Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: How to be less argumentative online?
221 points by Fr0styMatt88 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 239 comments
Okay this might be a bit of an odd one, but here goes!

I've come to the realization that when I'm communicating online, particularly in chats, I'm really argumentative. It's like if someone writes something that I disagree with, I'm compelled to launch into a logical argument with them right there and then. I've realised it's a bad habit and I likely come across as boorish.

The weird thing is, I don't think I used to be like this. I love debate and hang around forums and HN a fair bit when online - maybe that's the issue? It's not that I actively want to 'prove someone wrong', but part of the way I learn is through argument; expressing my disagreement in the hope that the other person will prove me wrong and I might learn something.

So I'm throwing it out there to the HN community - anyone else in the same boat? How did you deal with it and break the habit?




   The Master does his job
   and then stops.
   He understands that the universe
   is forever out of control,
   and that trying to dominate events
   goes against the current of the Tao.
   Because he believes in himself,
   he doesn't try to convince others.
   Because he is content with himself,
   he doesn't need others' approval.
   Because he accepts himself,
   the whole world accepts him.
Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation (http://taoteching.org.uk/index.php?c=30&a=Stephen+Mitchell)


For those on mobile:

The Master does his job and then stops. He understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. Because he believes in himself, he doesn't try to convince others. Because he is content with himself, he doesn't need others' approval. Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.

— Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation (http://taoteching.org.uk/index.php?c=30&a=Stephen+Mitchell) reply


Maybe a little meta, but I'd like to get a second opinion before I bother the moderators by email.

(1) Does anyone know why the preformatted sections (<pre>) are limited to a width smaller than the width of the post? At all widths, it's roughly 75% of the comment's width. For mobile, this is especially bad, but I'm not sure why it's there on normal screens resolutions either.

(2) You could test different widths. Right click the preformatted section and choose "inspect element". You should have the <code> block highlighted. Move to the parent element, the <pre>. On the right, you should see a max-width with some pixel value. Try setting that to "100%" (without quotes) rather than some pixel amount. Does that work fine for you? Would you like that change? It would be great if someone could somehow test this on mobile as well, but on desktop (if I resize the browser) it seems to work well.


Longstanding request, and I've emailed HN on this point repeatedly.

I'm given to understand changes may be in the offing, though whether or not this specifically is addressed, I'm not sure.

On desktop browsers with extension support, you can use Stylus to fix this specific annoyance by setting "pre-wrap: word".

And yes, blockquote support would be hugely appreciated.

FYI: https://lobste.rs offers full Markdown for comments.


Continuing the tangent... I wonder why HN isn't open source?


It used to be, maybe it still is https://github.com/wting/hackernews (7 years ago)

Iirc they didn't want to publish details of the ranking algorithm at some point, to prevent "hacking" of submissions.

Maybe they stopped publishing the code since then.


> pre-wrap: word

they would only need to add this to the CSS, yes? then you get the same four-spaces code block, but it doesn't cause horizontal scrollbars any more.

HN admins, could you please add this?


Please don't: when used for code, preserving lines (even when requiring scrolling on mobile) is a good thing. 100% width is fine, no reason it needs to be as narrow as it is.

If a blockquote format is desired, that's great, but don't change the code formatting to make it a slightly-less bad (but still horrible, because of monospacing) way of presenting blockquotes.


How about a few profile fields where users can customize some aspects of the HN CSS that is used just for them when they are logged in.

You know, like how there is "topcolor" already; just a bit more of the same.


Yes.

And on copy/paste, the linebreaks in the original are preserved, which obviates the code objection answering you below.


lobste.rs is infinitely more advanced than HN, interface-wise (and it's also perfectly lightweight, so that's no excuse for HN to hide under)


Legacy and data conversion may well be issues.

Front end is not back end, etc.


Archive, transfer user database, and deprecate is common for web forums if an upgrade is needed.


anyone have an invite code handy?


to get even more meta: can we please have a proper blockquote format on HN so that people stop doing this silly code formatting?


I'm personally fine with using the > symbol at the beginning of quoted lines, not sure why people see the need to indent every line with four spaces, that's torture for both the writer and the reader (sideways scrolling long lines, and monospaced doesn't read nicely either). But I'm fine either way, so if there is a small css change that people seem to be in favor of which I (or someone else) can propose, that's probably easier than selling a new feature to the whole community, so I'd like to focus on that here.


When all under heaven know beauty as beauty, There is then ugliness, When all know the good as good, There is then the not good. Therefore being and non-being give rise to each other, The difficult and easy complement each other, The long and short shape each other, The high and low lean on each other, Voices and instruments harmonize with one another, The front and rear follow upon each other. Therefore the sage manages affairs without action, Carries out teaching without speech. Ten thousand things arise and he does not initiate them, They come to be and he claims no possession of them, He works without holding on, Accomplishes without claiming merit. Because he does not claim merit, His merit does not go away. [0]

This is one of the key passages. Whenever we name something, it's opposite is created too. This problem lies at the heart of categorization and knowledge. Try to avoid that.

For those interested [1] has many translations of the Tao Te Ching to compare.

[0] https://terebess.hu/english/tao/e-m-chen.html

[1] https://terebess.hu/english/tao/_index.html


> Because he accepts himself,

> the whole world accepts him

These lines seem a simplified stretch or an incorrect observation, particularly in the current context.

Some people, e.g. minorities, accept themselves, yet they seem repeatedly rejected by others. This is a very common occurrence online.


Amazing. That is succinct. Bookmarked.

That's different from other translations: http://wengu.tartarie.com/wg/wengu.php?l=Daodejing&no=30

If Mitchell branched into more classics, that'd be very valuable to the cause.


Online, nobody is a "master", because everyone is effectively anonymous. Your reputation for being right does not help you, and each point must stand on its own. Without the reputation, though, good arguments are often lost in the noise.


I could be wrong here, I'm not really familiar with Taoist thinking, but the way I interpreted the quote above is that it is more about being master of oneself, i.e. in control of your emotions and reactions, rather than being a master of the subject in the eyes of others. It seems to me that the point is not to care about reputation or winning the argument because you have no control over others anyway.


The first part of this chapter is important for understanding the whole, I think (especially with this translation):

"Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men doesn't try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. For every force there is a counterforce. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself."

What this is saying (again IMHO ;-) ) is that in the conversation, you can't control both sides: only your side. You can't control how someone receives your words, or how they interpret them. If you try to press your case, you will cause things to occur which you may not anticipate and for which you have no control.

Therefore, if you are trying to assert some idea, rather than to clarify your own understanding, then you may actually create the antagonistic forces which you were originally trying subdue (cut off one head of the hydra and be rewarded with 2 growing).

This is one of the core principles in the tao te ching. The word tall has no meaning unless you compare it with short. If I draw a box and ask you if the box is tall, you can't really say. However, if I draw another box of a different size next to it, it is easy to distinguish which one is tall and which one is short. Similarly, if I draw a single box and call it "tall", you can get an idea of what "short" means -- definitely shorter than the box I drew.

In than way, declaration of one thing "creates" its opposite. If you make a declaration on the internet, it can create its own opposition. People who would never have thought about the issue, may come to defend the opposite point of view. The more you push your point, the more vigorous the defense. Had you done nothing, then nothing would have been the result.

In taoist literature, the middle point between 2 extremes is called the "pivot" point. There is a point between being "tall" and being "short". If I grow my short box, it will eventually cease to be short and start becoming tall (and in comparison, the other box will become short). That point is the "pivot" point.

This is a concept of "utility". Normally for something to be "useful" you must transition between an extreme and the pivot point. If you have a cup that is always full of water, then it is not "useful" (in the ordinary sense of the use of a cup -- it might still be useful as a weight ;-) ). If the cup is always empty, then it is equally not useful. It only has utility when the cup transitions between being empty and full. The same is true of spokes on a bicycle wheel. Which is more important: the wires that provide tension on the outside of the wheel, or the spaces between the wires? Without the spaces, there would be no wires: only a disk. And then there would be no spokes. It's important to alternate between spoke and space.

So, to answer the parent's question: from (my interpretation of) a taoist point of view, you need to be careful not to press your case because you will create your own opposition. However, if you wish to have utility in your argument, it is important to move from the pivot point, to an extreme and back to the pivot point again (possibly over and over and over again). How you do that is beyond my ability to answer ;-)


I used to believe that equal treatment of opinions online was a massive win, but I’ve come to realise that lack of reputation is one of the greatest challenges we face.

That a Nobel laureate scientist and a redneck can share equal space on a subject is a real problem.

I’m not suggesting anybody be censored, merely that all opinions on a topic are not equal and shouldn’t be treated as such.


Why is that true? Either show the logic and reasoning that allows anyone to come to that conclusion or don’t. I don’t care if it’s a Nobel prize winner or a redneck, it’s the rationale that’s important.


Because humans defer to authority by default. You don't, you recognise the fallacy but how many people question their doctor's diagnosis?

The BBC in Britain has adopted the policy you suggest for a few years. They try pretty hard to show 2 opposing views in interviews.

It falls apart when all the experts align on one side of an issue, which is unreasonably common in these days of brexit. Yet, equal airtime is given to someone who is not an expert, lacks knowledge of the system being discussed, but has an opinion.


Humans do a great many things by default that are directly in opposition to determining truth. Look at any list of common logical fallacies. Every single last one of them is something humans do by default. They're intuitive and emotionally persuasive.

There is little similar between what was suggested by the person you're replying to and any policy which simply throws both opinions out. What he was describing was engaging with the content of an argument, not its speaker. This is proper. This is how things should be decided. "Who gets on TV" is an antiquated limitation which generated the difficult situation where someone has to make that call, and the unrelated constraint of needing to break for commercial or move on to the next topic in order to keep the audience engaged or keep to a programming schedule exacerbates it. The way the medium is used makes it impossible for a positions justification to be explained, only the position with no justification can be presented. This simply should not be done, but is the sort of thing which due to technological limitation was done out of desperation for a time. Commercial interests, of course, still motivate this approach, but those commercial interests, I think we can both agree, are not intimately tied to the ability of the medium to assist the audience in coming to a nuanced understanding of available views.

