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Onlinemanship

Asserting an Obligation to Debate

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Let's say there's a knowledgeable discussion of some specialized subject already underway. The claimant turns up and makes remarks that are either clueless (demanding to know just exactly where the other participants in a discussion of science fiction and modern literary criticism draw the line between SF and fantasy; telling a group that's discussing large-scale structural shifts in book and magazine distribution systems that the big distributors should do more to encourage new authors), or clueless and offensive (asking a fibromyalgia support group whether they've really seriously considered the possibility that their condition might be psychosomatic).

When the other participants dismiss and/or deprecate these remarks ("No, Billy, ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids,") the claimant refuses to recognize any validity in their reactions. Instead, he or she asserts that the others are obliged to debate every point of disagreement and explain every gap in understanding to his or her satisfaction.

If the other participants go along with this, it kills the existing conversation, puts the claimant at center stage, and gives him or her control of the remainder of the discussion, such as it is.

While one sees this done in open-ended forum conversations, the place where the maneuver really shines is in panel discussions and multi-person interviews. The presence of an audience makes it more difficult to tell the claimant that he's completely out of his depth. There's a certain superficial plausibility to his request that the panel examine some question instead of dismissing it out of hand, or explain some recondite underlying principle that everyone familiar with the subject knows will eat up all the allotted time. And the other panelists can't escape.

The more aggressively this maneuver is pursued, the more it resembles Collecting on Moral Debts that Aren't Owed You.

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