“Perfect is the enemy of good.” – Aaron Clarey
Special thanks to @consciouscarnivore for the article inspiration, as this started out as a back and forth me and her were having, that I figured would be worth covering here. I’ll be straight with you: Intellectual Openness, admitting that “the more you learn the less you realize you don’t know” and being open to the opinions and facts other have to share, that is a double edged sword.
On one end of the blade, when used correctly it keeps you from being complacent, ensuring you don’t stop and continue to grow. It is the humbleness that not only helps prevent you from thinking you “know enough” since there’s always more to learn and new information to discover, it also grants you the the ability to always find different and even unique ways in which to improve yourself. In that light, Intellectual Openness is a very important tool that makes the rest of your positive life directions possible: it’s pretty hard to, as an example, bench press 300 pounds when you have the mindset that 100 is enough, or worse, your built in maximum.
On the other end of the blade, however, is the “swamp of nitpicking”, where other people use it to tell you you “don’t know everything” and therefore listen to their opinion, which of course is always somehow the “correct one”. This can take many forms (which, since it is a form of sophistry, should come as no surprise), ranging from “well, your philosophy seems well intentioned, but it’s never been tried before”, or “well that’s a nice idea, but it wouldn’t work for [insert reasons here]”, or “I saw a study /anecdotal story that says [insert activity to criticize] isn’t as effective or more harmful than [insert alternate activity here]. Perhaps my favorite one is “well not every person (usually involving some group with whatever traits, whether they were born with or inflicted upon themselves) can do that the way you do it because [insert more reasons].
Sometimes it is a genuine person that really is trying to help you by offering constructive criticism, and that kind of feedback is worth it’s weight in bitcoin. Far more often than not, however, it is someone that is trying to throw sand in your gears and slow you down, possibly even to stop you. There are a few reasons people will do this: the most benign would be erroneously informed about whatever activity (let’s use one of mine, which is wearing weights during my daily*laughcoughs*nightly activities): the sheer amount of statements I got about how bad it would be on your joints or back (it should be noted almost everyone who said this was pretty overweighed themselves with weight you can’t simply take off), how bad it is for my hands (I still think that girl was turned on and couldn’t figure out why), stories of how a guy did what I’m doing and had to get knee surgery, etc. Those I can give a pass to: wrong as they might be, and though the effect is roughly the same, the intent isn’t malevolent.
The other two reasons I believe this behavior happens is, one worse than the other. 1. They want you to stop doing whatever it is out of fear and laziness: if it’s something noteworthy enough for them to get your attention and speak up about, chances are it’s something that requires mental, physical and intellectual rigor and discipline, possibly even a financial investment, some or all of which they are too lazy to do or even worse, makes them uncomfortable that you’re working to improve your life at a degree they’re unwilling to do themselves (True Story: a good friend of mine had one of her childhood friends literally tell her they couldn’t hang out anymore because she was getting in shape and it made her feel bad), and it is far easier to criticize and nitpick from the sidelines rather than take to the field.
Far more insidious than the previous would be reason 2. They have some sort of vested interest that your ideas or activities threaten, whether directly or merely perceived. This is what I would call one of many flavors of evil, because unlike the previous two, this person knows damn well what they’re doing, and would rather stall your progress rather than take responsibility (that’s a curse word these days I know: I’ll wait for you to recover) over what are likely bad life decisions that led to whatever vested interest they’re trying to protect, whether it’s something tangible, or their own damn feelings. Keep in mind that they are working from the opposite premise of philosophy which states that you start with a hypothesis and work towards a conclusion: they “have the correct conclusion”, and their goal is to use your Intellectual Openness to keep you from finding the correct one, or one at all for that matter. And they do this in 3 main ways:
1. Constantly switching arguments, aka the Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. Let’s use taxation as a light easy topical example. Let’s say you had the insane idea of not using a system to pay for various social costs that if you don’t pay into will end with you in jail or 6 feet under, and perhaps using a system where people voluntarily put money towards causes you believe in, like helping starving children. One argument that could be made for taxation is that there are programs available to help needy children, and the counter argument is that ever since said programs, which have been growing in number for decades, have the result of more kids starving than ever before. Do they address that counter argument, or do they jump right to another talking point, almost as if that argument never even happened? A slightly related tactic, usually not even worth pointing out, is when they simply repeat the previous point, as if you hadn’t said anything and that repeating the same talking point you just answered will change reality.
