On Being Mean
By: Barry Belmont

If but to nip the only criticism we ever receive over here at UNR SFL in the bud, I ask you the following: in what other area (besides politics) do the personality traits of a claimant have anything whatsoever to do with whether or not a claim should be accepted as true or false? In nearly every other realm of discourse it is patently absurd to resort to the “He’s being mean” argument. It shouldn’t matter to the physicist whether or not a colleague is rude, only whether or not that colleague’s theories are correct.

Why is it then that many seem to ready to accept as profound wisdom the idea that “Honey is the best way to attract flies”? We all understand that if we say things nicely to one another we are more likely to enjoy each other’s presence. I grant this entirely, I’m not ignorant of this aspect of the world. I understand entirely that if I were to try to convince a child that “you probably shouldn’t believe everything you hear without considering the evidence” I shouldn’t start off with “You’re stupid for having believed that stupid silly thought.”

But that’s not what we’re doing. None of you are children. You should all know by now that it is evidence and logic and reason that should guide you to your beliefs. If you don’t, then let me painstakingly clear: evidence and logic and reason should guide you to your beliefs. It doesn’t matter how nicely someone says a lie nor how loudly one shouts a fact, claims are independent of both the claimant and how they are being claimed. What is true for me in America is true for someone else in Egypt. This is why there is no such thing as Democratic science or Republican mathematics.

It becomes quite frustrating to have to explain this to so many people who come to our site, who we presume are all decent, intelligent people: You should all know this by now. And to pretend that you don’t or to pretend that demeanor actually has some import on a claim being made, is just aggravating beyond belief. Hence, it is all too common for many of us to get tired of our Inside Voices. This leads ultimately to “being mean.” Which apparently leads to the people whose beliefs we are criticizing to proclaim that we are “being mean.” We should  all see this for the red herring it is to all debate.

I guess to wrap this up:

1) You should be convinced by logic and evidence above all else.
2) Claims are independent of the claimant and how they are being claimed.
3) We’re all adults and the fingerpointing counterargument of “they’re being mean” has absolutely no effect on any of us.
4) If you would like to criticize us, attack our beliefs, because attacking our demeanor is ultimately just a form of “ad hominem” attack which does not bolster your claim.

We get it, we’re mean, we can either move on to such important issues as stem cell research, foreign policy, economic theory, science education, individual sovereignty or one of a million other crucial issues or we can bog ourselves down in pseudo-niceties and taddle-telling to a teacher that isn’t there.

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15 Comments Posted in Announcement, SFL
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  • N.R.

    Just look at Obama's success. It's because he mixes both authoritative and ingratiating language when he speaks, even when he's saying the most terrible, abhorrent things. This is why I've always criticized our club for the way we do things. People listen to nice folk a bit more often, even when the mean folk are right.

  • This guy

    Hey N.R.: Well based on that argument, one could logically infer that the WAY an argument is presented (shouted, sneered, sung etc…) increases or decreases its likelihood of being heard and considered. So Barry, you're right it shouldn't matter how an argument is presented in judging its merits. But tell me, how does posting childish photos of you holding a balloon with “Gracie, we kinda hate you” scribbled on it (or any of the other personal attacks writers on this website post) do anything to further UNRSFL's ultimate point? I get the impression you're being a dick because it's fun, not because it's logical.

  • rudyjarvis

    I think the point of this post is to say that ideas are independent of the person saying them. So yes, SFL as people like to have fun, often at others expence, and will at times be dicks. But the points we make are still valide. And that is the POINT. As N.R. said people are more likely to listen and accept your idea if it is presented in a “nice” manor, which is fundementaly WRONG on all levels and should be fought against always.

  • N.R.

    Civil behavior is wrong? Am I misinterpreting your last sentence?

  • This guy

    “People are more likely to listen…if it is presented in a 'nice' manor, which is fundamentally WRONG…and should be fought against always.”

    I'm not disagreeing with that logic (despite its social naivety and practical shortfalls — if you ever wind up in court, I dare you to tell the judge your side of the story with a “fuck you” peppered in your explanation for fun). But that's besides the point. Anyway, Rudy, you missed MY point, which was UNRSLF often uses childish taunting instead simply making coherent arguments, regardless of their “meanness” (whatever the hell that means). So to be clear, I don't see how acting like children, which IMHO UNRSLF does too often, reinforces their overarching argument in defense of whatever they believe.

  • Keegan

    I mean you do have a tendency to interrupt people, shout over them, and then call them an idiot for not agreeing with you. Furthermore, you are unwilling to change your mind even after saying something directly wrong. When faced with this, you define terms to mean quite the opposite of their actual meaning. Being as this is the case, I can see people using the “you're a dickhead” statement as a reason not to argue with you.

    I knew a kid once in elementary school that was actually pretty good at basketball. But when you were guarding him, he would hit you in the nuts. So no one ever wanted to play with him, ensuring in his mind that this is because he was too good at basketball.

