Every day I read around twenty academic papers, a book, and something on the order of 300 blog postings on economics and politics, and a little philosophy. I have my own aggregator on www.roundtable.capitalismv3.com, various news readers, and I use the site Rtable.net for everything related to economics. I have a high tolerance for information, a passion for the subject. And I maintain this pace while running a not insignificant mid-market company of hundreds of people, and maintaining a bi-coastal existence at the same time.
I visit a variety of sites, comment on a dozen, copy the comments to a text file, then edit them and put them on my blog, usually expanding them, fixing some of the language and grammar. Because while I read and write a great deal, I write far too fast and often carelessly.
I’ve come to this set of conclusions:
An affirmation takes a few words: < 60.
A "Snark" or ad hominem takes about the same < 60.
A confirmation takes a few hundred words at most 200.
A sentimental objection with a light narrative takes five hundred – 500.
A rational objection takes more – around 1000
An objection that is defended takes more – usually around 1500.
A thorough refutation takes, depending upon the problem 2500
A refutation of basic assumptions takes somewhere near 5000.
These ratios are about the same, depending only upon the number of assumptions, preferences, or errors involved. An eloquent writer can discount by half or more. An analytical writer like myself will use every word and then some.
I started working like this twenty years ago. Before the web. Back when there were modems and bulletin boards. I learned early, in newsgroups, and on CompuServe, then on email lists and web forums how to conduct a thorough debate online under hostile circumstances and win. Because of this strategy, I rarely lose.
Winning efficiently is accomplished by answering all the possible objections in your post, and leaving no stone unturned. I have literally thousands of these text files going back for decades, as a record of my intellectual development. (( I started out as a classical liberal in the Jeffersonian sense, became increasingly conservative, then libertarian, than anarchist, and now decidedly conservative libertarian. )) But this debating technique is designed to win, not to collaborate. That is because a radical does not collaborate, but fight. Otherwise he would not be a radical. And as a radical, I’m invested in this debate. I see it as a battle for the species. I learned a lot from Mises, Rothbard and Friedman: fight tooth and nail. And I learned what not to do from Hayek: be tepid – he only let Keynesian ideas roam freely, and to our painful detriment.
Unfortunately, the comment forum is not the debate forum. It is simply a forum for affirming the sentiments of the article’s author. Debates happen between blogs, not within them. That’s tantamount to stealing thunder. And I too often, quite by accident, steal thunder, or at the very least, only distract from the context. And it’s annoying.
My writing, which was much more literary in my youth, has been reformed by two very dominant experiences. The first, is this assertive debating online. The second, and somewhat unfortunate, is formed by the transformation of my thinking from the literary to that of discreet logical sets, by the act of spending years writing software programs. Writing software is somewhere between math and poetry. I have subconsciously merged the two experiences of debate and programming. And despite my attempts to change, I still write, effectively, the literary equivalent of programming code. My writing is structured as a program. And as such does not account for human short term memory. I leave too many associations unstated, because they are obviously deduced from the set of statement that i put to paper, and I am trying, believe it or not, for brevity despite my desire to describe an argument in a sequence of first-concepts.
Someone very kind, from another blog, chastised me today. And so I’m going to have to try to change my habitual behavior. I’ll leave my authoritative voice for my blog. And resort to socratic questions in comment sections. And point to my blog where necessary.
Old habits die hard. But using a methodology for the wrong application is just plain silly.