An Ethological Art

As long as you let contrarians turn the conversation about you, you become the ball.  This puts you on the defensive. As long as you defend yourself, they will keep attacking. As long as you accept it’s all about you, you allow them to have their fun and they have nothing to lose. Hence why contrarians always personalize.

It’s part of socialization:

ClimateBall is an ethological art.


Hope for Reason

Suppose I offer, at no charge, to drop a drug in the water supply that would cause almost everyone in the country to vote like you this November. You would probably feel at least a little bit tempted to take the deal. Presidential politics is a matter of grave import, after all. Still — many of us would hesitate, and rightly so. There seems to be something really wrong with manipulating people to believe things even when the stakes are high. We want to convince our opponents, yes, but we want them to be convinced by our reasons. [Michael P. Lynch]

Between a Debate and a Quarrel

Dialogue models are normative frameworks and are used to describe and evaluate everyday dialogical interactions. Real dialogues are much more complex and articulated than the six typologies presented. Often they present characteristics belonging to different dialogue types. In (Walton 1990) debate is for instance analysed as a persuasion dialogue having some features of an eristic confrontation. The participants’ goal is to persuade a third party, but in this process of persuasion the rules are quite permissive and direct attack and moves similar to a quarrel. However, debate has rules, unlike a quarrel. These rules can be more or less strict, depending on the institutional context in which the debate takes place. For instance, in a university debate certain kinds of personal attack allowed in a political debate are not permitted. Debate is one of the three mixed dialogues analysed in (Walton and Krabbe 1995, pp. 83-85).

[Douglas Walton, Types of Dialogue, Dialectical Relevance, and Textual Congruity]

Note. ClimateBall is a quarrel where the players pretend they’re having a debate. This pretense is useful to blame rivals for refusing to debate.

Public (non-) apologies: The discourse of minimizing responsibility

The frequent realizations of apologies in the global arena since the beginning of the 1990s, has turned the speech act into a common device for image restoration. In spite of the advantages that public figures can benefit in contemporary politics of trust from apologizing, the speech act still poses a threat to the public figure’s image. Apologies can undermine the public figure’s desired face, and project an image of a person who is lack of professional capabilities. The aim of this paper is to examine how public figures realize creative forms of apologetic speech in order to minimize their responsibility for misdeeds, while calculating the costs and benefits in producing apology utterances. Based on the analysis of 354 apologies made in the Israeli public discourse between 1997 and 2004, I demonstrate tactics which range on four main categories of minimizing responsibility for misdeeds: compromising the apology’s performative verb (e.g. using the verb sorry or regret instead of apologize), blurring the nature of the offense (e.g. by apologizing for a specific component, rather than the entirety of the offense), questioning the identity of the offended (e.g. claiming that no one should be offended by the act) or questioning the identity of the offender (e.g. explicitly denying direct responsibility for the offense).

Zohar Kampf, Journal of Pragmatics, Volume 41, Issue 11, November 2009, Pages 2257–2270.

The Circumstances of Civility

The paper tries to identify the circumstances in which civility in discourse is both necessary and obligatory. I assume that, pre-theoretically, everyone can agree that “civility” is paramount for discourse in the classroom setting. Teachers should be civil to students, and students to their teachers. By elucidating why civility seems obligatory in this context, I try to specify the circumstances of civility, which, in brief, obtain when epistemic values and motives dominate in discourse. I then describe a political context, “Dystopia,” in which the circumstances of civility do not obtain, and so civility is not obligatory, but might still be advisable.

Brian Leiter, CIVILITY AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, Washington State University Press, 2011 .

Strategic manoeuvring with direct personal attacks

The main finding of a comprehensive empirical research project on the intersubjective acceptability of the pragma-dialectical discussion rules (Van Eemeren, Garssen & Meuffels, 2009) is that ordinary language users judge discussion moves that are considered fallacious from an argumentation-theoretical perspective as unreasonable. In light of this finding it is remarkable that in everyday argumentative discourse fallacies occur regularly and seem many times not to be noticed by the participants in the discourse. This also goes for the abusive argumentum ad hominem. While abusive ad hominem attacks are judged to be very unreasonable discussion moves when the unreasonableness of clear cases of this fallacy is rated in experiments, in real life this fallacy remains undetected more often than not. In this paper it is argued that this paradox can be explained by analysing abusive ad hominem attacks as a mode of strategic manoeuvring which takes on a reasonable appearance in real life situations when it mimics, as it often does, legitimate critical reactions to authority argumentation. The hypothesis that abusive fallacies are seen as less unreasonable when they are presented as if they are critical questions pertaining to the argument scheme for authority argumentation than when they are clear cases was tested systematically in two experiments. The results of these experiments confirmed the hypothesis.

Frans H. van Eemeren, Bart Garssen & Bert Meuffels.

Collective Motion of Humans in Mosh and Circle Pits at Heavy Metal Concerts

Human collective behavior can vary from calm to panicked depending on social context. Using videos publicly available online, we study the highly energized collective motion of attendees at heavy metal concerts. We find these extreme social gatherings generate similarly extreme behaviors: a disordered gaslike state called a mosh pit and an ordered vortexlike state called a circle pit. Both phenomena are reproduced in flocking simulations demonstrating that human collective behavior is consistent with the predictions of simplified models.

Source: Jesse L. Silverberg, Matthew Bierbaum, James P. Sethna, and Itai Cohen, Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 228701 (2013). (H/T Bwana_Mrefu)