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Masturbatory Comments

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In another thread, I mentioned my admiration for the novelist Barry Eisler and his John Rain novels. Rain is a sort of super hero in that he has skills well beyond that of the average person and can get himself out of untold number of jams. Yet, unlike other thrillers, spy novels, or superhero stories where testosterone is a factor, Eisler is not a flag waving right winger who has an anti-gay agenda. In fact, his blog, Heart of the Matter, (http://barryeisler.blogspot.com/) is a rather liberal political blog.

But what I noticed on his blog is his advice for those who wish to comment. I guess I can quote them here since he doesn't seem proprietary and I am linking to his blog. He has some ideas which could be relevant to this site, among others, and we sometimes do forget this advice in the heat of making arguments:


1. The most important guideline when it comes to argument is the golden rule. If someone were addressing your point, what tone, what overall approach would you find persuasive and want her to use? Whatever that is, do it yourself. If you find this simple guideline difficult, I'll explain it slightly differently in #2.


2. Argue for persuasion, not masturbation. If you follow the golden rule above, it's because you're trying to persuade someone. If you instead choose sarcasm and other insults, you can't be trying to persuade (have you ever seen someone's opinion changed by an insult?). If you're not trying to persuade, what you're doing instead is stroking yourself. Now, stroking yourself is fine in private, but I think we can all agree it's a pretty pathetic to do so in public. So unless you like to come across as pathetic, argue to persuade.


3. Compared to the two above, this is just commentary, but: no one cares about your opinion (or mine, for that matter). It would be awesome to be so impressive that we could sway people to our way of thinking just by declaiming our thoughts, but probably most of us lack such gravitas. Luckily, there's something even better: evidence, logic, and argument. Think about it: when was the last time someone persuaded you of the rightness of his opinion just by declaring what it was? Probably it was the same time someone changed your mind with an insult, right? And like insults, naked declarations of opinion, because they can't persuade, are fundamentally masturbatory. And masturbation, again, is not a very polite thing to do on a blog.


Argue with others the way you'd like them to argue with you. Argue with intent to persuade. Argue with evidence and logic. That shouldn't be so hard, should it? Let's give it a try.



And, you might want to give his novels a try, too. Start with the first one, which I believe is Rain Fall.

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