How To Argue (But Not Fight) With A Narcissist

Because narcissists are so dominant and controlling, they have a knack for steering relationships into conflict. Do you have a game plan for handling yourself as potential arguments arise? Psychotherapist Dr. Les Carter discusses developing a mindset that will serve you wisely in the midst of that conflict.

How to Win an Argument About Guns

Tragically, predictably, infuriatingly, we’re again mourning a shooting — this time at YouTube’s headquarters — even as the drive for gun safety legislation has stalled in Washington. Polls show that nine out of 10 Americans favor basic steps like universal background checks before gun purchases, but the exceptions are the president and a majority in Congress.

Usually pundits toss out their own best arguments while ignoring the other side’s, but today I’m going to try something new and engage directly with the arguments made by gun advocates:

You liberals are in a panic over guns, but look at the numbers. Any one gun is less likely to kill a person than any one vehicle. But we’re not traumatized by cars, and we don’t try to ban them.

It’s true that any particular car is more likely to be involved in a fatality than any particular gun. But cars are actually a perfect example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. We don’t ban cars, but we do work hard to take a dangerous product and regulate it to limit the damage.

We do that through seatbelts and airbags, through speed limits and highway barriers, through driver’s licenses and insurance requirements, through crackdowns on drunken driving and texting while driving. I once calculated that since 1921, we had reduced the auto fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent.

Sure, we could have just said “cars don’t kill people, people kill people.” Or we could have said that it’s pointless to regulate cars because then bicyclists will just run each other down. Instead, we relied on evidence and data to reduce the carnage from cars. Why isn’t that a model for guns?

Because of the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t protect vehicles, but it does protect my right to a gun.

Yes, but courts have found that the Second Amendment does not prevent sensible regulation (just as the First Amendment does not preclude laws on defamation). There is no constitutional objection to, say, universal background checks to obtain a gun. It’s crazy that 22 percent of guns are obtained without a check.

We all agree that there should be limits. No one argues that there is an individual right to own an antiaircraft gun. So the question isn’t whether firearms should all be sacrosanct but simply where we draw the line. When more Americans have died from guns just since 1970 (1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history (1.3 million), maybe it’s worth rethinking where that line should be.

Whoa! You’re inflating the gun violence numbers by including suicides. Almost two-thirds of those gun deaths are suicides, and the blunt reality is that if someone wants to kill himself, he’ll find a way. It’s not about guns.

Actually, that’s not true. Scholars have found that suicide barriers on bridges, for example, prevent jumpers and don’t lead to a significant increase in suicides elsewhere. Likewise, almost half of suicides in Britain used to be by asphyxiating oneself with gas from the oven, but when Britain switched to a less lethal oven gas the suicides by oven plummeted and there was little substitution by other methods. So it is about guns.

No, it’s more about our violent culture. The Swiss and Israelis have large numbers of firearms, and they don’t have our levels of gun violence.

Yes, there’s something to that. America has underlying social problems, and we need to address them with smarter economic and social policies. But we magnify the toll when we make it easy for troubled people to explode with AR-15s rather than with pocketknives.

You liberals freak out about guns. If you have a swimming pool or a bathtub, that’s more dangerous to neighborhood kids than a gun is. Kids under age 14 are much more likely to die from drowning than from firearms. So why this crusade against guns, but not against bathtubs and pools?

Your numbers are basically right, but only because young children routinely swim and take baths but don’t regularly encounter firearms. But look at the picture for the population as a whole: Over all, 3,600 Americans drown each year, while 36,000 die from guns (yes, including suicides). That’s one reason to be talking more about gun safety than about pool safety.

Note also that a backyard pool isn’t going to be used to mug a neighbor, or to invade a nearby school. Schools don’t have drills for an “active pool situation.” And while some 200,000 guns are stolen each year, it’s more difficult to steal a pool and use it for a violent purpose.

Moreover, we do try to make pools safer. Many jurisdictions require a permit for a pool, as well as a childproof fence around it with self-locking gates. If we have permits and safe storage requirements for pools, why not for guns? What’s wrong with trying to save lives?

The Worst Argument In The World

I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: “If we can apply an emotionally charged word to something, we must judge it exactly the same as a typical instance of that emotionally charged word.”

Well, it sounds dumb when you put it like that. Who even does that, anyway?

I propose that an outright majority of the classic arguments in American politics, and no small number of arguments in religion, philosophy, et cetera, are in fact unmodified examples of the Worst Argument In The World. Before we get to those, let’s look at a concrete example.

Suppose someone wants to build a statue honoring Martin Luther King Jr. for his nonviolent resistance to racism. An opponent of the statue objects: “But Martin Luther King was a criminal! His policy of ignoring segregation restrictions clearly broke the Alabama laws of the time, and his protests violated a legally-obtained injunction against civil rights demonstrations. He was arrested and jailed, and although no doubt the judge had strong emotions the conviction was totally in keeping with the letter of the law.”

A criminal is defined as a person who breaks the law; Martin Luther King was objectively and incontrovertibly a criminal. But here the objector is making The Worst Argument In The World. She’s saying that because King was a criminal, we should treat him as a perfectly typical criminal. A typical criminal is someone like a bank robber; obviously we wouldn’t build a statue to the average bank robber. But King was not a typical criminal, and the unusual circumstances in his case exactly explain why he deserves a statue after all.