There is a very big difference between the ideal situation, where in every instance you have infinite time and access to all possible relevant information, and the practical situation with limited time (not 'oh I can't pay attention to one argument for 45 minutes' but 'if we do not do something before Tuesday, hundreds could die') and resources. It is not incorrect to discuss the ideal situation, because it will always be present and always provide the limiting constraints on the practical case. While you can be in a position where you could argue 'we should trust the expert because we have exactly and only 2 choices and his authority is better even though he can not explain it', even in that situation it must be admitted that what you are doing is wrong. It is a wrong thing which is being forced by circumstance to be done. In the ideal case, you are guaranteed truth. In the practical case, you try to do the best you can. In the practical case, the redneck might have a point (farmers, for instance, had been talking about global dimming for years before scientists gathered the data and became concerned... we were able to reverse it, but not before the pollution from England caused the jetstream to shift and led to several years of intense drought and famine (remember Live Aid? That was global dimmings work) in Ethiopia. Then you have cases where a doctor says other doctors should wash their hands between doing autopsies and delivering babies. He was not right because he had authority. In fact, the argument against him was that he was not respected enough in his field and that it was insulting to suggest that the doctors killing women and children left and right were actually at fault. Those were the more respected members of the medical community. We were saddled with leaded gasoline for decades because the community of research chemists all agreed it was safe and did so for financial benefit and based on very 'common sense' arguments (lead is so heavy! It will fall to the ground and not travel far from the road, how would it get in the air?). When a toxicologist reported the danger, he was met with insult and told he was entreating on chemists territory. Because people trusted the authority of the professional research chemists, he got ignored. Because of them having their authority trusted, they could not afford to even investigate the truth. If they lost that authority, and the trust, they would be done. All unnecessary and a tragic bit of scientific history every researcher should know. Those authorities are just people. They can be just as selfish, mistake-prone, prideful, etc as anyone else. It is not reason to dismiss them. It is reason to expect them to present you with solid evidence, solid argument, and to NEVER ask you to 'just trust them'. The same applies for the redneck. If he provides solid evidence, solid argument, and never asks you to 'just trust him', you review his argument and evidence exactly the same.


Thank you for that, that’s exactly right.


One particular reason is that more knowledgeable individuals are less likely to have careless omissions in their reasoning.

Most real-world problems are over-constrained or under-constrained, and a missing axiom (as much as you can have axioms for things as fuzzy as the real world) can give bogus results without being immediately obvious.


It depends on the subject being discussed. If it is something that the redneck is experienced in, I'd go with the redneck, and vice-versa.

If it is something that I do not expect neither to have detailed knowledge of, I'll base my trust on the transferability of the domain. So, for example, a nobel price winner in physics will still have a reasonable understanding of chemistry, and thus cooking.

I'd simply expect a scientist to have finished 4-8 years more in school, and to have spent several decades with smart and learned people. Again, depending on the subject being discussed.

There is also the case to be made that a Nobel price winner will have a reputation to uphold. Going on the record saying silly things will hurt him more than someone that has no reputation. Though I'm less inclined to this reasoning, as this assumes that reputation is something important to the Nobel prize winner.


Why defer to authority? Because it's the authority's day job to thoroughly understand and evidence their own opinions. Everyone else has another day job that isn't dependent on committing full focus to the logic behind their opinions on a topic, so it's inherently never going to be as well reasoned an opinion as that of a model authority. Obviously there are exceptions, but on a grand scale, this rule of thumb works extremely well.


Being a Master relies not upon anonymity nor reputation.

Instead, it is a state of mind reached through experience and enlightenment, endowed to one by those whom seek same.


The text doesn't mention reputation. It does however explicitly states he doesn't try to convince others.


I've been thinking about trying a forum with no usernames or reputation system, just trees of comments with varying root topics. Not sure how to filter the garbage though. I'm thinking let it happen, and figure out various ways to hide it, without erasing it, later.


There used to be a Tor onion forum like that, "talk.masked". It was linked from Core.onion (eqt5g4fuenphqinx.onion). I believe that it was one of the first onion sites.

As I recall, nothing was ever deleted. It was classified, and you could filter as you liked. But I don't remember specifics.

The owner took it down some years ago. Because the trolling had become intolerable.


https://www.kialo.com/ comes close to that description. Identities and reputation arent immediately visible in the argument tree.


You mean 4chan?


Your right and everybody feels like Steve Jobs online and demands change today.


That doesn't actually fit with my experience of online discussions.


Indeed! I have always preferred the Thomas Cleary translations (he's done a lot of chinese literature), but this Mitchell translation is REALLY good. I'm a convert.


I was going to comment, Take a look at the Dao De Jing, so I like that the top comment is a quote from it. The book is full of such pithy saying, and I often think that its advice to be like water isn't so much to go with the flow as it is that water takes in whatever people pollute it with and objects to nothing.


Slightly off topic, but I've followed this a little deeper and am wondering if anyone has any recommended Taoist reading? It appears this translation of Tao Te Ching is available in book form. Could anyone suggest a translation of Zhuangzi worth looking into?


I really like "Getting Right with Tao: A Contemporary Spin on the Tao Te Ching".

- http://beatrice.com/wordpress/tao-te-ching/

- The original free version - http://www.beatrice.com/TAO.pdf

Here's the same verse, I think:

    The Masters do what needs doing
    and that's all they do.
    Do what you have to do
    without arrogance or pride.
    Get the job done
    and don't brag about it afterwards.
    Do what you have to do,
    not for your own benefit,
    but because it needs to be done.
    And don't do it the way
    you think it should be done,
    do it the way it needs to be done.


I recommend any Mantak Chia books. Take them with a grain of salt but there is a lot of good in there too.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's the best-selling philosophy book of all time, and you really can't go wrong with it. It's not about Taoism directly. But it is. You get that with Taoist sort of things.


Thanks, I needed to hear that.

Tao Te Ching shall be the next book on my reading list. Have a nice day!


That's not how the world works today though. The delphic aphorisms similarly argue for a certain cosmic indifference. Yet the past 500 years have been guided by excessive overconfidence and an irreverent belief that man Can and should control the universe, and that others should hold that belief too. And it's been wildly successful by material measures.


We are no happier as a result of that success. Instead, we are on the verge of destroying our biosphere and civilisation.

Material progress is useful, but hollow.


That's a material strategy, if it weren't successful by material measures it'd be just a failure in implementation. It's kind of like saying this path was the right path because we've made it pretty far on it.


Put in place ideas that work.

Watch them flourish.

Revisit them.

To watch them crumble.

Update them to learn your mistake.

Educate the next generation.

On where you failed.

Rinse and repeat.

Education is the only thing holding society together.


I feel very conflicted about this philosophy, on one hand, I do believe this is a way one can find peace. On the other hand, because I have been living this way, I feel like I never stand up for anything that i believe to be right.


Interesting. The highest ideal in western culture is truth, not harmony.


Truth can make you miserable, especially when you have no agency to deal with it. Ignorance can be bliss.


What is the “job” it refers to? Is that a person’s true purpose?


Web developer, working on user stories for a marketing company that tracks its users, of course!


Is this Buddhism?


Taoism


Why would someone that believed that, ever publish it? To convince others to not try to convince others?


I've long thought that about all those zen masters and so on. Maybe they are just happy because they get to lecture and make fun of their pupils?

Maybe some real wisdom exists out there, that unfortunately involves not telling other people about it.


What does this mean? Never try to change anything because the world is fixed and fate is immutable? Sounds like a generic defeatist philosophy.


> What does this mean?

Essentially, it means "lead by example", "let others learn through acts and not words", "there are situations which no amount of skill can rectify", and "accept that some may not understand what you try to teach."


Let me take a different tack, and share a bit of a meta-sentiment.

Asking what something means is effectively asking for a translation. Unfortunately, that's almost always a lossy process, and in the worst case it invites an "understanding" that's largely different than the author's original intent.

If intended meaning is something you'd like to get at, I've gotten a lot of mileage out of the question, "what mindset and situation would I have to be in such that those words come naturally, spontaneously to mind?"

Anyway, in my experience with lots of meditation, the sentiment expressed in OP's quote is something that feels close to home. I think it has more to do with staying close to the problem at hand and being keenly aware of how all the pieces of you fit into that picture.

There exists a mental space where you can do things and have desires while at the same time seeing a larger context that breeds equanimity. It's a space thst makes things like personal thoughts, feeling and beliefs seem as simple and matter-of-fact as crickets chirping in the night.


On the contrary.

It means that everything will only change when you change yourself. Find your own harmony and don’t worry about others. Their path is theirs.


Is this the where the Matrix got it’s spoon bending ideas from?


Try to change what you can, and recognize that the things you can't are vast, innumerable, infinite.


Things you can always change are how you think, feel and react to things.

Some of these types of books say that yourself is the only thing which you can truly change because, they say, everything else is an illusion or simply that trying to change others is a futile task. How you perceive reality is everything.

I find this idea to be very liberating and pragmatic and when I remember to utilize this in practice, things flow much better for me. I become more flexible.

As Bruce Lee says - "You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend."


Seems glass half empty. The things you can change are vast, innumerable, infinite. Maybe less infinite, but infinite.


What you can change is a drop in an immense ocean. And that's ok. Yo can either ignore the rest of the ocean (denial), or make peace with the fact that the tiny drop of the ocean you can control is all that really matters.


That's (again, in my opinion) a really depressing and defeatist way to look at things, and at worst, a poetic way of saying "fuck you I got mine".


Well... it does have the advantage of being true. I'm just explaining one positive method of coping with this vast and amazing universe. Do you have another?


Is it that the glass is half empty or recognition that a glass cannot hold everything the world can pour into it?


I'd never think that the HN crowd would be into all that New Age Eastern Zen-Tao pointless philosophizing, but here we are.


Have you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? It's the best-selling philosophy book of all time. I actually only read it fairly recently, and was stunned at how relevant it was. It was written in the 70s, yet even includes a few passages about computers! It's not about zen, or about motorcycle maintenance. But they both make appearances. I'd recommend giving it a go if you get the chance. It might make Zen and Tao seem a bit less New-Agey to you.

Or, you could check out my personal introduction to the Tao... The Tao of Pooh. I read it when I was a teenager, thinking it positively absurd that anyone would create a book attempting to explain an ancient school of philosophy through Winnie the Pooh. It's not absurd. I found it sublime, and the idea of taoism made a powerful impression on me and probably played a sizable role in driving me to further study of philosophy.


I’m not sure that something that pre-dates the printing press can be considered ‘new age’


Astrology is new age, and yet the stars predate all of us.

Chinese Medicine is new age, and yet the practice supposedly dates back 3,500 years. I wonder if they were also killing rhinos for their horns to make useless “medicine” back then?


What do you mean? It's a great quote. I've been savoring it all day.


I don't agree with this particular articulation of this position. Stoicism says something similar, "recognize what you can affect and don't mourn over the things you cannot affect", but this quote up there is taking it too far. This quote advocates for wise people to never try to convince other people, which would leave politics to unwise people.

I would say: If you try to convince others of something, focus your energy on one thing. You won't be very convincing if you argue "I've heard that X" on 100 topics, but it will be more effective if you go deep into one topic and have a huge number of arguments on standby, with links to further resources, so that you can create a concise and focused rebuttal when that particular topic comes up.


> This quote advocates for wise people to never try to convince other people

Other chapters in the Tao address this objection, by emphasizing the value of humility and leading by example over cleverness and trying to beat people into submission with words.