2. Death by a thousand nitpicks. It is far easier to destroy than it is to build. It is even easier to criticize an idea or argument than it is to conceptualize and analyze. For the “starving little Timmy” example, you could point out that when we actually had charitable organizations worth a damn, they would help families that have fallen on heard times. The nitpicking would take the form of “well “not all” (more on this in a moment) kids were helped, and they had to work as newsies or in coal mines where they were underpaid by the robber barons, and what about the kid whose parents dies or were terminally ill, you get the idea. The aim, of course, is to intice you into countering each and every single point individually so that you’re on the defense and therefore you can’t hold them to their own standards of an idea being perfect in order for it to be implemented. The aim, of course, is to hinder your argument to the point that it isn’t worth entertaining, if not to you, to any audience watching the debate, and certainly the person doing the nitpicking.
Alternatively, though related, they’ll try to get you to pursue perfection in your idea, usually in what seems like an encouraging tone. Your idea of voluntarily helping deserving families would miss some that deserve it, or they might not get enough to help “end childhood hunger” (more on that in a moment), therefore until that problem is fixed, we must use the tax system. The intent, of course, is that is a ever moving goalpost meaning were you to take this seriously you’d never get your idea out there, which leads to:
3. Using vague concepts instead of real world examples. This is a very tried, very true way of convincing people to vote against their best interests. For example: the phrase above “ending childhood hunger”. What exactly qualifies as a child that is indeed starving? Is this a kid that’s homeless, one of a littler of 13 kids by 19 fathers in section 8 housing, an orphaned evil genius, or even a child within a nuclear family in the middle of a recession? Or is this simply a term designed to evoke feelings of sympathy and shut down the part of the brain that uses critical thinking (which I bet is actually being bred out of humanity), so you are more agreeable with whatever social program proposed to save the “starving childwen”?
Alternatively, usually if the above tactics don’t have the desired effect, or the person really is that intellectually lazy, they’ll simply use labels in lieu of arguments, often labels preestablished as negative to society. If you’re against taking that rich white guys income to feed those poor kids, you must be pro big business and therefore hate the poor! And since you’re defending those evil white capitalists, you must be a far right wing fascist nazi that wants minorities to be slaves again. If you other people that voice the same arguments and bring data and evidence to back it up, and they committed the original sin of also being born with a pink penis that wants to ejaculate inside of a pink vagina, their arguments are also invalid because of a lack of melanin and a surplus of testosterone, whether they’re right or not. If someone comes to the same conclusion and either aren’t white or not male, they must be some kind of rare unicorn to have those views, because there’s no way they can think things differently from the culture they grew up with.
Side tangent aside, all of these tactics aren’t to help you or debate from a philosophical stance, but to push an agenda that most likely serves their best interests at the expense of yours. Now that you know how to spot them, how do you respond effectively? There’s a few I’ve either adopted or came up with that have served me well, the idea being akin to Combat Martial Arts rather than Movie/Sport/MMA Martial Arts: Rather than a cinematic visually appealing hand to hand duel (or these days, rolling around on a mat in an octagon) that most people associate with fighting, you quickly and effectively defeat and drop your opponent, because you don’t know when the rest of his buddies are coming with weapons.
Minding The Details: Let’s say you face the first tactic of getting machine gunned with different arguments. First, you have to nip that in the bud: I wouldn’t let it go beyond 3 examples. Once they give an argument or example, you counter it with whatever argument, and they attempt to move to a different one, stop them right there and say “excuse me, but I just answered your previous case: are you acknowledging my point as valid, or are you ignoring it completely?” If they have any integrity this will give them a mental jolt, because it’s likely they’re aware they’re even doing it. If they continue to try moving along, you can move along as well with your day because it isn’t worth your time, or you can use Aaron Clarey’s patented Betting Tactic, where you pick whatever point and you have them put money on whether they’re right or not; keep in mind it needs to be an objective provable fact. I personally haven’t had any takers:most either try to squirm out of it and eventually back off, get angry that I’d dare to charge them, or try another talking point, at which you can rinse and repeat the above.
