Honesty in debate & critical thinking: Accusations, evidence and ethics.

Memo Akten
4 min readMar 20, 2016

“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

This article isn't about the intentional distortion of truth, or the lazy journalism and lack of ethics that spreads it via media or social media. I think those topics get plenty of (though perhaps not enough) coverage and criticism.

I see three high level tiers regarding propaganda & distortion of truth in media & social media, this article is about the last tier.

  1. There will always be propagandists whose aim is to intentionally create deceitful misinformation. Truth and honesty don't matter to them, only winning does. They are the forerunners of the media misinformation war. Their weapons range from click-bait headlines to twisting facts / statistics / quotes to flat out lies and made up media etc. I don’t know how to deal with this problem, other than addressing the core issue.
  2. Unfortunately we live in times where we’re all too keen to share/tweet/quote/write/publish without researching or checking sources. Deep down, we might value truth and honesty, but due to the break-neck speed at which we live, consume and spew information, and the subsequent decline in rigour and ethics, we too spread misinformation, especially if it supports our own views or agendas. We become hosts to the virus. Journalists copy/pasting from other publications without checking sources are perhaps the worst offenders in this tier, simply because they might carry the prestige of a respected trustworthy publication, and can reach a wider audience, potentially causing more damage. I’d like to think that if we check sources, do a little bit of research before we immediately share, we might help curb the spread of deceit, and perhaps even reduce misinformed hate.
  3. Once the misinformation is out there, tackling it can be quite tricky, especially in sensitive topics loaded with emotional tension. And that’s what I’d like to talk about now.

Imagine person X commits murder, with sufficient evidence convicting them of the crime. Shortly after, a handful of anti-X partisans start seeding (false) accusations of rape into the cyber-ether. It doesn't take long before the wider media/social media jumps on it and ‘X committed rape’ becomes the norm.

What might you do? Especially as someone who identifies as anti-X? It seems the norm today for an anti-X supporter is to spread the rape allegations as well without questioning. Either just believing the rape allegations by default (i.e. “X committed murder, they probably committed rape too”), or not caring if they’re true or not (“X committed murder, who cares if they committed rape or not”).

Furthermore, if one were to question the allegations of rape, it is assumed that they must be a supporter of X, or an X-apologist. This seems to me to be the makings of religious dogma, and couldn't be more damaging for debate.

If you think the evidence for rape is insufficient or interpreted incorrectly, should it not be the duty of an honest person to want to expose that? It doesn't mean that you support X for the murder. It doesn't even mean that you believe X is innocent of rape. It just means that you believe we need to not jump to conclusions, have an honest conversation about the situation, be careful how we present evidence and accusations, and not distort the truth even (+especially) to further our own agenda.

I appreciate how insensitive and difficult this can be: questioning the allegations of rape and appearing to defend the murderer while we’re still mourning the bloodshed of the murder. Perhaps this is why these distortions of truth happen — and is spread and let to happen by other supporters of that agenda — so often.

But I hope we can realise that supporting (or opposing) ‘a cause’ shouldn't be limited to supporting (or denying) everything that ‘a side’ puts forward, and that we can move forward with healthy debates without binary labels of ‘friend’ or ‘foe’.

Because the truth should be enough evidence,without having to resort to games of deceit — if it isn’t, you don’t have a strong enough case.

Because when we spread this kind of misinformation, it damages our credibility. When I hear lies, or faulty arguments about a particular cause — even if it’s a cause that I support — I can’t help but lose some respect (with regards to argument building) for those putting those faulty arguments forward. I start to doubt their integrity and commitment to unbiased reporting and honest debate. When those same people put forward other ‘facts’ or news in the future, I’m inclined to doubt them more, having already seen examples of their distorting truth for their own cause.

Arguably the biggest problems we face are either caused by, or at least fueled by, deceit and lies. If we participate in that game we are not helping, even if we think it’s aiding our own cause. We are fueling the fire of hate. When we lie, or distort the truth, our integrity becomes damaged, everything else we say becomes void of value, even if they were true. Nobody believes a liar… even when they’re telling the truth.

The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

NB. This text is absolutely not about ‘rape’, I simply picked ‘murder’ and ‘rape’ as an example. While this was the incident that motivated me to write this text, the above should not be seen as problem encountered only in support for political leaders or parties, but these issues seem rampant across many other causes, beliefs, ideals and movements.

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Memo Akten

computational ar̹͒ti͙̕s̼͒t engineer curious philomath; nature ∩ science ∩ tech ∩ ritual; spirituality ∩ arithmetic; PhD AI×expressive human-machine interaction;