   Express yourself completely,
   then keep quiet.
   Be like the forces of nature:
   when it blows, there is only wind;
   when it rains, there is only rain;
   when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
(http://taoteching.org.uk/index.php?c=23&a=Stephen+Mitchell)

   Do you have the patience to wait
   till your mud settles and the water is clear?
   Can you remain unmoving
   till the right action arises by itself?
(http://taoteching.org.uk/index.php?c=15&a=Stephen+Mitchell)

   The Master doesn't talk, he acts.
   When his work is done,
   the people say, "Amazing:
   we did it, all by ourselves!"
(http://taoteching.org.uk/index.php?c=17&a=Stephen+Mitchell)


>beat people into submission with words

There's something oxymoronic about this phrase.


> This quote advocates for wise people to never try to convince other people, which would leave politics to unwise people.

There's convincing with words, and convincing by example.

"The Master does his job" - not necessarily in private or alone. If people see someone successfully accomplishing something, they will follow. For me, seeing something work is a lot more powerful change actor than someone talking in hypotheticals trying to convince me.

If you say something to someone and they are unconvinced, I doubt more prodding will convince them. Eventually they will say they are convinced, just to have you go away, and let them do it the same way. Then they become more entrenched in their beliefs, even if they know it's wrong.

“Every truth has four corners. As a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.”

–Confucius


> This quote advocates for wise people to never try to convince other people

No, sometimes the master's job is to teach someone something. It's just not all the time or even every time someone is wrong on the internet.


> leave politics to the unwise

To build on quotes from the Tao Te Ching, same translation:

“Throw away holiness and wisdom, and people will be a hundred times happier. Throw away morality and justice, and people will do the right thing. Throw away industry and profit, and there won't be any thieves.

If these three aren't enough, just stay at the center of the circle and let all things take their course.”


At the time and place that quote was written, wisdom referred to leadership, or reliable old people. And leaders would use their physical, mental or monetary abilities instead of talking people down in public display.

This "who can talk better to convince the crowd" business appeared more than once throughout history and was at it's peak effectiveness among the scientific community during the enlightenment phase of europe where your peers are actually as intelligent or more intelligent than you are, and your tools are empirical evidence rather than your charisma.

The idea later reverted to it's hellenistic form of democratic political dialogue which is only effective as the critics of it's listeners, or the demos.


I’ve had a series of realizations that have helped me with this.

First was that I noticed that on most of my usual internet hangouts, the norm was that if someone is replying to a comment, it must be a disagreement. Even the occasional agreement is often mistaken for disagreement because it’s so uncommon for folks to post in agreement. The more I noticed this pattern, the less inclined I became to follow it.

Second was noticing just how much time and energy I would spend taking down someone’s post in my head, even if I had gotten up from the computer and was doing something else. And while there is something exhilarating about refining an argument, clarifying one’s own thoughts, and then posting them and watching for upvotes, there’s also a very negative energy associated with it that I found lasted a while afterwards. So I came to believe it wasn’t a good trade off.

Finally, a tangential realization. At work I noticed a pattern in others and then in myself where product or technical suggestions would be made and then developers would instantly chime in with the reasons it can’t be done. But it can be done, we have the source code, and our job is to find a way to do it. Dismissing it because our first thought doesn’t work is simply not doing our job. So I learned to suppress any reactions until I’d actually attempted to enable whatever was suggested, and I think this had an effect elsewhere in my life, including posting on the internet.


I think the last part you touch upon is one of the natural dangers of our profession. In my experience developers are simply extremely good at spotting potential issues in projects.

Which can be very good if you’re trying to minimise risks or estimate tasks. It can also be really bad if you’re doing it in the idea-generation part of a project, and it’s just too easy to carry your fault focus into those meetings. Especially if you go directly from development to a brainstorming workshop. I know that this is something I’ve had to work quite hard at myself. Thinking twice before speaking out, to make sure I’m going to contribute something useful. Typically my golden rule is to keep quiet unless what I have to say is positive or supportive. Because it’s exactly like you put it, it can be done.


You manage what you measure, and we have been measuring over/under on task time almost exclusively for at least twenty years.


Regarding your last point, sometimes I will say "the stupidest thing that could possibly work". This is an idea that could work, but has serious and obvious flaws. I find that once a team gets used to it, saying out loud a stupid but plausible solution can frame the discussion away from "whats wrong with the idea" to "find something better".


Like you I enjoy learning through argument. It rarely works though. This is my conclusion: Most people only pretend to be having a discussion.

Actually they are engaged in an emotional battle. Usually the subject matter is part of their self-definition, part of "who they are" so they can't really budge on their opinion because it would shake their foundation. Instead they will fight back with everything they have. Illogical arguments, anger etc. Another scenario I see is when "winning" is the important factor, i.e the ego is central. Then also budging is not really an option.

I'm getting better at realizing when the person I'm talking to is having a battle instead of a discussion and disengage.


My rule of thumb is that if someone is trying to fight, I disengage. Basically, if it's painful for them to agree with you, or painful for you to agree with them, leave the conversation. If they go around starting these fights all the time, then I block them.


The ego can really be a sneaky, nasty son of a bitch. Very often lurking just out of sight, ready to pounce.

However, it is a nice feeling when I am fortunate enough to catch it in the act and can tell it to chill out :)


The key punctuation seems to be '?'.

Phrase the criticism as a sincere question, and let the other person elaborate on what was really meant.


Consider genuinely strengthening the argument of the person you are talking with before providing an alternate viewpoint.


I’ve been working to realize when I am doing that.


I came across a comment on HN not too long ago that really resonated with me. The commenter mentioned that they do not comment to have a conversation with the OP. Instead, they treat commenting as writing notes about the topic at hand. Because of this, they don't expect responses or anticipate an argument (or even conversation). They mark down their thoughts and move on. It's been a really effective mindset for me thus far ad has shaped my responses for the better.


> Instead, they treat commenting as writing notes about the topic at hand.

But for what purpose? Or is it just a way of tricking oneself as a coping mechanism?


To me, this is not really a conversational arena. An effort to post a comment floats somewhere between editing a wiki page and adding margin comments while reviewing a manuscript. The tree of comments provides hook points for tangential observations or counterpoints. I am more often thinking of the silent readers than the parent comment author when I post a reply.

If I notice a reply to my comments, I don't feel compelled to respond by conversational norms. I am more likely to reply if I see evidence that my original comment has failed to communicate my thoughts, and less likely to reply if I think I was understood but merely have disagreement.

As a reader, I also get more out of the interesting alternate viewpoints that I see from people using the site in a similar manner. I don't tend to want to read comment chains that look like a transcribed conversation between only a few people.


The purpose is to think better and understand more. Putting your thoughts into writing is probably the best way to organize your thinking, determine what you actually know, and further develop your thoughts on the subject.


True, but why bother doing it in public? Unless you want someone else to read your notes, and maybe upvote and/or reply to them?


"Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you're bad at writing and don't like to do it, you'll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated."

Full source: http://www.paulgraham.com/writing44.html


The value of writing is pretty clear imo. What doesn't make much sense to me is posting your margin notes on a public internet forum.


The "margin notes" are usually ten times more interesting to read than "discussion threads" where few people try to convey their points back and forth.

That sort of argumentation is generally just boring to read, lacks value, and happens between the two or three people involved. As such, it doesn't really contribute much value on a public internet forum and I usually skip all that stuff myself.

You can sense if a comment is written for no one in particular. It washes away all the need to argue, and it humbly gives to each reader what they're willing to accept from it. This can be a lot or nothing but it all depends on the reader, too.

I write comments with a similar idea in mind. I feel that if what I've written might give one person an idea, point of validation, sense of similarity, or a moment to seriously think about something for a while, it's worth posting. I of course do not know beforehand whether this happens or which year it might happen if it does. I rarely write as a direct response to the parent, and if I do I tend to eventually diverge from the "reply mode" to "writing mode".


Notes are a unit of learning. But notes aren't always accurate, or may have left out something. Posting notes lets people criticize it and improve it.

Arguably, HN is just a website where people request for others to share their notes on a topic they're interested in.


In the short time I've been applying this technique I've found my comments are either an attempt to add my own notes of clarification to the subject at hand or as a tool to help concrete a concept related to the subject; a sort of a repetitive reinforcement of the concept.

For me, at least, it's less a coping mechanism and more a mindset I've found to be more constructive both online and off.


For the sake of knowledge itself. If something is wrong, I feel urged to set it right..

You know, progress of humankind etc. ...


I am constantly learning from my own internal dialogue. Maybe the note taker is trying to arrive at a better understanding of something on their own.


well since there isnt another mechanism to take a mental note of a topic or comment here, posting a comment acts like a bookmark.


I remember exactly the comment having an impact on me too. Definitely not the best at it but it's at least given me a new way to think about the responses I'm making.


I don’t suppose you have that comment saved, do you?


this is an interesting approach that I should try to remember.


Might seem stupid, but I found the following thought experiment interesting. Discovered it on Reddit.

The OP was working in the finance sector surrounded by people whose values conflicted with his.

He wrote something like this:

If you are in an environment surrounded by people with whom you disagree, pretend that you are a Federation officer in an exchange program serving on a Ferengi vessel. Most of the crew’s values will bother you, but you’re not there to correct Ferengi culture. You’re there to learn whatever there is to learn from them and contribute in a positive way to the running of the ship. Being combative won’t change the Ferengi, but your positive example might update some views.


Well that scenario is almost literally a TNG episode (A Matter of Honor [0]), just Klingons instead of Ferengi.

Though it is interesting that the Federation almost universally treats the Ferengi with derision, while going out of their way to respect Klingon culture. Over-the-top capitalist/misogynist versus over-the-top barbarous/murderous. Take your pick I guess.

DS9 does address this a few times, especially Quark's speeches in The Siege of AR-558. And Ezri does a damn good take down of Klingon honor culture right to Worf's face in Tacking into the Wind, exposing the hypocrisy of it in an empire riddled with corruption.

Dunno what thread I'm in anymore, but I do like Star Trek.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Matter_of_Honor


I think you put your finger on it there: Klingon honour culture. In other words, there's an admirable culture underlying the exterior brutishness; a human in Klingon society had something to grab onto that they could respect and work with.

As I recall, the Ferengi never received the same thing. They were always their miserable, grubby little selves. Even Cardassians were given an underpinning of extreme loyalty to family and the security/success of their children, which explained their rigid society as an outgrowth of that strong internal family order. Some of the best scenes in all of Star Trek are where Garak explains Cardassian culture--like how their literature is always about how the state is right.


People discussing stuff and having those daily inconsequential political debates is what shapes society and culture.

I do understand the practicality of the advice, and I've implemented it in the past, but so just nobody fool themselves it's not far from meaning "You might be happier if you detach yourself from society". Not so dramatically, but it's like becoming a guest and partaking in cooperation but not culture.


Except that you would not have the backing of the Federation


Instead of trying to convince, try to understand.

Do they know more/different details that make their conclusion fit? Did they already try "your" approach and it didn't work for their situation? Is that their real point/position or is it something else and this is how it's manifesting?