Setting Hard Limits: The best way I’ve found to end it is to ask “how much is enough”. Back to Starving Tanner and the Nitpickers, let’s say the increasing pile of criticisms is starting to get to you, and it’s clear this person has an endless supply of them. What you can say is “O.K., so let’s say that voluntary charity won’t work so we need taxes: what percentage level of taxation would you be O.K. with to “end hunger”? Because it’s been increasing over the decades while the problem is getting worse: at what level would you feel better knowing that Landon will be able to eat?” Again, this usually catches them offguard, so they might throw a random number like 20%, which in the U.S. you can immediately counter with the fact that public spending per GDP is closer to 40%, so it’s already double what they think is enough. That should be all you need to end the debate, though they’ll likely try to squirm to some other figure or another argument, in which case you do what previous paragraph laid out.
Define Your Labels: again going back to the “calorically challenged”, you will commonly get concepts and labels of various vagueness that don’t tie into anything concrete. So you call them out on it: “so you’re all for spending other people’s money to “end childhood hunger”, how exactly do you determine that?” If they’re honest they might quote some statistics about household poverty or other sources of data, in which case you can have a conversation and tackle that directly. More likely is you’ll get more subjective pablum like “well 4 our of 10 households have to choose between their next meal or getting the kids a new jacket for the winter, and we believe no mother should have to make that choice.”, which sounds nice but dodges the question. Here you can ask where they got those numbers, which I wouldn’t recommend: instead I would press them harder on actually defining “childhood hunger”, and whatever answers they give for that you question them as well. Not only does this give you the image of actually being inquisitive, but it turns the tables and put them on the defense instead of you.
Against Me Argument: Coined by Stefan Molyneux, this is reserved mainly for Thanksgiving table arguments. The idea is to accept that whatever argument they have is correct, and whether they’re O.K. with living and let live with yours. The example being taxation: ” So you believe taking money from these groups of people to help out the children, and I accept that. Can we agree to disagree, and let me help out the needy in my own way? “No, you must contribute to my system to help the children!” ” So you’re willing to watch me get dragged off to jail or shot to death because I disagree with your system?” There really are only two responses to this: 1. they agree, in which case you can accurately call them a horrible person in front of everyone and disavow them, since why would you want to associate yourself with them. Or 2. if they value their relationship with you, let alone those around them, the reality of their system will set in, and they’ll be forced to reconsider their position. That would be the time to counteract, and reason with them if possible.
Short Circuiting: one of my favorite tactics to date, reserved for when you know reasoning will be a circular journey. Essentially you tailor a response designed to throw the conversation into a hard left turn that the opponent wasn’t expecting and therefore likely has no defense against, mine heavily favoring comparisons. Examples: this last family gathering one of the kids got into some lotion prompting the mom to spank her. I was standing with one of the family friends and said “yeah, hit the kids, because you can’t figure out how to explain that lotion isn’t food”, to which she replied “oh you know, it’s just a little boop”, doing the little swatting motion. Realizing early on reasoning was off the table, my immediate response was “yeah, just a little unwanted finger up the vagina isn’t so bad, it isn’t actually sexual assault and certainly not rape….” The intellectual discussion ended rather quickly, with her backing out with fan favorite phrases like “we just agree to disagree”, “we’re entitled to our opinions”, etc. It was really punching down with a well placed reverse punch, but since the nice conversation I had the last time didn’t exactly get through, switching to armor piercing rounds was justified to me.
Agree and Amplify: also a fan favorite, though not one I came up with. This is a style of responding to a loaded question, and one you can have a lot of fun with: essentially whatever statement or argument they make you take it and turn it up to 11. “How do you feel about women making $.85 for every dollar a man makes?” “I think that’s rather generous: they’re usually worth maybe $.63 for every dollar a man makes, and that’s if they’re not on the rag!” “So you agree with a system that promotes white supremacy!?” ” Damn straight, I love living in a pro white society that ended slavery: Have you seen what black people are doing in South Africa? We should have white people rule everything!” The true beauty of this tactic is that it takes whatever verbal weapon they were hoping to tag you with and turning it back upon them with even greater force; a true Aikido method of mental submission.
