Levels of discussion on forum (Please read)


May 29, 2003, 03:49 PM
Lot of smart people here I've agreed with, and a lot with whom I have not. Learned a lot from both.

One difference with this board is that, while on many issues you will have two sides, the sides are not being presented by idiots.

I'd like to propose a way that folk discussing political issues could look at the structure of any given part of the conversation. At various points, people may argue at one level; but skip to another.

I'll enumerate some levels - they are relevant due to our political circumstances, e.g. that Laws exist not based upon the constitition, and that Constitution may or not be based upon ethics or rights. I present them not to argue this; but to present a framework for knowing which level upon which someone is arguing, and either meet them there or to move.

APPLICATION OF LAW: "Cops in England prosecute people who defend themselves, and let the Burglars go, even though both are breaking the law".

LAW: This is where one is when one says "You shouldn't do that, it's the law".

CONSTITUTION: "According to the constitution. . . . "

ETHICS: This is the level at which one argues the basis by which one may write a constitution or laws. It is here we would find "murder is absolutely wrong". This may argue from the point of view of relgious faith/christian values, or Randite objectivism, or perhaps a moral relativist could reject absolute morality; but in that too he would be arguing on this level.

I am not a moderator, and not trying to dictate anything; but to suggest a communication aid by which we can learn from eachother.

I often see that amongst many arguments I see people who are making good points; but that questions go unanswered due to movements between this level.

This framework would work for most posters I see here who speak from an Ethical, Constitutional or Legal basis in their arguments. Obviously it would not for those who reject 2 of them - but this ain't DemocraticUnderground.

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May 29, 2003, 03:52 PM
Let me present an example, NOT attempting to perpetuate the subject; but to show how conversations can lead to confusion; but can get back on the rails.

Person A:

Machine guns SHOULD be illegal.

Person B:

They cannot be prohibited, due to Constitutional amendments 2 and 14.

Person A:

But owning machine guns is against the law!!

Here we can get into a cyclic argument; but need not.

Person B and A can instantly agree that on the "LAW" level, A's statements are correct. Then they can be taken off the table.

Discussion could proceed.

May 29, 2003, 03:56 PM

It's hopeless. You're never going to get people to agree to stick to one level of discussion at a time -- not any more than it is possible to make people stick to the same definition of the important word in a dialogue.

The best you can hope for is to use your own words consistently and to stick consistently to your own point, while trying not to talk past the other guy.

And even that is impossible most the time. :D Call it an exercise in communicative skills.


...When we look at the shameless abuse made, in print and on the platform, of controversial expressions with shifting and ambiguous connotations, we may feel it in our hearts to wish that every reader and hearer had been so defensively armored by his education as to be able to cry: “Distinguo.” -- Dorothy Sayers

May 29, 2003, 03:56 PM
Another example:

Person A:

Nukes should be banned.

Person B:

Article II of the bill of rights precludes such a thing. "Arms = Arms". (CONSTITUTIONAL)

Person A:

But it is critical that noone be able to put a nuke in range of people, it's like holding a gun to their head - it's a threat and violation of their rights. (ETHICS)

It's currently illegal (LAW)

B has however reminded us that prohibition of arms is illegal under the constitution. Person A has made the case against nukes in range of people under ETHICS, which should be the basis by which someone writes or amends the constitution.

What could follow:

Person B:

The ethical case against nukes threatening folk made, I suggest a constitutional amendment to bring the CONSTITUTION into line with this.

(Presented not as a case on this topic; but as an example).

May 29, 2003, 03:58 PM
No, I don't think we should stick to one level of the discussion at all.

What I am referring to is identifying parts of discussion that exist at different levels, and settling them at their respective levels, or at least identifying them as such.

SOME things could be taken off the table, and the remainder discussed.

This is not democraticunderground, and I have seen eloquent and intelligent people differ; but offer sound arguments from with both sides could learn.

May 29, 2003, 04:07 PM
(Off the wall example - no resembleance to real life discussion threads intended)

We just heard that in Crappylakistan, where they banned pocket knives and pieces of string, a man with no legs decked a really big mugger with an illegal nerf bat. Mugger gets knighted, and man with no legs becomes the first citizen to receive a jail sentence longer than 5 years in modern history.

American A: Crappylakistanis suck. (redundant)

Crappylakistani: The man with no legs broke the law! Nerf bats are illegal (LAW)

American B: So why was the mugger knighted, and the non-PC defender nailed to a cross? (APPLICATION OF LAW)

American C: Crappylakistani law sucks (ETHICS). Their Crapna Carta enumerates that people have right to self defense (CONSTITUTIONAL)

Crappylakistani: Look here, section 235-B, nerf-bats are illegal. (LAW) 232-A - livestock of Crappylakistan have the right to self defense. (LAW)

American D: But that contradicts the constitution (CONSTITUTIONAL).

