You very often cannot control the basic circumstances of argument, especially public argument. A public argument, letâ€™s say, is one you have in public, with, um, the public, about matters that concern the public (I suppose this could be anything). You can try to bring about a public argument on your own by inviting those around you, or the people who read your blog, or maybe someone in some comment thread. But you’re more likely to be at the mercy of events. I think this is the point behind trending topics on Twitter. You’d be jump on board because by yourself you can’t start a trend (unless you’re somebody famous). You have to take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves.
This may run counter, however, to certain social norms. One such norm is not to speak ill of the dead or dying, or not to take advantage of misfortune to â€œscore political points,â€ or the more general comedic injunction to avoid making jokes, â€œtoo soon.â€
As an epistemic matter, however, arguments require you to put evidence before your audience. This means you must spring upon them where they are and when they are there.
The injunction against taking advantage or forcing unkind thoughts runs counter to the imperative to present your case when the opportunity arises. My case in some circumstance might involve alighting upon some uncomfortable aspect of a public official at some weak point in their life, or using someone’s misfortune as an example.
This struck me the other day in the wake of someone’s misfortune. Oddly, I can’t bring myself to name it.