The Art of the Bad Faith Argument
June 27, 2020 4:13 PM   Subscribe

"The person who types “lol” is never actually laughing; the person who types I’M SCREAMING is silently dabbing at a screen. In the same way, the person who is perpetually shocked and outraged and brimming with righteous fury is almost always lying to themselves. They’re as affectless as the rest of us: play-acting, downloading synthetic emotions, and then passing them on. Welcome to the age of bad faith."
posted by simmering octagon (55 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
i predict the simplest discussion in metafilter history
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:43 PM on June 27 [28 favorites]


I find this a pretty frustrating piece, because I think discussions of how and why things in the realm of bad faith happen and what rhetorical and social structures support it is super worth talking about, especially but not solely in an internet discourse context. It's a whole thing! It's a big topic. Online argumentation and media presentation of argumentation are huge subjects full of very human, very messy gnarls.

But my main takeaway from this piece itself is that it fucks itself up by being so self-satisfiedly clever and makes the blunt mistake of thinking that by finishing on a self-accusatory note it'll get away with it with a wink instead of just feeling unwilling to commit to a thesis. It's very high register way to say "what if we kissed, j/k...unless?" and it's a little cute but a lot obnoxious.

But I've been in the pocket of Big Sincerity for a real long time now and also think most folks who are expressing anger at stuff are doing so sincerely even when their arguments are structured in an unfair or uncharitable way, so I'm probably not going to agree with his (alleged, but jk...unless?) thesis that dead-eyed sociopathy is the core of all this to begin with.
posted by cortex at 4:50 PM on June 27 [58 favorites]


It's an impressive piece for attempting to be what it describes, I guess, and perhaps there is a sort of artistry to it. But I find it ugly and uninteresting.

I feel like this is a case of following a line of thinking so far up its own ass that you can convince yourself that you've found daylight, but no, lines of thinking don't actually have GI tracts and assholes, there's no light at the end, and despite the failure of the metaphor you're still full of shit.
posted by biogeo at 4:52 PM on June 27 [10 favorites]


I’m not a philosopher and I’ve never wrestled with Zizek, but isn’t this article just a fancy way of getting to negate folks’ lived experience with microaggressions?
posted by frumiousb at 4:55 PM on June 27 [17 favorites]


But surely he gets credit for calling Žižek "a large woodland creature."
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:01 PM on June 27 [10 favorites]


gosh, i wonder why sam kriss is arguing that online expressions of emotion don’t reflect reality, it is truly a mystery
posted by inire at 5:08 PM on June 27 [39 favorites]


Or put another way, the conversations we're trying to have right now are too important for there to be room for this type of "art." There's a cleverness in acting out Ouroboros consuming itself, sure, but Ouroboros can never change, never progress, no matter how dynamic it may be. The artifice of building a closed worldview that holds that everything is in bad faith, and never asks you to consider that others' emotions are real, can only serve to comfort those who are already comfortable.

Approaching the world in 2020 from the bad-faith position that everyone else's outrage is also in bad faith actively obstructs our ability to make any progress beyond where we are now.
posted by biogeo at 5:10 PM on June 27 [18 favorites]


I have no idea what this is trying to say. The beats I could identify were:

1. (Online) discourse is dominated by an arms race of performative outrage based on purposefully tendentious readings. My choice of examples is clearly designed to telegraph my even-handedness in this matter.
2. I’ve read some post-structuralism, but so as not to intimidate anyone, I’ll express that in terms of ideas from people you’ve heard of. These ideas implicate us all, in an abstract sense that I won’t bother to contextualize in terms of its application to my argument! My willingness to assert that means that you can trust me.
3. It makes me feel better if I just think of the phenomenon I’ve identified here as clever trolling, and then laugh at it, and then puff on my cigar a little. This is the best thing for everyone to do, if they’re smart enough. I don’t have much personal stake in anything I’ve mentioned here.

In conclusion: ???
posted by invitapriore at 5:32 PM on June 27 [17 favorites]


I'm honestly torn between:
    Metafilter: very messy gnarls
and
    Metafilter: lines of thinking don't actually have GI tracts and assholes
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:53 PM on June 27 [8 favorites]


More seriously, my impression of that article is that it doesn't seem to be much more than the author's muddled attempt to rationalize their "Oedipal struggle" (kind of an oddly-charged way to bring it up?) with Žižek. And maybe grab a few clicks in the process.

