I Had the Same Idea as David Brin! (Sort Of)

A few days ago I wrote a post about how a much more defensible position regarding religion can be disadvantaged in debate against a much less defensible one because the defensible position is a complicated and partial truth while the indefensible one is a simple and snappy falsehood.  David Brin has a similar idea on a different topic.

Oh, there is something you are now hearing over and over. The BIG ROVEAN TACTIC is this. Demand that their opponents choose a simple, one sentence strategy for Iraq.

"Well? What would YOU do?"

It is horrendous and a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question. Because No one-sentence answer will sound mature or sage, given the horrific political, social, military, and moral quagmire that we are inheriting. Moreover, any attempt to avoid giving a one sentence answer sounds equivocating and mealy-mouthed.

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  • So when is it reasonable to expect someone to summarize their view on a topic in one introductory sentence? It is reasonable for anyone on any topic to say “If you don’t have 30 minutes to listen to my full explanation I’m not going to say anything”?

  • David J. Balan

    A person demanding a one-sentence answer may be sincere (but trying to economize on time) or may be trying to score points off the fact that even your best one-sentence answer isn’t going to be all that good. If its the former, you give the best one-sentence answer you can come up with or you refuse, depending on whether or not you think your best one-sentence answer is more informative than no answer. If it is the latter, you probably just refuse.

  • So you should never respond in any way to people who are trying to debate you to make you or your side look bad? Won’t your silence look even worse, and for good reason?

  • David J. Balan

    Once you are outside the realm of giving your best shot at calling them as you see them (subject to the constraint of the amount of time that you or your interlocutor are prepared to devote to the discussion), and you are clearly in the realm of point-scoring, then I suppose the question becomes more tactical than anything else. You might want to refuse to answer if you think that your snappiest answer will hurt your side more than help it, and you also might want to make a general policy of refusing to do that sort of thing, either because you hate it or because you are trying to avoid having people know that you are sometimes in advocacy mode and not being sure when you are and when you aren’t. You also might want to avoid getting into those habits of thought because you might start to like them. But of course this can’t be a universal law; surely there are times when advocacy is better than no advocacy.

  • Constant

    Actually, the question,

    “Well? What would YOU do?”

    as worded, does not specify a one-sentence answer. In fact the question itself occupies two sentences. Going by the quoted material, David Brin is hallucinating. “What would you do” is an absolutely serious question that deserves a serious and thoughtful answer. David Brin’s attempt to trivialize the question and to justify a refusal to answer it is – well, it’s inexplicable, going by the quoted material.

    Also, the use of the word “Rovean” these days seems to be almost as a synonym for “Satanical”, and I see no departure from the norm here. The person asking the question “what would you do” probably has no relationship to Rove, and yet is treated as though he were in some diabolical way connected to Rove. Let me repeat: asking what alternatives a critic suggests is absolutely normal and reasonable.

    Libertarians encapsulate this supposedly “Rovean” insight in the phrase, “utopia is not an option”. It means that policies (strategies, etc.) when they are attacked, should be compared to realistic alternatives (e.g. the alternative of “what would you do”), rather than compared to some pie in the sky idealistic vision of how things ought to be.

  • Gregory

    “Peace with Honor”

    You can answer almost anything in a single sentence if you really must, just reference something more complicated.

  • Cliff

    Constant has it right, I think. One still must answer Cheney’s question, amended, perhaps, to ‘well, what to do NOW?’. Regardless of how right one has been to date.

  • “Partition and leave.”

    Admitting failure isn’t complicated, just unpleasant.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    “Partition and leave.”

    To which the response is “how are you going to do that?”. Those who favour the status quo can always describe their preference – more of the same – more snappily than those who favour change.

  • My answer to “what would you do?” is simply “Leave now.” If they ask me how to do that, I’d have to ask “Which word are you having trouble with?” 🙂