Conversational Terrorist Tactics
First, we have the Ad Hominem Variants where you attack the person as a way to avoid truth, Science or logic which might otherwise prove you wrong. Next are the Sleight of Mind Fallacies, which act as "mental magic" to make sure the unwanted subject disappears. Then we move on to Delay Tactics, which are subtle means to buy time when put on the spot. Then the ever popular Question as Opportunity ploys, where any question can be deftly averted. Finally, we have the General Irritants, which are basically "below the belt" punches and cheap-shots.
1. Ad Hominem Variants
OVER YOUR HEAD
- "I'd like to respond to that, but taking into account your background, education, and intelligence, I am quite sure that you would not be able to understand."
YOU'LL GET OVER IT
- "My next point will be so cogent that even you will be able to understand it."
- "Even you should be able to grasp the next point."
- "I used to think that way when I was your age."
- "As you mature emotionally (or mentally, or spiritually), you will grow out of your present way of thinking, and you will eventually come around to my point of view"
- "You're new here, aren't you?"
Instead of proving a point true or false, this technique tries to imply that the individual's desires have led him/her astray without dealing with the merits of the issue itself. (C.S. Lewis termed this "Bulverism".) Any strong desire can be shown to have tainted a conclusion or clouded objectivity, which cast in doubt the legitimacy of a point. This is very close to the classic ad hominem fallacy - "you say that because you are a man".
2. Sleight of Mind Fallacies
- "You support capital punishment because of a deep-rooted death wish common among those who have suffered emotional traumas during childhood."
- "You oppose capital punishment because of an irrational suppressed death taboo common among those who have suffered emotional trauma during childhood."
- "You weren't breast fed as a child, were you?"
Instead of dealing with a comment or question directly, the idea here is to focus in on some insignificant detail to evade the issue or buy time to think.
OUT OF CONTEXT
- "We need to define just exactly what you mean by _________"
- "Your last sentence ended with a preposition. Please restate it properly."
A twisted version of NIT-PICKING, the technique here is to purposely misunderstand some word, phrase, or analogy and shift the focus to it instead of the subject. This ploy will derail the other person into a defence of the word, phrase, or analogy instead of the case at hand.
I'M NOT SAYING THIS
- "You said 'feel' instead of 'think'. If you are feeling instead of thinking, I won't be able to convince you with reason."
- "You said this happened five years before Hitler came to power. Why are you so fascinated with Hitler? Are you anti-Semitic?"
This is a marvellous way to come off as nice while saying things that would otherwise be considered rude.
- "Have I ever brought up the £523.52 you owe me? Never! Have I ever embarrassed you or made you feel bad over it? Have I ever told you how much I need that money? No, I never have."
- "I don't want to spend a lot of time on this, but..." (blah, blah, blah...)
- "My dear congregation, I hate to speak of money matters, but (money, money, money...)
The intent here is to throw the other person's competence in doubt while at the same time changing the subject. A question is asked that the other person is not likely to know the answer to, destroying credibility and confidence. To really rub it in, the questioner can give a full answer to his/her own question proving him/herself to have superior knowledge of the subject.
RIGHT BY ASSOCIATION
- "You mentioned the constitution. Can you quote the preamble for us?"
- "Do you realise which of the dialectic principals you've just violated?" ["No."]
- "I'd be glad to explain them to you, but (branch to OVER YOUR HEAD)."
- "I have observed that those who disagree with me on the next point tend to be unsophisticated, and those who quickly recognise the validity of the point to be more educated. The point is..."
- "Of course there is a lot of debate on this subject, but the best scholars believe. ."
This technique requires prior knowledge of some embarrassing mistake or painful event in the other person's life. This knowledge can be woven into a comment in a way that agitates the other person without direct reference. A key word or phrase is tossed out like a grenade that embarrasses or humiliates the other person.
THE SALESMAN'S CLOSE
- "What was it your ex-wife used to say . . ?"
- "Didn't we already have this argument just before you went through the de-tox program?"