    My point is, there are tacit rules to debate even if there is no referee, and if you don't follow them people have aren't wrong to stop playing. And while yes everyone should follow logic, if you try to evoke emotional states where people are not logical who really is to blame?

  • http://unrforliberty.com Barry Belmont

    It seems that the reason everyone seems to be giving for “being nice” is that more people will pay attention to your message when this is the case, that by “not being mean” you are more likely to convince others.

    This is clearly an empirical claim and it just as clearly wrong. At least in our case. If you were to look on the first page of this website, when we have been “meaner” and more combative than ever, you can see roughly 80 comments. The next page has about 70. After that about 20. And it stays relatively constant after that. And back then it was mostly just me and John going back and forth.

    Back when we were writing about the evolution of cooperation, the nature of property, the International Students for Liberty Conference, owning your image, free speech and racism, critical thinking, etc…we were receiving roughly 800-1,000 visitors a month. Now we easily double and triple that amount. Heck, we can easily pull over 500 unique visits a day simply by putting a person's name in the title.

    This club has never been more effective than it is now. In fact, that you are discussing this issue right now, undermines your whole position. Would you have thought to speak up or get involved had we written something boring like “iPorn: Paradoxes and Possibilities” or something creative like “This is about self-reference and law…”?

    Why is it then that when we are “mean” we seem to have the greatest effect and when we are “nice” (perhaps discussing a benign topic like tort reform) we seem to have absolutely no effect.

    Even a simple polling of our members shows that most became members after seeing Nobody '08, Abolish ASUN, or having attended a meeting once because they thought it would be interesting (or meetings are the very definition of “not nice”).

    This rejoinder is simply invalid. So one may reason that being nice would be more effective for reasons A, B, and C, but the evidence seems overwhelmingly to suggest otherwise.

  • This guy

    Well now you're just distorting the argument. Of course saying outrageous things will attract page views — saying provocative crap tends to make people pay attention. OBAMA IS ACTUALLY A MACHINE FROM THE FUTURE PROGRAMMED TO DESTROY WHITE PEOPLE. See? I did it with caps too! But we're not talking about page views nor how they equate to the “rightness” of your position. Your primary argument, if I'm not mistaken, was regardless of how an idea is presented it should only be judged on its merits and that anyone complaining about “meanness” are simply children who need to grow up.

    Dude, you're right. Bad medicine (or really bad ideas forcefully argued) are fine, regardless of how they are argued. Sometimes points need to be made in a provocative way to get others to pay attention. Sometimes it's better to debate in a civil manner, like when you're running for president. What I'm saying, again, is you time and again rely on childish tactics like name calling (e.g. “Gracie, we kinda hate you”) that only provoke people to come to this website to call you a douchebag — and honestly, can you really blame them?

    So please, Barry, let's “move on to such important issues as stem cell research, foreign policy, economic theory, science education, individual sovereignty or one of a million other crucial issues.” Please, let's. But I'm afraid your ego (and the ego of others in your club) may get in the way.

  • graciegeremia

    Dear Barry or We’re Over;
    I know this relationship has gone on far too long, from initially meeting you and going door-to-door with you to raise money for the American Cancer society, to having an unproductive conversation in the library after you called me a “vindictive bitch” and said that “I sit on my high (ASUN) horse”, to trying to psychologically diagnose me in one of your many “dear gracie” love letters, to displaying your hatred towards me in a beautifully photographed picture (your sly emotion is spot on). I’m calling for an end to this abusive relationship.

    Something you’ll never understand, because you’re too busy accusing others of not listening, when clearly you don’t care to, is that I’ve been an officer in the Association for three years now. I don’t think the Association (student government) is God. I can clearly point out its many problems, but instead of figuring out how the Association works in order to prove that it doesn’t need to exist, you figure out one thing (like the club funding process) and run with it. Sorry, buddy, that’s not the only problem in the Association and less than 1/6th of the money goes towards club funding.

    If you want to make a valid point, do your research a little bit more. When you guys began the START party…the idea was good in theory. ASUN is filled with bad spending practices and wastes—students paying for billboards, giftcards for incoming freshman, and a plethora of administrative staff (the $5 a credit is supposed to go to Student Activities—not these things). But, the thing is, you don’t care to figure that out, rather you make fun of a student government that has nameplates that costs less than $300 from its entire 1.6 million dollar budget. You point out the obvious and claim you’re “all-knowing.”

