Patterico's Pontifications


The Two Most Important Factors in Making a Persuasive Argument

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:09 pm

Last night I asked:

[I]n your opinion, what are the two most important factors in making a persuasive argument? What MUST you have going for you in order to convince your audience?

There were a lot of interesting answers, and most of the answers contained good suggestions for making arguments better. You could probably ask this question of 100 people and get 100 different answers.

Also, I don’t mean to suggest that if you have only the two factors I describe, you don’t need anything else. A successful argument is usually the result of many factors and facets. I just happen to believe that two of them are more fundamental than any other.

Without further ado . . . the envelope, please!


  • 1. Credibility.

If you don’t think I’m credible, you’re not going to believe a thing I say. I could have the best arguments and evidence in the world — but if there is no credibility to back them up, you won’t believe them. (Credibility can mean many things: an ability to cite a credible source demonstrates credibility.)

I’ll discuss objections to this in the comments, but I think this one is obvious.

It’s the second one that I didn’t expect you to get:

  • 2. An audience that is capable of being persuaded.

If there’s one thing I have learned over years of making arguments in different contexts, it’s that you can’t persuade someone who refuses to be persuaded.

Commenters here have seen this in the behavior of commenters they call “trolls.” The “troll” has a different point of view — and when you argue with him, he is unreasonable in his responses. If you make a good point, he refuses to acknowledge it, or he mischaracterizes it. If you prove he’s wrong about argument A, he moves to argument B. Show him he’s wrong about that, and he moves to argument C. Refute argument C, and he goes back to argument A — and acts for all the world as if he’s never heard your argument refuting argument A.

You can run around in circles with people like that for the rest of your life. They can’t be persuaded.

RELATED TRIAL LAWYER DIGRESSION: This is why, for example, peremptory challenges are critical in jury trials. Because there are some people who will never be convinced no matter what your evidence is, and no matter how well you put on the case.

If you accept a panel with such a person, the case is already lost.

You can’t deal with such issues purely with cause challenges, because such people don’t always identify themselves. They often think they are open-minded. They will sit there and look at you with big innocent eyes and tell you they’d keep an open mind.

BACK TO THE BLOG WORLD: Unfortunately, most discourse on the Internet is of this nature. People who read political blogs tend to be political partisans. They have a point of view on most issues, and you will not talk them out of it. If you try, prepare to be frustrated.

What’s worse, there seem to be so few people truly capable of listening to your argument, understanding it, and responding to it. Most people offer canned talking points and don’t truly engage. When you find one who does, it’s a rare treat. Savor it. It doesn’t happen often.

So why argue with trolls? You’re not going to persuade them.

There are really only two reasons: 1) because you find it entertaining, or 2) to persuade others who might be persuaded, by knocking down the arguments of your troll, who cannot be persuaded.

You might even fall into this category on some issues. Answer me this: what is your most foundational belief? It could be a belief in God, or that it is wrong to kill the innocent, or something else. Take a second and decide what that belief is for you. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Done? Good.

Now imagine me trying to convince you that you’re wrong.

Not happening, is it? Because you’re not capable of being persuaded on this issue.

Thanks for listening. I know some of you may disagree with my two factors. Some of you may feel very strongly I’m wrong, in fact.

If that’s how you feel, let me know. We’ll talk about it.

But chances are, there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind.

UPDATE: I changed one sentence in response to a comment from JRM: from “you can’t persuade someone who doesn’t want to be persuaded” to “you can’t persuade someone who refuses to be persuaded.” That’s more in line with what I meant, and what I said in my bullet point #2.

L.A. Times Editor Has Never Heard of the “bcc” Line

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 8:27 pm

We knew L.A. Times editors were clueless about the Internet, but this is ridiculous:

Last night I wrote about L.A. Times editor David Lauter’s mass e-mail poorly justifying the paper’s failure to cover the 8000 – 15,000 person anti-tax rally hosted by John and Ken. A commenter to that post left the following amusing comment:

In reading your post and the comments, there is a fact missing that’s important. The editor David Lauter did send the response you cited to all that wrote him an email complaining about the lack of coverage. I received it. But, what he did do, was send it as a mass mailing to all that sent him a comment. In other words, I received his reply with hundreds of email addresses including mine in the list in the email.

