How can the SDMB fight ignorance with Ad hominems

Something I was wondering today. The SDMB (GD specifically because it’s really the only board I read) seems to be in love with ad hominem attacks, even though supposedly GD is supposed to be against that sort of thing.

I hear so often that this board has some of the best minds on the planet, I have found that not to be so. While I do not claim to be one of the best minds on the planet as much as I would love that distinction, I think that a very small percentage on the board probably a percent of a percent can actually lay claim to that title and in their cases I would bet that they probably wouldn’t lay claim.

Yet, what I see so often is just mud slinging back and forth, and depending on what type of mud you are slinging will depend on what issues are unpopular at the moment. If they are unpopular then they don’t even rise above disdain.

For instance, SenorBeef once posted a thread about Women’s Suffrage and whether or not it was actually a benefit to the country. While this is definitely an unpopular opinion, why can we not discuss it rationally if we are among the best minds on the planet? If one chooses to join in a discussion such as this, why is it SO important that one proves that the opinion is unjustified rather than presenting an opinion that gives the idea credibility at least enough to present an alternate viewpoint that shows benefits to Women’s Suffrage and how they outweigh the negatives rather than labeling the poster a bigoted asshole? In this particular instance there was a pit thread started about the poster that went to triple digits and he wasn’t even aware of it’s existance until it was a couple pages long.

Another good example of this is the sudden attack on the Ms. message board. Why is it SO important that these feminists be proved wrong? Many dopers went over the Ms. forum and felt they needed to witness as to why it was inappropriate for the Ms. people to believe the way they did.

Most people will agree that you are not going to change a fundamentalists mind with an argument, and generally the reason I’ve seen to argue with these people is so that people who are on the fence can see both viewpoints. Odds are a person on the fence is NOT reading the Ms. forum as it is a blatantly partisan forum.

So my question is how can we reconcile “Some of the best minds” with so many personal attacks?

Why I decided to post this thread, today on IRC in a conversation with some dopers I was discussing capitalism and how I thought that it could lead to tyranny just as any other system unchecked can and has. I listed as examples Microsoft’s current monopolistic practices that make it’s old practices pale in comparison, such as only releasing products for it’s XP line nevermind that it’s XP line is more expensive and can’t run on many of the computers in circulation. I mentioned bad customer service, both with AOL and Earthlink (I’ve worked in the billing department at AOL) and Enron as examples of where capitalism leads to tyranny. Well, I was in a not very heated discussion with a friend of mine who held a dissenting opinion and said that I had fuzzy logic on this one, which maybe I did or did not, that’s not the current discussion. Someone else piped up and said “you sound like you’re going go go unabomber” to which my response was, “Yes because I have problems with capitalism, that means I am going to blow up computer company execs” and his response to that was “Let me rephrase it, I think you’re a dumbass” (or some synonym) I blew it off by saying, “That’s ok I never valued your opinion.”, however clearly I valued it enough to be offended, that calling me an idiot can be case closed on the subject.

Now this seems to be a pervading attitude on the boards, and I think it makes it very difficult for this board to actually fight ignorance, because how is it possible to truly find which posters know what they are talking about when for every one of them, there are at least 5 people who are willing to denigrate one’s opinion by insulting their competence. For this very reason I rarely post anymore, because it’s all just a big ego massage, and if you’re not among the proper cliques, or you’re not one of the amazing posters like MEBuckner, Collounsbury, or Edwino, your opinion can be stifled if enough people are willing to say “god you’re a moron”. While I have seen people post things using logic that suits their agenda more than once, and have been guilty of it myself, many times unpopular opinions have been labelled as faulty logic just because there can be a consensus of enough people willing to label the person they all disagree with as an idiot, because clearly if that many people think he’s an idiot it must be so.

(Note, I do not claim that I am innocent in this sort of behavior.)


Yeah, but you’re only posting this because you’re an asshole.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

heh :wink:

yes, some folks do Ad hominems. Yes, the whole MS-message board debacle was not a shining moment (ditto the whole janl gig).
I found it odd that included in your list of posters that are “amazing” is one that is (IMHO), pretty blunt about his opinions of other posters. I’m not claiming that it rises to the ‘Ad hominem’ degree (it doesn’t), but certainly does add to the air of acerbic words.