American D: Law that punishes someone for upgrading their means to defense is wrong (ETHICS).

Crappylakistani: Look, according to section 235-B, the man with no legs is a CRIMINAL!! (LAW)

By this point, we should at least all agree with the easily verifiable fact that the man with no legs broke the law, and drop it. No more (LAW) need be discussioned.

If point of contention exists, it's at the levels of APPLICATION OF LAW, ETHICS, and perhaps CONSTITUTIONAL.

May 29, 2003, 04:14 PM
One thing worth mentioning is that the order of the above levels are important.

A discussion point probably isn't helped by going to a HIGHER level (higher in post that is).

For example:

If arguing about whether drug laws are good or bad in and of themselves (no CONSTITUTION yet), the degree to which the law is applied is probably not a good exit. For example, when "zero tolerance" discussion ignores the point of whether or not the rule was good enough in the first place to always be applied.

Likewise, when discussing whether or not the Second Amendment (CONSTITUTION) is RKBA, that (in this environment) Dianne Feinstein got an anti-gun LAW passed is not proof that the second does not protect RKBA.

Likewise, if the discussion is ALREADY at the ETHICS level, a valid exit from "is murder good or bad?" may not exist in whether or not Nazi Germany or Cuba enshrined it into a constitution.

A hypothesis: It may pay to stray TOWARD the fundamentals (downward direction in my top post); but less useful to stray AWAY from them.


Henry Bowman
May 29, 2003, 04:36 PM
Are you a law student? Not since law school have I seen some one argue so hard about how to argue.

Your arguments are flawless, but you seem to be arguing with no one but yourself here.

I agree with pax.

Send lawyers, guns, and money.

May 29, 2003, 04:40 PM
Law student? Ehheh. Don't they learn instead how to OBFUSCATE? :) Naah - none of that, I'm afraid :)

The people on here are smart, and the discussions are meaty.

I will not give up on trying to get the most out of them.

May 29, 2003, 06:33 PM

As a member of THR in good standing, I resent your "trying to get the most out of them"; and consider this exploitative.
This is indicative of "Predatory Trade Practises", and is surely covered by some federal statute somewhere.

As soon as I can summon a swarm of frothing lib attorneys to smother you with appropriate, expensive litigation to defend yourself against, I will immediately sue you. For at least a bazillion dollars. AAAANNDD; have no qualms about making this a class action suit. So cease and desist RIGHT NOW; OR ELSE.....:what: :neener:

May 29, 2003, 07:20 PM
The more fundamental position is the highest ground, allowing the most "perpendicular" attack. If he argues politics, argue ethics -- things seldom go beyond this stage. If he argues ethics, argue epistemology (look it up). If he argues epistemology, argue metaphysics. If he argues metaphysics, you're up against Darth Vader and you're in trouble. Switch back to politics and accuse him of being out of touch with everyday reality. Or ask him if he's stopped beating his wife.

-L. Neil Smith :)

May 29, 2003, 07:59 PM
Battler, your intentions are noble and high-minded. But may I suggest as an alternative that we follow the wisdom of the ancient Anglo-Saxon parliaments and debate these issues twice--one sober, once drunk.:D

May 29, 2003, 09:49 PM
Hey, I like going to fundamentals, and ultimately, one should.

But that which I described is a simple extension of the discussions as they already take place. I could label every sentence with one of the four listed.

Some arguments end up in useless cycles of :banghead: at a level where both agree; but unanswered questions (or an answer to same but on the wrong level).

Can't fault a guy for trying. I hope some folk read this. In arguments I've seen people accusing the opponent of not answering the question - perhaps these "levels" will make communicating poing easier, so that discussion can proceed.

May 29, 2003, 09:53 PM
Battler, nice try to control debate, but no cigar! Write it up as a screenplay and yer off to broadway! A hundred dollars or so per ticket -- You'll be very rich!

Not trying to hurt yer feelings old boy, but sheesh! Most here like it just fine the way it is. Imagine debating and having to stop so as one could read the "Battler rulebook" Whoops, violated rule 1A, LAW. The penalty is having to read the rule book five hundred times! Thanks, but no thanks!

Would it be more appropriate to simply ask a fellow debater their point, their objective, or their meaning? Don't ask me, 'cause I'll tell you!

So! is this about guns? Big guns? Little guns? Gun control? Debate control?

Must have guns, many many more guns. Lots and lots of ammo, too!!!


May 29, 2003, 10:25 PM
I agree completely with the spirit of your post, but not the practice. You can only control your side of the debate, and although your ideas are valid, only YOU will be able to use them with any reliablilty. If you present your point within a certain framework, however, you will likely be able to keep the participants of that discussion in the same realm.

