Read this list like one of those psychological diagnostic tests. If more than some number of symptoms are present, the diagnosis fits.
Or like a bingo card. If you’re dealing with someone who relies on at least some of the items on this list in response to your challenges, bingo! You’re probably dealing with a know-it-all, someone who doesn’t care about what’s right as much as they care about being able to pretend that they’re right.
The items on this list are all-purpose fake reasons used to support a belief. They’re fake in that they are evidence-free and content-free ways of saying, “I’m not the problem; you are.” They’re all-purpose in that one can use them to support really any belief. For the person who uses these fake reasons, claiming to be right matters more than the belief.
To engage in reasoned debate with someone who relies heavily and automatically on these fake reasons is a waste of your time and energy. They’re not receptive to challenges and rational argument. Engaging with them by supplying real reasons is likely to be enabling. It gives the impression that they’re being reasonable when they’re not.
You’re best off either exiting or focusing on their use of these tricks. If you accuse them of using them, they’ll use them more in their defense which only proves your point that they’re using them. Accusing them of using them may be the best strategy for disarming them.
And to be evenhanded, if you’re using these tricks then bingo!, you too deserve the diagnosis. You too might care less about what’s right than you care about pretending that you’re right.
- Playing judge: They pretend that instead of arguing, they’re the judge who will decide who wins the argument.
- Little or no admission of their subjectivity: They don’t say “I think that X is true,” they just declare their opinions as truth.
- “You don’t know that for sure”: They pretend to be scientifically cautious by casting uncertainty on any challenge, all the while claiming certainty about their own beliefs.
- “He’s wrong, therefore I’m right” (AKA Defaulty logic): They assume that if they can find anything wrong with their challenger’s arguments, they’re automatically right by default, as though there are only two possibilities.
- “See? You don’t know anything” (AKA Infallibility contest): They turn the debate into a winner-takes-all contest in which one person will prove right about everything and the other will prove wrong about everything. For example, “You think the Beatle’s White Album came out in 1969?! What an idiot.”
- “I have a right to my opinion, so shut up.” (AKA The democracy fallacy): They pretend that the issue is freedom of speech, though only freedom of their speech, not your freedom to disagree with them.
- “Deal with it” (AKA Take it or leave it): Pretending that the only ways to deal with their opinion is to shut up or agree with it.
- “Because you’re upset, you’re wrong” (AKA Emotional blackmail): Pretending that an emotional response determines the winner of debates. If you’re annoyed, frustrated, angry or agitated, the opinions you have are proven wrong and you are disqualified. This is especially handy late in a debate. After having frustrated their opponents with consistent unreceptivity, they pull this one out as their coup de grace.
- Equal rights and fairness (only to me) hypocrisy: They pretend to be the referee determining what’s fair in debate, but are only focused on what’s fair to themselves. For example, a disdainful, “Please! One shouldn’t interrupt!” when you interrupt them, but not when they interrupt you.
- “I feel sorry for you.” (AKA Fake pity): A put-down dressed up as sympathy. For example, “I feel sorry for you, you’re such an idiot.”
- “I’m so disappointed in you!” (AKA fake high standards): A put down dressed up as upholding high standards. For example, “Wow, I’m disappointed. I expected more from a professional like you. You should have responded respectfully to me after I a called you a blithering idiot.”
- “You’re not nice.” (AKA Niceism): They try to shame you into surrendering by treating all challenges as insults. Using “that’s not nice” as a smokescreen for narcissism.
- Kill the messenger: They treat factual evidence as a personal attack, so if you bring any to the table you’re just being insulting.
- “My intentions are good. Don’t they count for everything?”: They pretend that they know all of their intentions to be virtuous. “I’m only seeking truth,” or “Look I would never want to put you down.” This is a self-serving misunderstanding of how intentions work, for example, that one may not directly want to put someone down, but one might still tolerate it as the side effect of some other aim one has.
