Disagreements, like the poor, are always with us.
But is some disagreement better than others? Can we apply some sort of quality control as we listen to a dispute unravel?
Various models have been offered to help us discern the quality of argument. Here I draw on Paul Graham’s helpful ‘Hierarchy of disagreement’…though it differs a little from his.
So as we listen to disagreement at home, online or in political speech, what is the gold standard to aspire to – and what is fit only for the sewer?
Working from the sewer upwards, from base to pure….
6) Name-calling. My answer to my opponent is to call them ‘an odious fool’ or ‘misguided activist’. I don’t touch on the issue itself.
5) I attack the characteristics of the person. ‘This poor fellow hasn’t got a lot of friends. I think he’s trying to get attention! Is he a bit lonely!?’ I don’t touch on the issue itself.
4) I criticise the tone of the person. ‘I could do without the self-righteousness, thank you very much!’ I don’t touch on the issue itself.
3) I state the opposite case with little or no supporting evidence. This could be on the side of a bus or wherever.
2) I offer a counter-argument to my opponent’s, backing it up with some evidence.
1) I answer the question directly. I address the issue itself and explicitly refute my opponent’s central point.
Not all disagreement is the same.