some ideas from my experience that immediately come to mind.
1. always post within the forum guidelines. remember you are a guest on someone else's forum. even if you are at diametric odds, it usually (though there are exceptions) does little good if you get your post or yourself removed.
2. when possible back up your statements with sources or logical verification. it usually doesn't do too much good to suggest something with "because i say so" or "because that's how i feel" or "you are wrong and i am right". even though all of these may be valid and even correct, remember that they don't make your point necessarily and your opponents can use exactly the same arguments on you.
3. be careful of falling into the 'absolutes traps'. for instance, while most primates are almost exclusively veg, it is foolish to argue that humans should be veg because monkeys are veg (because the latter isn't true and it's a non sequitur anyway). another trap is that veg folks are always healthier than corpse eaters (you don't have to call them that, btw), because it isn't true - what is true is that statistics greatly favor veg folk to not suffer from a variety of diseases such as atheromas, obsesity, cancer, osteoporosis etc which frequent corpse eaters.
4. don't get into name-calling unless there is a very good reason. for instance, it doesn't accomplish much to call your opponent a heartless brute, because it really doesn't have a great impact beyond the retort that you are a bleeding hearts, anti (or what's recently been worse, a liberal). it's a good idea to stay away from political name calling too since some conservatives are far more aware and compassionate towards animal (and people) than some liberals.
5. be wary of deflection. one of the usual efforts against pro-animal folk is the anti-abortion lobby - ie you care for animals but not unborn fetuses. or here's a speciesist deflection, "why are you telling us to stop killing seals when you should be complaining about the slaughterhouses". the key to remember here is that if you protest A, it doesn't mean that you don't protest B - in other words, it is perfectly ok to protest something without protesting everything at the same time.
6. an interesting countereffort that doesn't even take place consciously is rationalization. here the person doesn't so much oppose you, but justifies why he or she should keep status quo. for eating corpses, you have stuff like "grain destroys more soil, so i have to eat meat", or "my doctor (or professor - i came across that believe it or not) said i have to eat meat", or "we can't let the cow population explode" or "it tastes good" (that, btw, is the only valid excuse and it's a pretty poor one), or "they'd do it to you if the situation were reversed" (now we're getting borderline crazy), "we're on top of the food chain" (no way, unless you take up cannabilism) or "monkeys do it" etc etc. the last one is the appeal to nature fallacy which was hilariously countered by my friend sheepdog:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I put it to you that it is not for vegetarians to justify our diet, but it is for the meat eaters to justify meat eating. And I further put it to you that anyone who has a choice about his diet and chooses to eat meat can only justify it with reasons all of which fall into one category, the "Because I want to screw like a chimp" category. Look:
"Because I want to (and I want to screw like a chimp)"
"Because it tastes good (and it feels good to screw like a chimp)"
"Because my ancestors ate meat (and they were chimps and I want to screw like a chimp)"
"Because it's natural (and chimps naturally screw a lot and I want to screw like a chimp)"
And if someone insists that you tell them why you do not eat meat, it is enough to say, "Because I do NOT want to screw like a chimp. We can do better than that."
you can also see some excellent rationalization and denial on the pollard blog some of us were involved in.
7. watch out for the divide and conquer element. ar is a very wide field with many factions who are usually fighting with each other. you have the reformists, welfarists, abolitionists, pseudo-abolitionists, militants, etc. sometimes your opponents will lump all ar together and accuse you of preaching violence or stopping people from having pets or causing animal suffering or loading your own wallet with cash etc. my personal feeling is that we can choose to be in a certain camp to get a certain job done and not badmouth what others are doing - if you don't like what they are doing, then don't do it. however, the movement is too large and diverse for any one person to say "this is ar" especially when all of these faction are part of ar in some way or another.
there are a lot of other ideas and experiences we've all had, so this is likely a good place to highlight and discuss them.