- “If I say it about me, it must be true and you have to take my word for it.” (AKA Talk-is-walkism): Thinking that the positive things they say about themselves must be true. “I’m kind, nice, mindful, honest, thoughtful, thorough. You have got to believe me. You owe me trust that I’m right about my virtues.” They pretend that their credibility is owed not earned.
- Whatever you say about me is the opposite of true: They automatically correct you by flipping what you say. For example, if you say, “You don’t try to understand my point of view,” they automatically declare, “I’m the best listener you ever met.”
- “Why can’t we all just get along?”: Another variation on take it or leave it. Pretending that their virtuous goal is harmony when really, they’re pressuring you to compromise.
- Playing interrogator: Filling the air with their challenges and questions while ignoring all of yours. Taking control of the conversation by flooding it with their demands.
- Throwing their books at you (AKA URLing): Puking up their personal library of urls that agree with them, and insisting that if you haven’t studied them all, you aren’t qualified to argue with them.
- “A lot of people agree with me so I must be right.” (AKA Throwing their supporters at you): Pretending that popular opinion decides truth. Conveniently forgetting that they don’t apply the same logic when lots of people disagree with them or are just plain wrong about something, as is often the case.
- “I must be right because I'm quoting someone ancient.” (AKA Toga-cred): An ancient superstition that the ancients knew everything.
- “I must be right because I'm quoting someone modern.” (AKA Lab-coat-cred:A modern superstition that scientists know everything.
- “I must be right because I'm quoting someone famous for something entirely different.” (AKA Generalized status-cred): For example, if Einstein said it about politics, religion or anything else, you have to believe it.
- “Moi? How dare you say I have that trait?! I hate that trait.” (AKA Exempt by contempt): Pretending that hating a trait when others have it means that they don’t have it.
- “Moi? How dare you compare me to him?!”: Rather than exploring whether the comparison fits, pretending that their high self-regard and sense of personal exceptionalism means that there would never be any ground to draw parallels between them and bad people.
- Ignoring evidence and proud of it (AKA Faith): Pretending that it’s a virtue to think you know for certain what’s true, that a blanket refusal to reconsider their position is a badge of honor. Proudly chanting “I agree with myself” as though it were a reason you should agree with them.
- Insistence trumps reality: Pretending that debates are won by whoever is most insistent, not by reality, as though insisting hardest that something is true makes it true.
- “You don’t know me, so you’re wrong about everything”: This is popular with trolls since by writing anonymously they can pretend to be anyone and there’s no proving otherwise. In heated debate, they’ll take any assumption you’ve made about them and pretend that they don’t represent the assumption. For example, “You think I’m a man but I’m not. See? You’re a fool.” It’s that “see you’re a fool” that suggests that they’re making up a false identity just to prove you wrong about something. This is also used by so-called “Independents” who vote consistently one way but claim independence to keep from being accused of following the party line.
- “I don’t know about that, so it’s disqualified as evidence.”: If challenged about something easily researched, they report that they know nothing about it, and that therefore your point has no relevance. They show no interest in researching it.
- “I don't have to consider your opinion because you’re one of those!”: They put you in a category of people they’ve decided are dismissible fools.
- “How would I do it? By succeeding!” (AKA The goal is the plan): They talk as though their goals were as good as achieved already, ignoring the inconvenient challenge of explaining how their goals will be achieved.
- “That’s totally different!”: They pretend a double standard isn’t one by declaring a difference without explaining it. “I’m principled; you’re pigheaded. They’re totally different! Don’t you know that?!”
- Over-reactive shaming: They distort your argument, making it sound ridiculous in order to shame you into not making it.
- “Fine, I’ll shut up forever so you can dominate.”: They exaggerate your process request to shame you for making it. For example, if you say “Could you stop talking long enough to hear me out?” They say “Fine, I’ll shut up. I’ll never say another thing to you. I’ll just listen to you from now on,” as though you’re being a tyrant.
