Terrible debating tactics you have seen (especially not logical fallacies)

I know we have a lot of threads and discussion about logical fallacies (i.e. “which one is this?”), but I thought it might be interesting to collect and discuss debating tactics that are not necessarily fallacious in themselves, but are still awful.

For example (and part of my brain wants to predict that someone will immediately identify this as a formal fallacy, but anyway) here’s one I see from time to time - trying to have the last word by repeatedly declaring the argument you started as trivial. - it goes like this:

  • Bob asserts some conspicuously inflammatory, controversial or aggressive statement
  • Alice engages the debate with all proper civility and decorum
  • Bob then says something like “Of course, I don’t care, but…” followed by further assertion or reinforcement of the initial position
  • Alice, remaining composed, presents some valid counterpoints and refutations to Bob’s arguments
  • Bob says “Like I said, I don’t care - in fact, you’re the one making a fuss here; you don’t have to even respond, but…” followed by further very unreasonable, false, and invalid argument
  • After this, any time Alice tries to address Bob’s arguments (which, as well as being demonstrably wrong, Alice perceives as being quite strenuously asserted, indicating that Bob does actually care, despite protestations to the contrary), Bob will further stress that Alice is the one causing trouble, and being unreasonable, because Bob doesn’t care, but at the same time, Bob will again try explicitly to advance the argument.

Ever seen that one? Or others?

I suppose I have seen and probably done it! Sometimes people end up in trivial or pointless arguments merely because the logic of the opposition is poor and unchallenged. Thus, they might not care about the actual outcomes of the argument itself, rather they care that logic is upheld. Sometimes this is accused of Arguing for the Sake of Arguing.

I have ended up in enough debates that if I am in a room, and some stupid argument comes up where Party A says some ridiculous stuff to Party B (and is perhaps ‘winning’) and I say nothing, everyone in the room will take that as me agreeing with Party A.

This leads me to your last question (“others?”) and a topic I have been thinking about posting. I am some kind of left wing guy and I have been in a lot of political debates. I feel that my friends, relatives, and acquaintances of the GOP persuasion often engage in very unfair arguing techniques.

One that bothers me a lot is when they start (or maybe it starts nothing, more coming up) a debate by merely phrasing their position as a question. If you say nothing, they ‘win’ and the ‘audience’ (let’s be clear, in a world where people rarely say they are wrong, these debates mostly exist to persuade the non-arguers to your side) presumes you must be fine with what they said and that what they said must be agreed upon facts of the situation.

If you argue back (let us say with some fact-based success) then they (the GOPer) backs out of the debate by saying ‘I was just asking a question, why are you so angry? You left-wingers are always so angry.’

The first time I noticed it as a mechanic, it was mid-1990s and the GOPer asked ‘Did you hear that Clinton has had 3 out-of-wedlock children with 3 different black prostitutes?’

I wish they would make statements of their positions, with no backing out unless they would concede a fact, concede that they hadn’t considered something, a concession that their position is flawed, or even that their position is wrong. Instead, they make you out to be the bad guy even when they are wrong and they are pandering. Damned if you argue, damned if you don’t argue…

I think this is a troll’s tactic. It seemed especially popular from the late 90s to the mid 2000s. The form I remember it most in is retreating to the “why are you so worked up about fake Internet stuff?” gambit after blowback about a statement. Thankfully, that specific form of the argument mostly died off when enough people realized that the line between the Internet and “Real Life” was nonexistent.

For some reason it also reminds me of the vaguely connected assertion that your opinions are trivial. For instance,

“Controversial statement”
“Reasoned argument against statement”
“You’re just a hater”

Implying that you’re not open minded enough to come to a genuine conclusion and that your opinion was based on unthinking, reflexive hatred.

I’m not sure if there is a name for this, but some people use a tactic rather effectively: The idea that by simply stating your opponent’s motives or arguments, somehow you’ve debunked your opponent. “…And here comes Bob, once again, who is no doubt going to argue for his favorite hobby horse, single-payer healthcare, claiming that it is somehow the most efficient or suitable way to run our healthcare system. He’s said it over and over and over again.”

This is different from straw man in that it doesn’t misrepresent Bob at all. But it preemptively makes the audience not want to hear Bob out, and also makes Bob inclined to not use the very argument that his opponent has predicted he’ll use.

Too late to edit: A closely related cousin would be misleading truth, like the anecdote of a journalist who asked a mayor if he’d taken bribes, and the mayor of course (truthfully) denied it, and the journalist promptly reported: “Mayor Denies Taking Bribes.”

The granddaddy of this is the problem of evil. The obvious arguments against even a non-rigorously-but-nearly tri-omni being existing in this world do not become less sound with time merely because people are tired of hearing them.

