Argument

As I read more, I have found that some people – who are ostensibly exercised in thought and understanding – can have a mediocre way of persuading people through their arguments. For example, I was reading 'Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet, by Rolf Dobelli'. The only credible piece of information I have about him is that he is a 'good' friend of Nassim Taleb, so I assume that was enough for me to be interested. Though, now as I write this, I see that I am basing that completely from his own word. Regardless, as a mental model, it is useful to discuss what I found needlessly arrogant and patronising in his tone of writing.

Firstly, when I have a point to make and want to persuade someone of something, I have found it completely counterproductive to speak in not very thought through platitudes and in a completely affirmative tone. What I mean by this, is shown in this example:

“News consumers are suckers for irrelevancy, and online news consumers are the biggest suckers. News is an interruption system. It seizes your attention only to scramble it. Besides a lack of glucose in your blood stream, news distraction is the biggest barricade to clear thinking.”

Okay, so claiming that distraction from reading the news is second only to an physical state of malnutrition seems a bit like a tribal war here. Rolf has understood that news is bad for him, and so it must be as bad for everyone else on planet Earth and such clearly, it deserves a place under starvation in its prohibition to clear thinking.

I understand I am cherry picking out of context here, and I do see many good points he makes. I, myself, have not been reading the news for a few weeks now and earlier in the year, I took a few months to stop reading the news as well; to great positive effect on my mental health. I am on his side, yet I can not help but feel patronised, and that by reading this 'manifesto' I have wasted time. It is not thoroughly researched, not thoroughly explained, and picks out random studies for its own aims of obliterating the idea of consuming news.

This is a pattern I see amongst self-proclaimed 'rational' thinkers – a self pompousness that seems to override a key tenet of rationality; a clearly thought through and validated argument with evidence weighed scientifically from both sides. Gwern.net has hosted this file on its servers; I am disappointed that such an intelligent and thoughtful person could host such a piece with its complete disregard for the complexity of thought, by the use of one-sided platitudes that only young teenagers seem to love when exposed to new ideas for the first time.

It is my hope that people when they read such a piece, that they take it with the rational grain of salt, and read it for what it is: a way for the writer to let some steam off with regards to the problems in his life and perhaps an all too clear scapegoating of a much more complex problem. After all, we are all only human.