As the human brain started evolving, new thought processes started getting evolved too. A few centuries back, only the “intellectuals” would write about various thoughts and theories and this process was limited to a very few people. There were reasons. The thought process did not spread much due to non–availability of technology and printing was not very easy and was expensive. Circulating hand-written stuff to a large number of people was difficult. When people disagreed on somethings, they simply fought and sometimes killed. The majority of the people stopped interacting with intellectuals, who wrote about things, about which most disagreed.
Technology has changed a lot in the last hundred years, which helped people to disagree vocally or in writing instead of taking extreme steps. The development has helped in the spread of thought or knowledge much quicker than the olden days. In the last 15 to 20 years, the technology galloped at a breakneck speed. People could share their thoughts with others electronically, privately as well in public. I am talking of WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Blogging. These technological changes have made things more comfortable, and now writing the thoughts or expressing views has not remained the domain of intellectuals. You and I can say things, write about anything under the Sun. We can share our experiences easily; we can share our experiences, our knowledge and even some new theories or thoughts with the world.
In this scenario, since it has become easy to write and publish, it has also become easy to make comments on such writings or disagree on the writings of others. Twitter is a classic example of briefly writing about something; if you are famous and have a lot of followers, there will be instantaneous comments and rebuttals.
If we’re all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it sensibly. What does it mean to disagree well? Most can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages of disagreement. So let me attempt to make a disagreement hierarchy.
Name-Calling, the method for disagreement is quite straight forward and blunt. The method is quite crude. People can and do have a difference of opinion on many issues, but instead of doing so in a polite or sophisticated way, people will call you “Names”, they may tend to use bad words. Is it necessary to be crass? But some people are born that way and behave in such ways in other aspects of life too!
Ad hominem is a word typically refers to a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided, by attacking the character, motive, or other attributes of the person making the argument. The persons associated with the discussion is attacked, rather than attacking the substance of the case itself. The terms ad mulierem and ad feminam have been explicitly used when the person receiving the criticism is a female. Probably it is a form of misogyny or male chauvinism.
In some form of criticism, people tend to be judgmental about the tone of writing. When one writes something, it is the right thing to comment about the writing rather than the way what is written. But this criticism is better than the first two methods discussed above.
The contradiction is the stage, where we finally get responses to what was said, rather than how or by whom. The lowest form of response to an argument is to state the opposing case, with little or no supporting evidence. The method is still the only contradiction rather than arguing why one wants to contradict.
Contradiction can sometimes have some weight. Sometimes seeing the opposing case stated explicitly is enough to know that it’s right. But usually, evidence will help.
The writer can ignore these types of methods because they do not offer any constructive criticism. These methods may indicate a different viewpoint, but it will be difficult to judge what the argument is about.
The counterargument is contradiction plus reasoning and evidence. When aimed directly at the original case, it can be convincing. But unfortunately, it’s common for counterarguments to be aimed at something slightly different. More often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are arguing about two different things. Sometimes they even agree with one another but are so caught up in their squabble they don’t realise it.
There could be a legitimate reason for arguing against something slightly different from what the original author said: when you feel they missed the heart of the matter. But when you do that, you should say you’re doing it. But one also should not forget that the original author may mean something different than what you are arguing.
Refutation is the action of proving a statement or theory to be wrong or false. The most convincing form of disagreement is a refutation. It’s also the rarest because it requires the most efforts, it needs to study and have knowledge about the subject. Hence, we will see that this method of argument is sporadic.
To refute someone, you probably have to quote them. You have to find a specific passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it’s inaccurate. Without pinpointing the details, we will be back to square one where the argument is vague or maybe crass.
But some people are mistaken that by quoting parts from the writing, they are refuting something. But without substantiating an argument, simply quoting has no meaning.
The most potent form of argument is refuting the central idea of the writing.
Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point or at least one of them. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is. So a truly effective refutation would look like the writing below.
I disagree with your basic idea “xxxxx yyyyy” for the reasons given below. I disagree because of the following points.
You will wonder why I have tried to classify the arguments and create a hierarchy! It is simply done to describe the way your writings may get thrashed, sometimes by methods like name–calling. But sometimes you will be lucky enough to get great feedback from a knowledgeable person who could improve your thoughts and writing. Criticism is the best way for improvement in life if done constructively.
In Marathi, there is a saying, “निंदकाचे घर असावे शेजारी” which means that it is good to have your critic as your neighbour! Various criticisms will teach us how to handle life in general. It is not only about one’s writings, but it could be about your decisions, your acts, your behaviour. Done constructively, there is no better teacher than your critic!