Angie’s Law

In the spirit of Patca’s Law, I now propose Angie’s Law:

In my experience, people who tell me to read, learn, or think are almost invariably less well-informed than I am.

There is also Jonathan’s Corollary to Angie’s Law:

People who argue a political point by telling me to read an article or book that they link to are generally not worth arguing with.

11 thoughts on “Angie’s Law”

  1. There oughta be a law (Are you old enought to remember that?) covering people whose argument is a collection of links scarfed up from Google. The last time someone did that to me I recognized some of the material and knew that it in no way supported their position.

  2. It’s very likely that this obnoxious trick was perpetrated by people who couldn’t have personally done *any* of the activities involved in the creation and marketing of the iPod and its contents…neither the software and electronic design, nor the aesthetic design, nor the creation of the music, nor the structuring of the deals to put it all together.

    We have in our midst a fair number of barbarians, who glare with resentment and hostility at the world they did not, and could not, create.

  3. People who argue a political point by telling me to read an article or book that they link to are generally not worth arguing with.

    That’s only true up to a point, though. I’ve been having email arguments with a friend for years, and there comes a point, when the argument has gone on so long and to such depth that you would have to write the book again just make a point, where you just have to say something like, read this book. It took much smarter, far better educated, older, wiser, more eloquent and hugely
    more moral men than me many hundreds of pages each properly to elucidate a truly liberal philosophy of law, politics and economics. If I have been unable to convince him with my imperfectly restated arguments, maybe the originals will change his mind. I think I am nonetheless worth arguing with.

  4. Novus,

    I’m not talking about discussions with friends or reasonable strangers. I’m talking about Internet arguments where somebody you’ve never before communicated with wants to persuade you of something, but instead of making an argument he gives you a homework assignment. Then if you still don’t agree with him or you refuse to read the screed or book he throws at you, he makes the homework assignment into the main issue. See the comments on this post for an example of what I have in mind.

  5. Ah, I see what you mean. That comment thread took me back to the days of trying to have a reasoned debate in the Usenet alt. hierarchy….

  6. If someone truly understands the issue they’re discussing, whatever it may be, they should be able to reasonably and concisely summarize the evidence for their position in their own words, providing appropriate sources should you choose to dig deeper.

    People who don’t understand the issue try to mimic that but fail. Instead of summarizing evidence they understand, they cite someone else’s discussion of the evidence and then ask you to argue with their source. Instead of describing which pieces of evidence are most convincing or compelling to them and discussing those pieces of evidence, they give you a long list they got from someone else and criticize you if you don’t address every single point made. Instead of providing sources to dig deeper, they provide someone else’s rhetoric which, itself, rarely cites original sources.

    There are times when you simply have to say “go read my source” — but that should be after you’ve discussed things to a certain point and the other party has demonstrated enough interest for it to be worth the work for them. It rarely makes sense to begin an argument by telling someone to go read something you didn’t write.

  7. Not surprisingly, this behavior is most common when discussing religion and politics (or science with religious/political implications.) People often quote statements about the Bible, the Koran, George Bush, Iraq (including death counts/Lancet), evolution, or global warming… but are often completely incapable of articulating their own beliefs or evaluating basic evidence.

    People don’t really want rational and correct beliefs, they want comfortable and easy beliefs. It takes work to develop and act upon rational and correct ideas, but it’s easy to just accept something that feels/seems/sounds right. People find an idea they “like” and don’t take the time to look at the evidence. In a sense, this is rational (IIRC Shannon has recently made this point) — sometimes it’s just not worth the resources to evaluate the evidence, particularly if the payoff of correct belief is small. Classic “internet idiocy” arises when people take a belief they’re comfortable with, assume the evidence must support it, find someone else who’s already shoehorned some evidence into supporting their position, and conclude that person must be correct. It’s no wonder they keep pointing you to their article instead of arguing based on the evidence!

    I saw a movie that claimed one religion copied some specific material from an older religion. In a week of discussion, some bright people called the movie “well researched” and talked about how big a blow this was to a certain religious group, yet nobody checked to see if the material in question was actually in the older religion. I pointed out the material wasn’t in the older religion’s wikipedia pages or anywhere I could find with google, and asked if anyone could provide an original source. I also pointed out some astrological claims the movie made that didn’t match up with my experience from running a planetarium. I was told I needed to buy an obscure book from well over a century ago that the movie was based on. None of my friends had read it, but they were certain it would answer my objections. They were comfortable with the belief that the movie was correct, so they didn’t feel the need to look at the evidence, but since they thought I was wrong, they thought I did need to look at the evidence. Such is the nature of belief without understanding.

  8. Yes. Not everyone is willing to evaluate evidence and logical arguments, at least not on some topics. The most extreme true believers refuse to believe the car door is dangerous until it closes on their fingers, and sometimes not even then. Problems occur when such people insist that the rest of us participate in their grand experiment du jour.

  9. LotharBot: “People don’t really want rational and correct beliefs, they want comfortable and easy beliefs.”

    If I may elaborate, because I perceive that many popular beliefs are neither comfortable nor easy*, what people really want are beliefs that give them a role, even if the role is only one of a spectator – but a spectator who is somehow in the know, as it were. The classic instance of “people who tell me to read, learn, or think” is a conspiracy theorist pointing to a circular chain of references (websites, books, etc) that, if only I would read it, would somehow cause me to see that [insert phenomenon here] is caused by [insert nefarious plot here] being executed by [insert preferred villains here].

    * examples available upon request, if needed; I didn’t want to clutter up this comment with a lot of inflammatory material

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