When an Argument Turns Sour

You can find the reason...and it usually has little to do with the actual argument

I asked the question on my Facebook page, “Think of an argument you had with someone, but you lost (or at least feel like you did). What was the argument?” My friend, Andrew, responded, and his explanation became a perfect example of when an argument turns into a disaster.

Andrew first responded with a short analysis of his own argument, “I wouldn’t say lost but just pointless, arguing with the intentionally uneducated, those that refuse to learn is just pointless.” Have you had arguments like this? I have.

Andrew’s argument (when he explained it) sounded very interesting. It was about the science of vaccines. Here’s how he explained the first half of the argument:

Vaccines is what started it but it was more about the concept of heard immunity and why it is important to maintain high levels of immunity in s pollination along with how the immune system works we couldn’t make it past that.
This person’s stance was “natural” immunity is better, she couldn’t explain what “natural” immunity was is (there is no such thing), and how her or her child’s immunity doesn’t effect anyone else, a stance with which I disagree. I explained that and two there are two types of immunity, innate immunity which is the initial response of the immune system that is inherited genetically from your parents that includes the intial inflammatory response, mucosal response and some preprogrammed immune cells react to the not self, then there is your acquired immunity which is essentially the training of your T cells to recognize and respond to an antigen this happens whenever you are exposed to a pathogen whether it is a wild pathogen that you encountered in nature or an live attenuated or inactive vaccine your body’s response is the same to either. I prefer the response to the vaccine as your chances of survival without adverse effects are much greater than encountering the same pathogen in nature. And this was followed by trying to explain that to prevent the spread of a disease through population you have to reach a certain number immune individuals roughly 95% of population needs to be immune to the disease so that it doesn’t spread to those that are not immune due to any number of reasonsherd.

This is a lot for my unschooled mind, but it sounds incredibly interesting! I would have loved to be a part of this conversation. I likely would have learned a ton from Andrew and his opponent.

But then the conversation turned ugly, and it wasn’t Andrew’s opponent who made the turn. It was Andrew. Note the second half of Andrew’s analysis of the argument he felt he lost (or, at least, felt it was pointless):

She could grasp this concept at all, first didn’t think it applied to humans just livestock, second argued that vaccines are not 100% effective so how can we expect this to work, see above that is part of the reason why heard immunity is important, followed with how is someone else being imine going to make me immune, when it is not about that but about providing a buffer around those that cannot be made immune so the disease does not spread. This entire conversation was interrupted quite often with do you even science. When I got tired of that I answered that I science more in one week than she probably has in her entire life considering that I’m the final semester of a Bachelor’s in biomedical and quite frankly all my classes are science classes right now have been for the last four years so I do have a bit of an idea of what we were discussing. She responded with if you have to flaunt your education then you have lost and all college does is put you in debt. At which point a friend of mine that I believed to be educated and reasonable jumped in saying hold your horses how do you know she doesn’t have a PHD immunology (much longer and much more rudely)) to which I responded I know that she does not have a PHD or any credentials on this subject as she has not demonstrated even the slightest grasp of the subject. It wasn’t even a stance on whether vaccines are good or bad it was more the fact they could not grasp even the simplest concepts of the subject we were trying to discuss nor were they even willing to attempt to. Even with the majority of my comments being backed by a pediatrician that was also in on this discussion I still feel like it was pointless and lost. On top of that I’ve lost a lot of respect for my friend for his reaction to this.

Do you see how this turned?

My Advice to Win this Argument

I want to make something clear: I don’t train people what to think. I train them how to think. That’s my goal in my debate coaching, my ministry, and my life work. I don’t care much about which side is right or wrong (though Andrew’s arguments sound very interesting). Here’s how I counseled Andrew:

You were probably close to winning the argument, but you took a sharp turn halfway through where you blew it…in two ways.

First, you started “appealing to authority.” This is actually a logical fallacy, and your friend doubted all your arguments that you were making beforehand once you started boasting of your higher education, all your science classes, etc. Your friend, who was likely a reasonable person, started writing off your fluffy “appeal” to something other than your arguments.

Second, you sort of pulled another fallacy to justify the first. You start some personal attacks (called “ad hominem,” or “to the man”). You didn’t just claim you were the more educated person, you started attacking her for not being as educated. This is where your other friend (rightly so) began defending her. You, in turn, wrote her off, “she has not demonstrated even the slightest grasp of the subject.” And that was your impression of the entire discussion, as you stated upfront about how “uneducated” she was.

If you didn’t go down these two flawed roads, I bet the conversation would have been much more fruitful. You may not have persuaded one another, but the arguments would have been thoughtful (like the first half of the argument) and would have caused everyone involved to at least ponder the arguments each were using.

I hope Andrew has a better argument next time. If he avoids the two fallacious paths he took with his friend in the future, they will turn into much more lively and less frustrating debates. And everyone who watches will likely be enriched!

Did you have an argument you lost (or think you did)? I’d like to hear about it in the comments below. Or contact me. I may have some advice for you!