Or maybe that's just me making bad-faith assumptions....
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:54 PM on June 27


This smacks of bothsideism.

In the midst of a global pandemic.
posted by swr at 5:55 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


i think he needs to hang out with better commenters - if they'll allow him - i didn't finish, i found him rather tiresome and not real sincere ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:24 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


The person who types “lol” is never actually laughing

lol*, sure thing Sam Kriss

*I am actually laughing at Sam Kriss
posted by 23skidoo at 6:35 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


And, around here, bothsidesism in the middle of a litany of racist police murders.*

I guess everyone expressing rage, sadness, fear, and exhaustion has actually been acting in bad faith because of something that Sartre said?

To me, nothing says bad faith quite like trying to elevate and intellectualize your "reals not feels" essay by citing a bunch of prestigious white dudes. Yikes.

*Sure, this article was written in mid-May, but if it takes just two weeks for something to age so phenomenally poorly it might not be a good argument.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:43 PM on June 27 [17 favorites]


this reminds me of the "in this moment i am euphoric" meme so much that i wish there was an animated fedora dancing across the top of the page
posted by poffin boffin at 6:46 PM on June 27 [5 favorites]


I've heard if an expression in the Theater: "You can't act angry 3 times or more without starting to feel angry". Meaning the feelings will come from the pretending. That and "fake it till you make it" (and others) have a lot of people who have a hard time telling if what they're feeling is "real" or not.

You can always say they know it's an act but I really believe a *lot* of them lose track.
posted by aleph at 6:48 PM on June 27 [4 favorites]


I have no idea what this is trying to say.

As frumiousb and inire point out, this is pretty clearly a terrible person trying to retcon his own toxicity.

But surely he gets credit for calling Žižek "a large woodland creature."

This scanned as an reference to a classic but now-deleted tweet from "@PrettyBadLefty" on March 1, 2018.: "Zizek is way more interesting than Peterson. Peterson is a run of the mill huckster using his degree in a semi-related field to prey on alienated college aged males. Zizek is raccoon who lived in a dumpster behind a university's library who was transformed into a human by a witch."

(Kinda great that we haven't heard from that other dude in like two years now though, isn't it?)
posted by mhoye at 6:51 PM on June 27 [13 favorites]


ever since finding out that the "himbo is ableist" hot take was specifically bought and paid for as a twitter stunt i am super into wondering it about all other hot hilarrible takes of convoluted specificity
posted by poffin boffin at 6:53 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


i'm very surprised to see a piece from the bellows here as metafilter is not the intended audience for this type of thing.

but getting to the piece, it does meander a little bit (honestly, you can probably cut this in half and make the same point), but i think it eventually gets to the point it's trying to make: when something is in bad faith, you should basically call it out and that's the extent of the engagement. i don't know if i'd describe the core of his thesis as "dead-eyed sociopathy" rather than an extreme political tactic designed to short circuit the argument. at the very least, in the examples he uses, the bad faith arguers aren't sociopaths but really just politicos.
posted by interior crocodile aligator at 6:54 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


Isn’t a bad faith argument only presenting a limited view of a situation then using that limited set of information as an urgent reason for why THERE IS ONLY ONE COURSE OF ACTION WHICH MUST BE TAKEN as a way of purposely shutting down the opportunity for other solutions to surface?

IIRC Margaret Thatcher was very good at this kind of bad faith arguing.
posted by nikaspark at 7:01 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


I vaguely remembered the author's name and that he did used to hang around with better commentators, but this, from 2017, is why he's not hanging around with them any more (CW: sexual harassment).
posted by ambrosen at 7:24 PM on June 27 [5 favorites]


A Field Guide to Bad Faith Arguments might be helpful.
posted by gryftir at 7:24 PM on June 27 [7 favorites]