Let’s face it - when people believe things passionately, they, well, believe it passionately. I don’t think I’d find it very interesting to see/hear a debate by the two Chipmonks from the cartoon “I think that abortion isn’t very nice” “well, I’d have to agree with that, even if I do also think some one should be able to have one, don’t you agree?” “of course I do!”

And, I’ve often seen folks get called on the tactic. There’s lots of bright minds out there, and we know the score. (not so obscure Father John reference).


If I read this correctly, you’re saying that a position’s logic can be labelled “faulty” just because it’s unpopular. I don’t believe that’s the case.

Wheter or not somebody’s reasoning is logically faulty has nothing to do with what he’s arguing about. A logical fallacy is a breakdown in an argument’s chain of reasoning. It’s not subject to popular vote.

However, a logical but unpopular argument can be derided as being flawed on other grounds. Swift’s “Modest Proposal” is logically sound (I think), but not morally so.

“Modest Proposal” is satire however. I wasn’t saying a logical argument is actually invalidated by popular vote, just that the discussion is closed by popular vote in regards to this forum.

As for listing Collounsbury and his acerbic comments, he tends to be fairly heavy handed but he does give EXTREMELY sound reasoning as to why he’s being heavy handed. Also I was using these people as an example of what level of posting is respected and what level is disrespected, IE the school of people who will disregard any opinion you hold because you were less than stellar in a debate about something else. For instance I know a lot more about Israel than I do, well pretty much any other subject that comes up in GD’s so while I’m not an expert there, I would expect that if I make a good point on Israel that it will not be disregarded because I said something ignorant about Japan’s economic dependency to the US in another thread.

Sorry, I don’t have a cite regarding “some of the brightest minds” :wink:


I’m with WRING. You’ve listed among the “amazing” posters one who is IMO most egregiously guilty of the behavior you deplore. And it does happen.

But IMO you have (we all have) the ability to refocus the argument and to insist others do as well. You can ignore the ad hominem attacks, or you can point them out and say “that was an ad hominem attack and I’m not going to address it, but regarding what you said after that . . . .” Or you can take the attacker to the pit and call him/her a fuckwit to your heart’s content. :wink:

But one thing to keep in mind is that what you may perceive as an ad hominem attack may not be. “You’re an idiot” is a personal attack; “you’re not making any sense” is not – though, boy, it can feel like it. As long as people take issue with what you say and not who you are, I think they’re on the correct side of the line. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that “what a ridiculous argument!” is not a personal attack.

I’ve never heard anyone around here claim to be any great shakes, much less one of the “best minds on the planet.” But we do like to argue, don’t we? And I think you’re right in reminding us to focus on the arguments and not the participants when framing our responses.

Hmmm . . .

There’s a world of difference between argument ad hominem] and simple namecalling. You might need a little refresher there, Erek.

Otherwise, IMO the OP is indistinguishable from a big bunch of grapes. Sour ones.

Hmmm. Interesting idea. Lets test it.
Sample 1:

Sample 2:

Hmmm. Both samples are equally correct, though one contains an ad hominem and the other does not. From this, we conclude that a statement’s veracity is unaffected by either the exclusion or the ommision of an ad hominem.

Any other questions, shit for brains?

Sorry, but I just got a kick out of this quote. By definition you can’t have a large percentage of great minds.

As to you OP, I’m not sure what it is that you would like to see. I think most of the time, debates here are well balanced, but not every debate is worthy of receiving a balanced debate. I didn’t know of the Woman’s Suffrage debate, but if someone was actually questioning the overall good of Women’s Suffrage, I wouldn’t take them seriously. Just as I don’t take seriously debates about moon landings being faked and no plane having actually crashed into the Pentagon.

Also although I don’t personally approve of ad hominen attacks, I think they do serve a purpose. I think most people who wander in here and get piled on, are people who have never had anyone challenge their beliefs. They genuinely believe that an idea like “Baby formula should only be dispensed with prescriptions” would be widely accepted, and if they are shocked to find that most Dopers don’t agree with them, I can’t see that as a bad thing.

I didn’t know there was an invasion of the Ms. boards for counter-points, but I think that’s great. I think that too many people confuse open discussion with preaching to the choir. I bet a bunch of the Ms. people spent most of their time agreeing with each other, and if a bunch of Dopers went there and provided cogent arguments that were in opposition to their view, that is also a good thing.

Well, in all fairness, calling poor customer services “tyrannical” is pretty stupid. Extremist Communism led to the extermination of millions of people. That’s tyrany. Microsoft is merely inconvenient. Not that your premise was without merit, but there are plenty of better examples of unchecked capitalism to draw on: the strike breaking tactics employed against early unionists, for example.

