Linguistic Control Is a BIG Red Flag... For a Crappy Argument

I've done some more thinking about the various tricks and techniques of linguistic control, and I wanted to offer readers two more insights.

Last week we began by saying if you can control the use and the meaning of words in a debate, you will win. On the other hand, if you are a truth-seeker--a person more interested in discovering the truth than in "winning" arguments--you'll resist the urge to control the use of language in a debate.

Sure, there might be an occasional difference of opinion or a possible lack of clarity of the meaning of a given word or phrase, but a truth-seeking person will seek out, together with a truth-seeking debate counterparty, a jointly acceptable definition of any word or phrase.

Thus this takes us to one insight--a basic one--which essentially boils down to: Don't be that annoying guy playing word nazi with everyone. 

The second insight is a little more complicated to articulate. But let's start with a premise we touched on last week: Rational, logical and dialectically effective arguments function quite well with existing, generally-accepted meanings of words. A truly solid argument will not need to rely on linguistic control--although it can be still be subverted by it.

On the other hand, many arguments seem effective on an emotional or rhetorical level, but they fall apart once you look carefully at the logic and dialectic. And the secret to "winning" with rhetoric is to make sure the argument ends long before things get logical. Feels before reals.

One way to look at linguistic control (and the debaters who use it) is to see it as a red flag indicating a fatally weak argument. Worse, it suggests a win-at-all-costs mindset rather than a truth-seeking mindset. It signals a debate counterparty who has staked out their intellectual position with finality and is more interested in censoring the words and phrases you use rather than considering any other viewpoint.

Therefore, if you see someone trying to control, manipulate or "correct" other peoples' use and definitions of words, how likely is it, do you think, that their arguments have merit? Not very.

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