Tag Archives: wonkblog

Look for the helpers


Disagreements are scary things sometimes: people yelling, accusing, abusing.  What to do? I recommend turning to Mr.Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Inspired by one of Scott’s comments the other day, let’s call this the “helpfulness objective.”  The HO ought, like the principle of charity, to guide one’s discursive interaction.  It’s fine to be critical (jeez, that’s what we do here all of the time), but the objective of criticism ought to be the improvement of the overall quality of our arguments.  After all, we come into arguments with an objective: demonstrating the correctness of our position.  If we fail in this, then we need improvement; if others fail, they need it.

Here’s a good example of the HO in action from Mike Konczal at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog:

Perhaps some of these programs should be discontinued, or expanded, or turned into straight cash. (How about cash instead of food stamps?) But we can’t have a productive conversation unless we make it clear what the government is, and is not, doing. And it is spending a lot less on welfare than conservatives claim, and getting fantastic results for what it does spend.

What is critical here is the opener (“let’s have a productive conversation”), rather than the closer (“are they lying or stupid?”).  Nice work.  Here’s to the HO.

Fun with charts

Lots of arguments fail the freshness test; they’re fallacious for reasons any undergraduate can point out.  These are our focus here for the most part.

Other arguments, however, fail for slightly more sophisticated, but not less pernicious, reasons.  These cloak themselves in the sincerity of honest inquiry or grown up skepticism, but in reality they’re just mechanisms for refusing to engage with the claims of the opposition.  This chart, found at the Wonkblog (thanks Colin) identifies some common strategies:

Fun times.