    Barry, the funny thing (if I’m getting your “point”), you claim SANTA is me (or people in ASUN office) and the North Pole, I’m assuming, is ASUN. You say it doesn’t exist. But, you’re wrong. In this case, Santa does exist. The students and the Board of Regents have passed it into law. Santa gets paid by you! The North Pole is funded by you! You can make an argument, as you have done, that you may not like Santa. You may even “kinda hate Santa.” You may hate the fact that Santa doesn’t understand your points. Santa may not know exactly what you want for Christmas and that may frustrate you.
    If you really want to be logical about the situation, find out how “Santa” and “the North Pole” operate. That means doing a little bit more research than talking to administrators whose salary depend on funding from the “North Pole.” That also means a bit more research than filming the ASUN area on a Friday at noon (and omitting the ASUN front desk staff that are always there).

    I can help give you these hints for you research, but, sadly, I cannot change your personality. The sad thing is…I don’t think every Libertarian has the same “in your face” approach to his/her ideals. I wish you and John were not the only members of SFL that I knew. Maybe, just maybe, some of your other members can approach a discussion with enough respect for the person on the opposing side to have a meaningful level of discourse. In all honesty, I think your hatred for student government has become more of a hatred for the people serving in it. If you really want to have a level of discourse suitable for adults, I suggest you get back to your topic, to the point that at one time, you were addressing. Why “government” doesn’t need to exist. You’re losing sight of your goals of the mission and beliefs of Students for Liberty because you’ve developed enemies and it’s much easier to personally attack them (me, thornley, Turtle, VisLupi), then actually research and achieve your goals. Focus on the issue and not the individual. As you said, “It doesn’t matter how nicely someone says a lie nor how loudly one shouts a fact, claims are independent of both the claimant and how they are being claimed.” I think your attacks on me are attacks on me rather than my love for the Association and all of your “dear gracie” letters, your picture, and your blatant attacks on my personality prove that better than my words can.

    Furthermore, you are still missing the point that people are trying to address. People are saying that it’s hard to listen to others when their demeanor is negative and it’s pushed by personal attacks. You say that, “The club has never been more successful than it is now.” But, I beg to differ. Success isn’t determined by the number of people that visit your site, by the number of people that respond to your rants. If that defines success, than all of the natural disasters and crimes displayed by the media are far more successful than any of the good deeds and activists movements in the world. Success should be determined by the number of people you can convince by your “logic,” by the truth you instill in others, and by the message you send (when people can clearly understand it and find an agreement). I think you’re an embarrassment to Students for Liberty. I just wish some of the members would rise above this and prove that they are not you and your “success” doesn’t define them.

    I truly mean this Barry. “We’re over.” I no longer serve in ASUN. I’m graduating in a few weeks. It serves no purpose to continually attack me if you seek to abolish student government. I’m done responding. I feel like this is borderline harassment, when people have to inform me of these long slanderous letters you feel the need to write online. I would appreciate it if your friends stop tagging me in facebook posts, etc. Best of Luck and I sincerely hope that you make your points about the issues in student govt, etc., rather than the people serving in office.
    Sincerely,
    Gracie

  • wolf: beta

    Damn Gracie did you even read Barry's letters? He doesn't criticize the ASUN practically at all. I don't know how many people have to go tell you to read his letters more thoroughly, but let me be another.

    He talks mainly about not believing things on bad evidence and not to be deaf to criticism. He picked on you because you're obviously a perfect candidate.

    Watch. I'll prove his point. If you disagree with me, which I suspect you might, respond only to his claim that people shouldn't believe stuff without evidence. Respond only to his claims about not falling into the confirmation bias trap. Then see if you get what hes driving at.

  • wolf: beta

    Are people intentionally really stupid when they write on this blog? Barry may be an asshole but he's not claiming Obama's a robot or that Eric Thornley is a genius, in other words, he's not saying anything wrong. I don't see why everyone comes here and argues just so they can argue. Do you all have it out of your system yet? He's provoked you just like you said he would, but as far as i can tell he isn't saying anything wrong. Maybe he's provoke them strategy does work…

  • This guy

    Wolf:Beta,

    Was that too mean? Haha, JK. Get it?
    I'm just giving the guy my two cents. And yes, provoking is useful, WE'VE BEEN OVER THIS. My point, again, is the childish….fuck it. See above. (Barry, I sympathize with you. People should just read instead of making you reiterate the same point over and over again.) Also, the use of extreme examples were lazy devices used to prove a point. My b. Of course Barry doesn't believe Barack Obama is a racist robot. I hope). Moreover, I think if there's anything that UNRSFL wants as a group steeped in philosophic debate is (gasp!) argument. Am I right or am I right?

    Sexually yours,
    This guy

  • Keegan

    To be fair, the only reason why I replied to this one and not most is that John put a link to this on his Facebook rather than the whole article. That and actually having argued with you about something.

  • michaelfasano

    Gracie, you might honestly be the stupidest person I've ever seen write something on the internet, and that's saying something.

  • Sasha

    You're self-desctructing Barry. Drawing attention to your website isn't the same thing as winning a debate. Just ask Al Gore, John Kerry, & John McCain. All of their victors had more pleasant personalities.