Thanks to brilliant blogger buddy Lucy, I’ve come to a better understanding of what is so frustrating about talking about topics like atheism and alternative medicine. First, go read her post “Tone argument as logical fallacy“. I’ll wait.
Done? Isn’t she awesome? Okay, I know that probably 75% of you didn’t actually go read, but hopefully you can understand this post anyway.
The tone argument is when Person A, say, writes a post explaining why she’s angry about religion and why that anger is important and Person B attacks them for daring to criticize religion, even in remarkably polite tones. “You’ll never get anywhere by being mean to religion,” they cry. “If you were just nicer to us, maybe we’d think about your arguments.”
Or Person Y writes a post explaining why acupuncture/chiropractic/whatever are not effective to treat cancer (too many for me to link to!), and Person Z says “Why are you so mean to us? You don’t even listen to our ideas so why should we listen to you?”
And sometimes it sounds good, especially if you happen to disagree with Person A or Person Y. The problem is that sometimes it’s a rhetorical fallacy, derailing the conversation and completely avoiding the legitimate issues brought up by Persons A or Y.
If you’ve ever spent time in the atheist, feminist, or science blogospheres, this will sound remarkably familiar. “Wow,” a woman says. “Women at this company have been denied promotions at twice the rate of men. This really pisses me off.”
“OMG, ur so meen to the menz,” men cry. “We can’t talk to you ‘cuz ur all evil man-hating wimmen.”
And suddenly the woman finds herself defending her feelings about men and explaining that she has lots of male friends and…huh, now nobody is talking about those women getting denied promotions.
However…the tone argument is not a defense for pointless name-calling and insults. You can’t post “Creationists are scum-sucking leeches who torture and eat babies” and expect nobody to point out that your tone is a tad rude. And it’s fair for them to do so. You, of course, have the right to that opinion and the right to state that opinion, but nobody is required to agree with you or not criticize you for that statement.
However again…the tone argument doesn’t mean that you can say that anyone you disagree with is mean and nasty and horrible. There’s a big difference between someone saying “Creationists are scum-sucking leeches” and someone saying “I think creationists are so wrong that they haven’t been anywhere right in the last century.”
There’s a big difference between “I think religious people are all awful and mean and evil” and “I think religious people are completely mistaken and I wish they would change their minds.”
And if you cry “tone argument” because I’ve said that the antivaccine movement is wrong and dangerous to children, I’m going to laugh at you. End of story.