A technique where an obvious question is asked, the response to which is driven by common sense or decency. The yes or no response is then implied to mean a COMPLETE AGREEMENT to the asker's point of view.
- Family get-together: "Doesn't your family mean anything to you?"
- Support a political movement: "Do you want communism in Britain? Is that what you want?"
- Join a Health Spa: "Don't you care about your own body?"
A rhetorical ploy to give more emotional force to a point of objection than is appropriate. This requires showmanship and involves risk, but when it works it can be quite effective. It is useful to use exaggerated facial expressions and/or pound an any nearby objects to effectively communicate the over-reaction.
THINK VS. FEEL
- "How DARE you question such an obvious point?"
- "Honestly! You can't REALLY expect me to believe that?"
A person will likely be off-centre of the ANALYTICAL/EMOTIVE SPECTRUM (an alternate name for this technique) in any heated exchange. By pointing out which side the other person is on, (either side will do) he/she is obliged to defend his/her temperament instead of the case at hand.
- "Your cold, analytical approach to this issue doesn't take into account the human element."
- "Your emotional involvement with this issue obscures your ability to see things objectively."
If a person is making an imaginative or novel point, the approach here is to push the idea to a radical extreme generally agreed to be bad. The extreme can be either real or imagined. The hope here is that the other person will reflexively back-off and retreat to a defensive position, thus short-circuiting the veracity of the argument.
CUT 'EM OFF AT THE PASS
- "So you think we ought to just throw out the whole system, then?"
- "How is that different from classic fascism?"
- "So you would just like to kill off anyone who disagrees with you, it appears!"
If you can see where the other person's logic is leading, you can make it very difficult along the way by arguing each minute sub-point and example. If the other person can not get past point #1, how will a case ever be made? Most of the techniques listed can be used to achieve this end.
DENIAL OF A VALID CONCLUSION
- "I don't think we can go on until we establish the scientific validity of that last statement."
This is the opposite of the CUT 'EM OFF AT THE PASS technique. Instead of arguing along the way, agree with all of the sub-points but deny the obvious conclusion. This is very frustrating to the other person because it automatically changes the subject to epistemology (how we know what we know). Generally, the other person will attempt another explanation rather than get into a heavy epistemological discussion, and the technique can simply be repeated.
3. Delay Tactics
- "I don't see how you figure that."
- "I agree with everything you said except the conclusion. It doesn't make any sense to me and I can not accept it. I am trying, but your brain must work much differently than mine."
- "Sure you have pointed out some anomalies in my point of view. But this does not invalidate my original conviction. When you 'know' something is true, sometimes you have to turn a deaf ear to logic."
If when put on the spot to answer a question you come up blank, then delay tactics can buy time to dream one up. These tactics are risky, because if you are not able to think of anything clever during the time you buy... you will be pinned even further.
DESCRIBE THE ANSWER
Give descriptive attributes of the eventual answer, then pause as if expecting a response, while thinking of a real answer. When this technique is repeated the other person will appear to be begging you to give an answer.
DESCRIBE THE QUESTION
- "Excellent question, and I think the answer will startle you." (Pause, look thoughtfully as if a response is due while thinking up an answer.)
- "I think the answer to your last question will clear up your confusion on this subject. (Long pause....) Are you ready?"
- "I'm glad you asked. Would you like a long or a short answer?"
Same as above, only here the diversionary shift of focus is on the question.
QUESTION THE QUESTION / COMMENT
- "This question could only come from the confusion of the ______ mind-set."
- "That is an interesting question coming from you. Interesting, interesting, interesting." (Pause, as if admiring the other person... )
- "The question asked, is basically _______, ________, _______." (Re-state the questions in various ways, pausing for approval between each, while thinking up an answer.)
A great lead-in for the technique of WISHFUL THINKING, or a method of delay to give yourself time to think of an answer.
- "Why do you ask that?"
- "What drives you to make such a statement?"
A complex statement that paralyses the brain.
WORD SALAD, a.k.a. SESQUIPEDALIANISM
- "What you inferred is not what you implied."
- "You're problem is that you are thinking in a linear versus configurational framework."