Humoring The Argument: this one can be a bit tricky to pull off, but the idea is to let them go along with their line of logic, and ask questions that pick apart their narrative bit by painful bit, to the point that it becomes ridiculous even to the most basic outside observer, or even them. “Do you believe that climate change is real?” “Well yeah, I thought the climate is always changing, isn’t that called seasons?” “You don’t know of anthropogenic catastrophic climate change? Fossil fuels are warming the atmosphere so fast the planet is in danger of exploding!” “Really? How are fossil fuels warming the planet?” “It puts co2 in the air which acts as a greenhouse gas that threatens all plant life!” “Really? Tell me more, because I was under the impression plants breathed co2 and do better in warmer climates, which is one reason greenhouses are a thing; are you saying that’s not the case?” “Well if the temperature goes too high parts of the earth will be uninhabitable!” “Wouldn’t that mean the colder climates would then be more habitable?” This one is also scalable, but if I’m using it I prefer to let them dig their own grave as deep as possible before adding nails to their coffin.
Mockery & Ridicule: For example, when someone, usually a woman, uses some phrase that blames men for whatever, like “well the man should/should’ve done _____”, the response is “yeah, put the responsibility all on men, because women are children; you can’t trust them with something like that!”. If someone is talking about banning whatever the next hot item is for firearms, “wow, why do you want women to get raped? I thought we wanted them to be equal and be able to defend themselves without relying on men.” “We need to ban plastic straw because environment!” “Yeah, we need at least 90% of the population wiped out via super world wide war/collapse of the economy so resources are scarce again, if that’s really worth complaining about.” “[Insert any complaint women have today about men]” “yeah I can’t imagine why I don’t take women seriously anymore: must just be because I’m sexist and evil or something….” You can deliver these with many kinds of structure and inflection, each giving it’s own spin to it, and while they may seem like just tactics to incite a negative response, I’ve found it can bring out an intrigued impression, as often that style is totally out of left field for them. And finally:
End Game Reasoning: similar to mockery and ridicule, but reserved for the ones that are sand in the engine and know it, there’s no getting through to them because of whatever reason, so you might as well have fun at their expense. There’s a few routes I like to take. One is to completely call out the argument and send it down in flames. “Would you please sign my petition to end childhood hunger?” “You mean vote to take other people’s money to pay a bunch of worthless parasites so maybe some of the money can get Little Timmy some applesauce? No thanks: if I’m gonna waste my time, it’ll be on something fun. Cheers!” “Did you know that Latina women make $.57 for every dollar a white male makes?” “Yeah, and half that number is probably earned by one lovely Latina in San Antonio, and the rest by lazy housekeepers and janitors that barely speak the host country’s language. That answer your question for you?” They might call you names or accuse you of some -ism, but most will know not to fuck with you further. And again, depending on how you tailor the response, you might shock them out of their routine and get them to inquire further.
There are other styles of tackling the nitpickers, naysayers, and otherwise slothful and dishonest people seeking to waste your time, but the idea is to use the weapons you have now, rather than the perfect ones you don’t. Best analogy I’ve heard so far is Stefan Molyneux’s, where he compares it to training a soldier to hit a melon at 30 yards to be considered ready for combat, then a golf ball at 40, then a marble at 50, then a live dragonfly at 75, and oh crap: either the enemy has already overrun your position or he’s too old to fight because his vision is gone. So the question is this my friends: are you willing to run with what’s good enough and learn along the way? Or will you forever be in argument purgatory, arguing until your finite time is gone?
2 thoughts on “Combat Martial Arguments: The Reality Of Dealing With Nitpickers”
Years ago my wife and I were approached on a college campus by a kid carrying a clipboard.
KID: Hey, will you sign my petition to have [AFRICAN WARLORD] be stopped from doing [OBJECTIONABLE BEHAVIOR]?
ME: [TURNS TO WIFE] Gee, honey, do you think that me and my homies should mount up an Abrams tank and go vaporize some bad guys?
ME: Assuming that the US government decides you’re right and we need to stop this dirtbag from doing [OBJECTIONABLE BEHAVIOR], presumably the only way to stop him is by armed lethal force with soldiers like me. Is that what you’re advocating?
KID: I… uh…
ME: You have a nice day.
Hahahaha there we go! #weaponizedarguments