This reads to me as part of the ongoing effort to ascend Zizek from single human entity (or, as above, transformed raccoon entity) to genre of thought. It has the standard features, including the necessary reference to Freud and an adequate quota of the rest of the bingo card (Sartre, Plato, Zizek himself, plus the less inevitable but still unsurprising Kristeva and Nabokov; could use some Hegel and Lacan). But it lacks the essential character of Zizek's style, the rapid-fire delivery of overlapping and contradictory connections between ideas designed to create a feeling of productive unease in the reader while avoiding anything that could be taken as a concrete conclusion - a kind of philosophical impressionism (I don't mean this entirely as a criticism, by the way). I give it: 7/10, needs more beard.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:28 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


Freud and his followers don’t tend to use the term “bad faith”

However, they do use a term that's pretty relevant to what the author seems to be engaging in: projection.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:37 PM on June 27 [5 favorites]


The real function is to frantically cover up the fact that most of the time, most of us feel nothing at all.

Dude, is everything okay at home?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:41 PM on June 27 [10 favorites]


Isn’t a bad faith argument only presenting a limited view of a situation then using that limited set of information as an urgent reason for why THERE IS ONLY ONE COURSE OF ACTION WHICH MUST BE TAKEN as a way of purposely shutting down the opportunity for other solutions to surface?
...
A Field Guide to Bad Faith Arguments might be helpful.
The Kriss article is using the existentialist concept of bad faith, which is a lot more complicated than simple dishonesty or instrumental disingenuousness; these are often not "bad faith" in this sense at all. From Wikipedia:
Bad faith (French: mauvaise foi) is a philosophical concept utilized by existentialist philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre to describe the phenomenon in which human beings, under pressure from social forces, adopt false values and disown their innate freedom, hence acting inauthentically. It is closely related to the concepts of self-deception and ressentiment.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:58 PM on June 27 [10 favorites]


The most common type of bad faith argument I encounter is the one where someone pretends to be all distinterest, cooly detached, unbiased by messy emotions. I mean, I don't doubt there are people who are sufficiently insulated by privilege to view everything as just a game they don't have much skin in, theoretically, but but you don't even need to do that much scratching of the surface to find that they are quite terrified of losing anyway.
posted by sohalt at 10:07 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


I appreciate this discussion. A hot button topic at a time like this could easily have been drowned in hot takes, but instead it's full of brilliant and nuanced comments. The essay itself is thought provoking but would have been better if, instead of name dropping Freud, etc., it took the subject more seriously rather than settling for annoying flippancy.
posted by blue shadows at 11:13 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


His reference to Sarte is, I would argue, a bad faith argument on several levels. He's saying hey maybe we should just accept his argument as art?

I think that's the suggestion at the end, right, that in a world of finite time and permanent consequences, it's okay to misrepresent others and we should just try to enjoy it as a creative work, instead of reflecting on how there are people who believe even obvious falsehoods and intentional misunderstandings, and predicate their choices upon them. And also if you don't like it, the article is art too. As if art wasn't consequential, as if art can't be of benefit or harm.

I could invite an audience into a sealed room, eat a plate of beans, and let out a series of long sour farts and call it art, and people might consider it under those circumstances, but it would still stink. That's the facticity; farts stink. And so does this piece.
posted by gryftir at 11:56 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


The person who types “lol” is never actually laughing

The only correct response is "your not actually laughing lol"
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:33 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


An essay on bad faith written in bad faith. Yes, the circle is complete.
posted by blue shadows at 12:54 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I mean, I don't doubt there are people who are sufficiently insulated by privilege to view everything as just a game they don't have much skin in
Doesn't this pretty accurately describe Sam Kriss?
Activist spaces have always had an issue with tourists and the privileged propelling themselves front and centre because if you're coming from a place of inclusiveness and respect for all then you often forget one of the most important rules when fighting for change.

Never trust the posh boys.
posted by fullerine at 1:00 AM on June 28 [15 favorites]


(Kinda great that we haven't heard from that other dude in like two years now though, isn't it?)

