Games People Play When They’re Defending False Positions

David Mann | January 21, 2019

(Barb Wire) – In our time there is no shortage of controversial matters. It’s easy to think of several issues about which many people have one view, and a similarly large number of people have exactly the opposite view. Given that, it should be obvious that someone’s not telling the truth about each of these matters, and that the lies they’re telling are widely believed.

I learned early in life that it was more important to be right than to be popular, and that one was not likely to be led to truth by going along with the crowd or being guided by convenience.

I’ve also learned that error is always cleverly disguised, so that those who believe lies are always convinced that they’re accepting truth. But no matter how sincerely someone may believe a lie, there are inevitably games that they have to play in order to try to convince others — and to stay convinced themselves.

First and foremost, they dodge the hard questions. Every popular but false position can be refuted with hard, straightforward facts. But when these facts are brought up, the “Game Players” always find ways to avoid them, distract from them, rationalize around them, or dismiss them. What they won’t do is try to counter them directly and honestly — because, well, they can’t.

They pretend the questions are already settled. Game Players generally don’t spend a lot of time giving evidence for their positions. Most of the time they’re just assuming that their positions have already been firmly proven true and cannot be questioned. They’re always ready to point to what the “experts” say.

One problem with this is that popular “expert” opinions are often not trustworthy, especially on controversial matters; they don’t reflect what has been discovered to be true, so much as what the media and others with influence want people to believe is true. More to the point, though, Game Players are only concerned with “expert” opinions that support (or appear to support) their viewpoints. They ultimately disregard contrary evidence no matter who might happen to point to it.

They set up straw men. Game Players spend much more time attacking opposing positions than directly defending their own. That’s because it’s much easier to make the opposing positions look bad than to make their own positions look good. And the easiest way to make an opposing position look bad is to paint a misleading picture of it.

You will often see Game Players presenting opposing positions in the most ridiculous terms possible, focusing on the worst arguments for those positions, and asking loaded questions about them that they’re not actually looking for answers to. You will see them make all manner of false comparisons. You will see them using cheap mockery and glib talking points. You will see them calling their opponents “stupid” and “crazy.” What you won’t see them doing is showing any reasonable understanding of the viewpoints they disagree with.

They present true information in misleading ways.  This is a clever trick because it generally doesn’t involve outright lying. Rather, it involves citing facts as if they prove something that they actually don’t. Often it’s a matter of telling a small part of the story but conveniently leaving out the rest — for example, speaking of exceptional cases as if they were the rule and vice versa. 

They refuse to admit what they don’t know. An honest person will generally make it clear when their position calls for a little speculation. But such an admission is anathema to a Game Player; they hate to appear even slightly uncertain about anything. So they will often cite things as being “firmly proven facts” that are actually nothing more than opinion or guesswork.

They avoid calling things for what they really are. Game Players tend to be skilled at the art of using euphemisms to distract from what they’re actually defending. If one were to listen to their words without having any background information on the topic at hand, one might easily end up with no idea of what was actually being discussed.

They appeal to emotion rather than logic. Emotionally-based arguments are the specialty of “Game Players.” It’s no coincidence that their positions are frequently pushed via fiction — movies, TV shows, etc. They have to use made-up stories because reality is far less cooperative.

They use inconsistent arguments. The false positions held by Game Players commonly lead them to contradict themselves. Their statements will vary greatly depending on who they’re addressing or how honest they’re being about their position. Often they’ll use arguments that they think will be convincing, but which they don’t actually believe themselves.

They pretend contrary evidence doesn’t exist. A favorite line of Game Players, when discussing information that they refuse to accept, is “there’s no evidence for that whatsoever.” Often they’ll say this right after evidence has been directly presented to them. What they’re really saying, ultimately, is that they’re not willing to consider contrary evidence honestly. They’re not seeing it because they’re not looking for it.

They attack disagreement with pressure or manipulation. Since they can’t respond to opposition honestly, they’ll respond to it in other ways. They’ll pressure, accuse or try to shame those with opposing viewpoints. They’ll make up all manner of false “bad guy” motivations for those who disagree with them. They’ll characterize disagreement as “hate,” “bigotry” or “ignorance.”

Ultimately, they’ll try to keep those who disagree from being heard at all.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.