This is a recipe for sophisticated babbling. Ingredients include: philosophic phrases and sentence structure, unintelligible Latin phrases, banal folk wisdom, jargon, catch-phrases, truisms, etc. Sprinkle lightly with a few words that appear to pertain to the subject. This will sound very impressive without saying anything, and buy time to think of something meaty to say while your lips are flapping.
REVERSE THE QUESTION
- "In view of the Budget Deficit, civil unrest and international politics, we need to consider that notwithstanding the mitigating circumstances, this country has got to get back on its feet. Don't you agree?"
Echo the question back or ask the other person a similar or difficult question. (This can be a valid technique if not used merely as a delay tactic.)
START A STORY
- "What do you think the answer to your question is?"
- "How 'bout if I ask you a similar question?"
With a sparkle in your eye, start into a long-winded story which presumes to apply to the subject at hand. Continue until the other person calls your bluff, then act insulted and claim that you are not getting equal time or a fair chance to explain you case. Then, thoroughly offended, drop the cover story and start with the real answer (whatever it was you were able to think of while you were babbling).
- "This reminds me of the time I was in Cairo. Let me tell you, it was hot! (Time to think up real answer during dramatic pauses) And we were in a small hotel when a gas leak started. Well! You can imagine how we..."
To give an obvious, over-literal, or pun response to delay with humour.
4. Question As Opportunity
- ["What is your first point?"] "My first point is #1.
A standard response for politicians is to view any question as an opportunity to say whatever they want. The "answer" does not have to have anything to do with the "question" asked. This practice has all but killed the utility of debate and dialogue in politics, and unhappily it is spreading to other areas of life as well. Following are some inconspicuous (to the uninitiated) techniques that allow a deft shift from the question subject to the desired subject.
"THIS OR THAT":
Deny that the issue is limited to the question at hand. Redefine the issue to your favourite topic.
"X IS ONE ISSUE, Y IS ANOTHER"
- "It is not a question of (this) or (that), but rather it is an issue of (whatever it is you want to say.)" ["Are you for or against capital punishment?"] "I don't think the issue is being for or against capital punishment, the real issue facing our country is the budget deficit. I propose that we... "
Acknowledges the issue and quickly change to a new subject.
THE MACHINE GUN
- "X is certainly one topic that could be discussed, but Y is another..."
- "Well, my track record is certainly one issue, but this month's agenda is another. Do you know that in the next five days..."
A variation of the basic Question as Opportunity ploy is to ask the other party many rapid-fire difficult or time consuming questions (more along your lines of interest - or as a delay tactic similar in effect to the NIT PICKING technique). The questions should be asked in rapid succession so that the victim has no reasonable chance to reply, and will likely forget a few if they take the bait. Any that are neglected can be brought up later as an example of "not being able to answer a question".
5. General Cheap Shot Tactics & Irritants
- "Define truth... Define religion... Define God... Define evil... Define mind... "
- "Take this example: suppose you were a person who was incredibly stupid but was trying to come off as intelligent. What would the proper response be if you were me?"
- "Let's just say that we knew for sure that you were a sexual pervert..."
DISTORTED ACTIVE LISTENING
- "Why, that is a brilliant question coming from you!"
- "You're looking less repulsive than usual today."
- "Your statement is partially correct."
Active listening is where you parrot back what the other person is saying in order to keep them talking. DISTORTED ACTIVE LISTENING parrots back what the other person is saying, but gets it all wrong, or makes it sound incredibly stupid. Similar to LUNATIC FRINGE. "So you're saying that all people who disagree with Affirmative Action are bigots?"
NAME the technique or point the other person is employing (real or fabricated) and IT will loose its originality and force. As well, the NAME becomes a "sledgehammer" that can be used if IT ever comes up again.
I KNOW BETTER
- "The case you just made was first made by Edgar Sullivan in the late 1800's and was quickly disproved. The 'Sullivan Error' inevitably occurs to people when they first start studying the subject."
- "Your line of reasoning is called the MacGregor Phenomenon."