Not quite. This morning the Irish Independent seems to be inadvertently shilling for him.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:21 AM on June 28


I didn’t quite understand this article but it seems like a few things are being jumbled together and other things ignored. I kept thinking about authenticity throughout this, where does it factor into their thesis? What about intent vs impact? And perhaps post importantly of all, what about expressions of lived experience? Is it all performance art, intellectualised and abstracted from the embodied reality of whatever it is we’re going through and we just don’t know it yet? I’m not buying that.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:58 AM on June 28


Natalie Wynn (contrapoints) did a much better job of unpacking the philosophical components of bad faith arguments in internet culture in her long but very worthwhile video on cancel culture. Even the quote in the opening two seconds kinda hits the nail on the head.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:14 AM on June 28 [12 favorites]


Crying right now. Can't believe it.
posted by Pararrayos at 6:37 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


my main takeaway from this piece itself is that it fucks itself up by being so self-satisfiedly clever

Which is, to be fair, Sam Kriss's entire shtick.

There are books whose covers it's completely safe to judge them by.
posted by flabdablet at 9:01 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I spent way more time thinking of something nice to say about this article than I should've. Fooled me, very good, golf claps.
posted by polymodus at 9:45 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Just wondering, how many people here read this article sitting alone in a room, looking for something that upset them?
posted by thedamnbees at 10:11 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I mean, there's a pandemic on, sitting alone in a room is the new global pastime.

As for what I was looking for when I read the article, I was looking for something that would make me think. And I suppose it did that, but not in the way that I'd hoped. More in the way that reading something by a Young-Earth Creationist or a Flat-Earther makes you think: the falsehood of the conclusions are practically self-evident, and it seems fairly clear that the root cause of the whole fallacious piece is motivated reasoning, but there's just enough there that has the superficial form of honest argumentation that you can't help but try to work through it and pinpoint what went wrong, and maybe find some kernel of honesty within it. And when you're done it's upsetting because not only have you wasted your time, but you have the vague sense that the author is laughing at you for having even tried.

If I wanted to look for something that upset me, there's lower-hanging fruit than this, I'd just read the news.
posted by biogeo at 11:07 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


My obvious dislike for this article aside though, I think it's also worth adding that just because I think the article itself is bad doesn't make it bad fodder for an FPP, and I appreciate both simmering octagon for posting it and the commenters here for having interesting things to say about it.
posted by biogeo at 2:32 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


wow tough crowd here.
posted by ovvl at 2:43 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Maybe I’m obtuse but I had no idea what he was getting at. He seemed to meander through a bunch of topics without making a point or tying anything together. Since I haven’t heard of him, is there some underlying context that’s required? Is he saying arguing in bad faith is harder than being honest so we should appreciate it like art? Color me mystified.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:28 PM on June 28


As I understand it, he’s saying that at a certain level bad faith is unavoidable because human beings are beset by psychological contradictions. He’s not condemning bad faith as such, but criticizing the crude and artless bad faith arguments that have become so common. Take the example he gives of Briana Joy-Grey being attacked mercilessly for daring to question Kamala Harris on Medicare for all. The attacks were clearly motivated by political fealty to Harris, but were couched in absurd outrage and supposed concern for Harris’ feelings. They were acting in bad faith because they were only feigning outrage in order to score points for their preferred political candidate, but more importantly, their outrage was so implausible that their actual motivations were obvious.
posted by thedamnbees at 6:05 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Maybe I’m obtuse but I had no idea what he was getting at.

My first take was the argument from passion, but there is also the case of crying wolf, which arguably lead to some not caring if they voted when Trump was elected. Iamkimian has an excellent link above about cancel culture. This is a good subject for visiting the tendency of excess in persuasion.
posted by Brian B. at 8:29 PM on June 28


Maybe I’m obtuse but I had no idea what he was getting at.

Me neither. Fuck this guy. When I say I lol'd, by god I did laugh out loud. Just ask my neighbours about the loud braying in the middle of the night.

Sincerely (not ironically),
the Hyde Park Hyena
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:34 PM on June 28


I stopped reading at his reaction to people calling out Jeremy Corbyn's mispronunciation of "Epstein". Like, OK, I get that maybe you didn't hear antisemitism, but Corbyn's got a long history of skirting the edges of it. Not all dogwhistles need to be intentional and conscious on the part of the whistler for the dogs to hear it for what it is.
posted by hanov3r at 8:55 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


frumiousb:
I’m not a philosopher and I’ve never wrestled with Zizek, but isn’t this article just a fancy way of getting to negate folks’ lived experience with microaggressions?
My B.A. is in Philosophy. I would argue that most MeFites are philosophers in that we are lovers of wisdom. I won't die on that hill, but I will fight over anyone saying that philosophers are a special breed.

