ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context : ValueOfArguing, DisputationArena

Quora Answer : Why do Quorans use every political question they can to bash their opposing wing?

May 25, 2017

Political questions on Quora come in different flavours.

  • 1) honest attempts to understand a political issue
  • 2) honest attempts to understand how opponents think about a political issue
  • 3) questions about the motives of particular persons (eg. Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn)
  • 4) questions which are basically rhetorical attempts to assert a position
  • 5) troll questions designed to rile up opponents (either to make the opponent feel bad or to get the opponent to waste their time writing a long answer which the questioner has no intention of learning from, and maybe not even reading)

Type 1 questions deserve a serious answer which I'll try to give. I believe it's perfectly valid to argue such questions from a partisan position. That's because political issues are rather like the story of the blind men and an elephant. Different sides see them very differently. I'll offer my left-wing perspective because that's the perspective I'm an expert on; someone else can offer their right-wing perspective and the questioner's knowledge will be enriched from being able to triangulate between the different answers.

Type 2 questions also deserve serious answers. If they're aimed at my political positions, I will try to answer them in the way that persuades the reader that my position is serious and coherent. I don't necessarily expect the questioner to agree with me, but I hope that I convince him or her that my position can't be dismissed as simple naivety or bad-faith.

Type 3 questions require some creative interpretation of what it's like to be in the person's position, facing the world from his or her perspective. But often also involve an interpretation of the person's competence and character when trying to understand his or her motives. While trying to be fair, I will express criticism of, even disdain for, the person under discussion if I think it's deserved.

Type 4 questions are hardly worth answering. Except with a "push back". This isn't so much to influence the questioner as to signal to third parties that such assertions will not be allowed to stand unchallenged. It's important to let people know that someone here cares enough to represent what's right.

Type 5 questions, again, are answered, not for the benefit of the questioner, but for third-parties. Here, if it seems like the intention of the question is to make some people feel bad, it's even more important to knock the question back, so that the people attacked by it feel defended. At the same time, it's important not to be seen to be wasting too much time on it. (Otherwise it looks like the troll won.) You want to be breezy, ironic, dismissive or whatever is appropriate. But be short. Most of all, you want to show that you are not intimidated by the existence of the question. And that nobody else needs to be.

4 and 5 may seem kind of a pointless waste of time. But they are demanded, much as we might regret it, by the fact that Quora is de-facto public space. What we write here is not a private conversation, it's visible to the world. Politics is about the management of public space. And inevitably you are in conflict with political rivals for control of the public space and public discourse. Your opponents will do their best to ensure that their argument is heard and respected everywhere. And that yours is discredited and excluded everywhere. If you aren't willing to fight for your argument in public spaces, then it will ultimately be lost.

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