NAWF - Never Argue With a Fundamentalist, The history and reasoning behind the phrase

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Summary: I created NAWF (original NAWaF) several years ago, and stick with the principle to this day. It's almost an iconic phrase of mine (well, in my mind), and I figured I would take a little bit of time to explain why I made the decision to "Never argue with a fundamentalist".

Friday, 25 December 2009

(01:58:43 CST)

NAWF - Never Argue With a Fundamentalist, The history and reasoning behind the phrase

NAWF, originally NAWaF. "Never argue with a fundamentalist". It came about something like seven years ago. There had been a weeks long e-mail debate about what really was a trivial Biblical matter, taken to an extreme since not-quite-so-trivial matters were tied up into it. Three friends and I, two one side and two on the other, discussed and argued and dug up passages and argued metaphysics of this and that. Finally, I delivered what I thought to be the best example explaining what I really meant, got mocked for it, and then the whole thing dropped. Weeks of arguing for no conclusion. I wrote to the friend who had backed me up and said "Well, never argue with a fundamentalist. Nawaf."

The truth of the claim dawned on me over the next few weeks, and has been steadily and readily proven over the most-of-a-decade that has followed. It comes down to three principles of good argumentation, as I see it:

  1. A good argument should be one in which there is a point to the activity.
  2. A good argument should be one in which the cost of losing the argument should actually out-weight the cost of staying in the argument.
  3. A good argument should be one in which personal matters are compartmentalized into their most relevant tangents to the argument as a whole.

And while I did mean "Christian fundamentalist" upon first coining the term, I have since expanded it to mean "anyone who holds to a given fundamental principle, an unmovable axiom, or even just the concept of needing to win as proof of self as a starting point". This expanded definition of "fundamentalist" violates, in some way, all three tenets of good argumentation. This fundamentalist has no intention of budging, so there is never a point to discussing anything with them. They are wanting you to capitulate, but have no intention of doing the same (and, in some cases, will allow you a false victory, where they will act as though you have won only to re-introduce and re-argue the point later) so the balance between you losing and them losing is far out of whack. Finally, fundamentalist consider what they are arguing a heavy part of the "why they exist". It is ultimately personal.

This is not, per se, to rag on fundamentalists. I mean, this or that and plus or minus, but we are all fundamentalists in some way or another. About something. I'm sure. It is like phobias. We all have one, at least a little one, tucked away in our brain close behind the webs and under the wrapping paper. We have that one thing that we will not budge on. Some of us just have much bigger unbudgables. No, this is not to disparage fundies or to berate them for not being open-minded or to whatever it is that people say about fundies on message boards, this is to call each and every one of you a fool who has wasted hours thinking there is some point to argue with one.

Trust me, you will spend hours of your life, days, just to get nowhere except maybe agreeing with them out of sheer frustration. Because, ladies and gents, a fundamentalist is so assured of their rightness that it becomes metaphysical. You might be arguing the nature of healthcare because you want to make an informed decision. They are arguing the nature of healthcare because they know the truth. Sorry, the Truth. Bigger than a breadbox, writ in the very fabric of the Universe. And sure, your truth is not their Truth, but they do not care. That just proves you are wrong. You will end up miserable going into that mine-field. You will come out frustrated, belittled, hoarse, and straight up brain-sore. And you will have done nothing. You will believe what you believe. They will still have their Truth. And hours will have been sent away.

Or, as I have said before, you will get the "false victory against fundie" (F-VAF) where they will go "Oh, I see what you are saying" but they do not see it. What they see is that they are unsure how to press their argument, maybe even doubt it, but sometime later they will come back and be in the same place; sometimes with extra ammunition. F-VAFs can be the most frustating of all: you will lose another round of hours and all the good you figure yourself doing to begin with (but really, what do you know?).

Sure, sure, some of you are saying "Well, I've debated abortion and won the point using logic". That wasn't a fundamentalist. You know how I know? Because you won.

And I am unanimous on that.

Si Vales, Valeo


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