I listen to Jay Severin on 96.9 FM here in the Boston area. He has helped elucidate many of the finer points of rational debate. You've already hit on some of them, such as avoiding a cyclical argument. I've also learned how to better stay on the subject, and how to avoid rationalizing bad behaviour with lesser bad behaviour. Callers to his radio show who don't stick to his standards don't have much of a half-life. Those who do usually have a better grasp of the subject to begin with.

May 30, 2003, 01:10 AM
If nothing else, even if nobody's trying to adhere to anything, understanding these levels may keep YOU out of a cyclic argument. Or know when to just fold, if you will - like if discussing the constitution and someone says "Feinstein's law already says this" - you will know you either have to take it back to the fundamental (Constitution?) or just give up.

May 30, 2003, 03:16 AM
But cyclic arguments are fun!! ;)

May 30, 2003, 04:46 AM
Some of us are contrarians and will argue in whatever way will most annoy or frustrate those with whom we disagree.

Few people make secisions based only on logic. We like to like the people we agree with and dislike those who disagree with us. We like to, as Conan said: "Crush the enemy, see him driven before you and hear the lamentations of the women".

I can argue logic, but I also think that if you decided to stick to such rigid rules, I could easily paint you as an unfeeling weirdo and win a lot of sympathy.

There is a reason someone came up with the phrase "win the hearts and minds...". Logic is only half the battle. We need good packaging and marketing and finesse if we want to get more people on our team.

Gray Peterson
May 30, 2003, 07:43 AM
Article II of the bill of rights precludes such a thing. "Arms = Arms". (CONSTITUTIONAL)

This is in reference to nukes? Well, Article of Amendment 2 to the constitutional has something called a "well regulated militia" clause. This well regulated militia clause is a limitation on the kind of weapons that are specifically allowed, in it the kind of personal weapons that an infantry soldier would have. Nuclear weapons are not the standard armament of any soldier, nor will it ever be, and therefor, personal possession of nuclear weapons can be banned.

Get it now?

May 30, 2003, 08:19 AM
Another side point.

In any discussion where you may be arguing with someone the real audience isn't the "adversary" you are trying to convert; but third parties reading the thread.

May 30, 2003, 02:28 PM
Person A: Cherry flavored Jello is good.

Person B: Jello is not good for you because it has sugar in it.

Person C: ***slurp***, can I have seconds? :D

(Just to make this gun related, the Jello is 10% gelatin.) :neener:

May 30, 2003, 06:44 PM
I, being a simple minded individual, just prefer to say to those who argue against "machine guns" and nuclear weapons that I was around hundreds of people carrying fully automatic weapons and around, on average, four hundred nuclear warheads for twenty seven months and no one was shot, and the only people who were hurt by the warheads were those who had them set down on their arms or feet. Something to be said for the KISS method.

May 30, 2003, 07:26 PM
You are making the assumption that these lines are clearly deliniated. I think that is a dangerous assumption. I agree that it is better to argue on the same level, but ask the creationists and evolutionists how hard that is to accomplish. This is a classic example of two sides that aren't even arguing about the same thing, yet because the lines are not clear they continue to this day.

Ed Brunner
May 30, 2003, 09:51 PM
Wasn't Don Quixote a battler?

Mike Irwin
May 30, 2003, 10:23 PM
"Person A: Cherry flavored Jello is good.

Person B: Jello is not good for you because it has sugar in it.

Person C: ***slurp***, can I have seconds?"

Person D (aka Mike Irwin): Hey Person B. This is my life. If you don't like it, stay the :cuss: out of it.

May 30, 2003, 11:08 PM
Not so. Creationist vs. Evolutionist (which I do NOT want to start here) are arguing about the same point.

(Although I admit that the 4 levels I happened to pull from my a** are political and may not be useful for this one).

The point at which their argument tends to exist is at a level where either point of view is a substitute - the darwin vs. biblical, if you will.

For example:

Person A: These fossils tell me evolutionist viewpoint is right.

Person B: This bible tells me that creationist viewpoint is right.

They are arguing at the same level - and discussion can proceed over the validity of their statements that happen to be opposed; but at the same level.

A multi-level argument over this?

Person A: This bible tells me creationist viewpoint is right.

Person B: But school X refuses to teach Creationism. (LAW)

In opposing A's position, B has pulled out something that would be a logical conclusion of a refutation of A's point; but without presenting information to refute A's position in the first place. So person A says "I am right", and person B says "you are wrong, because of this thing that people would do if you were wrong".

(Evolutionist and creationist were not ordered to prefer one over the other; but to use them as a demonstration).

Of course, when this argument comes up, a REAL fundamental could be over why the government is involved in school, and that parents (right or wrong) should choose their school's curriculum through their school purchasing choice, and not a "winner takes all" decision applied to all schools. I mention this one as it's usually the root cause of the creationist/evolutionist argument coming up, and is a fundamental the discussion should strive for.


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