- "You've just committed the Stephenson's Fallacy."
A clever and socially acceptable way of denying what someone has said by claiming to know more about what the other person thinks or feels than they do. Believe it or not, this technique is quite commonplace and effective.
- "That's a cruel thing to say, and I know you don't mean it."
- "You've made that point well, but: (1) I know where your heart is... (2) I sense that you're not comfortable with what you're saying... (3) I know what kind of person you are deep down, and that you cannot continue to hold this position and maintain your integrity."
- "Johnny, the reason I can't give you permission to go to the party is because I know that deep in your heart you'd rather spend the time here with me."
To bring up a past event and GET IT ALL WRONG, or even make up a past event. The intent is to get the other person confused, angry, and defensive.
STUDIES HAVE SHOWN
- "You never admit defeat. Remember that chess game I beat you in?" (The one you lost...)
- "But last week (or a minute ago) you said the opposite! Make up your mind!"
- "Remember last time we had an argument and you turned out to be wrong and you wouldn't admit it? Now we are in the same spot we were last time."
When all else is lost, refer to a phoney study that supports your case. This is a bet the other person will not call your bluff. Does he/she know for certain the study didn't happen? The usual response is "I have not seen or heard of this study", further discrediting the other person as not doing comprehensive study of available source material.
- "Research at Brunel has proven conclusively..."
- "I know the idea sounds unorthodox, but the recent study at Oxford has substantiated this view."
With the nose tilted slightly upwards, appear to be disinterested in what the other party has to say: 1) because you "know" what they will say in advance, 2) to make the point via body language that what the other person is saying is essentially uninteresting or boring, or 3) as a bluff to see how far you can go with this rudeness before it is pointed out. Look around, nod with a patronised look on major points as if enduring an idiot, tap the fingers, roll the eyes...
REPEAT OFFENDER, a.k.a. SLOGAN RESPONSES
The repeated use of an assertion, truism, bad joke, or even physical gesture when used to the point of extreme irritation.
- "The customer comes first!" ["But what about our profit?"] "The customer comes first! ["But they don't have any money!"] "The customer... (etc., etc., etc.)"
- ["What do you think?"] "It's crazy" (wave arms while stating.) ["What is that supposed to mean? "] (wave arms wildly) ["Huh?"] (repeat as necessary.)
LOOK AT YOU
- "I would like to answer your question directly, but considering your (1) past reactions... (2) ability to cope with the truth... (3) emotional instability... I feel that to do so would be a disservice to you at this time." [Other person gets (justifiably) upset.] "See, what did I tell you. You are flying off the handle already!"
After using any of the previous ploys, point out any physical manifestations of the other person's irritation as further proof that they are wrong.
- "You seem to be sweating a lot. Of course I would be too if I had to try to support your flimsy position."
- "Why look, your lips are quivering. You have a hard time admitting defeat, don't you?"
Use an actual, fabricated, or hypothetical statement from some universally credible source.
- "What would your father say if he could hear you now?"
- "As it says in the Bible: 'God helps those who help themselves'."
- "If Albert Einstein were here I think he would agree with me. Didn't he once say 'If an idea does not at first seem absurd, it is probably incorrect'?"
The technique here is to answer so quickly or in such detail that no one could ever doubt the response.
- ["Do you really think that anyone else agrees with this crazy idea?"] "52.359% of people surveyed agreed."
Pretend that the reason the other person isn't able to agree with you is that they are not listening, or at least not hard enough.
- "If you'd just listen you would have heard me the first time when I said that..."
- "Since you obviously weren't listening when I said this before, I am forced to repeat myself."
To take an extraordinary amount of time or go to great technical depth to wear out the other person and get time on your side. The other person is pushed to give up and agree with you rather than endure the torture of hearing you go through another sincere, long-winded answer.
- "Since you are a true intellectual, I will have to give you a more comprehensive answer than most... Blah, Blah, Blah... (use WORD SALAD technique)
- "Now that I have answered your point, do you have any other concerns?" (repeat until the other person collapses or gives in.)