you have something real to say, being mean just gets in the way.

    If moving up the disagreement hierarchy makes people less mean, that will make most of them happier. Most people don't really enjoy being mean; they do it because they can't help it.


    Now that you have read this marvelous piece of work, go back through your recent posts and place them within the established hierarchy. If you aren't consistently top-tier, I strongly suggest you learn from this thread, lest your message and objective be made null by your own fault.
  2. ArcturusV

    ArcturusV New Member

    Hmm.... would like to think most of my disagreeing posts are in the DH4 category. Admits sometimes, perhaps for the point of personal humor and hyperbole I drop down below that. For example "Kill Ogilvy with fire!" Though my point on that matter did have reasoning and examples cited which were brought about before hand or after.
  3. Blaqk
    • Development Team
    • Webmaster/Ops

    Blaqk NOTD Staff: Operations and Web

    I'll often throw in a 0-1 comment if I'm being particularly silly, but I always try to get as high up the chart as possible.
  4. marloelikeswaffles

    marloelikeswaffles New Member

    DH3 for life. =B Informative, but if we're resorting to "this is how we play nice" you might as well point fingers. I'd like to think I'm easy to get along with but the evidence suggests that I am not.
  5. Earendil

    Earendil New Member

    Good article.

    However, I believe some people try to stay at the upper area of the hierarchy not purely for the right reasons, but also so that they're 'elite', seeing it as a way of being 'superior' to others. Unconsciously of course.
  6. Blaqk
    • Development Team
    • Webmaster/Ops

    Blaqk NOTD Staff: Operations and Web

    Sadly, that is often the case. However, even if they're doing it for the wrong reason, a DH5 response can be more beneficial to NOTD as a whole than even the best-intended DH3.
  7. ArcturusV

    ArcturusV New Member

    I'd always favor arguments which are well thought out and presented, with shown rationalization and cited examples. No matter why they actually bothered to go to that standard.

    It's also easier to maintain civility in the discussion by avoiding personal attacks and "Shut up, you're wrong!" type responses. I can respect and value honest disagreement based on facts. I can't respect responses that are flat out "No U!" style or aiming to tear down the speaker opposed to the idea they propose.
  8. spartanhija

    spartanhija Member

    Dam, I could really use this chart, thx blaqk
  9. TheoriginalReaper

    TheoriginalReaper New Member

    i disagreed with a guy the other day and made a valid point, him and two of his buddies kick me straight from the game just because i came up with a solution that wasnt his
  10. ChocSix

    ChocSix Member

    I just say NO.

    I offer NO explanation.
  11. supernova

    supernova New Member

    i have no idea where to put this post and i didn't want to make a thread on it either, so it's going here.

    the following post will most likely cause some heated reactions/responses so i'm going to put it in spoiler tags. it's in relation to the behaviour and relationships of devs/mods towards community members. and to an extent, how everyone else treats each other in general.

    Show Spoiler
    this forum has become a dictatorship run by mods who don't even abide by their own rules and post and comment on whatever they see fit. yet when other community members want to voice their own opinion, when mods don't like it, they straight away go on the offensive and break their own rules and become hypocrites.

    i'm pretty sure i'm not the only one who feels this way. so i'm just going to voice it here, once and for all.

    and this constant bashing of vex at any given chance is getting tiring and makes the people who does this look utterly childish and stupid. you complain about him not reading posts properly, qqing too much, childish, immature, whatever the fuck you want to call it. but take a step back and look at your own posts, any posts that has any relation to vex. you will see that you are being complete hypocrites.

    seriously, just because people think vex is widely hated, doesn't mean you can act like you are in a pack of wolves feeding off the vulnerable. if there's just one little bit of his posts or one word you don't like, you take exception to that and take it as a chance to start the bashing.

    i'm not a friend of vex, nor am i trying to personally defend him. if it were anyone else, i'd be doing the same thing. nor am i targetting any mods personally. again, if it were anyone else, i'd be saying the same thing.

    this is an example of what i've been talking about. i'm sure there are many more examples, but i seriously don't want to go through archives of posts. i'm sure most people know what i'm talking about.