More to your point: "a fancy way of getting to negate folks" is pretty much spot on for a number of people who call themselves philosophers. I would argue they are actually rhetoricians, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

I read the full article. I should have stopped after the first sentence. "If you use the internet, you’re surrounded by liars."

We are reading this on the internet. Therefore, we are using the internet. Surrounded by liars? Why is "using the internet" a special condition of being surrounded by liars?

The person who types “lol” is never actually laughing

Huh. Thanks for negating me completely. I am super conscious of using LOL because I know most use it as shorthand (which is cool! I am not judging at all!) I use LOL once a month at most, because I use it literally.

I could spend another hour debunking him point by point. He's not worth the time.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 9:03 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Take the example he gives of Briana Joy-Grey being attacked mercilessly for daring to question Kamala Harris on Medicare for all. The attacks were clearly motivated by political fealty to Harris, but were couched in absurd outrage and supposed concern for Harris’ feelings. They were acting in bad faith because they were only feigning outrage in order to score points for their preferred political candidate, but more importantly, their outrage was so implausible that their actual motivations were obvious.

There's nothing obvious, which is exactly the problem with this sort of example. Viewed another way, Briahna Joy Gray was making a ridiculous and pointless criticism for the sole purpose of scoring points against a political opponent. Most of the reactions that I saw were not couched in supposed concern for Kamala Harris's feelings, but rather were making the point that saying "but what about cancer?" in response to a suggestion that coronavirus treatment be free is the equivalent of responding to Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter. And while this may have been ignored coming from someone else, BJG is someone who is regularly embroiled in controversy for one statement or another (see, for example, her statements about Joe Rogan's endorsement of Bernie Sanders).

So while it's certainly true that most reactions on the internet are more heightened than they need to be, it's impossible to conclude that the outrage was either "implausible" or "feigned."
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:53 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


As online abuse goes, “your mother should have had free healthcare” is pretty mild stuff. What rule, exactly, did Grey break? Are you not allowed to even mention cancer to someone who lost a parent to the disease?

Being the conspiracy theorist I am, I think the reason the response to this comment was so unhinged is that people in power have a vested interest in drumming up an unhinged response.

On any emotionally charged and polarizing topic - anti-VAX, for instance - a higher than normal percentage of twitter hottakes are paid trolls or, even worse, clickbait headlines that play up the outrage for advertising revenue.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137759/

https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/07/air-force-research-how-to-use-social-media-to-control-people-like-drones/

And now I think there are people, actually a lot of people, who use those same tactics either accidentally or on purpose. They use them because they're effective and they get a response. Possibly people don't even realize they're arguing like astroturfers and marketers, because astroturfing and clickbait marketing is so common everywhere online.
posted by subdee at 11:11 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Though of course, telling yourself that people who disagree with you online are either astrofurfers or dupes is another way to avoid having to engage with their arguments.
posted by subdee at 11:12 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


BJG is someone who is regularly embroiled in controversy for one statement or another

"People wildly over-reacting to Briahna Joy Gray's every statement is not an indication of anything because they do it so often" sounds a lot like victim blaming.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:05 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Briahna Joy Gray was making a ridiculous and pointless criticism for the sole purpose of scoring points against a political opponent

Seriously???

BJG was making the suggestion that a potential candidate for president should support Medicare for All. Questioning a politician about a policy position that affects the lives of millions of people is pointless and ridiculous???

smh
posted by thedamnbees at 6:03 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


The lesson here is: if you're going to write an article based on the specific and counter-intuitive technical meaning of an expression that also has another superficially similar but actually quite different popular interpretation, like "bad faith", you'll avoid a lot of confusion if you start by making it clear which one you're talking about.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:31 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


you'll avoid a lot of confusion if you start by making it clear which one you're talking about.

Assuming you're writing in good faith. Which there's not a lot of evidence of with this author.
posted by ambrosen at 11:56 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


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