You may end up in the exact same place and want to argue but now you understand how they came to the conclusion. But since you worked to understand first, the person is more likely to listen anyway.

You may realize that you were wrong because you missed a key fact that they can share with you. Thank them and you're both better off.

But more commonly, you'll realize that MUCH of life doesn't have a clear yes/no and is a tradeoff based on preferences, priorities, abilities, resources, schedule, etc, etc.

There are absolutes in the universe but most of the time, that's not what the conversation is about.


It might be worthwhile to research "non-violent communication" (NVC). There is some misinformation out there that it means not speaking clearly, but it's actually entirely compatible with full and complete communication and understanding the viewpoint of another.

It's valuable to understand different viewpoints, and also to share your own arguments - it helps people learn from each other and discover shared truths. So I don't think it's the arguing that is necessarily the problem. Arguments are simply the reasoning behind conclusions. The ugly parts of argumentation are more about style and irresponsible rhetoric.

(I'd also suggest that the common online format incentivizes boorishness. Most comment threads don't make it convenient to have a full respectful sharing of views. You're probably incentivized to lead with your provocative counterargument to "cut to the chase", to minimize the chance of your counterpart getting distracted and moving on to other things.)


I once decided that I should spend less time arguing online, so I collected a few pieces of advice for myself that I try to obey.

1. "People are allowed to be wrong on the internet." It's not my job to correct people who are wrong. There will always be more of them.

2. "One and done." Don't get into back-and-forth arguments. I try to limit myself to one post on a topic and then do my best to remain silent. I don't always succeed, but I try. Some people simply cannot be wrong and no amount of back-and-forth will make them change their mind. Let them have the last word.

3. "You might be the one who is wrong". Tying into #2, if you engage in back-and-forth's it easily becomes a game where you have to prove you're right. If you shut up and listen after saying your piece, you might actually find yourself more willing to consider other points of view.

4. "Political issues usually lack easy answers." If you're talking about politics, remember that political opinions are highly dependent on a person's point of view. What may appear dead wrong from your point of view may be correct from another point of view. If an opinion is unequivocally correct from all points of view it's probably not going to be politically interesting or controversial.


The absolute best advice I’ve ever read comes from the book: How to win friends and influence people [0]

The title is dorky, and suggests a topic that’s completely unrelated to OPs original question. But the answers are in there, written brilliantly, and is especially effective for people who like to

>> ...launch into a logical argument with them right there and then.

Personally, that book changed how I’ve approached such situations dramatically. I can not recommend this book strongly enough.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/0...


I also heartily recommend that book: it is fantastic.

But in regards to “negative comments” one challenge is what to do when faced with a situation where you sincerely believe something is harmful if not strongly countered?

For example yesterday on HN there was a post about online dating, and a number of comments espoused an idea I viscerally believe is actively harmful: that you should strive for some idea of “good communication skills” that facilitate reading strangers’ body language in public and determining how to make an advance for dating.

Now, I really believe this is harmful advice: it leads to actually hurting people in the form of perpetuating social norms that bother people in public and put them in unwanted, uncomfortable positions, and cause impressionable readers to believe this is not just OK, but even healthy.

In a case like this, I am still at a loss of how to apply the sincere listening and positivity approaches of How To Win Friends... because there’s an overriding moral implication that the statements have to be visibly refuted and challenged, not to “win an argument” not to persuade the original author, but to leave a visible marker for impressionable readers about the serious danger embedded in what’s written, to spell it out clearly and not leave it to chance interpretations.


> that you should strive

I think that terms like "should" or "ought" are toxic. I can try to express ideas in an objective way with limited assumption, starting with how I present the ideas. Typically, I have found the substitution of "I think" puts my thoughts in perspective. This has led to a few times where arguments felt genuinely fruitful.


That is an extreme view. It means all types of advocacy are toxic.


That is demonstrably incorrect. My first post advocates for benefits that might be found in a discussion without using specific verbiage.


That seems like a semantic distinction only. Extolling the benefits of something is not advocacy, at least not how I understand the term advocacy. Advocacy means representing a normative view of what ought to be the case, and suggesting that others should take certain actions. It necessarily requires an aspect of asserting a moral stance about the rightness or wrongness of adopting or failing to adopt certain actions.


> That seems like a semantic distinction only.

The semantics matter because of subjective interpretation. "I think" and "should" and "the majority of subgroup x" are not usually correlated to be the same thing, even though they seem like "semantics". The first is clear (why do you think that?, is rarely asked), the second undefined (should doesn't have a qualification) and the third subject to investigation (based on what evidence?).

I have found that morality is less often an influential factor (spaces vs tabs, fight) than the words like "should" and "ought" are used. YMMV


@fr0styMatt88 we've come to the same conclusion as well. We're all very argumentative online. We get sucked into these bubbles of discussion where we believe everyone else has the same critical thinking skills as we do. The problem is that the playing field on most social networks where you would otherwise debate these ideas is leveled where there is no opportunity cost to having a bad opinion. Yes, people can like each others posts, but there is no actual cost to them. I can give out millions of likes and only spend my time.

We were in the same boat you were, so we're building a solution to that problem. We're dubbing it a Social Debate Network called TruStory. We break the habit by posting our claims and arguments to beta.trustory.io

The network rewards open-mindedness, transparency, and humility. The problem with social networks is that they incentive all discourse. With TruStory, we're particular with what is incentivized to the benefit of those who would like to make progress through substantive debate. If someone writes something you disagree with, you can challenge it, though the finer tuned debate functionality around counterarguments are coming a bit later, we have a lot for what we are calling our beta.

We're still pretty early and are in the process of building out a lot of features and functions, but would love to have you join and give us feedback on what you think of the platform as we evolve! So far the community we've developed around productive debating has been awesome and they love the product given where it currently is in the roadmap. Everyone is open to learning from one another. If you want, you can email me: expherience@gmail.com and we can get you plugged into our Slack community!

Website: beta.trustory.io


This is really interesting to me, because I have the opposite problem. I'm a total lurker/consumer-only of HN.

My comment here is a very rare response to something and I think I chose to reply because it is so meta and as a member of the community it felt natural to reply rather than just observe.

If my feelings can be juxtaposed next to yours, I'd say there is probably a common thread despite our opposing actions.

I started reading HN and other forums and blogs around 2009?, but didn't register an account here until 2012 when I needed one to actually apply to YC.

You act the way you do because of the role you've assumed in the forums you are on. If you want to assume a different role then do that. Maybe start by logging out or creating a new account. Maybe even delete your account. That might reset the way you interact.

Counter question... how do I become more involved in the community?

Maybe the same advice applies and I should start over a new account to assume a new identity/role. I don't know. I think I miss a lot of these types of posts by sticking to page 1. I also think that my opinion on typical news stories doesn't really matter so there is no value add. Even differing opinions on HN seem to fall 1 of 2 ways so it's basically the echo chamber with the same back and forth across any topic.


Counter question... how do I become more involved in the community?

What are you looking for? What would you want out of that? Why haven't you so far?


Think about how much time you spend on this.

When you find yourself halfway through one of these responses, ask yourself: Is this really a conversation I want to have? Do I really want to dig deep into this and find evidence to challenge this person’s views, and am I willing to consider changing my views if it turns out the evidence is there for it? Is doing this a good use of a half hour or so of my life?

Usually I find the answer to this question is “no” and I close the tab.


There was a period when I closed around half of tabs with a complete answer already written. Even if time is already spent, it may be not worth it to discuss further, since in explaining to someone you explain to yourself and your most constructive part is already done at this point.


After a couple decades of verbal swordplay on the net, I have to agree that slaying trolls has lost its allure. I've learned that a frontal assault on a paragraph errant just isn't that compelling to write or read. In heaven and earth and net, I aspire to more.

“Like what?”, you may ask.

In any conversation (online or not) I can choose several ways to engage:

1) I can directly confront the specifics that were written: a conclusion, reasoning, or evidence. On the net it's typical to be contrary, but often in ways that aren't especially imaginative or enjoyable for others unless they too just want to argue.

2) I can bypass someone else's specifics and propose an alternative point of view, a fresh perspective or a confounding dependency that isn't common knowledge. This is likelier to introduce an element of surprise to the exchange, inviting others to dive deeper into the problem or solution space, encouraging others to employ more imagination and not be so binary in debating T/F on each point of the assertions.

3) I can ask questions: for clarification, to suggest new dependencies or implications, or propose factors or mechanisms that aren't necessarily contradictions but might be tangents or parallels or essential unknowns.

And if I do choose option #1, to openly disagree, I can voice it in a less confrontational style or focus on only the point I think is most interesting or essential (or amusing).

The writing style I choose makes a difference too. Rather than making bold pronouncements, if I can couch a point as my opinion or a doubt I have, I can deflect rather than provoke.

In the end, I have to decide what I want from this exchange, to discuss ideas or argue. Personally, I'm tired of the latter.


came for the comment wars: was disappointed

More seriously, there's ways to deflate the heat.

1) avoid use of language like liar or flat out wrong - the first goes to Intent more than correctness, the second is as hyperbolic as the million wrong things which motivated it.

2) I beseech you, consider but you are wrong: appeal to their better nature, posit the alternative view.

2a) be prepared to acknowledge you may also be wrong

3) Hanlon's razor

4) Some people are just dicks but you don't have to feed it.

5) remember English is a federated language and to a welchman a faggot is just a tasty meatball wrapped in caul-fat. Sometimes what people write is confused or confusing and it can be reader or sender miscommunication or.. both.

6) thomism: do not attempt to rebut or convert. State your view and restate it. Sometimes works but can be infuriating.


Completely agree with all the points here.

To expand on the first, I recently came across a tweet that provides examples of ways to rephrase something to achieve a more neutral tone: https://twitter.com/shl/status/1164924044061237254


You value open discussions of difficult ideas, but want to stop irritating strangers and stressing yourself out.

You have nailed a core dilemma of online comments.

Just know that everyone's vulnerable when exposing their private ideas online. Create psychological safety by showing that you hear them and demonstrating that you're willing to focus on common ground.

Force yourself to write something good about the post you're replying to first, or try to restate their argument in the strongest possible way up front.

Be clear about your differences, but note what evidence or experiences might change your mind.

Close by emphasizing points of agreement.

This approach doesn't guarantee civility, but ups the odds.

If your goal is really just creating space for you to cool off and walk away, this exercise can help for that too. Iron-manning someone's ideas can help make them seem less urgent.

If that's not fast enough and you really just want to turn your reactions to comments off, mindfulness might work. You would want to focus not just on your breath, but specifically on observing your triggers and how you process them emotionally.


if someone writes something that I disagree with, I'm compelled to launch into a logical argument with them right there and then

So am I. It's cathartic and I get a dopamine hit from running my brain through my fingers into language. For me, the useful behavioral changes center around the browser's back button and the 'delete' item on the edit menu. The back button keeps me out of rabbit holes internal to me and delete keeps me out of black holes of back and forth for the sake of back and forth. Both have helped me better recognize when I am probably making more noise rather than signal. Both give me an excuse to recognize when I don't actually know what I'm saying, don't care about what I'm saying, and when what I am saying is an over-reaction.

