Many of us have lost friends because we have been subjected to countless rants about American policy and policy leaders on Facebook. Whether it’s over the president’s complexion or gun laws, things easily get heated. My grievance is not with either side, but rather with the pure butchery of the wonderful institution of debate. The claims that both sides make most of the time don’t follow the basic form of argument and reasoning.
Let me offer some advice on how to handle any future argument you may have with your country cousins.
First, never use the phrase “the constitution says” or “the founders intended.” Most of us aren’t arguing about whether there are three branches of government or if Congress can declare war. You may really mean to say something along the lines of, “this amendment has been interpreted to mean this,” which you then explain by citing certain court cases.
Any lawyer will tell you that the constitution is a pragmatic legal document that’s subject to interpretation and precedent. This is apparent in American history if we follow Supreme Court cases like Muller v. Oregon, in which women were ruled to be less able to work than men and thus couldn’t legally work more than eight hours. Though we may believe that is a ludicrous idea today, the Supreme Court ruled it as constitutional at the time.
The idea of what the “founders intended” is also ridiculous. The constitution is a very complex document that can be interpreted differently depending on the cultural context.
When someone says that the founders intended for everyone to bear arms, ask him or her whether that means the founders intended for everyone to carry around a bazooka. You could also proceed to cite case law like McDonald v. Chicago or D.C. v. Heller.
Second, stop extrapolating and using statistics as facts. Numbers don’t lie, but people do. Each year, there are 11,000 deaths related to guns in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we should ban guns. It simply means that there were 11,000 deaths related to guns. You can’t draw any conclusions until you’ve analyzed the causes of each death. One person may have shot someone because of a dispute over a girl, but another person may have shot someone for a completely different reason. You cannot assume from these isolated incidents that measures like background checks would have stopped these two incidents or that arming the victims would have prevented these incidents.
Finally, do not assume correlation equates to causation. Stop, I repeat, stop making poor connections. Refrain from making statements such as, “in Switzerland, everyone has a gun, but their crime rates are lower.”Perhaps this statistic reflects an amazing amount of trust and love they have for their neighbors which is embedded into their culture. It could also be influenced by the high standard of living and low poverty rates there. The point is, you don’t know. What may work for one country is not guaranteed to work for another, and we’ve seen this happen in the failed attempts to establish democratic governments in the Middle East. Though some may believe that the comments we make on Facebook do not need to follow the rules of academic debate, I think we need to reconsider this stance.
There may be someone who accepts this information without questioning its accuracy, or even learning how to argue based on these conversations. By staying silent on this issue, we are allowing these invalid opinions to proliferate.
The next time you feel particularly passionate about an issue and want to make it your Facebook status, please take these tips into consideration. Happy debating.
Kelly is a member of
the class of 2015.