2012 New Years Revolution
Okay so I managed to get on the computer one more time this year after my Year In Wraps post, this time to post some ideas about how we can improve our conversation as atheists/skeptics etc. This is just a couple of ideas and none are concrete, but some may be worth entertaining. These ideas can help up to be more effective as debaters and critical thinkers, and may even allow for a different kinds of dialogue to the battles I see waged on Twitter and the like on a daily basis. Let me know what you think.
Atheists are often called aggressive, angry or rude. That is because we are impassioned about our ideas, we care about logic, reason and rational thought, and we reel when this is left out for the sake of an argument. How can we combat this notion?
Attack the idea, not the person
When debating with theists or anyone who holds tightly onto ideas that are either unfounded or ridiculous, it is important that we only attack the ideas, and never spiral downwards into ad hominem attacks about the person. This is not as easy as it may seem, for people who hold strong convictions see their beliefs as part of their own identity, as indistinguishable from who they are. If someone makes claims, for instance, about the fact that the bible is the word of god, don’t turn around and call them a numbskull for believing this, instead point out that there is a lapse in the logic or thought-process that leads them to this claim. It’s not only a better way to conduct an argument, but it may lead the person to actually think about what their position is, rather than just falling back into their default position. It also means that the person, though indignant, may not become defensive about themselves instead concentrating on the topic at hand. It also sets the rules of engagement, focuses the conversation to the topic at hand, and leaving personal feelings to the side. Like I said, though, this doesn’t always work as people may feel that they ARE their ideas.
I have always held the stance that a person is a good person until they prove to me otherwise. This is a good way to approach a conversation, don’t always go in hammer-and-tongs from the outset, try to reason with the person first, test the waters and see just to what extent you may need to go to in order to make your point, but never start by saying “Oh wow, you’re an idiot!” See the first point in relation to this also. I’m working on this one myself, it’s so easy to start with disrespect, but it’s very hard to work backwards from that stance.
Have evidence and cite sources
This goes without saying, but I see so many throwing claims up, whether they be true or not, which require evidence and sources in order to be given credence. The opposition will not be moved by ideas that may seem like they are just made up. A quick Google search should bring up multiple results on any topic. Other resources include atheist communities, many which contain links and conversations on philosophical and religious topics. I know I am guilty of not citing my references, but I aim to do better in the coming year.
Think before you post, and leave emotions to the side
Yeah I know, it may sound a bit robotic, but let logic and reason, not emotions, be your guide. Emotions lead to clouded judgements, and also into making wrong statements and assertions. Make sure you know what you are saying, stay on topic, read over it and make sure it is as clear as possible what it is you are trying to say. When you are being attacked on a personal level, don’t let emotions get the better of you, or the whole thing will spiral into a slanging match.
Having said that, I know from experience that all of this can be difficult since the topics we cover when arguing come from a place where logic is not invited to the party. When logic and reason are not part of the conversation, sometimes it is better to leave that battle and hunt for one with a more even playing field. Walk away, with your dignity intact.
This is just common sense. We can’t win every battle, verbal or written, and some battles are best left to the side. I know I’m not perfect at this either, in fact I have trouble with emotions when engaged with a person in an argument, which is why I could never become a public debater, not would I want to enter into one.
In 2012 I am endeavoring to make this my New Years Revolution, to steer conversations in logical directions, to avoid ad hominem attacks, to be respectful and to leave my emotions out of the equations. I think as a whole, these simple approaches (simple in theory, harder in reality) could help us (atheists, skeptics, agnostics) to be seen in a more favourable light. Today is the last day of 2011, here’s to hoping 2012 is an even more productive year than this one has.
I raise my glass to you!