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laureth's avatar

How would you handle this argument-based situation?

Asked by laureth (27184points) September 2nd, 2010

Please note: I mean argument in the sense of presenting evidence in a semi-intellectual setting (like Fluther), not in an “I did not! You did too!” shouting match.

Imagine you’ve spent years reading things. Books, magazine and newspaper articles, on the internet, off of the internet, heard experts speak, etc. etc., and find at some point that you know a rather large amount about a pretty good array of subjects. Now imagine that out of this whirl of information and insight you’ve spent your lifetime absorbing, have come ideas of your own. All the bits of evidence are like puzzle pieces, and you’ve been able to put them together into what you think is a pretty convincing, evidence-based presentation. (This could be about literally any topic. Let’s use zoos as an example.) The footnotes lead to whole books and articles about zookeeping, documentaries, interviews with renowned zookeepers, and such.

Now, someone who is not as well-read as you are comes along and reads your essay. They question some of the facts you’ve presented because they are not what this person has heard in the media. (Say that he’s a cook, not a zookeeper, and not very well read in general anyway.) Your conclusions about how to build the best zoo are unusual, not necessarily something a cook would have thought about, but they’re pretty well researched. You say, “I believe my facts are true, and if you read these books about zookeeping, you would think so, too.”

Cook says, “I am not interested in reading zookeeping books, I’m a cook. Can you summarize the book for me?”

So you recommend a documentary on Hulu, which is only an hour long and summarizes lots of zookeeping information. Cook doesn’t have an hour to kill watching some program, and wants to hear the information summarized by you again, hopefully in a sentence or two.

So you point out that you’ve already summarized them as well as you can in your essay, but the cook has read your essay and thinks that your conclusions can’t possibly be right because that doesn’t sound like anything he’s heard about zoos. We’re back where we began: someone disagrees with your researched opinion, but is unwilling to do all the research you’ve done and simply writes you off as being wrong and possibly ignorant of the way zoos should be run. After all, the cook has been to a zoo a few times, and has a stack of National Geographics at home with pretty pictures of lions and zebras on the cover. Clearly he knows something about zoos – enough to know that your essay is bunk.

Is there any point to continuing the discussion? Or does it become one of those pointless internet arguments where everybody loses? You clearly can’t make him do the lifetime of reading you’ve done (or even make him read an article), but he refuses to admit that you have any merit whatsoever. Keep in mind that this guy votes, and there might be a zoo issue on the ballot or something, so there is a small but significant reason why you’d like to get him good and informed.

Sorry this is so long. Some things are just not easily reduced into a few sentences, which is what gets me into this situation in the first place. ;)

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14 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Ah…but some things are best reduced to a few words.
The best thing to do in this situation is to not care ;)

CyanoticWasp's avatar

You have to present your argument—if you care to—in ways that a cook can understand. Surely a cook should be able to understand that a zoo should be a habitat and not an abattoir, for example. You can present ideas about “good” zoos and “bad” zoos; just don’t hit the cook with ideas that are out of his (or her) ken.

Somehow we manage to raise our kids to understand the things that we do (more or less, to an extent), and they certainly haven’t started from the same place that we have. Maybe the problem is attempting to “argue” when in the case of someone who is ignorant on the topic you first need to disabuse them of all their fixed (and wrong) ideas.

Beta_Orionis's avatar

If you’re not frustrated, and have the time to continue the discussion, I consider it worthwhile. It’s educating an individual just a bit more. Clearly the research will not be done willingly, so if you can afford a little more clarity, then perhaps the next time they encounter a similar situation, the will not dismiss the opinions of others so readily.

But if you feel it’s wasting your time (you have priorities) and the information is of the type that is not easily summarized, back away gently and inform the person that you are unable to summarize the information well enough to such a small scale (or provide some other rationale that is neutral, does not place any blame/frustration on the other person, etc.)

kevbo's avatar

If I were truly interested in putting the time in to change this person’s mind I would do it by “forcing” them to answer questions about their own argument in an attempt to get them to see whatever holes might be present or to engender some degree of doubt. Assuming, in your expert knowledge, you already know how and why their mass media informed opinion is fallacious, the questions would serve as an attempt to force an acknowledgement and reconciliation of those fallacies. Experts are who they are firstly because they know what questions to ask not because they know the answers. By getting the cook to internalize the questions, you move them towards becoming more of an expert on zookeeping and possibly towards your point of view.

Trillian's avatar

No point. Some things are too complex to boil down to a sentence or two. Somene who does not want to take the time to learn the necessary background information can remain in ignorance and his opinion can be valued accordingly.

laureth's avatar

thanks folks. Good answers.

rebbel's avatar

That was a very short answer, @laureth, after that looong question :-)
In situations like these the best thing to do is, in my opinion, agree to disagree.
You will never convince someone to read in, the aversion is already to strong.
I think that (most) people, when they are thinking the opposite of what you/your believe, they are not likely to learn of other views.
It would just be time and energy wasting.

Jeruba's avatar

This sounds very similar to a case that nikipedia presented to us a long time ago, when the subject was brains and she was up against the unreasoning certitude of a less well-informed colleague. She wanted her informed expertise to be recognized and respected (as I recall) and not rejected with lame arguments by someone who knew far less about the subject than she did and was not capable of refuting her position logically.

I understood her frustration and I understand yours. This is the same reason why I abandon or simply avoid certain arguments about grammar around here. Somebody asserts “I was taught” and it is supposed to defeat a reasoned presentation of analysis and example based on authoritative references and years of professional practice. All I can really do is walk away. Seems to me that some of our medical people have come to the same conclusion with regard to discussions in their respective fields.

I don’t think there’s anything you can do. Let it go.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

If I give someone an idea and some tools to further investigate the background or inspiration for my idea then it’s up to them to use those tools/information as long as they’re interested in my idea. If they don’t want to read or whatever then in my opinion they’re not that interested and so my focus will not be to give them much more attention or reaction.

YARNLADY's avatar

It depends on your goal. If you believe you must convince him, then summarizing a few sources would be in order. Usually this type of discussion will not have positive results.

It is a sad fact that people who vote, and are in a position to decide yes or no on various positions are not the least bit interested in becoming well informed.

I have been in some discussions right here on Fluther that were like that, and I have to do the ‘stop following’ thing. Usually the user who has the ‘issue’ gets bored and leaves the collective.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. In that case after I have made several attempts to point them to the facts and they don’t care to take it or take the time to find out but want me to fill the blanks that they won’t accept anyhow, I will use reverse logic on them. I will ask him about cooking, or instance, and when he says something I will say it was bogus because I seen different on Hells Kitchen so it must be more true than what he is saying or anything said at the cooking school he went to; after all Gordon Ramsay’s is a famous world class chef. If he bristles over that I will ask why should I believe his facts which he believes he knows better because he has been a cook for many years when he can’t accept the logic on zoos that go back years? If he can’t embrace the logic after that I will just move on and take he don’t really care about logic or truth that don’t fit what he has decided ahead of time.

laureth's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central – I got to do that once to a cop I was debating. I told him I knew waaaay more about police work than he possibly could, because I’d seen a few episodes of CSI, and knew he was making hs job sound way more boring than it really was. ;)

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@laureth That’s ma’ girl!!! :-D

BBawlight's avatar

I’d say that everyone has their own opinion about things (such as proper zoo keeping) and you can either convince them of your way of thinking or not. If not, then when it becomes obvious you can’t convince them just walk away politely and say you had a good argument.

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