Writing this, I'd estimate >90% of what I start typing in little online boxes gets deleted or never gets posted in the first place. I default to not posting what I type because the typing is usually enough. Maybe I should have deleted this.


I do the same thing a lot, I find it's often a case that I realize i'm just being a dick or have some sort of emotional reaction, some I realize I'm just adding nothing.

I do this far more often with e-mail, sometimes i'll be e-mailing my friend about something, and then all of a sudden go on a big tangent about a problem i'm having or facing and by the time I'm finished the e-mail it's a novel, but I fleshed out my problems and it helped me immensely. I just delete the e-mail at the end / send the one liner response I had in the first place.

Writing to someone else comes from a different perspective then just journaling for yourself.


1) Don't Sweat the small stuff.

2) It's all small stuff.

I'm actually going through a lot of navel-gazing right now, over this same stuff.

I used to be a troll. I'm talking alt-board troll. I'm pretty good at fighting.

And I don't like doing it anymore. I guess I'm getting old and tired. Fighting is a young 'un's game.

When it comes down to it, there's not much I need to say (like this post is really not necessary). I can learn heaps by listening/reading.

As Chauncey Gardner used to say "I like to watch."


I had the same issue, especially using facebook. I'd always go into those arguments without a reason.

My wife pointed out, that I don't need to do that. She questioned me about the reason I am going into those arguments with others especially the ones I don't know and I'll never ever meet.

It made total sense to me. It changed me completely. Any time I want to say something on the internet I just keep it to myself, and its great. I don't need to think 'oh what is that person gonna say etc'.

I only express opinions of my own like the one I am typing right now and it feels great.

So my advice is, next time you are about to go on an argument on the internet, think of it and if its worth your time... and just don't do it :)


> She questioned me about the reason I am going into those arguments with others especially the ones I don't know and I'll never ever meet

I think the feelings parts of our brains don't know that the Internet exist and that the strangers on the Internet are so far away and that we'll never meet them.

The feelings parts of our brains think they're here nearby, in the same group of hunter-gatherers as us, and that their opinions will affect our day-to-day life.

I think it's just normal to start talking (maybe arguing) with strangers on the internet, and it's normal that it feels like a good idea ... And that one needs to stop and think and use the more modern parts of the brain, to realize that it can instead be a waste of one's limited time :- )

(An example of humans not being well adapted to modern technology.)


I struggle with this too. Some of the advice here is good and I won't repeat it, but three rules I've found helpful:

1. Wait before clicking submit. I write my reply, then go get a cup of coffee or take a bathroom break or whatever. Then when I come back, I ask myself whether the world would be better off if I closed the browser tab instead of posting.

2. Always add, don't subtract. If I don't have something substantive to contribute that hasn't already been said, and I just want to cut the legs out from under an existing comment, it's probably not worth the time and emotional energy and it won't convince anyone anyway.

3. Talk about the ideas. Don't make the response personal unless the person I'm responding to specifically asked for a personal response (asking for advice on a situation they're in, etc.) If I find myself writing the word "you," it's a sign that I may be violating this rule.


I've been online for around 25 years, I don't think it gets easier.

There are a lot of factors at play, but keep the old saying "don't cut your nose off to spite your face" in mind, even if you win you argument are you going to enjoy the results?

Also if you're repeatedly arguing with the same people, maybe disengage with that group because you're probably not going to help them nor grow as a person.


If you get into an argument with someone and they keep coming back for more, they probably enjoy it in some way. Just make it clear that while you disagree, you still respect them as a person. You'll probably be fine.

Rarely does one get into an argument with a whole group. That's a different game that is best avoided.


The social dynamics of groups are really interesting.

I'm in a Facebook group for vegans, where people continually justify eating things that have meat byproducts in them because they're convenient or they "don't believe its actually there" even though something is labeled as such. Its quite comical. I also just stopped participating because it was ridiculous.


> It's not that I actively want to 'prove someone wrong', but part of the way I learn is through argument; expressing my disagreement in the hope that the other person will prove me wrong and I might learn something.

Start prefacing your respones with "I'm just playing Devil's advocate here, but ..."

> I'm compelled to launch into a logical argument with them right there and then

People use methods other than logic to select actions/ideas, and will recognize methods other than logic to defend actions/ideas. It sucks but it's the truth.

Unless you are in a space that is dedicated to logic, like forums about computers, programming, or engineering, it's rare you will really "win" any of these conflicts or have any lasting effect, and it's rare pure logical arguments are actually welcomed.

If you want to make people act a different way and continue to do so over a period if time, many more tools other than logic are needed.


Two things that I've found are helpful for me.

Always make your comments about the policy and not the person.

Try to reference principles which give context to your comments.


Ethos, pathos, logos.

People are convinced with credibility first. Then emotion. Then logic. If anything, the logic is only there to establish credibility.


> How did you deal with it and break the habit?

It gets old.

That said, I didn't break the habit entirely. It's one of those "guilty pleasure" things. The important part is that you're otherwise pleasurable enough to be around to make up for it. Everyone has their pathological traits that others have to put up with, it's give and take.


I (think) I've successfully broken this habit after falling victim to it constantly when I was younger. A lot of it is practice and accepting that you'll be deleting or editing comments a lot at first (suggestion: if you do either and they've been up for more than a few minutes, add a bit of context to the edit or deletion). Another tactic that's helped is just writing out my response, but not pressing send for at least a minute or so. I find it usually causes me to imagine potential directions the conversation could go. Oftentimes I just end up not sending if those directions are conversations I'm not interested in having.

Re: learning through argument, I often find the time I take before sending the response to be helpful in crafting the argument and learning how I feel. If you really get value from this, have you considered writing essays and posting publicly?


This article changed my view on all arguments, online or otherwise:

https://haacked.com/archive/2013/10/21/argue-well-by-losing....

A pertinent summary:

- - - - -

I’ve come to believe that when two reasonably smart people disagree on a subject, at the core, it is often because one of the following:

1. One or both of the participants is missing key information.

2. One or both of the participants made a logic error that leads to a wrong conclusion.

3. The participants agree on the facts, but have different values and priorities leading them to either disagree on what conclusion should come from the facts.

In my mind, a good debate tries to expose missing facts and illogical conclusions so that two in the debate can get to the real crux of the matter, how their biases, experiences, and values shape their beliefs.

- - - - -


That is really great, thanks for posting it!

(Edited to remove my suggestion after you took care of it, glad that was helpful.)


Many thanks for your help! Done.


I suspect that "hoping ... the other person will prove me wrong" is framing the discussion in a way that will leads to being argumentative. So one thought is to build a different context for how you answer. That might not help though, because ...

The structural elements of internet discussions (including HN coments) does not really provide the structure for what Paul Graham described as "attempts to think" when he talked about essays. If for example, we, all of the readers, attempt to think as a community about this problem, what are the tools that HN provides to help us do that?

And its interesting because reading back over this, the first paragraph seems to be somewhat argumentative, while the second seems more like at least an attempt to attempt to think.


I have a mental model of the world that allows me to function. It is largely incorrect, but highly useful. A discussion is an opportunity to find modeling errors, which I use to make corrections. There is no drive to be quarrelsome when the goal is to improve.


It's kind of a lazy way to get your intellectual needs met and it comes at a high social cost.

It's fine to debate people. Just work on developing a more engaging style.

Of course, that's the opposite of lazy, so far easier said than done.

If you really, really can't stop, consider getting checked for an issue like ADHD. Compulsive arguing, no matter how much it gets them burned, seems to be something done by bright people with other issues that interfere with them getting their intellectual needs met.

(I am not a doctor. This is not medical advice by any stretch of the imagination, much less some kind of diagnosis.)


People can't seem to tolerate dissent or contrary opinions worth a damn nowadays; is it possible you're not actually super argumentative after all? I mean far be it from me to encourage someone who's honestly self-examining, to look away from the mirror and blame everybody else in the world... but still. Consider the environment you're working in.

But to the degree it's your fault, and even if it's not, it will help others digest your arguments if you preface/frame them a little bit. "The following is me trying on ideas for size." or "Hey what if..." or making clear it's just your opinion rather than The Truth... "I don't believe in ___ - I'm more of the opinion that ___" Or there's always the standard disclaimer, although I find those kind of ineffective and I'll give you an example: "By this I'm not trying to imply that your very existence is a foul and intolerable travesty that must be eradicated across the land henceforth or anything like that." It's ineffective because despite themselves they won't think "Oh that's good," they'll be more like "HEY he said my existence is a travesty!!!"

Anyway as a final note, some tact & humility is always called-for, since we're all just idiots and precocious apes without the fur. You don't have a direct line to The Truth any more than anybody else.


Work on phrasing in a non-combative way, ask questions, and define terms.

Communication is a combination of content and delivery. You can have great content but if it is delivered poorly then it is much less likely others will appreciate it. And if you deliver a message with poor content then people might be dazzled by your bullshit but in the long run they will see through it.

So work on how you deliver your content. Being someone who likes to argue is fine if you actually mean argue and not insult. If you truly want to learn, ask questions. I have found that is a great way to get good answers online. Say someone writes, "Politician X is horrible." but I think politician x is great. I will resist my urge to insult or just say "No, you are wrong!" or even "What does that mean?" which can be read as having a nasty tone and instead write, "What are some examples of things you think politican x has done that is horrible?" Then I can decide if this person is worth engaging with. If they give an answer that I think indicates that we are entirely too far apart then I stop engaging and move on.

This is also part of what my dissertation advisor beat into my head: define your terms. For example, if someone writes, "Most people believe X" well what does "most" mean? 50.1% is a lot different from 99.9%. If they mean 50.1% then maybe we aren't that for apart and we are only disagreeing over whether it is 49.9% or 50.1%.


Realize you have options.

Understanding does not mean acceptance or an endorsement.

Humor can often replace righteous indignation.

You can control your end of a conversation.

You should understand why you argue. It might not be easy to identify. Talk with trusted others.


I love righteous indignation when it's expressed with humour. Dry wit is often like bullets


Me too. IMHO, it is often more potent.


Incidentally the only place where I'm less argumentative is HN and that's because I know that people in here are, generally speaking, knowledgeable, and quite often experts in their field. So I guess it boils down to how much respect you have for a community. In Facebook in contrast, everyone seems entitled to their opinion even when they don't know what the fuck they're talking about. With years you learn to not give a damn and only bother talking to communities you appreciate.


Use your voice.

It’s hard to be argumentative when you can hear the other person give pause, provide inflection, a slight tremble of fear.

Every written statement online reads as a grand proclamation and it’s getting old.