Permalink Reply by B on November 12, 2009 at 3:07pm
Great post Prad, your experience on the battlefield has yielded most impressive results! :)
it's important to be aware of the environment you post in.
for instance, certain forums welcome detailed, analytical exchanges. you can actually work your opponent's arguments into the ground through refutations, error findings, evidence, even laughter. people will actually read what you write.
on the otherhand, some situations are rather like a bad party with everyone talking at once and no one paying particular attention to anyone's very sensible arguments. here i don't think it is worth making the same kind of effort. it is likely better to try to keep the individual's attention with short posts which don't require much effort on their part to understand. here it is likely that quantity will override quality, so if you can post frequently (to drive a point home), or better still you have comrades with you, the posts don't need to be brilliant, just forceful.
also remember that you can write the most brilliantly crafted post, but your audience may not be able to understand your cleverness. intellectual posts work well when talking with people who have a similar disposition, but fail miserably with others. i have seen very intelligent people brought to their knees in frustration, because their opponent while not nearly as 'intelligent' or 'educated', happened to be a good deal smarter and came across as more straightforward, honest and was actually understood.
so it's a good idea to adjust one's efforts to maximize efficiency and use the appropriate techniques for the particular situation, while still maintaining one's integrity of course.
we are often outnumbered 5,10, even 20 to 1 in discussions. this is usually not a problem because we have stamina and the opposition doesn't. additionally, i've found that there are always several in any audience who admire our efforts even if they can't quite bring themselves to agree with our message.
so being outnumbered should never worry you. every time someone opposes you, it is an opportunity to speak the truth, so being outnumbered can actually be turned into a massive advantage. it obviously takes effort to keep responding, but there are ways to pace oneself by various means such as
a) shorter posts
b) staggering replies over time (never hurts to keep some people waiting)
c) focussing attention on one person at a time
d) addressing more than one person in one post
two excellent examples were provided a few months ago when dr entertained himself at the expense of a group of hostile gitmr members with short powerful posts. unable to defeat him, they decided to ban him. mark bravely followed to carry the banner of truth using much the same techniques but with his own style. he could not be defeated either, but i can't recall whether they whimpishly kicked him out too. it was a wonderful demonstration of the power a single person actually can wield when one is on the right side of the argument and has the courage to follow one's convictions.
haha one time i posted on an AR place with two accounts. I posted as myself, and then posted as a hunter with a name constructed from the letters of my other name. There was a resident hunter/alleged survivalist/military veteran who liked to hang out at the forum (it was strange-sometimes he would even defend the AR people against visiting hunter types!) . So for fun, in my hunter guise, I accused the hunter of being an ar person pretending to be a hunter and challenged him to prove he wasnt--meanwhile as my AR self I would be commenting between them. Its hard debating a bunch of people at once though---because you get so many types of debaters. Some just want to insult and distract you-others might be fence sitters, others might be hostile but are respectful. I generally would respond to each as best I could in short concise responses. Its bad to be long winded.
i've thought about the duo strategy too, though i've never used it.
i have accused the opposition though of being in reality ar activists posing as animal abusers because they want people to see how idiotic, crass, barbaric etc they really are. (of course, i never put it quite that way, but you get the general idea. :D )
generally in adversarial situations it is not a good idea to do unto others what you would not want to have done unto yourself. in other words, fight fairly ... or reasonably fairly ... or at least so it looks like you are fighting reasonably fairly :D
name-calling is one of those childish efforts which usually doesn't accomplish much and often does more to hurt your image than that of your victim. it is usually
a) unsubstantive - it is unlikely the person will fit your description 100% of the time so technically your assertion is sort of not correct
b) unverifiable - if you called someone an stupid idiot, could you really prove it?
c) unintelligent - any mindless individual can do this sort of thing
the usual rule to follow is to attack the idea not the person.
so when someone says 'cats are for petting and cows are for eating', it is perfectly alright to say the statement is speciesist or that the person is being speciesist (for that statement) or even that the person usually makes speciesist statements (assuming it is true).
if you are going to go after the person try to do it somewhat obliquely. a very clever example of this was demonstrated by field marshall B in the horse set fire in columbia thread -
suvine: I love horses. That is my dream job to work on horsebackriding farm
B: um Suvine just curious did you happen to read the entire discussion headline beyond the word 'horse'?
if you attack the person for say being threatening or ranting, you are really attacking the behavior and if you can gather together the person's own words demonstrating such, the effect can be absolutely devastating! not only does it expose the individual to the others, it holds up a mirror right in front of that face as it is frothing at the mouth.
above all, don't do it in the fashion that the remarkably out-of-control, rightwingnut svw was goaded into once when screaming at blacklung about hominid brain development -
blacklung: what a load of rubbish! rubbish, let me say it again...rubbish. can you spell speculation?
svw: yes i can you idiot. can you spell idiot?