I think you’re making a false distinction between “people who are smart” and “people who make ad hominum attacks.” These are not mutually exclusive. Making an ad himinum doesn’t mean someone is stupid, it just means they are unable or, more likely, unwilling to debate the topic at hand.

SenorBeef’s thread is a good example of this. I’m not inclined to enter into a rational debate with someone who still, at this late date in history, doesn’t grasp why Women’s Sufferage was a good thing. If he hasn’t figured it out by now, I don’t see that there’s much hope for him figuring it out in the future. Besides which, as I remember that thread, a good number of the replies weren’t simply, “You’re a moron,” but instead were, “You’re a moron, and here’s exactly why,” followed by the through destruction of SenorBeef’s arguments, such as they were. Thus ad hominum and ignorance fighting march forward hand in hand. Besides, apparently SB was unaware that he was a fucking moron before he started that thread. Now he knows different. Ignorance fought, once again.

As any zen master will inform you, sometimes the best way to enlightenment is with a sharp whack in the head.

So it is with ad hominen attacks and the geniuses of the SDMB.

That was an misprint in the introductory booklet. It was supposed to say we have some of the best mimes on the planet. Unfortunately (or fortunately, to some) since you can’t hear them, you never know they’re here.

My comment was apropos of your previous three or four sentences, which were muddled and seemingly all over the place. This brought to my mind an insane manifesto, which led to the Unabomber reference. It was meant as a joke (admittedly, a poor one). Let it never be said that my sense of humor is 100% on.

Calling you a dipshit was based on the things I’d heard you say in the past. I won’t go into detail, because I don’t think it’s germane, or nice. I feel that it was a mistake to do so. Obviously, I can’t retract it, nor can I say that I don’t feel that way, but I’m sorry that I made it publicly known.

I’d also like to point out that, to my knowledge, I’ve never attacked a poster for holding any particular beliefs, and that I wasn’t debating you; I wasn’t even there for the beginning of the discussion, and I didn’t know exactly what it was about. My insult certainly wasn’t intended to be a refutation of your stance, just a nasty little poke which, as I said, I regret making.

I guess this isn’t really very Pit-ish of me. If it’ll help, I’ll throw in some ludicrously overused phrase like “goat-felching” or “asshat” next time.

I’d really hate it if this board became sanitized to the point where we couldn’t even lace a post with sarcastic jabs, as Cecil does in his columns. In a typical discussion of creationism, I’d like to be able to slyly point out that my evolution-hating opponent’s typos may be due to his lack of opposable thumbs.
What the fuck kinda crappy moron started this shitty thread, anyway? YEESH!

Cool. Thanks.
[sub]Actually, that was only as far as I got in the OP before something shiney distracted me. Was the rest of it good?[/sub]

Some posts were pretty interesting. I find it amusing that a couple people got offended by the OP (or maybe they were just trying to be ironic.) Anyhow, Typo mna in his own post illustrated one of my points. Many times a statement like “you’re a dipshit” comes in the middle of an argument, where the person saying it is only saying it because they don’t like the person, they have no idea what they are talking about and don’t particularly care because it’s a choice time to make a cheap shot, and sometimes, not always, this ends the discourse, unfortunately.

As for SenorBeef, if he presented an argument, and you don’t like what he had to say, and you don’t feel like debating it, does your ad hominem accomplish anything? You admittedly said you don’t feel like debating with such an imbecile. I for one think that questioning every single belief we have is important, even if we come to the same conclusion. I spoke to SenorBeef about this on IRC the other day and he doesn’t even necessarily believe that Women’s Suffrage is a bad thing, he just wanted to see what people would think about an alternate viewpoint to it, and therefore he presented a popular opinion, but I could be wrong, that was just the impression that I got.

I’d just like to remind people of how not too long ago the idea that bathing every day was considered ludicrous and unhealthy. Or that the idea that you could impose your own will to save a sick patient, as opposed to just leaving it up to god was considered more than ludicrous it was considered heresy.

As to my argument about capitalism, I wrote a response to it, but I decided I’m not going to hijack my own thread to defend my opinion.


Well, do a search and… get undeserved compliments.


BTW I presume that the ‘mystery’ ascerbic poster is neither Edwino nor MEB, so why not just say that I am an ascerbic bastard and be done with it?