To say a thing is implicitly to claim to believe it. This has chilling effects on one’s exercise of free speech.
1. Are you trying to present the correct balance between positions (“judge mode”) or present one side of a case (“lawyer mode”)?
Suppose you believe in moderate conservativism. Do you explain the best points of liberalism and conservatism and why the tradeoff leads you to a moderate conservativism? Or do you argue that liberalism is evil and conservativism is great? What if your listeners are moderate liberals, and you think a balanced appraisal would cause them to take the average of their view and your view and end up at centrism, but the second would cause them to take the average of their view and your (hyperbolic) view and end up at moderate conservativism?
2. Do you mean exactly what you say (“the pointing finger”) or are you trying to grope towards a hard-to-explain concept (“the moon”)?
Writing philosophy is really hard, sometimes impossible. Often the best you can do is throw out some things that aren’t exactly true or relevant, but which, when read, might help lead somebody to a difficult discovery. Some people pointed out on my Moloch post that a lot of the Malthusian examples I gave weren’t that Malthusian in real life, or had simple solutions. I agree. I was trying to point towards an idea of systems that couldn’t optimize themselves even when their individual participants were smart and well-intentioned. Likewise, someone who objects to the Prisoner’s Dilemma on criminological grounds, or points out that the police aren’t allowed to interrogate prisoners in that particular way, is missing something that has nothing to do with law enforcement.
3. Are you trying to describe how things work in the real world, or the underlying mechanism beneath them?
Very similar to the above, maybe the same. Consider economists trotting out their proofs of supply and demand curves and the laws of the market. Maybe no industry responds to things in exactly that particular way, and there are all sorts of weird things going on like lack of information, signaling games, regulation, et cetera. But the economists aren’t trying to say “this is exactly how the real world works,” they’re trying to say “Here is one underlying mechanism that powers things in the real world, which then gets altered by a lot of other things.”
4. Are you pointing out a specific problem, or trying to contribute to an abstract intellectual discussion about Movements?
Brought up in Weak Men Are Superweapons. Suppose you’re talking about how a lot of anti-gay pastors turn out to be gay themselves. If your point is that we need a better hiring process for the position of “anti-gay pastor”, fair enough. If you’re trying to discredit the entire concept of being against homosexuality – or worse, the entire concept of religion – then at best you’re several steps short of an argument, and at worst you’re just spouting ad hominems.
5. Are you declaring something is definitely correct (“theory”), or bringing it to people’s attention as an idea worthy of consideration (“hypothesis”)?
One of the most annoying things I see is someone proposing a really insightful possibility about how the world might work, and someone else saying “This is dumb, you don’t have nearly enough evidence to prove this, you’re just shooting your mouth off”. Of course, everything starts as a hypothesis with less than enough evidence to be completely proven. It’s only after something has been proposed that people are able to study it further. What do they expect – that a theory bursts forth fully formed onto the Earth with hundreds of supporting papers and experiments by a community of scholars who have been working totally in secret until that time? People tend to bring up this objection only when the hypothesis is something they want to nip in the bud for political reasons, before anyone pays attention and tries to gather evidence. This is also annoying in the case of a mostly-unsupported orthodoxy that demands any challengers come up with a mountain of support before they can be taken seriously. But it also means that when you come up with an idea you think is probably wrong, and want to open it for discussion so people can tell you why, it’s hard to do so without people accusing you of trying to push it.
I think a lot of logical fallacies, confusions, and Arguments From My Opponents Believe Something stem from ambiguity – either real or maliciously invented – in these unspoken grounds. For example, the weak man fallacy (or false accusations thereof) is almost impossible to avoid because of ambiguity about (4). Anyone operating in Lawyer Mode on (1) can be accused of “bias” or “only seeing one side of an issue”. Anyone in Hypothesis Mode on (5) can be mocked for telling “just so stories” or not understanding the value of evidence. And anyone trying to explain underlying mechanisms in (3) can be told that “the real world isn’t as simple as your calculations, you autistic geek”.
I don’t think I consistently stick to one side of either of these dichotomies, which probably makes things really confusing.