blacklung: "s" "v" "w"
this can be a tough one if not approached properly. anthropocentrism is the idea that humans are at the center of everything and all revolves around them. you see this sort of comment:
humans are more important (presumably than animals or plants) i think humans come first because i am human
now one needs to be a bit careful as to how to handle this, because as speciesist as it is, the idea has considerable merit in most people's minds. after all, it's giving the universe to humans and it might be difficult to go and tell someone they can't have it all. :D
furthermore, if you attack the idea directly, you may be seen as a traitor to your species or even a terrorist (that word is very popular these days). unfortunately, such labelling can make it difficult for you to make any point for some time to come.
there are, however, several methods to counter this nonsense - none of them involving calling the thing nonsense, btw ... not at least without some preparation.
1. the web
one of the most famous speeches that environmentalists rely on is chief seattle's web of life (here are several versions). the key phrases here are the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth and All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. these phrases are understood by even the densest of egotists and are certainly acknowledged by a strong majority. it serves as a good counter, attacking anthropocentrism with a follow-up on the mess humans have made on earth by not paying attention to these truths.
2. the evolutionary argument
a natural insistence of anthropocentrics is that through evolution, humans are at the top of the food chain (every chain for that matter) and therefore have the right to do whatever they please. the first thing to point out is that one would really need to resort to cannibalism to be truly at the top of the food chain or that possibly bacteria are really at the top. then, one can turn the argument around to what evolution is really all about. is it really survival of the fittest (this is spencer's phrase, btw not darwin's) or should we expect more than survival at the expense of other creatures? is evolutionary progress indicative of parasitic domination or symbiotic progression? there is considerable scope for development along these lines that keep humans off the crushing pedestal and permit productive integration for mutual benefit.
3. the image argument
some people think that humans are the apple of god's eye. this wouldn't be so bad if they'd also remember that there is much responsibility that comes with this position. did god really intend subjugation or stewardship using the word dominion? it depends to some extent upon the particular translation and interpretation in the bible, but you can see that the former has dire consequences while there is considerable possibility for decency in the latter.
the 'made in the image of god' permits a great opportunity though: "pretty well all religions, in some form or another, use the 'we are made in the image of god' line. i do not think this is done to promote anthropocentricity (though the idea certainly has been abused for that purpose). rather, i think it is intended as an evolutionary magnet which entices us to live our potential.
god being an ideal requires ideal characteristics. therefore god has the wonderful qualities of compassion, kindness, dignity, courage, awareness and respect for the myriad of creations.
if we are indeed made in god's image then surely our creator also blessed us with these same qualities. may be we should start living up to that image. it's only natural." natural=good? thread
4. moral responsibility
some people like to think that humans are the only ones capable of moral judgement. this is not true at all, but it does provide an opportunity to use the anthropocentric thesis to do some good. if humans have a high moral capacity, then does it not follow that they should be compassionate, kind, generous and fair?
steve sapontzis uses such a backdrop:
"He argues that basic moral principles such as fairness, protecting the weak against the strong, and aiming to reduce suffering cannot logically be limited to humans because suffering, distress, enjoyment, and fulfillment are not exclusively human conditions. The basic standards to which a moral person should adhere do not simply evaporate when considering nonhumans rather than humans." http://www.thevegetariansite.com/ethics_sapontzis.htm
5. tiliri (tell it like it really is)
the above four ideas use aspects of anthropocentrism against itself in an aikido-like fashion. this last one exposes the real intent behind such statements: specifically, the very unanthropocentricness of anthropocentrism. it's quite tilirious!
what some people try to do is link anthropocentrism to the idea of a 'people first' movement - they even try to make it sound like a great humanitarian mission. however, a closer examination shows this is just nonsense. the actual, practical application of has nothing to do with humanity and everything to do with "what's in it for me".
therefore, i eat meat at the expense of other sentient beings because i want to; i wear fur at the expense of other sentient beings because i want to; i wore nike shoes at the expense of other sentient beings (sweat shops) because i want to; i shop at walmart at the expense of other sentient beings (unfair employee treatment) because i want to; i eat chocolate at the expense of other sentient beings (child slavery) because i want to.
this is really what anthropocentrism is in most forum discussions: hiding the small weeds by appealing to the big forest. it is not people first at all, it is me first.
so above are 5 ways to handle things when anthropocentrism rears its not so pretty head. the list is not exhaustive and the ideas can, of course, be used in coordinated combination as well.
