What evidence would it take..?

Arguing on the Internet is hard work.

Obviously, the person you’re arguing with is wrong. They just haven’t admitted it yet. So how do you convince them that they’re wrong? How do you get them to concede? How, in short, do you win?

Unfortunately, pretty much everyone on the Internet knows that, in order to be taken even remotely seriously in an argument online, you can’t just throw out opinions any more. That may have worked in the Good Old Days, when people were cheerfully credulous about things they read on a computer screen or in a newspaper, but things have moved on.

A disagreement will devolve into “citation needed” almost instantaneously, and people will reach for their preferred sources of information. They will look for evidence to support their positions.

On the surface, this sounds excellent in many ways! People are giving the appearance of thinking critically, allowing themselves to become informed, letting that new information flow in and change their world view.

What tends to happen, however, is people seek out information that supports their existing world view. They manage to avoid or even ignore information that doesn’t, or find reasons to reject that information.

So the net result is that no matter how many righteous hailstorms of truth, data, and evidence you can bring to a disagreement, your interlocutor is now doing the same. Augh!

Worse, because they simply don’t understand the complete and utter authoritativeness of your sources (and won’t acknowledge that theirs are just hacks and amateurs) and the sheer blinding consistency and integrity of your positions (while theirs are tenuous and shaky), the conversation goes nowhere fast.

Even after you point out all the logical fallacies they’ve just made, and pointed out how all their points have been debunked by Snopes (and noted that the points of yours that are on Snopes are just because they missed this one last article…), they still won’t capitulate – and for some reason they are getting angry. Weird!

The rage builds. You’re swearing at the screen. Gripping the mouse just that little bit tighter. Mashing the phone screen just that little bit harder and wilder, enough that you make another ducking typo that demeans you in front your opponent and audience. You lash out. Before you know it, the conversation has devolved into name calling and abuse.

You go to bed, but all you can think about is what you’re going to say when you get up in the morning and how it’s going to just own that fool so bad. But deep down… you know you’re just talking past each other now. There is no chance of compromise.

Enter… #wewit.

What evidence would it take to convince you?

#wewit stands for “what evidence would it take”. The idea is that when you see one of these arguments forming based on something you know is wrong, you instead ask, for example: “what evidence would it take to convince you that is not true?”

The goal of #wewit is to try to shortcut some of these long, painful Internet arguments that we all find ourselves getting into. It is to accelerate the conversation to what (we hope) will be a more useful endpoint for both parties: a clear understanding about whether or not it’s possible to actually change the other person’s mind – as well as acknowledging the conditions under which you will also change yours.

There are several advantages to this approach:

Early in a debate, both sides can quickly and easily establish that a path to a conclusion does exist, by acknowledging up-front that there is something that can change their mind.

This sounds like it should be obvious, but in many arguments, people are going in with pre-conceived notions and beliefs. Some of these beliefs will be based on a world outlook or personal feelings that (they assume) are simply not going to be swayed by argument.

But #wewit posits that there are many people out there who hold a belief simply because it has never been challenged, and that acknowledging early that you are willing to have your mind changed, if someone can only provide the one missing piece makes a huge difference.

It forces participants – including you! – to be honest and up-front about what the key blockers are to changing beliefs.

It allows you to save a lot of time and effort by quickly identifying conversations that are going to go nowhere: if someone tells you that no evidence is going to convince them, you can instantly stop talking to them.

It’s always possible that the person you’re talking to believes what they believe for reasons that are not based on evidence or reason. (They may or may not be aware of this.)

If you know at the start of a discussion that – no matter what you tell them – the other person is not going to change their mind, then it should inform how much effort you want to put into the rest of the argument. You might as well pull the ejection handles and bail out of that conversation as early as possible.

That’s not to say that conversations that are both free of evidence and reason are a waste of time. But if you’re trying to change someone’s mind on a matter about which evidence should inform them, then letting them pick the evidence that is going to convince them can only save time for everyone – as long as you’re also open to the idea that your mind needs to be able to be changed too!