- Insistent replay: If you raise any challenge to their beliefs, they act as though you must not have heard it and so go back to the beginning to declare it all over again.
- “I’ve had it. From now on I win always.”: They proudly say “I demand all,” playing the only victim and therefore the one owed total surrender. For example, “I (or my people) have been oppressed, so from now on I’m owed total reparation. From now on I’m right about everything.”
- Revising the past: Rather than admitting to error, they pretend they didn’t make one, thereby making you wrong for misinterpreting it. For example, saying “I didn’t say that. You must have heard wrong,” when in fact they said that. A milder version is “Sorry you misunderstood me.”
- “Jeez, I was just joking. My, aren’t you hypersensitive?” Instead of revising the past they say that they were only kidding.
- “You sound like you have biases.”: Treating universal human traits (that they have too) as rare pathologies of the weak and maladjusted.
- Willfully ignoring questions of degree (AKA motivated black-and-white thinking): They treat even the smallest immorality as justification for the largest. For example, “You once bent the truth, so you’re in no position to accuse me of reckless lying.”
- “You’re just saying that to do X”: They make a negative caricature of your motives. The operative word is “just,” meaning “ignore all other possible motives.”
- “If you’re not pure, I’m not listening” (The Imaginable motive fallacy): They imagine the worst possible motive you could have for something, assume that it’s all that’s motivating you and disqualify you for it, as though one can only act when motives are absolutely pure, like theirs.
- “I’m just saying that to do X”: The make a positive caricature of their motives, again using a term like “just” or “only.” They report that their motives are only pure and good, as though they know that for certain.
- “Don’t tell me how I feel!” (AKA Mind-reading rights): They pretend that they are the last word authorities on everything they feel, conveniently ignoring that they often assume that other people don’t know their own feelings.
- Loaded terms: They use positive and negative terms as though they’re just calling a spade a spade. For example, “I’m being honest; you’re being insulting. Look I’m just calling it like it is.”
- Reiteration as reasoning (AKA Spinplexes): They employ a range of consistently loaded terms to make their argument seem stronger and your argument seem weaker. For example, “I’m proud to demand more, stand my ground, speak up for myself, uphold my principles and, furthermore, hold high standards, whereas you, you’re just being pushy, attached, demanding, obnoxious, and, not only that, pigheaded.”
- “That’s just talk, words, theory, abstraction or semantics”: They accuse you of empty talk without showing any interest in why their talk counts and yours doesn’t.
- “You’re a biased ideologue; I’m a neutral observer”: They pretend to have a pure objective perspective on reality and assume that anyone who disagrees with them is biased. They don’t recognize that everyone is inescapably biased. Where we stand depends on where we sit. What we believe is shaped by our different experiences and priorities.
- “I’m consistent, it’s other people who keep changing the rules”: To maintain their sense of internal consistency they project all inconsistency onto others. As though to keep from seeing themselves as turning their own logic upside down, they’re happy to pretend the world keeps flipping on its head while they stay upright. For example, “I’ve always said this. You just keep changing the standards by which you misinterpret what I’m saying.”
- The simpler theory always wins: They act as though truth is discovered by looking for the simplest explanation. They win because their idea is simpler. You lose because obviously, you’re overthinking it by throwing in all sorts of confusing counter-examples.
- Corrupt morality policing: Having embraced (in theory only) some popular moral virtue, they declare themselves chief of police, protecting the world from all vice but their own.
- “If you withdraw you lose.”: They attack you as you leave a debate, having decided they’re not listening. As you leave they declare that they’ve won.
All of these tricks boil down to “I know you are, but what am I?” declared without real evidence or reasons. As such, they are what little bullies do, expanded to an adult repertoire. These tricks are not rare. They’re easy to use. We learn them young. Some of us never stop using them. Some of us return to them in the stress of adult life. Some of us know better to use them since by using them one risks losing touch with reality, a dangerous prospect because reality wins in the end.
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