.. When the supporter says “King courageously violated the unjust segregation laws at great risk to himself,” and the opponent objects “But King was a criminal!” it sounds like the opponent is adding information. But she’s not: that King was a criminal is already implied by the supporter’s sentence. The opponent is actually urging us to subtract information; to ignore every facet of King’s actions except that they broke the law.

.. When the opponent says “King was a criminal!” you respond “Yes, so what?”

Notice how this is one hundred percent contrary to instinct; the urge is to respond “No he wasn’t! You take that back!”. This is why the Worst Argument In The World is so successful. As soon as you do that you’ve fallen into their trap. Your argument is no longer about whether you should build a statue, it’s about whether King was a criminal. And since King was a criminal, you’ve instantly lost.

.. “Taxation is theft!

.. I’m not trying to make a pro-choice argument here; there are several perspectives from which one could argue that despite the fetus’ lack of development killing it is still morally wrong. But saying “Abortion is murder!” doesn’t illuminate any of those perspectives. It just tries to get us to subtract the information

.. When somebody, let’s say, publishes a study that says minorities commit a disproportionate amount of crime, and somebody else responds by saying “That’s racist!”, they are taking something that no one could possibly object to on its own merits – a social science study, maybe a relatively well-conducted one – and telling us that our opinion of the study must be closely correlated with our opinion of Hitler killing ten million people. Yes, the study is racist, if by racist you mean “It says bad things about minority groups,” which seems like a reasonable definition. But it’s the okay kind of racism, just like taxation is an okay kind of theft and abortion is an okay kind of murder and Martin Luther King was an okay kind of criminal. The fact that you can’t even say the phrase “an okay kind of racism” without being torn to pieces so viciously it makes Bacchus’ death look merciful is exactly what gives The Worst Argument In The World its power.

.. suppose King told a group of racists “You should treat black people better; after all, we’re all human.” This seems on the face of it like an example of the Worst Argument In The World. King is using an emotionally charged word (“humans”) and asking the racists to ignore information about these particular humans (that they are black) and treat them exactly as typical humans (to the racists, presumably white people). But isn’t this a good argument?

It is a good argument, but it has one big difference from the Worst Argument examples above. King is using the argument to ask the racists for an explanation for their double standard; the examples above are using the argument to shout down an explanation for the double standard.


s Trump has already authored his own tell-all

Trump is damaged most, not by sabotage, but by self-revelation.

.. The president has recently taunted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for “racing the clock to retire with full benefits,”

  1. attacked the “Deep State Justice Department,” taken credit for the lack of commercial airline crashes,
  2. urged“Jail!” for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, called for the sacking of two journalists,
  3. claimed the news media will eventually “let me win” reelection to keep up their ratings,
  4. displayed a sputtering inability to describe his own health-care reform plan,
  5. claimed that a cold snap disproves global warming,
  6. boasted of having “a much bigger & more powerful” nuclear button than Kim Jong Un,
  7. tried to prevent the publication of Wolff’s book,
  8. and insisted he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

.. More likely, Trump is exhibiting a set of compulsions and delusions that have characterized his entire adult life. You can’t have declining judgment that never existed. You can’t lose a grasp on reality you never possessed. What is most striking is not Trump’s disintegration but his utter consistency.

.. If the secret tape of a president threatening a private citizen with jail were leaked, it would be a scandal. With Trump, it is just part of his shtick.

.. The president’s defenders, in perpetual pursuit of the bright side, argue for the value of unpredictability in political leadership — which is true enough. But Trump is not unpredictable. He is predictable in ways that make him vulnerable to exploitation.

He is easy to flatter, easy to provoke and thus easy to manipulate.

.. The Chinese have made an art of this

.. “I like very much President Xi,” Trump has said. “He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Contrast this with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has treated Trump like an adult with arguments and criticism. Big mistake.

.. Trump has revealed a thick streak of authoritarianism. “I have [an] absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he insists.

  • .. “Libel laws are very weak in this country,”
  • Rivals are not only to be defeated; they should be imprisoned.
  • Critics are not to be refuted; they should be fired.
  • Investigations are not to be answered; they should be shut down.

.. we are depending on the strength of those institutions, not the self-restraint of the president, to safeguard democracy.

.. At the beginning, they could engage in wishful thinking about Trump’s fitness. Now they must know he is not emotionally equipped to be president. Yet, they also know this can’t be admitted, lest they be accused of letting down their partisan team.

.. GOP leaders are engaged in an intentional deception, pretending the president is a normal and capable leader.

.. they will, eventually, be exposed. And by then, the country may not be in a forgiving mood.


Orwell: Settingling the Screw Steamer Controversy

>No humanities course just takes every argument at face value. Every argument is subject to intense scrutiny

Here is Orwell on the matter:

>”When the nautical screw was first invented, there was a controversy that lasted for years as to whether screw-steamers or paddle-steamers were better. The paddle-steamers, like all obsolete things, had their champions, who supported them by ingenious arguments. Finally, however, a distinguished admiral tied a screw-steamer and a paddle-steamer of equal horsepower stern to stern and set their engines running. That settled the question once and for all.”[1]


>”It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

People lived for a very long time without a proper appreciation of controlled, repeatable experiments, and progress was very slow.

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