These tactics predate trolling. For real life trolls, things are often portrayed as jokes or games iin an attempt to shift the blame to others.

But there are many bad debating tactics. Misrepresentation, reduction to absurdity, comparisons to extreme famous sociopaths or circumstances, false labelling with regard to motives/agenda/patriotism/backers etc., blaming others for lack of fairness or objectivity, repeating the same crap endlessly.

Trump is not a great debater - often seems not to know as much about issues as many of his predecessors. No actual factual debate. But he reads people well, has few apparent scruples, and excels at the tactics you describe (or want elucidated) - using them to great effect against many experienced politicians during the Republican primaries. And with a skeleton staff. Just because they couldn’t believe it, or effectively counter it, or even appeal to shame or conscience. Some people loved it. Some still do.

Taking a metaphor literally.

“Hypervelocity torpedoes are the real cheetahs of the weapons world.”

“Oh, they can only go up to 70 miles per hour?”

(This particular example isn’t actually a “debating tactic” since no point is actually being made, but I’ve seen it used as one. In any case, it’s shitten rhetoric.)

The thing that gets on my nerves is gish galloping. Folks like Tommi Lauren and Candice Owens love using this tactic.

They just throw out a bunch of nonsensical “facts” all at once, leaving the other person overwhelmed and making it impossible to address all the bull shitfacts they spew at them…

One of my favourites: if there’s no evidence of a cover-up, that’s evidence of a cover-up.

Yes, this one - this one so much.

And also, taking things literally in a way that is the opposite of what’s meant.

For instance: “Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar, and many other young progressives are now leading a Democratic version of the Tea Party (that is, demanding ideological purity and opposing compromise).” “Oh yeah? Since when have AOC, Omar, Tlaib supported tax cuts, white supremacy, deportation of migrants, and unfettered gun rights?”

How about Sea Lioning, which seems to be a favorite debate tactic of right-wing trolls:

One tactic that comes up a lot on news discussion type shows is what-about-ism, where instead of defending a point directly, the debater points out a tangential example that deflects the conversation to put the opponent on the defensive.
Bob: “My opponent has knowingly broken 17 campaign funding laws, as evidenced by proof A and B”
Not-Bob: “But what about Hilary’s e-mails?”

What I find irritating is people stating their hopes or feelings in response to an argument. I don’t think there’s an official logical fallacy associated with this particular form of debate. I just don’t consider, ‘Well, my feeling is that X is not the case and I hope to be proven right in the coming opinion pole/election/generational shift/etc.’, to be an effective way to change hearts and minds. Hell, I hope I grow wings by next spring, but I’m still going to book a flight to make sure I don’t miss the family reunion.

Part of the problem here is people using analogies/metaphors etc to try to prove a point, when they can’t really do that - analogies have useful explanatory power sometimes, but they are no good for trying to prove anything, because there is no guarantee that the properties of the two things being compared really do map to each other (and if you know they map, you don’t need the analogy anyway, because you know the facts)

My pet peeve is

A: Bob said X
B: cite?
A: provides cite
B: Well who cares that Bob said X?

just skip asking for the cite if you don’t care if it’s true or not.

What’s worse is stupid requests for cites (example):
A: Some people like ketchup on their hot dogs.*
B: Cite?
*Not a real conversation.

I feel like this one (the entire one in the OP) should be called “The Facebook Fallacy”. Most of these back and forths will have Bob saying “You don’t have to read every post, just scroll to the next one” or “…then block me and you won’t have to see anything I say”. Basically, ‘I’ll say anything I want and it’s on you to figure out how to deal with it’.

Wouldn’t this just be poisoning the well.

Years and years ago I got into a big argument here about people browsing the boards without logging in. My point was that some people may browse the boards without logging in, other people were rebutting it by asking WHY anyone would do that. I couldn’t really make any headway trying to get people to understand that it doesn’t matter WHY people did it, just THAT they did it. But they just kept asking why someone would do that.
IIRC, it was something about locking old zombie threads. Someone mentioned that no one that posted in the thread had been on the board in X years and my point was that for all we know they still read it all the time, they’re just not logged in (but why not).

In any case, since they couldn’t come up with a reason that someone would ever read the board without being signed in, they refused to believe that anyone would do it.

I see at boards with a more ‘singular’ viewpoint the tendency to use the number of similar comments to ‘win’ the debate. This board is a good example of it. There’s a well known progressive bent to the posters here. I’ve seen many times comments along the lines of “look at all of the people who disagree with you. Doesn’t that tell you how wrong you are?” when replying in a debate with a conservative poster. It doesn’t mean the crowd is wrong of course, but it is not really a good debate.

The worst case of this is when it is used preemptively as in “This isn’t going to go well for you.”

That’s Appeal to Majority.