    so not only is there hypocrisy, there's also an account which i'm pretty certain is a shadow account of one, if not more than one of the mods. now, check the post history of this seekrit agent otis. his/her posts are full of utter shit. talks like a person who suffers from a mental disorder. and the posts contribute to nothing at all, has zero substance.

    if it were any other person from the community, expressing their opinions/views and posting this way, i'm sure it wouldn't be accepted and mods would be giving hell to this person.

    but since it's a mod's shadow account? no one even bats an eyelid over it.

    one more thing. and this might cause even more anger. sure, i get that it becomes frustrating when the community continually and repeatedly question changes, balance changes, bring up bugs, complain about bugs etc. but there's a line that gets brought up many times when devs/mods get frustrated and it's along the lines of 'we are bring you entertainment for no cost on your end', 'fuck this shit' or the numerous other ways of telling others to simply 'fuck off'.

    so how about the community replies with 'if you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen' ie. no one asked you to stay. if you don't like the pressure or expectations, there's the door. on your way.' just to make it clear, i am in no way voicing the above as a viable option. it's just an example.

    if the community came up with that in response to mods/devs, in response to the community's criticisms, the mods/devs would be kicking up a stink, right? these sort of situations go both ways. you can't have your cake and eat it too.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  12. Kith
    • Development Team
    • Designer

    Kith NOTD Staff: Anti-Fun Wizard Skeleton

    This isn't really the place for it, but hey, close enough.

    While it's not exactly your place to dictate how we run our community, feel free to point out these points of hypocrisy. Just alluding to them vaguely doesn't exactly allow us to improve.

    I can't speak for everyone else, but I personally do not mind Vex. I've played with him a couple times and he's an alright guy. I get mad at him when he can't read a post properly or makes poor arguments, but that's on a case-by-case basis.

    Maybe you haven't been on the forums very much, but uh... I treat everyone like that. If you scoot on over to the Medic thread, you'll see me defending my design from Arturia, TheWolf, even fucking Ability himself. Disregard this if your statement is in reference to Shooz flying off the handle in the Mass Designate thread, 'cause... yeah. That's pretty unacceptable behavior, and I don't condone it.

    Otis has a long and varied history. If you'll look at Otis's threads, you'll notice that one is about him being a new character. Otis was crafted as a joke account, partially to give the players a little interaction in deciding the parameters of the new class for NOTD 2 and partially because it was funny. He was also created to leak details about NOTD 2 when certain bits got completed. That said, Otis has had mod powers from the very beginning. I haven't. I admit to using Otis a couple times to access moderator powers (that I should've had a long time ago, mind you), and I did so with the understanding that everyone knew that the one driving the Otis account was me.

    That post about Vex acting like an insolent child was something that, at the time, I felt was warranted: just because there was a little disagreement between him and the developers in what constitutes a not crap bug report, he attempted to delete the thread. Considering that said bug was pretty important, I had to undo that. I was a little irritated at the time that all of this bullshit had broken out over an inoffensive attempt by the other developers to gather more information for Arcane so he could fix things properly instead of having to deal with a bug report that was nowhere near sufficient. Did I act out of line? That's debatable. Do I wish I could've handled it better with a clearer mind? Yeah, I do. Part of that post was being angry at the stupid goddamn argument of "I shouldn't have to post more details because I play more often than you do and Arcane knows what I'm talking about" and partially being angry at the fact that I still lacked basic mod powers.

    But that's fixed now, so Otis should never be moderating anything ever again.

    The first bit I say often, yes. Not really sure where you're getting the other two, though. I'd appreciate some examples.

    You're going to have to clarify what you intend to convey here, because if you're saying what I think you're saying, this possibly may be the most selfish and entitled thing that I've ever had spoken in my general direction. But it might not be, so I'm going to reserve judgement.

    I fail to see how we're attempting to have our cake and eat it too.
  13. squish

    squish Well-Known Member

    So. Thread necro because it shouldn't be cast into the pit of shadows and fall into the abyss of being never seen.

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