I attack the belief in human supremacy directly. It works very well. I dont call it speciesism or anthropocentrism. Some say that every species is speciesist, or that one cannot help being anthropocentric--this isnt true--but why let them deflect the discussion? Also, saying human supremacy sounds better--its like white supremacy. The other words disguise the true belief system at work-and I think it is found in every argument used in the debate I have ever seen(though often it gets denied).
This is how I summarize my approach(from an essay i'm working on):
Humans who believe in a moral code of universal human rights but deny extending rights to nonhumans have two problems. The criteria(s) they use to justify this discrimination (faculty of reason, a soul, divine or evolutionary favor, moral reciprocity, survival of the fittest, individual selfishness, or a bundle of characteristics) cannot be proven to be possessed by all humans or lacking in all nonhumans. Secondly, the importance of such criteria can be doubted-- shown not to be objective absolute truth, but subjective arbitrary criteria conveniently determined by those who stand to benefit from the discrimination they wish to justify. Nature, through environmental phenomenon, weather, earthquakes, etc. cannot be shown to care or favor humans over other lifeforms as an absolute objective fact. This subjectivity means that someone who may discriminate against other humans (which happens despite the laws and philosophy designed to curb such incidents) using criteria that is just as subjective (skin colour, gender, class, religion, survival of the fittest, individual selfishness, etc) cannot be effectively condemned by a human rights advocate who denies rights to nonhumans, since both are discriminating according to subjective criteria of value they deem to be important. The only way for a human rights advocate to consistently argue that one ought to have systemic universal human rights and an ethical code based upon this idea is to extend the concept of fairness and justice to nonhumans as much as possible. Because humans develop ethical codes to govern human behavior, and nonhumans do not appear to employ or require such codes in their social interactions, they benefit from the consistency requirement in human concepts of fairness and justice without needing to reciprocate. To expect them to adhere to human moral contracts in order to be eligible for moral regard is like expecting a blind man to be able to read and then punishing him for not doing so. That moral regard may not be possible or practical in all situations due to particular factors (such as scale or absentmindedness or the inability to be perfect), but since the same is true of human on human interactions, it does not invalidate the merits of the argument or provide a loophole for humans to justify systemic exploitation of nonhuman lifeforms (since one could then justify the same for humans). The common argument for animal rights that values sentience as the criteria of moral worth and attempts to define human discrimination against other species as speciesism, analogous to racism and sexism, does not fully address the philosophical nature of human attitudes towards non human lifeforms, or provide sufficient arguments to counter most if not all attempts at refutation as does the formula presented above. (at least so far it has worked to shut up the most ardent anti-ar people--whether it is the best method for getting converts I dont know. I have had some pro AR people dislike it because it taps into beliefs they hold dear(like the idea that humans are meant to be custodians of nature or that there is an absolute moral code/right or wrong---my argument doesnt depend on that being true-and even attacks it.
Yes I have always thought that when people argue in that way that they are deflecting from the truth. Because we are capable of acting humanely and from an informed point of view. To pretend that we are not informed as to our effect on the world, on suffering, and what we really need to survive is just a hard hearted lie. It is way to try to convince others that we arent being selfish and inflicting needless pain on other species.
this is excellent stuff, kel!!
how would you deal with the human supremacy argument if it is not based on
(faculty of reason, a soul, divine or evolutionary favor, moral reciprocity, survival of the fittest, individual selfishness, or a bundle of characteristics)
but is presented as an axiom:
"humans are superior because they are human"
you can't argue possessed by all humans or lacking in all nonhumans here.
nor can you attack with the 'subjectivity' clause.
there is no interspecies opportunities here because we are not talking criteria, but a dogmatic platform which appears untouchable.
but is presented as an axiom:
"humans are superior because they are human"
Its still a subjective criteria. Call it faculty x if you like.
I even refer to its axiom status in my essay:
"This belief is often taken for granted as if an axiom, and usually not expressed in precise terms, with good reason, as it leads to the Regress argument. An absolute is the final answer to a question. If you can question it, how can it be absolute? For every why there is a because and for every because another why. A belief in human supremacy is subject to many a why."
Its just taking for granted the idea that humans are superior without being able to prove it. Because it is subjective--it can be doubted, questioned, it cant be absolute. If its not absolute then nothing stops the racist or person who doesnt care about universal human rights from saying
"whites are superior because they are white."
"males are superior because they are male."
"christians are superior because they are christian."