Over years and years of arguing online, I started to notice that few people change their minds. For most, argument is a sort of self-confirming rehearsal. You're being challenged to see if your articulation holds up to their assault, not to see if their position agrees with yours.

It became frustrating to witness this because, in part, the same arguments kept getting repeated. The same debunked points, the same rhetorical tactics, the same back-and-forth got boring to read and I started to feel like we were unable to solve or advance anything.

So I started not participating, but kept reading. I'd still see interesting information or links or citations. Lurking was still fun. And a funny thing happened: once I stopped participating, I became much more empathetic. I didn't agree with others more, but I felt much more to understand their points and their perspectives as "I could agree with this under these circumstances".

Nowadays I participate only to clearly rebut false information, to expand on something I agree with, or to inject good data. I'm rarely combative now, and I feel like I get a lot more out of online communities as spectator than a gladiator.


If I feel strongly enough to "argue" something online (which is a pretty high threshold already), the approach I take is to use questions. Try asking the parent about some assumption in their logic, and what happens when that assumption is false? Often, it helps to be truly inquisitive in a situation because there is always something to learn, even if that is just understanding another viewpoint. Just try to not sound condescending when asking questions.


It's quite natural to disagree on many subjects.

In person, there is an unspoken rule to establish some level of trust and comfort before discussing contentious subjects. Some go so far as to suggest avoid discussing religion and politics altogether.

Online, the unspoken rule isn't present and as a result, people sometimes simply state what they think and how they feel without the natural consideration for the person they're interacting with.

There's limited information to establish common ground and hence remaining neutral, constructive and polite can be difficult. The part that I enjoy is the freedom to make mistakes - especially when it comes to taboo subjects. You can mold your stance through discussion without the worry of reputation damage that always lingers in real life. One can easily squander this privilege in favor of using the internet as a place to release emotional frustration anonymously (twitter for a lot of people) and it's good to be able to identify if that's someone's main drive, to avoid trying to reason with them altogether.

In short - being aware of the difficulty introduced by the communication medium can go a long way towards re-calibrating your expectations of yourself and others.


I sometimes like to argue just for the fun of it, but I do recognize that there are some arguments that are not worth getting into, or that the context is not suitable for an argument.

I try to restrain myself to calling out the most obvious hooey I see, because I think that there are some unsubstantiated but seductive ideas out there that are flat out dangerous if left unchecked.

I also try to pay attention to my vocabulary. My first choice above was not "hooey".


Online communication greatly suffers from lack of context. When you talk to someone face to face a lot of the message is coming from the body language and the tone of the voice, this makes it clear when the person is joking, serious, naive, confused or whatever reason to look in disagreement with you in a written online conversation. This keeps things from escalating most of the time. Not online.

The measures I took for myself: - ignore conversations with lower importance.

- argue with people I know, I trust they are smart enough to understand the discussion and interesting enough to communicate with. Ignore strangers, there is always some stranger that is wrong on Internet, it does not matter, it is not your job to "fix" it

- read several times before answering and read my answer several times before pushing the button if the discussion is heated

- take in consideration cultural differences. I find even this place very different for me (Eastern Europe), I see myself downvoted for apparently no reason (but there is one, I guess), I see opinions that look strange or even outrageous - I figured out most of these are due to cultural differences. Diversity in not what we wish to be, not yet (diversity in opinions).


Avoid arguments or trying to prove points on twitter, the character limit thing means that it's impossible to be totally clear and guarantees people will respond to fragments of the overall point

Focus on expanding your own world view, focus on expressing your points over dismantling others. Ask questions, try to find a place the other person is coming from that you can agree with, if you can't find this it's going to be hard for a consensus to be reached.

Acknowledge when you're talking to someone who isn't willing to entertain alternative viewpoints and bail. Don't bother with any kind of "I don't have the energy to continue this nonsense" style exit.

If possible try to avoid outlets where there can be a metric by which to determine a winner (e.g. likes/retweets) but if they are there then try to not factor them into your discourse.

Maybe keep track of when you do these arguments too. I always find I'm wayyyyy more argumentative online when I'm looking for excuses to kill time, which is a pretty crappy starting point for me to be coming from even if my points are valid.


A submission on news.yc about a guide to difficult conversations might have relevant titbits to help with argumentative nature.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19490573

Quoting a gist from the blog:

> At the core of NVC is a straightforward communication pattern: “When ____[observation], I feel ____[emotion] because I’m needing some ____[universal needs]. Would you be able to ____[request]?”

> At first glance, this looks easy. But in practice, it’s extremely difficult to pull off. To grasp the complexity, NVC makes some subtle but critical distinctions: observations versus evaluations, emotions versus thoughts, universal needs versus strategies, and requests versus demands.

There in fact an entire book on the subject (part of recommended reading by Sam Altman for startup founders): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/560861.Non_Violent_Commu...


> It's like if someone writes something that I disagree with, I'm compelled to launch into a logical argument with them right there and then.

You should probably realize that 99% of arguments on-line are pointless. And you could probably use your time in a better way (for yourself).

Nowadays most platforms try and indoctrinate users to the mantra that your opinions matter and that you are special.

The thing is, your opinion is one in a trillion other opinions. It doesn't matter. Nobody cares.

Realizing this helped me a lot, because I now usually skip the flame bait entirely. Sometimes I start writing a comment or a reply and then throw it off and switch to doing something else. Sometimes I write a reply and post it.

I realized, as I write, that realizing that my opinion doesn't matter and that nobody cares made me switch to taking part in conversation that I genuinely find interesting instead of "somebody is wrong on the internet"-kind of conversations.

This is my experience so far. Nobody will care, and I'm fine with it.

You're of course 100% free not to care about it :)


Focus on making something, you'll be too busy (or maybe just too tired outside of it) to spend time arguing with people.

More generally, avoid "idle hands", which is a poor phrase since arguing with the internet is a very idle thing to do despite lots of hand movement whereas reading say a book of philosophy from the 1600s is probably going to be better for you and involves less hand movement.

Or like another comment says, wait. This is probably your most realistic option anyway. It tends to get old as you get old too. Sometimes it's the same arguments (sometimes with the same people, but even without that) get old, or eventually stop mattering to you on an alief level, regardless of your "it does/doesn't matter" verbal belief level. Sometimes it's because you advance your own thinking and then find yourself at a place where it's just hard to find people with the same background context, so when you do engage others before you can argue about what you actually want to argue about, you first have to futilely attempt to close the inferential distance they lack because they haven't read the books you've read or whatever. It gets old.

As a remark on the top comment, I got into Taoist philosophy quite a bit in my teens. It helped (helps) not being attached to outcomes or having a "need" to argue apart from it being pleasurable, it helps cultivate "it doesn't really matter" views, but it didn't stop me from entering a very argumentative phase anyway. It's also fun to just discuss things, but the very act of bringing topics and edge cases and implications thereof up for discussion even if you don't strongly hold a conclusion can still comes across as "argumentative". Oh well.

Are these one-on-one chats or group chats you're mostly in? As a word of caution, arguing with people one-on-one is a great way to eventually not chat with them at all in the future. (On the other hand not arguing with them is no path to long term conversation either. Not everyone is a creature of the internet.) Sometimes you'll find that rare buddy who seems to indulge in your arguing, and can change your mind from time to time too, and they exist, but then some of them are fighting what they perceive to be an attack on their ego rather than what you think is an ego-free discussion trying to reason about a topic and so regardless of the intermediary results the final result of no longer having conversations at all is the same.


I realized you can't really change the opinions of other people, in the end, for the most part, what other people believe doesn't really affect my life and there's better things I can spend the energybon. Plus, sometimes I like to just sit back and watch other people get worked up while not really giving a fuck.


Er... just don't respond?

There's no value in "debates" on the internet. I've seen really interesting technical discussion here on HN but it's mostly just people chiming in with their experience using a tool or talking about something they made. Contribute to those sorts of discussions and ignore the rest.


> It's not that I actively want to 'prove someone wrong', but part of the way I learn is through argument; expressing my disagreement in the hope that the other person will prove me wrong and I might learn something.

If you don't put this into the preamble (e.g.: for the sake of the argument) of your opinion then there's no way other parties can infer that you are seeking more information through disagreement (or something along the lines of the Socratic methods).

But people aren't punching bags for you to use in order to get to know more. Most don't like being abused and misled regarding your real intentions.

I'd deal with it by just replacing the habit of being argumentative by the habit of closing the tab and get back later to it to see if you can still add something more valuable to the conversation than adding fuel to the fire.


I start to be A Dick when faced with silly behaviour. If I'm wrong, let me know with evidence and I will appreciate it or outright say I'm wrong. If I'm right then accept it or at the very least acknowledge the evidence against.

Right, wrong, who cares, just so longs as one of us learns then the world's a better place and that's what I want.

If someone keeps pushing a losing position or asserts X without justification, or can't be bothered to read what I wrote, or a post with evidence I spent time collating gets downvoted sans reason, I get pissed off and The Dick races out of the blue corner, fists swinging[0] (and DanG often ends up wielding the big stick to calm things down).

How do I cope with it? - I am thinking of leaving HN. It's avoiding the problem not solving it, but it's a solution of sorts.

[0] Well I hope those are his fists swinging.


This seems effective for some things but falls short in cases where things aren't so black and white (most?).


WRT online interaction, for me it's only HN. No other social media.

In other areas of life, F2F disagreements don't happen much, if they do they can be sorted out much more easily. I don't know why.


Arguing is like the old Tolstoy quote: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

That is, you could do any of a dozen things wrong, and without seeing your debating style in action, it's kinda impossible to say what you need to change.


You can respond to a topic without responding to the arguments or convictions that people had.

like if you are making a comment on bitcoin block size limits, and noticed that another blockchain has an interesting solution, someone might ignore your observation and simply have a derogatory statement about another blockchain while not realizing that this limits their view of what the bitcoin block chain can be modified to do. You can ignore that and just keep talking about what happened and how it could possibly help the bitcoin blockchain

the similarity here is that these are divisive political arguments within that community, which echoes the divisiveness in country's politics that seem to be a part of everyone's life now.


This is advice for myself as well. A) realise the people on the other side of the chat can be anyone. Literally anyone. So don’t be offended by them or try to teach them anything. You could later find out you are jsut as wrong. B) keep composure and be nice to them. Nothing disarms a person than being nice and having manners. C) people that are usually rude and aggressive only are just defensive about their own insecurities. It might be hiding something deeper and they are using you as a reflection board.

I still have a lot of trouble controlling myself but I am getting better. I think all these instant gratification of social media has made us trigger happy; especially platforms like twitter.


Everyone is different. Nowadays, if I post something, it is either: a) I have something to share, a bit of knowledge/opinion/story. If this is the case, I already know I am correct, and as such do not really care about the response and it's very easy to walk away, or b) If I pose a question, in which case I will be open to any response because I'm genuinely curious. I think I used to care more about what other people thought when I was younger and more insecure. Sure I can still be proven wrong, but I usually do not care enough to respond. I just learn and move on.


