What Goes Into a Good Argument?

And is that possible on Facebook?

It is my first semester back to college since 2005. I dropped out shortly after beginning full-time work and a part-time job. I should never have gone right out of high school as I was self-destructive and undisciplined. Despite my protestations of not thinking a degree was necessary, I always felt I had a hole in my education.

Perhaps it was foolish to return to school after fifteen years while working a full-time, demanding career with a side job running a political media outlet in the middle of an election year (not to mention my other projects). It's been less complicated than I thought. Sundays are devoted to studying, and I am getting A's in Spanish and History. I haven't posted about it or talked about it because I wasn't sure if I would succeed.

My primary motivation for returning was a clear gap in the systems I use to prepare for the show. I am what my boss refers to as an "unconsciously competent." I do the right things, not knowing why. I wanted to go back and learn more discipline in studying, reading, writing, researching, argumentation, and complementing my historical knowledge. So far, I am having the time of my life.

In the history class, I am working on a research paper surrounding the Magna Carta's legacy. (It will lay the groundwork for a podcast series to come.) Not being familiar with writing a research paper, I read "A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations."

In the book, they break down Toulmin's Argument Model. It has been helpful to me these past few weeks as I think through the arguments I am making and figured it would benefit you. It is as described by the Purdue Writing Lab:

Developed by philosopher Stephen E. Toulmin, the Toulmin method is a style of argumentation that breaks arguments down into six component parts: claim, grounds, warrant, qualifier, rebuttal, and backing. In Toulmin's method, every argument begins with three fundamental elements: the claim, the grounds, and the warrant.

A claim is an assertion that authors would like to prove to their audience. It is, in other words, the main argument.

The grounds of an argument are the evidence and facts that help support the claim.

Finally, the warrant, which is either implied or stated explicitly, is the assumption that links the grounds to the claim.

Think of it like this: [claim] because of [reason] based on [evidence]. Warrants equal relevancy (sort of because it is complicated.)

It got me thinking about how many arguments online use the above formula in that order. A claim is made, and then the evidence is sought out to justify reasons because it feels right. Like everyone else online, I tend to lead with my gut and not my brain. I'll share an article without clicking on it because the headline tickles my ears. After the Covington kid fiasco, where everyone misjudged him, I have made a devoted practice of slowing down and thinking about what I share instead of being first. I got it totally wrong, and I embarrassed myself.

Social media systems are designed to keep people stupid. Whether it was intentional or not makes no difference. The result of spending a day watching a Facebook stream is anxiety and a mind full of wrong information.

This comment on a recent WAL post drove that home. Ryan Lindsey is a left market anarchist that posts on our page and is progressive.

Notice that he is a TOP FAN. He doesn’t interact with the content that he’d like, such as the other 20 posts a day pushing news or the basics of libertarianism. This means that when the keyword Ryan appears, Facebook feeds him his cocaine. He is addicted to being outraged. He gets that little hit of dopamine from shit-talking to the point of being named a top commentator on the page. What happens when a coke addict has no cocaine? Their dopamine drops, and they become an asshole. As Mark Blyth recently said, social media is one giant party of cocaine addicts, and the blow ran out an hour ago. It grieves me that we are involved in a cycle that makes people dumber when our mission is to make our audiences smarter.

How can a mind wrestle with subjects big and small while existing inside such a system? It can't. That’s why supporting independent media like this is incredibly important. It incentivizes something different.

I usually find the bulk of online discussion to be detached from reality. It is a big reason why I have started this site. I want to write and research more. Having a paying customer base will force me to fulfill my obligations to producing something that enriches your life and mine. That is the value to me. Hopefully, the value on your end will be a few “aha” moments and a greater understanding of the world. I think that’s worth $5 a month.

After Election Day, most of my writing will go behind the paywall, as will the special podcasts on intellectual history I've been working on. All WAL Patrons get lifetime access. Please subscribe now.