Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Tone Argument

Had a disappointing conversation with a stranger over the weekend that ended when she exited the discussion via the tone argument

Tone argument, as discussed on RationalWiki:

The tone argument (also tone policing) is a logical fallacy that occurs when an argument is dismissed or accepted on its presentation: typically perceived crassness, hysteria or anger. Tone arguments are generally used by tone trolls (esp. concern trolls) as a method of positioning oneself as a Very Serious Person.

The fallacy relies on style over substance. It is an ad hominem attack, and thus an informal fallacy.  

I'll first say I expected her to do something like this before I even started talking to her. A couple of weeks before, she had barged into a conversation I was having with someone else to say that we should ~calm down~ because there was just too much ~negativity~ from "both sides." That's generally a red flag--when someone interprets any argument as "angry" and equally the fault of the folks having said argument, they tend to be incapable of actually having conversations that include disagreements. They will almost always interpret any response at all as an attack, and will try to use the fact that you're continuing the conversation at all as proof that YOU are over-invested. (They, of course, are not.)

We were not arguing about anything that really mattered. My conversation partner and I, with the participation of several other people, were trying to determine the approximate ages of some cartoon characters based on context clues. My position was that the information we've been given on that topic is explicitly contradictory sometimes, since I can name some evidence that should make them older teens and some evidence that should make them at least mid-twenties. And my conversation partner's position, apparently, was based on evidence she made up.

That sounds uncharitable, so I'll elaborate: She "remembered" that a character had claimed she started her current job the summer before she graduated high school, and since the character has said in the show that she started the job two summers ago, that should give us a pretty narrow range for her age. The problem was that the character did NOT say anything about graduating high school during this scene (well, or ever). So I countered, saying that line was not spoken.

And she argued that it was. That she remembered it had been. I reiterated that no it was not, and she wrote an infuriating little line about how we'll have to "agree to disagree" unless I want to show her a transcript. Her response even had a little freaking heart emoji at the end of it.

?????? How are you going to agree to disagree about something objectively provable as true or not true, easily verifiable by looking it up yourself or verifying it yourself?

As the conversation progressed, I had been showing other contradictory bits of info to the others in the group, and one clump of facts appeared in a tie-in book written by the writers of the show. It was a messy bit of contradiction where a character identified himself as a "teen," which would make him at the oldest nineteen, but then claimed an altercation occurred "fifteen years ago," which would have made him at most four years old at the time. We'd seen a flashback in the show of this altercation and the character was an older grade-schooler, definitely not just out of toddlerhood. 

The same person attacked this evidence too, but she did not attack the evidence itself. She attacked its legitimacy: First by saying she did not think it counted as "canon" because it was in a book not in the show (even though it was written by the same people who write the show), and second by LITERALLY SAYING I MIGHT BE LYING ABOUT WHAT'S IN IT.

And the way she said it was also super obnoxious. She said there was "no way of knowing" whether the information I was sharing was true, and she's ~not being mean or anything~ but you see, she only believes facts. 

No way of knowing.

Oh, you mean just like there's apparently no way of knowing whether a specific line was spoken in a publicly available episode of the show and we'll just have to "agree to disagree" based on your right to treat your incorrect memory like it's as valid as my quote?

I honestly don't even know how to respond to people like this. People who claim they operate on facts, who then nevertheless plant their feet and refuse to accept verified facts that are spoon-fed to them, and also refuse to pursue their own evidence?

Like, I know, I KNOW that cartoon characters' ages aren't a big deal. But people who refuse to discuss issues honestly and roadblock conversations by claiming there's JUST NO WAY TO KNOW SOMETHING? What are you even DOING?

So I laid into her right there. I told her she is not behaving like a person who likes "facts"; people who like facts are happy to go look at them. If you actually want to know whether something you haven't verified is true, you ask for the information you need. For instance, when I see someone claiming that something I've never heard before is "confirmed," I ask, "where?" I don't imply it isn't confirmed, and I certainly don't respond to their statement by saying "WELL THERE'S NO POSSIBLE WAY OF KNOWING WHETHER THAT'S TRUE WITHOUT SEEING THE STATEMENT IS THERE HEART-EMOJI?" No, man. If you want information, you pursue it on your own or ask for it. If you haven't heard of or read this book I'm quoting from, and you want to be sure I'm representing it accurately, ask for a dang picture of the page! I found her behavior incredibly disingenuous and I told her so.

When I got a notification on my phone that she'd replied to the thread a while later, my very first thought was this:

I bet it's the tone argument.