One mistake you see with nearly all electronic communication is assuming very negative interpretations of what people are saying. This is the cause of a great deal of office drama with email.

I think you have to remind yourself to assume the best of what you read.


It sounds like you are aware of this pattern, so your work is mostly done. Good job!

Rely on whatever practice helps you to inject space when you're caught by the desire to disprove an internet stranger (take a deep breath, notice what you're feeling, count to ten, whatever helps).

It's possible that you were like this before and just unaware. It's also possible that this extends to areas of your life outside of your internet persona.

In my experience, just try to say curious about it. Don't shut your own process down, or try to 'solve' it too quickly, as though you're arguing with yourself on an online forum ;)


I've had this issue too. Mainly around politics. I wanted to engage with people outside of my political spectrum. I found that I could ask them what they believed and sometimes that would get a little bit of a response but often even that resulted in a hostile response. If you don't speak the lingo and agree with the people you're talking to I think online conversations just don't work that well. I've had far better luck in person. I think we are just not wired to debate online with strangers, in a civil way. We have to have face to face conversations to challenge ideas.


I've learned that it's very hard to convince people online, particularly over social media (ie twitter), because either 1) these people are unwilling to openly admit that they are wrong because their 'expertise' in the topic will be questioned and they will lose social status value 2) these people think it's weakness to openly admit that they are wrong so they will insist they are correct in order to try to keep up their 'image' 3) these people are simply convinced that they are correct and therefore won't change their ability to be convinced otherwise


Sometimes the point isn't to convince the person you are discussing with, it's for the benefit other observers. So if I see someone comment something that is factually wrong I'll often correct it and just leave it at that, no to convince the person but for the benefit of those who don't have time to fact check everything.


I argue to convince myself, not the other person. Every argument is an opportunity to see where my thinking is sloppy and ill-considered.

Sometimes the revelations from an argument don't appear for quite some time afterward. That's probably true for some who don't appear to be swayed by something I've said too.

Focusing too much on the other person is a distraction from more useful thoughts about the subject itself.


We built a little B2B startup that involved a lot of technical sales. One thing I realised quite quickly is that if I started arguing with a prospect it would only result in them entrenching their position. Not useful if that position means they won’t buy your product.

I think the reason is relatively obvious. When you’re debating, you spend all of your time trying to think of all of the ways your position is the correct one. So it’s not surprising it becomes entrenched.

If the outcome you want to drive is the opposite, it’s basically wasted effort.


A lot of great ideas here.

One specific tool I've used is to frame comments in terms of "My impression is ..." or "I've heard that ...", this makes the conversation less of a personal battle, so much as sharing observations about the world and inviting the other person to stand next to you and look out at the world with you and share their different observation and you can compare and contrast together.


A simple rule can help with this - rephrase all your assertions as questions. Questioning instead of asserting is inherently less argumentative, is less threatening and more likely to cause the other side to seriously consider your point instead of reacting defensively automatically. It also signals that you respect their opinion, making them more likely to respect yours. You accomplish almost all the same goals as asserting, but in a gentler, more mutually respectful and ultimately more effective way.


Are you sure about this? Do you really believe that merely restating an argument as a question will make it more friendly? How do you expect anyone else to believe that?

Just kidding! Please forgive me, my friend. I only wanted to illustrate in a hopefully humorous way that just changing an assertion to a question isn't an guaranteed fix.

You did mention some key points: Don't be argumentative or threatening. Be gentle, kind and respectful. Look for ways to make your communication effective instead of triggering defensive reactions. Respect others' opinions and recognize that you may not change their views.

I would add that when someone's comment triggers something in you (I mean any of us, not you specifically), that's a good time to step back, get away from the keyboard, and go do something completely different. And really do something different that occupies your mind in a different way - don't be fuming over the online conversation the whole time.

There is a chance that when you do get back to the conversation you will have a new perspective or will at least have calmed down. You may even find that you simply don't need to reply at all.

These are all matters of the heart, and even if asking questions instead of making assertions won't automatically fix everything, it may be one good place to start. As long as you don't ask questions like the ones in my first paragraph!

So I am sorry you got downvoted for your valuable comment. I hope some of the downvoters will reverse their votes.


Fwiw, I've been practicing this for years, it's effective, and I didn't just pull it out of my arse.

That said, it requires some nuance and subtext awareness to ensure it comes across as authentically asking, rather than coming across a know-it-all with delusions of being Socrates, or a trial lawyer in a courtroom drama.

And if you're a recognized expert on some factual topic and are correcting some incorrect statement of fact, just assert. However very few people meet that bar, and often argue vehemently for something that later turns out to be embarrassingly wrong. Better to have just started with questions instead, especially if the topic has any degree of complexity to it.


Oh, I agree completely, and I hope my lame attempt at humor wasn't too offensive.

I only meant it as a caution: it's all too easy to take one point out of a message ("ask questions instead of making assertions") and neglect the many other wonderful points you mentioned about being calm and respectful and all that.


And this excellent suggestion, which really works well if you're not an expert (= most of the time for most subjects for most people), has got downvoted. This is just the actions in HN which make me want to quit.


Don't be too discouraged. You may note that SkyMarshal's comment is back in the black, no doubt partly due to your and my upvotes. (Or at least it was, now it's gray again! <sigh>)

It often happens that a comment gets some initial downvotes and then bounces back. In some cases, this can even be from fat-fingering on a mobile device. I've accidentally downvoted comments more than a few times, so I always try to remember to check whether the header line changes to "unvote" or "undown".


> A simple rule can help with this - rephrase all your assertions as questions.

Don't you get pretty irritated when people do this? Don't you think just rephrasing an argument as a question is a pretty poor way of making your point? See what I did there?


If you know the domain then by all means assert (and explain why), but real expertise is rare so stray from that and you should be questioning.

Questioning, or leastwise buffering with caveats, indicates one's own limits are recognised, which I find a positive trait as it shows an open mind.

Also if I question something instead of stating it, it invites kinder answers from experts, and I feel less of a fool when said expert demonstrates I'm wrong.


Adding caveats is no way to get people to engage with you. You want to be as concise as possible. Due to the exact same tendency OP is trying to control, it's better to baldly assert something as confidently as possible. Then people can't resist responding and telling you when you're wrong.

Because you expected exactly those responses, it's easy to not get emotionally invested and it's a much more likely way to learn something.

Adding caveats and exceptions directly in the post usually just obfuscates your point and makes it harder for people to understand you. Sure, in a formal publication absolutely recognise the limitations of your argument. But when having an internet discussion, the time for elaborating and explaining limitations is either in an appendix or a follow-up post.

This doesn't apply to exceptions which are material to the main point you're trying to make though. Just things which, if asked "Give me the bottom line," you'd omit.


> Adding caveats is no way to get people to engage with you.

Shrug. Works for me.

> it's better to baldly assert something as confidently as possible

Oh Noooo! That misleads people who don't know better and pisses off experts who do, and makes you look stupid when you're told you're wrong - which in my case I don't mind but for some people public embarrassment will cause them to double down, driving them into a corner, igniting long chain posts based on ill feelings, and wasting everyone's time. Happened between me and another just 7 days ago - check my postings.

I know the bit about the best way to get a right answer online is to post a wrong one, but I don't find that so, in fact the opposite. Maybe it works best in toxic communities?

> Adding caveats and exceptions directly in the post usually just obfuscates your point

Simple rewrite rule is simple:

  X does Y! -> does X do Y?
I'm afraid we have to agree to differ.



OP is asking for ways of being less argumentative. You're telling him to continue doing the same thing he's been doing. Not an invalid response, presuming you have new reasoning for why that he may not have considered, but neither are other suggestions of how he might do things differently.


My goal with that response was to demonstrate the effectiveness of the exact approach I suggest within that same comment. A "form enhances function" kind of thing. Compare this comment which has multiple replies with my other comment in this thread which is less direct: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20790765

No responses, as there's nothing particularly objectionable to bait people into replying. The simple fact is, online people will almost always only respond when they disagree.

For the purpose of actually getting people to engage in a discussion or when you want to learn something, I stand by the approach I said. I didn't say you had to be argumentative or negative when you do it.


one thing that makes this difficult on the internet is that people seem to assume you are arguing with them by default. I've noticed that I tend to get an argumentative followup even if I am agreeing with the OP unless I explicitly state at the beginning that I agree.

I suspect that the very structure of voting-based comment sections intensifies this. if you actually follow the etiquette, you upvote posts you agree with instead of leaving a comment to say so. on the other hand, you are not supposed to downvote comments you disagree with. this probably tips the balance enough to make the median comment be a rebuttal to OP. of course, people sometimes respond with supplemental information, but people either twist this to interpret it as an argument or take it as an implicit critique of OP for not including all the relevant information.

in the end, I don't really have any advice for you; I think it's just inherent to the medium. I personally enjoy arguing a lot, but many people I know irl do not. so I just accept the internet for what it is and get my arguing fix here and stick to lighter topics irl.


Isn't that normal? I view forums as spaces where ideas are debated so that the right can be separated from the wrong and where every argument has to be tested by all angles so it can really shine. A forum where people pile up with "This", "What she said", "+1" and tons of likes is a social network with social dynamics which are uninteresting.


> How did you deal with it and break the habit?

You have to learn to not give a shit.

A lot of times I decide it's not worth my time. Not because my time is so valuable, but because I'd rather move on and do something else. I don't always have to make a point even when there's one wanting.

Learning to not give a shit really just requires you stop and ask yourself "do I really care about this?"


This recent article from The New Yorker, featuring the HN moderators, touches on online civility. https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-silicon-valley/th...


There was a very helpful sentence I read (rather unrelated to the article as a whole) that I try to keep in mind:

> My only reason to do it would be to prove the claim wrong but he’d just ignore me and no one else cares.

Source: https://www.gwern.net/Nootropics


You probably get a bit of a thrill, or some other reward, from the argument. Whatever it is, be aware of it.

Beyond that, Postel's Law is pretty decent, for protocols and for people.

https://duckduckgo.com/?q=postels+law&t=fpas&ia=web


> It's not that I actively want to 'prove someone wrong', but part of the way I learn is through argument; expressing my disagreement in the hope that the other person will prove me wrong and I might learn something.

Why not express yourself truly and just say this out loud?


Don't think of it as an argument.

Think of it as debate, after which either you or the person you're debating with will learn something.

Debate makes for progress and understanding, and we shouldn't be afraid of it. But I completely understand where you're coming from, given the general social media climate today.


A lot of the suggestions here are answering, "how do I argue more effectively". Some are suggesting to consider argument futile (to varying degrees).

Mostly, I want to argue when I'm angry with someone. Online, I'm becoming less and less interested in discussing/arguing with people I've never met, such as yourself. Far too often, nothing comes of it but more anger.