Now, I asked myself, why do that? Save time for him? Uhh…embarrass those that wrote? Uhh…put us on a spam list?

Well since I received his reply, I am now getting all kinds of spam. Thanks David! I can only hope the LA Times goes BK.

(My emphasis.)

I wrote the commenter and confirmed his claim. The commenter has now had to set up an elaborate spam-fighting process, which I had to negotiate to get the e-mail through: first my e-mail was returned as undeliverable, then I forwarded to someone who white-listed my address, and then sent it again.

Who wants to be the one to explain the “bcc” line to David Lauter?

It’s the Economy, Obama

Filed under: General — Karl @ 12:34 pm

The Hill adds to the coverage coming from CNN and Newsweek on the growing concern that Pres. Obama is trying to do “too much, too soon,” instead of focusing on the economy:

President Obama’s honeymoon is beginning to fade.

Members of Congress and old political hands say he needs to show substantial progress reviving the economy soon.

Some Democrats have started to worry that voters don’t and won’t understand the link between economic revival and Obama’s huge agenda, which includes saving the banking industry, ending home foreclosures, reforming healthcare and developing a national energy policy, among much else. 

While lawmakers debate controversial proposals contained in the new president’s debut budget — cutting farm subsidies, raising taxes on charitable contributions, etc. — there is a growing sense that time is running out faster than expected.

RCP’s Jay Cost noted that Congress was beginning to assert itself on budgetary issues, even before this unease began to take hold. Indeed, Congressional Democrats were hedging on healthcare almost a year ago, well before the current meltdown in the financial markets.

All presidents like to think they have a mandate; presidents elected in “change” elections probably more than most.  Our political structures — the winner-take-all system, the Electoral College, etc. — tend to create the image of a mandate in many elections.  However, a look at the ratio of winners’ votes to runners’-up votes in the last 25 Presidential elections is instructive.  The post-WWII “change” elections are all in the top ten closest elections.  By this measure, the magnitude of Obama’s victory is almost exactly that of Clinton in 1992.  Moreover, it shows that the US has been trending toward closer elections for some time.  All of the post-Reagan elections are in the top half of the chart; all of the post-Clinton elections are in the top ten.  Consequently, trying to manage political relations with the hundreds of ambitious, yet provincial politicians in Congress (all attuned to their constituencies and political fortunes) becomes even more difficult. 

“Change” presidents can find themselves hobbled by a Democratic Congress, regardless of whether they fight Congress (as Carter did) or become hostage to it (as Clinton did).  The Obama Administration is shaping up as the mirror image of the Clinton Administration in 1993.  Bill Clinton wanted to focus like a laser on economic issues, while Congress wanted to pursue a broader Leftist agenda; now, those roles are reversed.  DC Democrats, who lost big in 1994, seem to have learned the lesson of the Clinton campaign.  Pres. Obama would do well to listen to Congress this time.

Another “I Didn’t Mean It” Moment for Michael Steele

Filed under: Abortion,General — Patterico @ 7:43 am

I said that?

RNC Chairman Michael Steele said today that despite telling an interviewer he supports “individual choice” and state-level decisions on abortion, he in fact opposes abortion and supports a Constitutional ban.

You know, I’m not even as worried about the fact that he keeps putting his foot in his mouth as I am about how incoherent his original answer was:

A: The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.

Q: Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?

A; Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.

Q; You do?

A: Yeah. Absolutely.

Q: Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

A: I think Roe v. Wade—as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

Q: Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?

A: The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

The “individual choice” rests with the states? Does anybody understand that? Anybody?

I think we’re in real trouble if this is the best this guy can do. It’s as if he never thought about the issue before and is making up an answer on the spot.

It Pays to Be a Kennedy

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:26 am


More than one out of every five dollars of the $126 million Massachusetts is receiving in earmarks from a $410 billion federal spending package is going to help preserve the legacy of the Kennedys.

Thanks to Dana.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin calls it “Hyannis Pork.” Heh.

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