Spoiler: It was.

She came back to the conversation just to tell me her doubt (and manner of delivering it) was totally reasonable because she personally hadn't heard of my sources, and she's leaving the conversation because my attitude is inappropriate. "We don't need to communicate like that," she said, like she was talking to a misbehaving preschooler, "and I choose not to."

As is typical for tone-argument users, her response attempts to shame me and assign emotion to my words that does not belong there . . . you know, while not acknowledging that she literally REPEATEDLY called me a liar, and claimed there is not a possible way to determine whether I am inventing the information I'm offering.

Nope. As they say in the South, not today, Satan. You will not pleasantly exit the conversation assured that you are the bigger person here. Some people think it's mature or level-headed to put conversations to bed with pearl-clutching over another person's bad manners, but that doesn't work very well if the other person has NOT spoken inappropriately. My continuing the conversation including increased detail and increased insistence that she LOOK AT THESE FACTS SHE SUPPOSEDLY LOVES is born of her lack of rationality, not some mythical overinvestment from me.

So I told her the tone argument is very common with people like her who can't admit their mistakes and want an easy way to escape a conversation, blaming their partner's inappropriate emotional investment instead of looking at themselves. I told her I knew what she was doing. And I told her next time she isn't sure about a fact, she should ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT HOW/WHERE SHE CAN VERIFY IT instead of writing weird smug statements about how it's impossible to know the truth. The truth on something like this is so freaking EASY to find! It's not even an opinion! It's not even an interpretation of an opinion! 

I'm trying to have a conversation about this topic based on information that exists out there, but we can't do that if you won't stop dismissing whatever I say as not counting because you, personally, refuse to perform a basic fact check. THAT is what's rude and inappropriate--repeatedly calling your conversation partner a liar--and THAT is why you are receiving an escalation in the detail of my responses. You do not get to tell other people their info isn't good enough for you (for no apparent reason), and then act like your discourse has been perfectly polite just because you SAY you haven't been mean. You don't have to swear at me or call me names to be engaging inappropriately. You absolutely did engage inappropriately.

Now, if the way someone is talking to you is making you uncomfortable, you're welcome to leave the conversation at any time. I don't begrudge her that. But I am side-eyeing the hell out of someone who repeatedly refuses to acknowledge facts while claiming only facts are good enough for her, and who finally nopes out of the conversation when I back her into a corner saying "why won't you look at this? this is exactly what you asked for. why isn't it satisfying what you claimed were your doubts about this issue?" What this shows is that it was actually never about "facts." (Surprise.) It was about pride, and about inability to admit wrongdoing, and about the disappointingly typical refusal of responsibility for one's own education.

If this is how she responds to explicitly verifiable facts that I VERIFIED REPEATEDLY AND PUT IN FRONT OF HER, God, I would HATE to see her debate something more questionable, or something that matters a hair more than cartoon characters' ages. 

And that tone argument response? The only thing surprising about her using it was that it took as long as it did for her to pull it out.

Given what I learned about her in that conversation, I'd bet you anything she's a "both sides" advocate to the extent that she thinks bigots deserve just as much a right to a platform as civil rights activists because it's their opinion. I bet she blames oppressed people for rioting and for peaceful demonstrations alike because all lives matter. I bet she goes out of her way to defend the free speech of people who lie and troll because they have rights too, though I'm sure if she was on the receiving end of it then she'd say their attitudes have disqualified them from civil discourse with her. I don't know this person, but the way she talks is so condescending, hypocritical, and sanctimonious--I just don't know how to have a conversation with someone so intellectually dishonest. How is a rational person supposed to handle a discussion that was essentially this?

Me: We don't have this fact, so we don't know this information.
Her: You're wrong, this fact was revealed here!
Me: No, that was not said.
Her: It was too, I remember that it was.
Me: It wasn't though, if you believe otherwise you should go check.
Her: Let's agree to disagree! Unless you want to show me! I will only believe facts! <3
Me: But here is a fact. And here is where the fact is displayed. Please look at it.
Her: We don't know that's a fact though, you could be making that up!
Me: But I'm NOT, I'm quoting from something that objectively exists, and is easy for you to check yourself if you don't believe my description.
Her: Hey, it's not unreasonable for me to doubt you over and over again no matter how much evidence you gave me that I literally asked for! Gosh you're so rude! I'm not talking to someone so rude anymore, and I haven't been rude myself because I insert emoji hearts and flounce conversations by saying "have a good day!"

Wow, really.

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