Slightly more interesting is if there's a common forum or issue (ie: github), but most interesting is people I've met in person.

What I'm trying to do is ask myself, am I angry with this person? If so, is it really worth engaging them this moment? (Sometimes you need to--but offline is usually better for that.)

If I do have rapport with them, and I can address my anger first, then there may be some usefulness in responding to them. But, I don't want to contribute to America's 24/7 outrage culture any more.

If you're interested, I wrote a little more about this here.

https://medium.com/@bjt2n3904/mass-shootings-dealing-with-ha...


One way is to find a better forum.

If you post a thoughtful response on some topic, and someone else responds "not in good faith" in all the thousand ways that can be done, and this pattern repeats itself, you may find your blood pressure rising. Then it's time to get out of Dodge.


Write your response but wait 5 minutes before actually sending it. If you are like me you'll ask yourself "what's the point I am trying to make here", delete everything you wrote and carry on with your day.


I try to at least be polite. I'm signaling that the opposing viewpoint is that of a person.


> It's like if someone writes something that I disagree with, I'm compelled to launch into a logical argument with them right there and then.

Perhaps this haiku might help:

  A Master will say,
  To make a donkey follow,
  Be the horse that leads.


Dont sweat it, we aren't convincing each other anyways. Take a year off. Read, but never post anything except agreement and expansion. If you dont agree, quietly think about why and move on. See how you feel about this approach after a year.

Start with this comment!


This one is pretty simple, the way you become less argumentative online is by arguing less online.


Don't worry about it. This is a natural response to wrongness. You're not a bad person for wanting to help others see truths. Just don't forget that you're often wrong, too.


There's a quote from Niels Bohr that's helpful here, "The opposite of a trivial truth is trivially false; the opposite of a great truth is also true."

Where people go astray is mistaking the one for the other. If someone is wrong about a point of fact, it's easy (and potentially valuable) to correct them. If you find yourself wanting to correct someone on their ideology or value system (liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. atheist, tabs vs. spaces), you've set yourself an impossible task. All you can do is 1) agree on common facts, 2) make your opinion as clear as possible (in that order).


> You're not a bad person for wanting to help others see truths.

At some point, however, it might not be the best use of your time.


Just remembet that every mind lives in it's own world. I think the more we seek truth as opposed to proving ourselves right we can be less argumentative.


Start with what you agree on. Read to understand and learn. Be kind. It's okay to disagree but really only after you've done those things first.


Keep in mind that when you’re trying your hardest to convince others of something, it’s often the case that you’re really trying to convince yourself.


Detach yourself from the ideas you argue. That helps. Or get attached to something else that is not related to what you argue with.


I'd like to see a threaded conversation that's video-only and maybe with real names and addresses.


Try meditation before you go on Reddit or wherever you find yourself arguing.


If you’re arguing to make someone right, you’re doing something for them for free. I don’t mind you putting in that work. If I don’t help you, I can leech off your contributions. This is the perfect situation. Keep doing what you’re doing.


Obligatory and totally appropriate XKCD comic: https://xkcd.com/386/

But seriously, I often find the memory of this cartoon is the easiest thing to help me to let go when I feel the compulsion to post a dissenting comment online. So much internet 'debate' is so utterly toxic that it's very easy to start feeling that being argumentative is normal.

Other commenters appear to be giving you good advice on how to be more reasonable when you to engage in discussions. That's perfectly valid; I'm also saying think of the opportunity cost of engaging in those discussions at all, maybe there are more constructive and rewarding ways you could be spending your time.


My answer is that it isn't anywhere close to a bad thing. Our civilization can only continue to improve through measures and attitudes like this one.


Just care less about what others think.


Nonviolent communication: cnvc.org


Listen and hear all perspectives:)


Abide by the principle of charity


Engaging is a choice you have.


I studied Philosophy in college (alongside CS). It's basically all about argumentation. I do not see argumentation as anything negative, assuming the context is correct. It is how we come to understand one another and, largely, the world. Our intuitions, the automatic understanding that we come to from the blunt associative process in which our brain relates things, are almost always wrong in very profound ways (especially in modern society which the brains structure, which gives rise to those associative processes, did not evolve for). Everything else comes from discussion and argument.

The correct context is necessary, though. Equally as important as both participants (or more) using the same language, all participants must be interested and willing in participating. I would recommend, if in something like a general chat environment, that you ask if they're interested in discussing the topic. If they're not, then move along. If they are, make it clear from the outset that you want to understand why they believe what they are claiming, what led them to the understanding, what they believe they gain from it, what evidence they might have, etc. Asking questions, well made ones, can often go a long way. But sometimes people just want to rant and aren't in the headspace to have a sit-down real discussion.

There will still be times, regretfully frequent, where it will become clear that either one of the participants is engaging in bad faith or, more common, do not actually understand their own position clearly. For many, their beliefs are accumulated like flotsam as they drift through life rather than through deliberate consideration of evidence. Those people might benefit from hearing you speak, but not from a back-and-forth dialog. There is very little general appreciation for finding out one is wrong. Most people flinch away from it and take it as an insult and will interpret honest questions like 'Why do you think that is?' as snide dismissal of their own positions, reading it incorrectly as an assumption that they are clearly wrong and you are just trying to figure out how they ever managed to become such an imbecile. There can't be any honest discussion with people in this position. It will just devolve into them shouting no matter how calm you yourself remain.

There are always opportunities to engage with people honestly, for some people that takes a long time. Often once they realize that your goal is not to make them look or feel like a fool, that your goal really is to understand a different position or even just explain your own so that it is understood even if not necessarily agreed with, most people will become more willing. Some will only have earnest conversations with those they are familiar and close with. As with all human interaction, it depends heavily on context.

I have always liked and tended towards a Socratic means of explanation (Socrates taught primarily by asking questions, getting the other person to essentially lead themselves to understand what he meant through recreating the reasoning process he himself followed) but I realized after awhile that a lot of people find this approach highly difficult to engage with. They often see it as you 'forcing' them to say things and 'putting words in their mouth'. This happens particularly with people who don't have a reason-based basis for their beliefs but more of an emotional connection to the ideas and don't like how saying certain things 'feels' even if they can admit intellectually that they are actually true.

Argumentation is an art. It probably can't ever be made 'simple', but it is a critical part of our society and time invested in learning how to do it better through practice or study will usually be richly rewarded (at least in an intellectual and personal sense).


There's several things to keep in mind that can help. I also would prefer to approach discussion as an argument as that is the most direct way to learn and clarify your own thoughts. Unfortunately due to how people are, the situations where argumentation is actually effective for that purpose are all too rare.

I try to approach most online discussion from a perspective of understanding rather than trying to convince, argue, or prove something. This also directly aligns with the goal of learning, because, well, that's what I'm trying to do.

The first thing it helps to realise is that every individual is at a different level of understanding. Not everyone cares that much about learning & understanding, so often people are just repeating things they've heard and internalised. It takes work and time to "unstick" people who are like this from their current mindset, and for anonymous conversations on the internet, that's never going to be worth it. You're also unlikely to learn anything by engaging in argument as they probably don't even know the reason themselves why they believe what they do.

The second thing to think is - is it worth it? What will really happen if this person continues to believe as they do? Is whatever you can potentially learn from them even worth the time? Even if you do end up continuing the discussion, asking yourself these things can help you step back and communicate from a more collaborative, flexible place.

As other commenters have mentioned, communicating by text on the Internet is difficult to convey exactly what you meant. No matter what you write, some people are going to misinterpret you. A lot of arguments I've seen happen when both parties essentially talk past each other, quoting each other's responses but never actually engaging with each other's points. Whether because they didn't read the initial post carefully, or they basically understand the other person's points but think something else is more important so argue about that instead, while the original poster thinks that's irrelevant and continues trying to convince the replier that they're correct. Often if you came right down to it and somehow magically gave everyone a clear, semantic understanding of the content of what the other person was saying, there would be no disagreement. But these kinds of things seem to happen a lot and cause a lot of bad feelings.

The other thing is that actual disagreements about verifiable facts are rare between two reasonable people, once the relevant knowledge sources have been shared. If someone is unreasonable, just don't engage with them at all.

Much more often, each person has a certain context of personal experience which informs their opinion. When both people express their opinions through text, it can seem (to each other) like they're in conflict, when in reality the different opinions are each applicable to different situations and equally valid given each person's individual experience. This can be difficult to notice, but something to be aware of.

In summary, a process you might go through when reading something is:

1. you have a knee-jerk "that's wrong" reaction. You need to stop yourself from immediately saying something in response.

2. Carefully read (and re-read) what they actually wrote.^1 Try to interpret it charitably - based on what they did actually write, what are they actually meaning? Usually if you're in an argumentative mindset, you interpret things more adverserially than they actually are.

^1: I can't count the number of times I've started writing a response, then before I submit I go back to read the post I'm responding to, and see something I missed that makes a large part of my post irrelevant and unnecessarily negative.

3. Try to understand where they're coming from. If something isn't clear, before you do anything else ask non-confrontational questions, giving them the benefit of the doubt. If you've got to this point, probably 90% of unpleasant arguments are already avoided.

4. Put forward your viewpoint and have a discussion as normal.

5. Apply the same charitable interpretation to every response and be willing to admit when you're wrong. If the discussion is getting heated and feelings are potentially getting involved, de-escalate as fast as possible, even if that means admitting you're wrong when you don't actually believe that. (Ideally you would convey respectfully that their points have merit in some way and just leave the discussion rather than straight up lying.)

Throughout all this, remember that people other than the person you're discussing with are likely reading what you write, so even if you're failing to get through to the individual, other people may find significant value in your discussion (even if they will likely never actually reply and say so.)

Additionally, if you're behaving respectfully and setting a good example while the other person is getting emotional, other people with no emotional investment will tend to take your side even if they know literally nothing about the subject matter. There's simply no downside to making the effort to consider the other person's emotional state and mindset because it makes the experience better for everyone.


There's a XKCD for that. https://xkcd.com/386/


This might not be ideal, but I just don’t bother engaging with people where there are deep fundamental differences in terms of basic values or worldview, especially when it’s obvious they’re not interested in hearing anything contrary. My goal isn’t to convince anyone, it’s to find people with whom I already have some shared basis of understanding and reach a point where we can at least understand each other’s perspective.

If I’m truly confident that somebody else is deeply and fundamentally wrong, like creationists or Holocaust deniers or whatever, I don’t take responsibility for their misconceptions and I don’t think I have anything to learn from that person so I just ignore them. Convincing such a person that they are wrong conveys zero benefit to me and is not something that the other person even wants me to do for them. I guess a more positive way of phrasing that is that, when I pick arguments, I do so just as much to give the other person a chance to convince me. If there’s no chance of that happening, it’s not worth my time.


Seek Citation?


I give fewer shits.



Please don't do this here.




Applications are open for YC Winter 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: