This is a question about argument, counterargument, convincing people of something, and why people believe the things they do.
- Let’s say you make a claim. For example the claim that rich people are rich because they do the most good in society.
- I want to argue that you’re wrong. There are a couple ways I could proceed.
- Now, to me, personally, the most logical tack to take should be to ask you for evidence.
You’ve made a sweeping claim about a large number of people, using ill-defined abstractions like "good", and so on.
- In my mind, the way I personally think, I should ask you to back that up, you won’t be able to (or will make recourse to doctors, neglecting the real issues like LBO investors or the bottom billion) and then you end as wrong or neutral.
- But. This is not what really works in a real debate or argument. It’s mysterious to me as to why, but I think a correct answer as to why would be pure gold.
- What’s going to work better is if I argue a separate theory. Like "No, the rich don’t benefit society the most, they just screw people over the most. They put the terms of trade in their favour, they set up deals that screw over powerless or uninformed parties, and the game is set up in a way that benefits them.” If I’m really impassioned and present some stories backing up my viewpoint this will work even better.
- Now to me this seems illogical. You’re saying "X" and rather than responding "Not X" I’m supposed to respond "Y". Y relates somewhat to X and kind-of negates X, but mostly Y is just a different theory of the world.
- Another example could be that you argue for supply-side economics. Instead of me arguing against supply-side economics, pointing out the flaws or weak points in it, it’s more convincing if I argue Keynesianism, or MMT, or some other full theory, instead.
- Look up "Gish Gallop" for example. The phrase relates to evolutionists complaining about the way a creationist, Duane Gish, argues. Gish allegedly adds more and more propositions to his argument, forcing his opponent to look up and refute stuff much slower than Gish can add new propositions.
- Gish is not arguing this way, and his evolutionist opponents are not frustrated by the rhetorical style, because it doesn’t work. Irrespective of how much he does it, the fact that evolutionists were bothered enough to name a “fallacy" after Duane Gish indicates that audiences were swayed by the technique of adding more and more propositions.
- Logically—to me at least—it’s harder to prove a claim made up of many propositions than to prove just one of the propositions making up the claim. So “Not only does G-d exist, but the Christian G-d exists, and was made manifest as Jesus Christ, and died on the cross to atone for the sins of mankind, and ten other points of doctrine" —- should be harder to prove than just "Any G-d exists”. But yet I’ve seen more than one “Atheism debate” where the anti-atheist person debates this very long proposition.
- Or let’s say you’re arguing that a thesis you read in the Times is “probably right" because it’s vetted by experts. I should argue back that vetting doesn’t imply it’s right. But to be more convincing, I probably should counter the Times writer’s theory with one of my own. If I don’t have one, but just like to carry around a bucket of scepticism to pour on fires of passion? I’m SOL rhetorically.
- Why wouldn’t you just defend the easiest argument—the one that Pareto-dominates the long argument?
- The fact that people don’t agree with what I’m calling simple logic means I’m missing something. In fact I don’t think anyone has a theory of why people are convinced by things, which captures the appeal of these run-on arguments. Of course I would be happy to be told I’m wrong about that; please tell me if I am.
- Do people prefer more information-dense statements? Does making a more specific claim imply, in some wider "ecological" sense, that the speaker is “more likely to be” well-informed? Do people prefer whole frameworks to piecemeal facts? If so, why?
- I could go on with more questions and half-baked theories of what might be happening, but I’ll spare you.
So, why do people think this way? Is it a lack of sfumato? And what does the fact that people think this way tell us about other important stuff, like rationality, love relationships, parenting, reasoning, good decisionmaking, "facts", habits, authority, marketing, judgement, court convictions, investing/retirement planning, political voting, how people come to their beliefs, and what it takes to change someone’s beliefs?